It’s 2017 … Time You Were Protecting Your Passwords

Why Can’t Small Businesses Manage Their Passwords Safely?

It still amazes me just how bad businesses–in particular, but not exclusively, small businesses–manage their passwords. We’re almost a quarter of a century into the Internet revolution (I date it to 1993, when the popular press began talking about the Internet), and still the average person does a totally absurd job of managing passwords.

Password Management Programs


Working with my consulting clients I see these types of problems:

  • Passwords are absurdly weak: Way too many people (you know who you are!) create ridiculous passwords; a pet’s name, a child’s name, a favorite vacation spot, or maybe even password123.
  • Passwords are being saved unsafely: Written down on pieces of paper, waiting for some unauthorized person to walk off with them.
  • Passwords are lost: If I had a penny for every time a client has come to me asking how to get into their hosting account, or GoDaddy account, or whatever, because they can’t find the password … well, you know, I’d have a very large pile of pennies.
  • Passwords are shared: People give their passwords to too many people.
  • Passwords are re-used: The same dumb, easy-to-break password is used for logging into your bank accounts, Google, Twitter, etc. … If someone can figure out the password you use for one account, they’ve got them all!
  • Accounts are shared: All too often companies use a single account, shared throughout the company, when they could use individual accounts.

As an example of the last item on the list, many companies set up a single account in their ecommerce system, then anyone in the company who needs access uses that one account. Five or ten employees may end up using the same account. Don’t do this!

If something goes wrong, there’s no way to figure out who was in the system when it happened. If someone quits, you have to change the password and tell everyone who needs access (though you could take the path that many companies do, and not bother changing the password, just trusting that the ex-employee is an honest, happy ex-employee!).

Password Management Systems


So, here’s a series of rules for small-business password management!

  1. Don’t share accounts! Set up separate accounts for each employee who needs access to a system.
  2. Use a password-management system. Such systems save your passwords securely, allow you to create more complicated (and thus safer) passwords, automatically log you into accounts, allow you to share passwords with people without them being able to see the password, and so on. More of this in a moment.
  3. Use complicated passwords. No more 123456 (the most popular password of 2017), or qwertyuiop (the 11th most popular). Now you’re using a password-management system, it’s easy to use complex passwords; the program will log into your accounts for you, so you don’t need to remember or type passwords. Use something like *n0q9wrBinF7ON$3g^ (yes, seriously!), which is essentially an unbreakable password.
  4. Don’t reuse passwords. Each login gets its own, unique, complicated password.
  5. Don’t share passwords (if you can help it). Look into using a password-management program that shares passwords without the borrower seeing the password (more on this in a moment). If you really have to share a password temporarily, change it as soon as access is no longer needed by the borrower.

The secret to good password management is using a password-management program. These are programs that save your passwords in an encrypted form; without the master password there is no way for anyone, even the National Security Agency or the CIA, to access your passwords. (Oh, quick note; use a strong password as your password manager’s master password!)

I’ve been using Roboform for years, but there are a number of good, well-known programs:

  • LastPass
  • Sticky Password
  • LogMeOnce
  • ZohoVault
  • … and plenty more

PC Magazine did a review of password managers. Spend some time looking for one you like; try them out, even … this is important stuff. Find one you like, then learn how to use it thoroughly!

I decent password manager will do these things for you:

  • Securely save passwords. You won’t be able to access them without a password.
  • Make your passwords available across platforms. In a Windows PC, on a Mac, on your smart phone, and in a Web browser. You’ll be able to get to your passwords wherever you are, even if you are not near your computer.
  • Generate passwords for you. Yes, passwords like *n0q9wrBinF7ON$3g^.
  • Automatically capture passwords from login forms. The first time you login, the program captures the info for you … then you never have to log in manually again, you use the program.
  • Automatically log into accounts for you. Type the name of the account into the browser plugin, press Enter, and the program opens a Web tab, goes to the account, and logs in. (This has saved me somewhere around a gazillion hours over the last decade.)

A good password manager does more.

  • Analyze your passwords and show you where you’ve reused passwords, and which ones are so weak they should be changed.
  • Securely save your personal information (address, credit cards, social-security number, etc.), and automatically fill in forms for you. Another huge time saver!
  • Share passwords with someone else; they’ll be able to login to the site automatically, but will never know the actual password you used. Once they no longer need access, you can stop sharing.

