Google is still one of the largest and most effective display ad networks in the world, even though display ads have been dropping off year over year. Relying on them as a business is tricky, both because of the increasing dangers of ads and the increasing prevalence of ad blockers.
It’s no surprise, then, that it can be very stressful to check your ads the day after you set them up – or even a few days later, when they should have been running fine – only to see few or no impressions on your ads whatsoever.
What’s going on? Why is no one seeing your ads? Did you do something wrong? Is it an issue on Google’s end, or do you have a competitor to blame? We’ve compiled twelve of the most common causes of low/no impression Google ads. Treat it like a troubleshooting checklist, and you should be well on your way to diagnosing the problem.
1: You Hit Your Budget Cap
By far one of the most common reasons your impressions drop off entirely is hitting your budget cap. Daily caps aren’t usually the culprit here, though. Instead, it’s usually your monthly cap being spent early. Google tries to calculate how much you can spend on your ads each day when you set a monthly cap and will attempt to balance out daily spending, but sometimes it can reach (or even slightly exceed) your cap a day or two early. So, this is often a cutoff that happens near the end of a month.
This can also happen if, mid-month, you change your account-level budget cap and restrict how much money you’re able to spend on your ads. Google will suddenly have less budget to work with and will likely cut off your ads earlier to avoid hitting it.
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If you’re one of the people who are able to use a prepaid budget, it’s also possible that your funds have run out, and you’ll need to add more. Most Google ads accounts aren’t able to use this payment method, but if you can, make sure to check it.
It’s difficult to draw specific lines for any of these effects because Google ads tend to be algorithmic and controlled automatically, so performance varies from day to day, budget spend is variable across days, and other factors can influence it all. Budgets are, though, almost always the first place you want to look.
2: Costs Exceed Budget Caps
At first glance, you might think we’ve put the same thing twice, but this is actually a slightly different issue. Google will look at two numbers relating to the budget on your account when calculating where and how to display your ads. The first is your daily budget cap, how much you’re allowing them to spend per day on your ads. The second is your maximum ad bid for a given ad. They will then check to see if your maximum bid is too high.
Say, for example, you’ve set a cap of $4 per click on your ads. You want to capture as many clicks as you can, and you’re willing to pay for them. But you’ve also set a daily ad spend cap of only $10. That’s a pretty low cap! Maybe you didn’t intend it to be $10 (maybe you dropped a zero), or maybe you set a monthly cap and didn’t realize Google divides it across days. Whatever the case is, Google will see that they can only really get two clicks out of your budget and would rather just not bother running your ads at all.
3: Your Quality Score Dropped
Quality Score is one of the more mysterious and misunderstood aspects of ads. They claim your quality score doesn’t impact your ads, but it’s disingenuous of them to say so. Quality score is a numerical calculation of the various factors that impact your ad performance, so there’s a direct correlation between the two. Sure, that number doesn’t impact your ad performance, but the things that make up the number do, and to influence the number, you change those elements, so saying the number doesn’t matter is just pedantry.
Anyway, the lower your quality score is, the more your ads will cost and the worse they will perform. If your quality score dropped recently, some of the balanced factors that get you your impressions will be thrown off, and you’ll probably end up with far fewer impressions on your ads. A big enough drop and your ads may be cut off entirely.
4: A Trending Interest Died Off
Another common reason why your impressions dropped is because interest in your keyword dropped off. This isn’t common when you’re targeting broad match or evergreen keywords, but if your ads were focusing on something trending, when that trend drops off, so too will your impressions.
For a recent example, consider the Super Bowl. Thousands of companies spend incredible amounts of money on advertising throughout the event, but a week later, search interest drops precipitously. Just take a look at the search interest graphs over the past several years. Any time outside the week or so of build-up is barely worth mentioning.
5: Keyword Changes Conflict
Part of refining your ads to perform better and bring in higher-quality clicks is to adjust your keywords over time. You can add keywords, remove keywords, change matching types, and so on. Well, one of the problems that can crop up here is making micro-changes that conflict with the overall macro view of your ads.
A simple example would be to change keywords in such a way that they conflict with the core message, target audience, or landing page copy of your site. Any conflict can cause quality score drops or can make it difficult for Google’s ad auctions to place your ads properly for the keywords you want to target. Sometimes it can be better to scrap the whole keyword list and start over with a fresh set of eyes and a fresh set of data points.
6: Your Keywords are Too Narrow
Sometimes, search terms have very little in the way of search volume. Narrowing down your targeting is usually a good thing, as it helps you provide more specific messaging to get a tighter focus on a smaller segment of your audience for higher-quality clicks. The problem is, if your targeting gets too narrow, Google can sometimes just cut it off entirely.
