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Make sure your AdWords destination URLs work

If you’re only advertising a certain website, and not managing it yourself, odds are that at one point one of the URLs your ads point to will not work. It happened to me, after a few years of no such issues whatsoever.

That is a violation of Google AdWords Destination URLs policy, which states, among others, the following:

  • Your website can’t be under construction or link to an error page.
  • Your destination URL can’t return an error status code beginning with a 4 or a 5 (such as a 405 error).

If you’ve been careful enough, you’ve asked your webmaster to make sure the website does not return an error status code for a page which does not work, or which no longer exists.

I for one, when I’ve noticed that on E-Commerce websites products get moved, or they get deleted, and I was not notified by the shop manager that they’ve moved or they’re no longer sold, I asked the developers to redirect the broken URLs to a search results page, which checked for products matching parts of the old URL. If http://example.com/widgets/blue/nice-blue-widget-medium-size.html was not available, the server redirected to http://example.com/search/nice+blue+widget+medium+size, and hopefully something similar was found, and a penalty was avoided.

That worked fine until the day when the search engine was tweaked, a product name contained some unusual characters, and the search threw an error in the application and we promptly got a message from AdWords stating that four ads were disapproved. I was numbstruck, as I knew that repeated violations can lead to domain suspension and even the suspension of that account, and any other related accounts.

So I left everything, remembered good old Xenu, the link checker, a reliable, fast, and above all free application and put it to some good work.

I created an ad report, and a keyword report (make sure to include the destination URL in the keywords report, it’s found in the “attributes” section of the metrics), took all the URLs I found there, excluded duplicates (you can easily do that in excel), and saved as a text file.

Then I opened Xenu,  and in its options I made sure I had the maximum depth set to 0 (I did not want Xenu to crawl all my links on the website, I only wanted that URL list checked). Then, I also checked “treat redirections as errors”, and in the Report area I asked it to report “redirected URLs” as well. I did that because I wanted to find the former pages which redirected to a search as well. I want my ads to point precisely to the page they’re supposed to, which is the most relevant page for that ad, not a search result page, because I need the highest quality score possible (and the lowest cost) for a certain keyword.

Xenu crawling optionsVery quickly I found the broken URLs and also the redirected ones. The broken URLs were reported as not found, and the redirected ones had a status of object permanently moved.

Broken and redirected URLs

By right clicking the troublesome URLs I could copy them to the clipboard, and then search for them in my Ad and Keywords reports, so I could identify the ads and keywords to which they belong.

Xenu - Copy URL

Then I found the corresponding new URLs and replaced them, making sure that all the ads and keywords now point exactly to the URLs they’re supposed to.

Of course, in an ideal organization, all parts whould work in sync, but a little prevention is always welcome, and can avoid serious consequences.

That’s how I did it, and I still do it, periodically. If you know a faster way of achieving the same results, I’d be glad to hear it.

About Calin Sandici

Father of two and husband of one, at the crossroads of Google AdWords, Analytics and E-Commerce.