And there’s more … save text notes within the password app (bank account numbers, the code for your garage door opener or safe, and so on); digital inheritance (a way to pass on your passwords to someone else in the event of death or incapacitation); importing passwords from browsers; and more useful stuff.

Come on, it’s time to get this nonsense sorted out! A quarter of a century is long enough, accounts and passwords are now part of normal life for almost half the world’s population, surely it’s time we took password security seriously!

No, You Can’t Stop Your Customers Complaining!

The Consumer Review Fairness Act Protects Their Right to Gripe

Online reviews are a double-edged sword for today’s business. A firm that knows how to manage reviews well can benefit greatly. Businesses that don’t, or simply deserve bad reviews, can be seriously harmed.

Consumer Review Fairness Act - Online Reviews

Yelp’s Anti-Litigator Warning Box

Perhaps not surprisingly, some businesses thought they’d try a little legal arm-twisting in order to guarantee good reviews. They began including clauses (known as disparagement clauses) in their contracts that ban customers from posting reviews, or even (in at least one case) clauses that require clients to post good reviews.

An example of the former type of contract is that used by Prestigious Pets, in Dallas, TXPrestigious Pets, a pet-sitting company, was upset when a customer posted a lukewarm Yelp review. Well, okay, not just lukewarm, but pretty awful.

So Prestigious Pets sued; not just for defamation (which is very hard to prove, especially when it’s a real review rather than a malicious review posted by, say, a competitor)… but they also sued for breach of contract. Initially for $6,700 in small claims court, but later for $1million in big-boy court.

Breach of contract? How is that possible? Well, it turns out that the contract had what’s known as a disparagement clause. Here’s what the original complaint filed by Prestigious Pets said:

“Prestigious Pets has a valid, enforceable contract with Mr. Duchouquette via the Agreement. Under the Agreement, Mr. Duchouquette agreed not to make negative comments about Prestigious Pets and to not disparage Prestigious Pets. In pertinent part, the nondisparagement clause states: “[Y]our acceptance of this agreement prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts Prestigious Pets, LLC, its reputation, products, services, management, employees or independent contractors….Any violation of this clause is to be determined by Prestigious Pets LLC in its sole discretion….””

PP’s argument, was, of course, that the Yelp review constituted “defamatory and disparaging statements.”

Think this is a unique event? Not so. Here are a few more examples, from Joe Mullin at ArsTechnica. In the primary story in Joe’s article, the contract even stated that the copyright of photographs taken by tenants in their apartments, and of “written works” about their apartments, would become the landlord’s property.

And another … the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, N.Y. had a contract stating that “there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event.” Wow, I wonder how that turned out for them.

Now, how about a company that requires clients to post good reviews? Joe Mullin wrote about that, too. The City Park Apartments, in Salt Lake City, had a Facebook Addendum added to their contracts. Not only did the Addendum ban bad reviews, but it required that residents “Friend” the City Park Apartments Facebook page within 5 days, and remain friends with the Facebook page as long as they remained tenants.

Disparagement Clauses Never Worked Well in the US… and Don’t Work At All Now

Such disparagement clauses have never stood up terribly well in US Courts; they usually fail to be upheld. But there are two other reasons businesses should stay away from such practices.

First, there’s the new Consumer Review Fairness Act, one of the last bills signed into law before President Obama disappeared on his extended kitesurfing vacation. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has recently published regulations related to this Act.

As the FTC states,

“Contracts that prohibit honest reviews, or threaten legal action over them, harm people who rely on reviews when making their purchase decisions. But another group is also harmed when others try to squelch honest negative reviews: businesses that work hard to earn positive reviews.”

I particularly like that last sentence that I have bolded; it’s true, businesses that play these games are also, in effect, hurting honest businesses just trying to do the right thing. Anyway, what’s the effect of this new law? These ridiculous clauses are not simply unenforceable, they are illegal:

“In summary, the Act makes it illegal for a company to use a contract provision that:

  1. bars or restricts the ability of a person who is a party to that contract to review a company’s products, services, or conduct;
  2. imposes a penalty or fee against someone who gives a review; or
  3. requires people to give up their intellectual property rights in the content of their reviews.”

This is important to understand. Such clauses are not merely unenforceable, but can be treated “the same as violating an FTC rule defining an unfair or deceptive act or practice. This means that your company could be subject to financial penalties, as well as a federal court order.” Yep, you could be fined. But go ahead, make your attorney’s day, because you’ll pay a fortune in legal fees, too.

