Why Can’t I See My Ads When I Search for Them on Google?

This generally comes down to:

  • Ad blockers
  • Location targeting
  • Budget
  • Time of Day
  • Past Behaviour

Want some more details? Read on…

I get this question from clients quite regularly. Usually I’ll email to let them know our ads are live and attach some screenshots. Half an hour later I see an email come in: “I’ve searched Google for lots of keywords that should show our ads and I haven’t seen any. WHAT’S WRONG??” Well, generally there is nothing wrong (I usually test ads pretty comprehensively myself before letting clients know they’re live), but there are a bunch of reasons why you (or your client) can’t see your ads on Google:

Ad Blockers

This sounds kind of obvious, but I have come across this a surprising amount. Much like the IT guy that asks if you have your computer plugged in when you tell them it’s not working, it’s always worth making sure you don’t have an ad blocker active when you ask why you can’t see your ads.

Location

Many clients want to run ads in specific locations that are particularly relevant to their business. It makes sense. It makes the best use of ad budget, and excludes people you know aren’t going to be valuable. But if you are not within that list of locations that we’ve discussed and targeted, you’re not going to see your ads. 

Budget

Sometimes, my clients’ budgets are somewhat modest. This is great as it allows us to be super specific with targeting and make sure we are only targeting the most optimal audiences (whether that’s location, time of day, device, demographic etc.). However, if our budget is $50 a day and you want to target the entire USA, bear in mind that the budget is going to be stretched pretty thin. With budgets that small, I would always recommend limiting targeting to a few key locations. If we assume most clicks are $1-$3, that budget might only be generating 13 clicks per day. It’s likely that there are more people searching than that (depending on the keyword of course), so ads will not be shown to every person searching for your keywords, every time they search.

Google’s Conversion Optimisation

You know how Google gets advertisers to spend more on ads? Give them better performance! With this in mind, if you (or your client) aren’t people that usually click on ads and buy stuff, or sign up for stuff, Google will serve ads to other people who are. They have so much data about us and our online behaviour that they are able to pretty effectively serve ads that are going to convert well and generate performance for advertisers. If you’re not your ideal customer, you may not be seeing ads for that reason.

Time of Day

Another part of Google’s optimisation algorithm will be to only show ads at high converting times of day (if your budget is limited). This tends to be something around 8-9am and 6-10pm. If you’re not searching within these times, Google may be preserving your budget to spend during those better-performing times. 

Past Behaviour

If Google sees that someone has already clicked an ad to a website five times, and each time they just visit the site quickly and leave, the algorithm is going to decide that this is a low-value user that is unlikely to convert. If you have already visited your own site a bunch of times and not converted, it decides you’re a low value user, it will spend budget elsewhere. 

Why you Shouldn’t Search for Your Own Ads on Google All the Time

Aside from the above reasons why it’s not that useful to search for your own ads, I also request that my clients don’t constantly search for their own ads online for two reasons:

  1. If they search for ads but don’t click them, it makes our clickthrough rate (CTR) worse. This will over time increase our cost per click (CPC) as CTR is one of the top indicators of ad quality. Google will think our ads aren’t that great and penalise us as a result
  2. If they click on ads, we have to pay for every click. Since they’re not going to convert, this is just wasted ad budget which is no good for anybody (even Google would prefer we have better quality traffic so we’ll be incentivized to spend more) 

If you (or your client) want to check what your ads look like in different locations, use the ad preview tool (https://ads.google.com/anon/AdPreview). This allows you to see ads in any location, without impacting our CTR and performance. Handy, right?

Why Does Google Care about Our Ad Performance Anyway?

Google is a business, and just like every other business, they want to maximise profit. How do they do that? Giving everyone a positive experience. That means for people using Google to search, Google wants to serve them ads that they find useful and don’t find annoying. This will incentivise them to keep clicking on Search ads.

For advertisers, this means making running ads profitable. If advertisers have to spend $100 on ads to generate $100 in sales, they’re not going to bother. So for Google to generate more ad spend, they need to offer a decent return. So showing ads to the right users that find them useful is good for the searcher, the advertiser and Google.

Google’s algorithm takes all this into account with a ton of data points to optimize this whole process and constantly improve it with machine learning. Amazing, right? Kinda scary, but still amazing.

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