Google Adwords: what NOT to do with UI

Business Owners

googleAdwordsI recently had the misfortune of running Google Adwords for a music studio that I run with a friend. I say misfortune because first I couldn’t figure it out. I must of gotten in 5 or 10 times without figuring out how to get it started. Add to that the fact that I kept getting innocuous emails saying only that something was wrong. Literally – “something”. No explanation, no help.

My business partner, not a “computer person”, simply a business owner, ended up trying it on her own and accidentally signing up several different accounts under different emails. Several months later and several hundred dollars spent without her knowledge (no emails reached her), we finally were able to cancel all the accounts. Unfortunately, Google decided it was her fault and refused to refund or even credit any of the money. For a small business, a couple hundred dollars in (unknown) advertising was pretty hard on the budget.

Was there human error? definitely. But the point of good UI is to minimize the possibility of human error, or at least make it able to be used. And, as a side note, I found it ironic that a massive company that sends out hundreds of thousands of “$100 free advertising” cards every month won’t eat even $100 to keep a current customer.

In light of this terrible experience with Google Adwords and their User Interface, I thought I’d share some helpful hints for those looking to avoid bad UI.

Note: I understand Google has currently been working on some of these issues. I’m also hopeful that they have hired an experienced UX Developer and am aware that possibly this Developer either doesn’t have the power to change it or the ability to change it quickly. I’m therefore not attacking a specific UX/UI Developer that may be working on fixing these problems; if you are working on it, more power to you.

Two Interfaces for the Same Thing

The first most glaring problem with Google Adwords is that there are two separate areas: Google Adwords and Google Adwords Express. Google Adwords shows the accounts under both (but not the other way around), but you can’t edit any of the Google Adwords Express Ads when you’re signed into Google Adwords. But they don’t tell you that. I figured it out through, ironically, googling “why I can’t delete Ad in Google Adwords”.

When I was on the phone with a representative and asked what the difference was, I was told that the Express was faster to sign up under. Just to be clear: that’s a terrible reason. It would be far better organized to have one Adwords and have an option to either walk through the entire process or do an “express” process.


The Sign in Page for Each

Bad Error Messages

Another obvious UX issue is the terrible error messages. For example, if the ad doesn’t work, communicating what’s wrong is pretty important. Unfortunately, the email you get is extremely vague:


Thank you for advertising with AdWords Express. After reviewing your
account, we’ve found that the ad for your business listing doesn’t meet
our guidelines.

Site Policy: We’ve determined that your site doesn’t comply with our
site policies. Because of this, any ads promoting this site have been

For more information about suspended sites, please see:

Sign in to AdWords Express at to edit
your ad. When you create and save a new ad, it’ll automatically be
submitted for review by our policy specialists.

If you have any further questions or concerns, please let us know.


AdWords Express Team
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043

I figured with the power of Google, they could connect to your account and actually tell you what was wrong. When you log in, here’s the resulting messages:


So there’s three notices. The first one I see, despite the bright red one with a blue link (difficult to read), is the “Ads Disapproved” which tells me to view the Advertising Policies. But of course, if you take a look at the red link, you’ll realize that I don’t have any money in my account. Why do they tell me then to review the Advertising Policies?

And, just in case, they add a third notice that further confuses the issue. It simply says it was disapproved.

As a result, I’m now wondering if there’s multiple problems with my ad, or just the problem of not having money in the account. I still don’t know which it is.

And just in case you try to delete a campaign (Google Adwords), you get this notification – poorly designed and no help at all.


Do you see that red notification? That appeared after I hit the Deleted option in the dropdown and confirmed that I wanted it deleted in the resulting pop-up.

It doesn’t tell why; it doesn’t tell how to delete or pause it, it simply says “no”. Frustrating to say the least when you’re trying to pause an ad campaign. As I mentioned above, I searched Google for what this message means and some kind soul said it was because the Ad Campaign was in Adwords Express.

Poorly Worded Navigation

I have seen a huge improvement in Google Adwords Express’s layout and navigation. But Google Adwords is really bad. The links for the ads are:

Campaigns, Ad Groups, Settings, Ads, Keywords, Ad Extensions, Dimensions, and Display Network.

Even when I click on each link, I still can’t tell exactly what each one is. I guess you have different campaigns that each have Ad Groups within them, have their own settings, and each Ad Group has their own Ads within the Ad Groups.

I’m guessing the keywords are within each Ad. I’m not sure what an Ad Extension is. I think Dimensions are actually Statistics. And I don’t know what Display Network is.

Here’s what they could do better. First, organization is vital. The setup now is incredibly confusing. If everything means what I think it means (at least the ones I know), just a simple breadcrumb approach would be better:

Campaigns -> Ad Group Name -> Ads -> Keywords

If dimensions are actually statistics, call them statistics. There’s no reason to use a word no one will get. Finally, if the concept isn’t immediately obvious, add an explanation in the actual page. There’s no reason not to – even if you add it to the bottom it’s better then having the user completely lost.

Bottom line: If your target audience is business owners, make it so that business owners can actually understand what’s going on.


After going through all that, I’ve basically decided I won’t use Google Adwords pretty much ever – or at least until their UI drastically improves. If I’m going to spend money, I don’t want to also be frustrated while I’m doing it.

If you’re planning on using Google Adwords, I’d recommend a two things:

First, call them and have them set it up over the phone and/or hire someone who does this a lot. Ask lots of questions in either circumstance. Confirm, confirm, confirm how much money you’ll be spending and how they charge you (automatic or pre-fill).

Second, because of my experience, I’m not very trusting of Google with my credit card (even though it wasn’t mine they overcharged). I’d recommend using a pre-fill card or one of those one-time use credit card numbers you can get through your current credit card.

  • Ernesto says:

    Dear Kim,

    Thank you for writing this entry about all the troubles you went through with your AdWords campaign. I am just getting started and your advice will be very helpful avoiding pitfalls. I liked the illustrated examples, the time you put gathering all the info, and pretty much agree with ALL the recommendations you dish out, to Google, non the less!
    Congratulations! keep up the good work.


  • […] Google Adwords: what NOT to do with UI | Kim Joy FoxFor example, if the ad doesn't work, communicating what's wrong is pretty important. Unfortunately, the email you get is extremely vague: Hello,. Thank you for advertising with AdWords Express. After reviewing your account. […]