Another Reason? Consumers Will Hate You!

Now, here’s the other reason such actions make no sense; they backfire! What happened to Prestigious Pets? Well, here’s what you see if load the Prestigious Pets Yelp review:

Probably not great for business, eh? Prestigious Pets also lost their lawsuit (as I said, such clauses didn’t hold up well in court, and that was before the Consumer Review Fairness Act), ending up with huge legal bills, including those of the Defendants. (Not to mention “numerous death and rape threats.”)

Here’s what I find particularly crazy about Prestigious Pets’ actions. Go look at the top of the Prestigious Pets Yelp review page and click the “Got it, thanks!” button on that Consumer Alert box. What do you notice?  They have tons of great reviews! 4.5 Stars with 64 reviews! They should have been pretty happy with that!

Yes, there’s a sprinkling of bad reviews; but perhaps PP should consider those a learning lesson! I do recognize bad reviews can be painful for businesses, in particular fake reviews–I’ve been an expert witness on several lawsuits related to fake reviews, so I’ve seen it in action. But there are much better ways to handle painful–but genuine–reviews. (I’ll blog on this subject soon.)

How about the Union Street Guest House? It must have worked out well for them, though, stopping any and all members of wedding parties from posting negative reviews, eh? (What is a negative review, anyway? 4 stars? 3 stars? 2?) Hmmm, not so well, really:

How about the City Park Apartments? Well, firstly they got terrible, terrible, national news coverage. Then someone posted an unofficial Facebook page that received hundreds of one-star reviews (the page has gone now).

Consumer’s don’t like these games; far from helping a firm’s reputation, they can very quickly kill it. That’s if the FTC doesn’t get to you first.

No, Content is Not King! (At Least Not for SEO, or Small-Business Digital Marketing)

Don't Believe This One-Size-Fits-All Content-Marketing Nonsense

You’ve probably heard the phrase, Content is King. I recently asked for a show of hands at a speech I was giving, “how many of you know the phrase ‘content is king,'” and I was surprised at how many people, in this non-technical, small-business audience, with little understanding of digital marketing or SEO, had heard the phrase.

Content is Not King in SEO [depositphotos]

No, One Size Does Not Fit All

The phrase has become so common in the digital-marketing arena, that it’s spread into layman consciousness. Google the term “content is king” in quotation marks, and you’ll find (at the time of writing) 433,000 pages with that exact phrase.

Content is King may be quite correct in some contexts; but in the context to which it is commonly applied these days, it’s completely wrong. What’s that context? One frequently hears the term in relation to SEO, or as an overall strategy for small-business digital marketing. It’s simply not true, and I’ll tell you why.

But first, where does the phrase even come from?

It’s generally attributed to an essay written by Bill Gates, back in 1996, and I have no argument with his position. It’s an essay about how the Internet would essentially become a content machine, that “Over time, the breadth of information on the Internet will be enormous, which will make it compelling” [although he was overly optimistic about the development of micropayments which, by 1997 he believed, would “allow content providers to charge just a cent or a few cents for information” … we’re still waiting, two decades later, for an effective solution for that! … but, I digress…]

Over the last few years the term Content is King has come to mean a couple of things. Within the SEO field, it means that the most important thing you can do to get your Web site ranked high in the search results, is to create content.

And in a more general sense, I think it’s come to mean that content marketing is the digital-marketing strategy of first choice. Seth Godin has even called content-marketing “the only marketing left” … really?!

It’s wrong, wrong, wrong!

In SEO, Links Win

First, let’s get technical, in the SEO sense. If anything’s “King” in the SEO world, it’s links. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. It’s possible for a Web page to rank #1 in the search results, with minimal content, if it has sufficient links pointing to it from other Web sites.
  2. A Web page containing fantastic, extensive, Pulitzer-prize winning content won’t rank anywhere in the search results without links pointing to it, or to the site on which it’s hosted, sufficient to convince the search engines it must be valuable…
  3. …and even if it does have links pointing to it, it will rank lower than a page with mediocre content that has more valuable links pointing to it.

I doubt anybody in the SEO business would disagree with these basic principles! I would never say “Links are King,” … but in a battle between links and content, links definitely win the SEO prize.

