1. Google’s location targeting seems fairly straightforward at first. However, are you aware that Sandton has a larger digital population than Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban combined? Well not really, but Google seems to think so.
If you set your targeting in AdWords to “Johannesburg”, your ads will be narrowly confined to the areas around the CBD, excluding Sandton and most of what Wikipedia refers to as “the largest city in South Africa”.
On the other hand, if you target “Cape Town”, your ads will be displayed to people as far out of town as Koeberg nuclear station, Kuils River and Gordon’s Bay.
This sort of peculiarity must cost advertisers millions of rands in misspent advertising, so be sure to check that what you think Google means is what Google actually means.
2. Available in South Africa in English, Google Express is Google’s easy way to start using AdWords, without having to know anything about AdWords. It does make setting up your account very simple. Google will even give you expert set-up support at no extra cost if you spend more than R60 per day.
This might be worth a test if you have a limited budget, but note that Google’s experts don’t always point out potential pitfalls of AdWords advertising. They’re also generally not aware of local issues, like those affecting location targeting.
3. Google AdWords has a helpline at 0800 000 777. It’s free of charge from South Africa and is available during business hours from Monday to Friday. When you call, you’ll be asked for your AdWords customer ID, which appears at the top of any AdWords page. The support is available only in English, and you might struggle with strong international accents. I’ve encountered what I assume to be a Dublin accent, but it could just as well have been Martian.
4. Google often gives out promotional codes that qualify customers for substantial free advertising. The current promotion provides R900 in credit after you spend the equivalent amount. You can’t ask Google for this directly, but if you use an agency or larger web design company, it should be able to provide you with a coupon. Alternatively, look out for AdWords promotions in online or printed media.
5. Google allows AdWords advertisers to bid on trademarked names and words. So if a bunch of competitor ads appear at the top of a results page when people search for your business name, you can’t stop this by complaining to Google.
Unless the ads or sites using your business name are otherwise false or misleading, you also probably don’t have grounds to take legal action, as confirmed by a South African court case in 2014.
So what can you do? You can try to outbid your competitors, bid yourself on competitor brand terms or hope that most people already looking for your business will find you in the organic search listings.
You may have more luck protecting your trademarked terms in actual ad text, where fraudulent use of these terms is likely to be against Google’s Trademark policies.
6. It’s relatively easy (and strongly advisable) to track certain kinds of conversions that take place on your website. For example, you can track how many people click a button to buy a product or fill in and submit a form.
However, it’s more difficult to track users who click on an ad to visit your website and phone you once they’ve had a look. To address this, Google launched website call conversions in 2014, described as “a powerful way for you to identify and measure calls from your website that occur after an ad click”.
Sadly, this is one of several AdWords features not available in South Africa. Our Google representative recently suggested we “don’t hold our breath” waiting for it to be launched here. For many businesses, this means there’s a major gap in their understanding of their marketing efforts.
There are ways to address this, including third-party call tracking services, and you can track clicks on phone numbers from mobile devices. Nevertheless, it would be nice if Google were to provide its website call conversions service to its hard-pressed South African advertisers.
7. Our clients often experience issues with credit card payments to Google, which are sometimes declined for no obvious reason. This can lead to a frustrating back and forth tussle between Google and your financial institution, with neither providing any proper explanation of what’s occurring or why.
Have a look at this short video to acquaint yourself with common reasons why your transaction might be declined. Also, if a transaction does go awry, be sure to contact the card division of your bank rather than a branch or regular helpline. We have also encountered confirmed bugs in Google’s systems, so this does happen on occasion.