AdWords Ads Not Showing – What's Going On?

Hi and welcome to Rapid Immersion, where we discuss questions and topic areas within your digital marketing ecosystem.

This week: ‘I searched for my keyword but my AdWords ad isn’t showing. What’s going on?’

To start out, this is an item that every AdWords advertiser has or will face.

If you’ve been using AdWords for some time, chances are that you’ve searched for your own keywords but not seen your ad.

And if you’re working with an agency, you’ll also know that this is one of those situations that can easily cause an email to get sent that is flagged as important and has ‘URGENT’ in capital letters in the subject line. I know, I’ve received them!

And that’s fair enough, because not seeing your ad appear when it should can be a stressful and frustrating experience, and it’s quite normal to think that something must be seriously wrong for this situation to arise.

However, there are many legitimate reasons why an AdWords ad may not show.

These reasons are not immediately obvious either, so this video is going to be focused on addressing the most common causes for an ad not showing with a discussion about each point, and links to tools and resources for further info.

Hopefully after watching this video, you will know much more about the ins and outs of the AdWords system if you’re new to it, be aware of specialty tools that help with diagnosing and previewing ads, and be able to assist others who ask you the same question.

So, let’s jump in.

Imagine you’ve just searched for a keyword that an ad would normally show for, but it’s not there. What is going on?

Here are the top factors that are likely causing this:

Personal Search history

Google’s objective with AdWords is to serve ads that people find relevant and enticing.

Google tracks searcher behaviour and history to be able to do this, keeping a record of the ads people see and engage with.

If a searcher is looking for a particular keyword repeatedly over time, and does not engage with an advertiser’s ad, a pattern of behaviour is established.
Google uses this pattern of behaviour to determine which ads to show in the future.

So if an advertiser searches Google in an effort to trigger their own ads and does not click through, Google may start withholding those ads from that searcher because it (incorrectly) perceives that this person is not interested in the ads or the advertiser.

As you can imagine, this situation can easily occur and cause a person to think ads are not showing for all people when in fact, it’s individual search history at play.

Beyond this, using live searches to check for ads generates impressions without clicks on your account, which harms the metrics of the campaign and can cause clicks to cost more. Ouch.

So if you can’t see your ad, personal search history might be the cause. If so, ads are not triggering for you individually but will be showing for others.

Budget Settings

Budget settings impact ad visibility drastically. With AdWords, budget is most commonly set on a per day basis. Ads will show while budget is available and if budget exhausts, ads stop showing.

Now, some advertisers have a lot keywords they’re trying to cover and they have lots of budget to do so. In this case, these advertisers would likely want to show their ads as often as they possibly can, so every single time someone searches for a targeted keyword.

To serve ads as often as possible, Google provides an ad pacing method called ‘Accelerated Delivery’.

Accelerated Delivery is best for advertisers who want to maximise volume and have an ample budget.

If you want your ad to show every time it’s eligible to do so, accelerated delivery is probably the right setting for you.

On the other hand, the majority of advertisers would like to target a variety of keywords but have a limited budget available to do so.

If these advertisers were to show ads as often possible – such as by using the ‘Accelerated Delivery’ setting – their budget could be exhausted quickly – say by 11am each morning – causing invisibility for the rest of the day, as their ads would no longer have budget to show.
This is not ideal.

To cater for this situation, Google have an alternate pacing method called ‘Standard Delivery’.

Standard Delivery enables ads to be staggered throughout the day, so instead of showing every single possible time, maybe they show half the time, or a third of the time, so one in every two searches, or one in every three searches.

The goal of standard delivery is to give a limited budget the best chance of being evenly distributed throughout the morning, afternoon, evening and at night, or whichever ad schedule you’re using.

So, if an ad isn’t showing for a particular search:

  • Budget may have exhausted for the day, such as in the case of the accelerated delivery setting
  • Ads may be staggered to show part time, such as in the case of the standard delivery setting

Keyword Targeting

In order for a keyword to trigger an ad, it must be configured to do so within the AdWords platform.