Here’s why I dislike this phrase. It’s a one-size-fits-all answer. Content is King seems to mean–and let’s face it, does mean, when the statement is made by content-marketing firms–that you’d be nuts to do anything but content marketing, or at least that content marketing should be your first step.

Don’t misunderstand me; there’s a place for content marketing. In fact, in some cases content marketing is a remarkably effective strategy.

The problem is, it’s not always true. It’s simply not true that all companies should start with content marketing. 

From an SEO standpoint, for instance, many small companies can rank well with very little effort. If you have specialty business in a particular location, you should be able to rank well without trying very hard; definitely without getting into the business of creating world-class “content” about your subject area. Let’s say you own a paintball field, or an indoor skydiving tower (huh? see here, it’s really cool). You have so little competition, that ranking well in the major search engines is not a matter of spending a fortune on “content,” it’s a matter of doing the SEO basics (including getting a few links).

Every Business is Different

In fact, there are so many different forms of digital marketing, there is no King. What may work for your jewelry company, may not work for your friend’s Japanese restaurant, or his mother’s poster store, or my speaking business. There’s a multitude of different businesses, why on earth should one form of marketing work for them all? It doesn’t. 

As I write this, I’m reminded of Sir Ken Robinson’s wonderful Ted Talk about education and it’s ills. (Not only does Sir Ken make a lot of sense, but he’s also a very entertaining speaker; listen to this speech not just to educate yourself about education, but because it’s fun.)

Sir Ken says at one point [8m:32s],

“…the pinnacle for education is getting you to college. I think we are obsessed with getting people to college. Certain sorts of college. I don’t mean you shouldn’t go, but not everybody needs to go, or go now. Maybe they go later, not right away.”

That’s just how I feel about “content.” I don’t think you shouldn’t use content, but not everybody needs content, or needs content now… Maybe you develop content later, not right away.

So next time you hear the phrase, “content is King,” ask what the speaker or writer does for a living. Who knows, you may discover he or she is in the content-marketing business.

Don’t Pay to SEO Optimize Your Site

Optimizing Your Site is Not Brain Surgery ... Whoever Builds, Should Optimize


Last week I published a blog post explaining that most SEO services are a scam (I won’t repeat myself; you can find out about the SEO scam here).

I want to explain another way businesses can avoid getting ripped off: by understanding the role of page optimization.

There are essentially two sides to Search Engine Optimization: on-page and off-page.

On-page optimization is how you code your Web site, essentially putting keywords into appropriate places in the site, making sure the site is readable by search engines, adding an XML sitemap, and so on.

Off-page “optimization” is not really optimization per se … it’s getting links pointing from other Web sites pointing to yours. I’m not going to discuss that in this post, just let me say that off-page work–linking–is in many cases the most complicated, difficult, frustrating part of SEO, and yet for most sites it’s the most important work, too. If few sites link to yours, the major search engines are not going to care about your site much, so won’t rank it highly (unless you have little competition in the search results for the keywords you care about … but that’s another subject for another day.)

So, today let’s consider on-page optimization … and why you shouldn’t pay an outside service to “optimize” your Web site. 

Many SEO firms offer page optimization as a service…they will, in theory, come into your site, and “optimize” the pages periodically.

On-page optimization is, quite simply, making sure your site can be read properly by the search engines, and that it has the correct keywords in the correct places (such as folder names, filenames, H1 tags, body text, internal links, and so on) … and various ancillary items, such as the XML sitemaps I mentioned earlier. The details don’t matter for my argument today. Let me simply explain why you shouldn’t pay a third party to do this work for you.

1: It’s Easy

Despite all the blinding-with-science going on in the SEO arena, on-page optimization is surprisingly easy. It is not brain surgery. It’s not rocket science either. Once you understand it, it’s disturbingly simple… you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. So…

2: Whoever Builds Your Site, Needs to Optimize It

For years I’ve been dissuading my consulting clients from paying SEO firms to optimize their sites. Why? Well, why duplicate the effort? You already have someone tinkering around in your site, why not have them optimize the site while they’re building it? 

They don’t know how to, you say. That’s true, they probably don’t, and as I mentioned in my post last week, Web development firms are notoriously bad at SEO. But see my Point #1 … It’s Easy! Page optimization is not brain surgery, so you don’t need to hire a specialist. You do, however, need to make sure who ever is building the site knows what he or she should be doing to it. But again … It’s Easy!

