The AdWords Display Network & AdWords Express: A Horror Story

Recently, a potential client came to me in San Francisco, and she had (unfortunately) decided to set up her own AdWords campaign via AdWords Express.  (This blog post is a bit of a rant). AdWords Express, in case you don’t know about it, is Google’s “easy” (sic) program to “help” (sic) small businesses set up their own advertising on Google.’s a dumbed-down version of AdWords wherein a company has a Google+ listing on Google My Business, and then goes through a very quick series of steps to set up their ad. So far, so good.

The problem comes from the Google Display Network. The GDN is Google’s network of partner sites like blogs, parked domains, third-party websites and all other sorts of garbage and thieves (oh, oops did I just say “garbage” and “thieves?”) to extend the reach of one’s advertising, or to take a lot of your money quickly and hide the results within the AdWords / Google Analytics framework so that the average person is unaware that she just poured a whole wad of cash down the toilet. Oh, oops did I just say that the GDN was full of thieves and that it’s primary purpose seems to be to torch a ton of your money quickly, and keep you unaware that this has happened? OH YES I DID.  The GDN is 99% completely rip off.  I have had so many clients and inbound calls / emails from poor unfortunate souls who have wasted literally thousands of dollars on the GDN without even knowing. In this poor woman’s case, we’re talking $2500 in three days.  Yikes!

For most people and for most campaigns, I strongly recommend that you do NOT use the GDN, and that you run ONLY on Google Search or if you’re a bit braver on Google Search AND Google Search Partners which included legitimate sites like Yelp. AdWords Express is to be avoided as it is akin to walking on to the Chevrolet Car Lot and asking the Chevy salesman which car is better for you: a Chevy or a Toyota? Surprise: a Chevy. And should you buy the least expensive car on the lot or the most expensive? Surprise: the most expensive. AdWords Express is designed by Google, for Google, to make Google the most amount of money and to obfuscate the results so that “mere mortals” can’t see how badly they are getting ripped off.

In addition to the problem of the GDN, AdWords Express uses “broad match” keywords (no quotes, no brackets, no plus signs), which also can lead to many badly matched keywords on Google, including educational vs. transactional searches and on and on. So, even with respect to Google itself, AdWords Express tends to run customer ads on pretty lousy keywords. So, if the GDN doesn’t get you, the bad matches on Google will. Both are going to waste a LOT of your money!

As for the Google Display Network, it is something that only very advanced users should use, and even then, it’s like a drunk 16 year old. It needs to be very closely supervised. Now, is all of this a nefarious plot by Google to systematically rip off thousands of small business customers? I have no proof. I can’t say for sure. What I can say for sure, having reviewed many trainwreck accounts like this poor unfortunate soul’s, is that #1 AdWords Express generally is a waste of money, and #2 the Google Display Network is also generally a big waste of money. Oh, and #3 the interface tends to lead poor unfortunate souls into deploying the GDN without understanding it, and then hiding the data so that they don’t realize just how much money they are wasting.

  • Don’t use AdWords Express.
  • Don’t use the Google Display Network unless you are really brave and really smart.