But, sometimes a keyword is present in the platform, and still doesn’t cause an ad to show for other reasons related to individual keyword settings.

Many advertisers are concerned that if their ad isn’t showing for a given keyword, it is because that keyword is missing or absent from the account.

In the case of a person who’s working with an agency, not seeing a keyword trigger an ad can cause the client to believe their campaign manager has ‘forgotten’ to include it, which raises questions about the competency of the campaign manager and their understanding of the client’s advertising objectives. Again, an uncomfortable scenario!

So, what’s important to know here, is that if a keyword isn’t triggering an ad, it doesn’t mean the campaign manager has ‘forgotten’ it. They might have forgotten it, but they probably haven’t.

Let’s look at what could be could be happening:

The campaign manager has decided not to emphasize the keyword in question versus others in the account.

For example: maybe the campaigns are set to deliver the maximum amount of conversions for a particular budget, and historically, this keyword wasn’t converting at an acceptable level.

  • To improve account performance, the AdWords manager may have limited the visibility of this term in order to shift budget toward better performing areas of the account while optimisations to improve that keywords performance are underway.

There’s another setting that’s causing issues, for example:

  • The keyword is only scheduled to show at particular times of day, such as during business hours only.
  • The keyword is scheduled to only appear on a particular device such as desktop, mobile or tablet.
  • The keyword is set to show only in particular location, such as five kilometers from the company head office.
  • There’s something blocking this term such as a negative keyword. This can occur when there’s multiple people managing an account and operating independently of each other, which is why it’s important to have a central account manager.

If the keyword is missing, it’s generally straightforward to fix if appropriate to do so. The keyword can simply be added.

What I would urge is a discussion about why the keyword may be missing first though, as the decision to exclude a particular term may have been based on good reason.

For example: the keyword has been deliberately removed because it doesn’t convert, as per campaign data.
This type of information is best communicated in strategy sessions and at reporting time, when improvement actions are being planned.

Other factors

If ads aren’t showing for any of the reasons above, which are the most common, it could be:

  • A billing issue. If Google cannot access funds, the account will cease to run. You’ll receive notifications if this is the case.
  • A bidding strategy issue. Bids for a particular keyword may need to be raised, especially if competitors are adjusting bids by time of day. AdWords is a live auction environment so this will occur.
  • An approval issue, such a landing page not functioning correctly or text content being disapproved.
  • A quality score issue, relating the relevance of the ad, landing page and click through rate.
  • Something else. A troubleshooting analysis may be required! This can include getting in touch with Google as from time to time, mistakes in their system do occur!

What to do when you search for your keyword and don’t see it

If you’re working with an agency, just ask your campaign manager.
Any information you can provide such as the keyword, device type, browser, time of day, your location and whether you were using a device with search history is helpful.

Your campaign manager can check your account, verify the situation and explain the cause, making any adjustments as appropriate.

A tip: many advertisers want to make sure that a visitor who has already been to their website but did not convert, can easily find it again, which is part of the motivation for having ads always trigger in search.

Google allow you adjust ad delivery settings specifically for people who have already been to your website and are still searching using your target keywords.

This feature is called Remarketing Lists for Search Ads, or RLSA. RLSA is a smart way to make sure your ads trigger in search results for past visitors as they use keywords that signal they’re still in market and looking to return.

It’s also affordable, because the only people who can see RLSA campaigns are previous visitors, a small audience.

If you’d like to diagnose issues yourself, make use of specialty tools Google provides.

The first is the Google Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool and the second is Keyword Diagnosis report.

These tools will point you in the right direction as they are designed to help with this exact problem. All advertisers should use the Google Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool versus the live search results, as the data it provides will be the most accurate for you.

Well, that about wraps us up for today’s episode. Thanks for your time and happy optimising. Cheers!

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