For many clients, I have given “tutorials” to Web-development staff, a very specific run-down of what they need to be doing. I’ll do a keyword analysis first, then I’ll discuss basic optimization techniques–“create an optimized page for each of these keywords…put the focus keyword in the URL, put it in an H1 heading near the top of the page, scatter it throughout the page, create a link from another page using the keyword as anchor text,” and so on.

Once developers understand simple optimization, they can run with it. And it doesn’t have to take weeks of work to learn how to do it.

3: No Third Party Will Optimize Your Site as Well as You or Your Staff

There are always exceptions, I guess, but in general no third party will optimize a site as well as an insider. This is based on my experience of seeing the results of “page optimization” done by SEO firms. (And assuming that the people building the site are willing to educate themselves properly.) I haven’t seen a third-party service do a good job of page optimization. In fact, they often do more harm than good.

4: You’re Continually Adding Content, Aren’t You?

Every time you add content, you should optimize the page the content sits on. Why wait for a third-party to do it for you, when it’s so simple anyway? And if you’re not continually adding content (and, by the way, not every site needs to … but that’s an argument for another day), then why would you need a third-party optimizing your content? Oh, because they told you that you need to tweak the site every month, did they?…

5: You Don’t Need to Continually Re-Optimize

Many SEO firms sign clients up for long-term, monthly contracts, in which they charge a fee for going into the clients’ sites once a month and “optimizing” them. But this is nonsense. Once a page is optimized, it’s optimized…there is no need to go back and re-optimize it, unless of course it wasn’t properly done in the first place! The constant tweaking provided by these firms is for the benefit of these firms, not your Web site.

Now, this isn’t to say you should never hire outside SEO services. I’m talking about on-page optimization here … whoever builds the pages needs to understand SEO and do the work (did I mention it’s not hard?). But there’s also off-page services…getting links pointing to your site. That’s where a third-party service may be useful. (But before you jump in make sure you read Small Business Beware! The SEO Scam.)

Need a simple outline of how to optimize a site’s Web pages? See my Udemy SEO course, which covers both on- and off-page optimization. 4.6 Stars out of 5, $10, you can’t go wrong!

Small Business Beware! The SEO Scam

SEO is 80% Scam - How to Protect Yourself


Been SEO scammed already? If so, you’re not alone.

I’ve now been involved in SEO for about two decades. Over the last 15 years or so, I’ve worked with literally hundreds of businesses, large and small, from Amazon to individual realtors, from Zillow to small industrial-equipment companies. Many of these businesses came to me after reading SEO for Dummies (or Search Engine Optimization for Dummies as it was named for the first five editions).

[For those of you who’ve been living in the proverbial cave for the last few years, SEO means Search Engine Optimization, and refers to techniques use to convince search engines that when somebody searches for blue widget, or whatever, your Web site is listed at the top of the blue widget search results.]

The refrain I often heard from these businesses was “we need help with our SEO,” and consequently I got to hear about the SEO experiences of numerous small businesses. What I quickly learned was, many of these companies were getting scammed.

Years ago, I posted an article on my Web site titled The SEO Business is 80% Scam. This led to various conversations with people in the Web-development and SEO business. I was initially nervous about this, assuming I’d get some push back at best, anger at worst. But what amused me was that overwhelmingly the response from colleagues was something along the lines of “really, only 80%?”

So let me be quite clear for you small business owners out there. It is well known in the Web-development, digital-marketing, and SEO arena that many of the SEO services being sold to small businesses are worthless (or at least worth far less than the fees paid).

There Are Decent SEO Firms & Consultants

Before I continue, let me just state that there are honest, knowledgeable consultants and firms out there.

They’re just in the minority. Sorry, but that’s the fact. How do I know? Because I’ve had the opportunity to see the results of numerous real SEO campaigns, shown to me by small-business owners. More commonly than not the SEO campaigns were useless… really bad on-page optimization, and useless links pointing to the business’ Web sites.

[SEO can be divided into two areas, “on-page”–things you do to your Web pages–and off-page, getting links from other sites pointing back to yours. With no good links pointing to your site, it doesn’t much matter what you do “on-page,” your site is unlikely to rank well in the search results.]

SEO is real. There really are things you can do to push a Web site up in the search results. It’s not that SEO itself is a scam; it’s that the business is mostly scam.

Two Types of Scam

There are essentially two types of scams.