If the search volume is too low, either there’s no one actually searching in that given time span, or they don’t view those handful of searches as worth monetizing compared to areas where their computing power could be better leveraged. Unfortunately, the best thing you can do here is to broaden your targeting.
7: Negative Keywords Cut Off Impressions
Keyword targeting is powerful, but a key element of that targeting is using negative keywords to exclude the kinds of words and phrases that indicate a searcher might not be interested in actually looking into or buying your product.
Examples of negative keywords might be:
- “Careers” – Because this indicates the searcher wants a job, not to buy a product, your landing pages won’t be appropriate results.
- “Cheap” or “Free” – Words that indicate a user might not be willing to actually pay for your product and wants a free alternative. You can keep these in if you’re offering free trials, cheap packages, or close-out sales, but in general, they indicate a disconnect between searcher intent and your goals.
- “DIY” – This indicates that the user doesn’t want a solution to their problem that amounts to “buy our product” and instead wants a tutorial they can follow to do it themselves, which conflicts with your goal of selling your product.
The issue is when you add in negative keywords that then conflict with your core search intent. Sometimes this can be a specific word that you actually want searchers to use, but out of context, it looks bad. Other times, it can be using a broad matching type that uses synonyms to the keywords you flagged and ends up flagging positive keywords you wanted to target. The conflict between negative and positive will favor the negative and leave you with no impressions.
8: New Competition Drives Up Costs
If you haven’t actually interacted with your ads or changed them at all recently, but you’ve seen a drop in your impressions, you might consider checking to see if costs have gone up or if your ad position has dropped. If this has happened, there’s a chance that a competitor has decided to start targeting the same keywords and audience with their own ads, and they’re willing to bid more than you.
That increase in costs can compound with some of the above issues (like running out of budget or having too high an individual click bid), or it can simply mean you don’t have the funds to compete anymore. Google does try to smooth this out and give businesses with smaller budgets a fighting chance, but it’s not impossible that you’ve simply been driven out of the market by competition.
9: Your Ads are Paused
Did you click the button that pauses your ads? Did you do so intentionally, or did you accidentally click it, or hit a hotkey accidentally in your ad manager and end up with a paused campaign?
Note that ads that are paused will show a specific status as paused. Ads that are canceled, removed, or disapproved will have their own associated status messages, letting you know which it is and why it happened (if there’s an underlying reason.)
The only issues that prevent ads from showing that don’t have specific status messages are cases where your budget is too low, your quality score is too low, your bids are too low, or the search volume for the keyword is too low. Anything else will have a specific message telling you what’s wrong.
10: Google Reviewed and Disapproved Keywords
When you submit an ad to Google Ads, they review it and either deny it or approve it. If they approve it, you’re good to go, right? Well, not quite.
Google periodically reviews ads throughout their ads system and will attempt to catch anything their automated systems missed the first time around. There are plenty of bad actors who want to exploit the system and sneak through keywords they shouldn’t, and this spot-check will stop those ads or keywords. It’s also possible that Google changes their policies, and your ads were formerly acceptable but are now not; they’ll be disapproved even though they were running fine before.
11: Your Target Search Volume is Too Low
As mentioned above, if you get too narrow with your keyword targeting, you can end up in a situation where your target audience group is too narrow for Google to want to spend processing power to run your ads.
Keywords with sufficiently low volume or low-volume keywords coupled with narrow regional targeting or other restrictions can make it very difficult for Google to show your ads to much of anyone. When that happens, they simply don’t show ads for those queries instead.
12: Your Ads are In Review
Google’s ad review process is said to take about a day (well, one business day) to process and either approve or deny the ads. However, in some cases, it can take longer, whether Google has a backup in their system, something flagged your ads for manual review, or the ads simply got lost in the cracks.
Either way, if you haven’t checked to make sure your ads are actually running before wondering why you have no impressions on them, it’s possible they simply got stuck in limbo, and you need to poke Google to get them to look into the problem.
Solving Google Ads Problems
Are you having issues running ads yourself? It’s tedious, time-consuming, and expensive when you make mistakes, so it’s no wonder why you might be more than ready to throw your hands up and abandon the system entirely.
Instead of that, though, why not reach out to us? We’re a digital marketing agency with years of experience with Google ads, and we’re more than happy to help. Drop us a line, and let’s chat about what we may be able to do for you!
Tim Woda is the CEO and founder of White Peak Marketing. He has been on the founding team of five successful start-ups and his digital marketing campaigns have acquired more than 800 million customers for his start-ups and White Peak’s client companies. Tim has been featured by The New York Times, Fox News, Forbes, The Huffington Post, and more. Under Tim’s direction, White Peak was selected as one of America’s Top Digital Marketing Agencies for 2021 by MarTech Outlook magazine.