The first is the outright scam. The company providing the service has little or no intention of providing anything of genuine value. Many small businesses think they need SEO (and often they do), but few small-business owners know what SEO really is. So they are easy to blind with science; a good salesperson can sign you up, and by the time you realize you’re not getting anything of value (because your Web site still can’t be found in the search results), you’ve paid months of fees, possibly thousands of dollars. The outright scam is, sadly, very common in the SEO world.

The second is the “accidental” scam. The barriers to entry are low; anyone can claim to be an SEO consultant, anyone can set up an SEO firm. So there are many, many people out there who really aren’t very good at what they do. They may have the best intentions in the world, but they simply can’t deliver.

A Special Category: Web Development Firms

Within the second category is an important subcategory; Web-development firms. It’s common these days–in fact has been for years–for Web developers (in particular Web-development firms rather than individual developers), to claim that they can and will “do the SEO” on your site for you.

Retro cartoon with texture. Isolated on White.

This is almost always untrue. Here’s an example. Not so long ago I was working with a Web-development firm that was developing a site for one of my consulting clients. This firm, like many (perhaps most), listed Search Engine Optimization on their Web site as one of the various services they provided. In fact they knew next to nothing about the subject. It was a battle to get them to implement the most basic SEO techniques. They had to have their hands held every step of the way. If I hadn’t been involved, my client’s site wouldn’t have been optimized in even the most basic way.

This is not an anomaly. Years ago the owner of a large Web-development firm confided in me that “we sell SEO services, but we don’t really know much about it.”

Here’s the takeaway: Regardless of what your Web developer says, you can’t rely on your Web-development firm to “do” SEO for you! That doesn’t mean there aren’t some developers who can do it; but most can’t.

How to Protect Yourself

So what do you do to avoid getting ripped off?:

  1. Educate Yourself: Learn the basics of SEO so that you don’t get blinded by science, so you can talk to Web developers and SEO firms and know whether what they are saying makes sense, and so you can evaluate the work being done. I have an 8-hour course on the subject on Udemy; learn SEO here for $10. You might read my book, SEO for Dummies. Or sign up for some other kind of training. But you, or someone in your organization, needs to be educated!
  2. Don’t Rely on Your Web Developer: I explained why above; before you let you developer deal with SEO for you, you need a good reason … they need to convince you they know what they’re doing (see #1, above).
  3. Check References: It’s really important to work with someone who has a track record. Don’t simply work with someone who you ran into at a seminar, or who contacted you by email and offered SEO services. You have to have a reason to believe that who you are working with knows what they are doing. The ideal is to work with someone with glowing reviews from a friend or colleague.
  4. Understand What They Are Telling You: It always amazes me how many business owners don’t know what they are getting for their money. If the firm can’t explain it clearly, you shouldn’t be working with them.
  5. It’s All About Links: I’ll write later about my theory that you should never pay a firm to “optimize” your site. But you may need linking services. If you buy linking services, you need to understand what kind of links you’re getting. If the firm won’t show you, or only creates garbage links (another subject I’ll cover later), you shouldn’t be working with them.
  6. Check, Check, Check: Keep an eye on what’s being done. You need regular reports, showing exactly where links are being created, and how your site’s rank is improving in the search results. (Again, I don’t believe in buying on-page optimization services… I’ll explain why in a later post.)

Worthless SEO services are the norm. The good news is, forewarned is forearmed. You don’t have to be one of the thousands of business owners who’s poured money into the SEO black hole!

Six Great Reasons You Should Never Use Google AdWords Express

(Just Mail a Check Directly to Google Instead!)

AdWords Express provides a fast way set up a simple Google AdWords PPC advertising campaign… but a really terrible way to set up a good AdWords account, it’s a method that will almost certainly cost you more money in clicks than you make in sales.

First, what exactly is AdWords Express? I must admit that in years of PPC advertising (I first started working with PPC early this century, and wrote Pay Per Click Search Engine Marketing for Dummies a decade ago) I had never used AdWords Express, until I recently examined a client’s failing AdWords campaign. (Express has been around for six years now, though it was originally named Google Boost.)

AdWords Express is essentially a simplified version of AdWords (you can find it here: Unfortunately, sometimes simplifying equals dumbing down, and that’s just what’s happened with AdWords Express. It’s dumbed way down, making it a simple task for just about anyone to set up an AdWords text ad within minutes, and to lose money almost as quickly.

Here’s the problem. PPC advertising is not simple. Just because it’s possible to simplify a process, doesn’t mean you should, and it definitely doesn’t mean the end result is a good thing. Dumb down rocket science and you end up with exploding rockets; dumb down brain surgery and you end up with lobotomies.

So here are the 6 top reasons you really shouldn’t use Google AdWords Express:

  1. You Don’t Get to Pick Your Keywords
  2. Your Ads Go Everywhere
  3. But You Have No Control Over Everywhere
  4. Your Ads are Broad Matched
  5. There’s Very Little Information or Control
  6. You Can’t Track Conversions

Ironically these six problems include four of the most significant mistakes made by marketers new to PPC. They don’t pick their keywords carefully, they display their ads on more than search results, they broad match their keywords, and they don’t track conversions. Google has taken the four worst mistakes, and programmed them into the AdWords interface!

You Don’t Get to Pick Your Keywords

Keywords are the basis of just about all online marketing, the very foundation. Words provide a way for you to connect with your prospects, so if you don’t understand the particular terms that your prospects are using, you’ll find it hard to connect. Google AdWords Express provides very little flexibility in keyword choice. You provide Google with a URL or keyword — not just any keyword, but one from a limited list that Google provides — and then Google picks your keywords for you.

Your Ads Go Everywhere

AdWords Express displays your ads almost everywhere Google AdWords reaches: Google search results, Google Maps, the Google Display network, and Google Search Partners. I won’t go into what all these are right now, but it’s generally a bad practice to start off a PPC campaign pushing ads to all these areas. It’s much safer to get it working properly in the search results, and then experiment with these other locations, because there’s a good chance you’ll lose money in the last three channels, at least until you fine tune your campaign.

You Have No Control Over Everywhere

One problem with pushing your ads to, say, the Display network, is that in order to manage such campaigns properly you really need to be able to filter and target — to select potential sites and to exclude other sites. Otherwise, your ads will end up in very unproductive locations. Your ad for fishing rods may end up on online game sites, for instance. But AdWords Express doesn’t allow you to do this. It provides no control over where your ads will appear. This is like dumbing down a powerful motorbike by putting training wheels on the back and removing the brakes.

Your Ads are Broad Matched

One of the biggest mistakes neophyte PPC advertisers make is to let the PPC networks broad-match their keywords. Without going into detail about different match types, let me just say that broad matching lets Google decide when to display your ad; so if you’re an car mechanic and you bid on denver car mechanic, your ad may be displayed when someone searches for becoming a car mechanic. I’m not saying that broad matching can’t work, it can, but almost never without very careful tracking. For instance, you need to be able to see what search terms trigger your ads and be able to assign negative keywords to block the ad in some circumstances. But …

There’s Very Little Information or Control

It’s ironic — Google AdWords Express has two characteristics that only work when you control your campaign very carefully: the broad distribution of your ads, and broad matching. Then it doesn’t give you the tools you need to control the campaign. It’s almost like they want you to waste money on clicks. [Insert Conspiracy Theory Here]

You Can’t Track Conversions

AdWords Express will show you how many clicks you get, which you do need to know of course. But there’s another step many newcomers miss, and that’s tracking conversions. What use is it to get 1,000 people to your Web site, at $1 a click, if you only convert one in a hundred with a gross profit of $20 each sale?

I’ll do the math for you… you’ll spend $1,000 on clicks to generate a gross profit — revenue minus cost of goods — of $200, which of course is only a profit until you subtract the advertising cost, at which point it turns into an $800 loss. Of course you won’t necessarily know this, unless you add conversion tracking. Which Google AdWords Express won’t let you do!
I could go on, but what’s the point? AdWords Express is a cool little tool that will simplify your advertising effort, and you should never use it. Simplifying a process is a nice idea, but when simplifying means dumbing down, and when dumbing down means you’re going to lose money, then move on and find another route to getting your ads online.

Most PPC advertisers already lose money, even using the full Google AdWords tool, and that’s bad for all of us. It’s bad for the advertisers losing the money because, well, they’re losing money. But it’s bad for the successful advertisers, too, because it pushes up click prices.

Oh, wait, it’s good for Google, though. Your wasted advertising dollars allow the company to invest in self-driving cars, quantum computers, and Google Lego. So, okay, go ahead and use Google AdWords Express … if you’re feeling charitable. Or better still, save some time, and just mail a check to Google.