How to Troubleshoot Poor PPC Performance

How To Troubleshoot Poor PPC Performance

Perhaps you’ve just started a ppc account for your business or you’ve been utilizing ppc as a marketing channel for a while. At some point, you’ll likely experience less than stellar performance – and that’s okay as long as you know what steps to take to right the ship.

In paid search, there are endless factors that can have an affect on your account’s performance: competition and industry bid costs, seasonality, world events, low account Quality Score, a new account that needs to build history, ineffective ad copy and landing pages, and the list goes on. Below, we’ve outlined a series of steps you can follow to start pinpointing when and how your account took a turn for the worse.


Step 1: Determine the time frame that your PPC account hasn’t been performing at an ideal level.

Start by running reports that compare this time frame to previous similar periods (week-over-week, month-over-month and year-over-year as available). It can also be helpful to know if your account typically performs consistently based on the day of the week so that you can spot emerging issues as they occur. When running your reports, you can start at the top level (think: campaigns or accounts if necessary) and work your way down to trouble ad groups and keywords. By looking at key metrics across various time frames such as: clicks, position, average cost-per-click, impression share, click-thru rate and conversion rate you can start to figure out if your issue stems from bids, new ad copy, an emerging competitor, or perhaps a landing page issue.

It also helps to dig in to your change history or notes to see what major tests or seemingly small changes you made that actually had a larger than expected impact. You can easily adjust or reverse these changes if you find them directly in Adwords.


Step 2: Utilize Analytics 

If your conversion rates have stalled or even been declining, it can be helpful to dig in to analytics and see what you can discover about how your ppc users are navigating your pages. One place to start in all of the analytics data available to you would be your landing page bounce rate. Some bounces are fine and to be expected, but if your rate is exceptionally higher than average on some page or has been increasing, it could be cause for concern. Figuring out which landing pages and more specifically, keywords, have high bounce rates can help you determine where to focus your optimizations. To decrease bounce rates, you can implement strategies such as: better directing keywords to pages that match a user’s search query, implement a more logical and functional path to conversion, and/or test your page’s call-to-action. In addition to these higher-level findings, be sure to drill in to deeper insights such as how your traffic is performing by device type.


Step 3: Check Conversion Tracking

A more obvious step in the process is to check on conversion tracking. If you have many conversion points on your site such as call tracking, a form, email links, and secondary/tertiary “soft” conversion points like clicks to specific pages, etc. you’ll want to know how to check in on these points when something seems off. For Adwords conversion tracking, a quick look under the conversion section (Tools > Conversions) of your account will help you identify any conversion points that haven’t recently been seen or fired on your website. Navigate to the Tracking Status column to see how each one is performing. If the status shows unverified or tag inactive, you likely have an issue. You can follow these steps to troubleshoot the tracking issue. An easier way (especially if you’re an agency or a representative of a company) to implement and keep tabs on conversion tracking is to utilize Google Tag Manager or GTM. This tool is especially helpful when your marketing, development and client teams are working toward similar goals but separated from one-another. You can easily use Google’s Tag Assistant to check that pixels are firing as they should when goals are completed. Google Tag Manager is also especially helpful in multi-site situations, such as multiple locations or multiple brands under the same umbrella.


Step 4: Check Your Automation

PPC automation can be a very helpful tool, but it can also work against you if left unchecked. You can set up your automation to email you every time the system makes a scheduled change, but this can still cause an out-of-site-out-of-mind mentality. By periodically checking in on automated rules or rules set within 3rd party bid management software that are intended to control bids and make changes based on performance you can avoid this mentality.


Step 5: Be proactive and keep tabs on your account’s trends and Quality Score over time.

Lastly, I recommend finding a way to be proactive when it comes to emerging ppc trouble. Find a reporting method that works for you and keep tabs on your accounts on at least a weekly basis and compare your performance week-to-week so you can predict when your cost-per-lead is going to spike or leads will be below a needed threshold. The main way to see how your efforts are paying off involves Quality Score. You can’t see your historical Quality Score, so it’s a good idea to find a way to keep tabs on it. Adwords offers many scripts to improve your ppc and reporting such as Quality Score tracking.


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    Most Common DIY Paid Search Mistakes

    All too often, we see companies attempt to dip their big toe in to the paid search (PPC) pool and come out on the other side disappointed with the swim. This usually leads to the assumption that PPC doesn’t work for their industry or isn’t profitable. However, when we conduct audits on existing accounts and present our findings, a few DIY mistakes stand out more often than not. These mistakes are a waste of your PPC budget and can definitely give the impression that PPC doesn’t work for you. However, after we help correct course and implement best practices, accounts can start producing results. If you’re looking for ways to improve your DIY PPC account, and start earning returns on your PPC spend, check out the list below. And if you’re in the market for an agency to partner with on strategy or execution, consider speaking with us.


    Sending All of Your PPC Traffic the Same Landing Page

    A targeted landing page that provides what was promised in your ad copy is the best way to turn clicks in to conversions. Some common mistakes we come across in PPC include not having enough landing pages to match your ad group themes, and sending all of your traffic to one corporate page in local situations. For instance, if I’m searching for a place to get an oil change and I click on your ad, the typical consumer is expecting to find direction information, relevant coupons, local pricing/specials, and a local phone number or appointment box. If you’re a national or regional brand with many locations and you send me to a top level page and make me dig for that information, I’m more likely to bounce from your landing page to seek assistance elsewhere.


    Overstuffing Ad Groups and Ignoring Themes

    Though this is a basic fundamental of PPC, I can’t tell you how many times I inherit accounts with way too many keywords in an ad group with little to no relation to one-another. Not only does this harm your click-thru rate because your ad copy + landing page experience can’t match to all of these keyword and search query variations, but you also end up hurting your account’s quality. By not being granular, you can inadvertently end up paying more per click, which leads to higher cost-per-leads and poor returns.


    Ignoring Campaign and Account Settings

    Settings are never a set it and forget it aspect of PPC. You should be building your campaigns with your goals in mind from the start and optimizing settings as your campaigns and goals evolve or as the search environment changes. It may not make sense for your campaign to be active or at full bidding capacity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Depending on sales you’re running, your conversion goals, sales staff availability, etc., consider: the hours and days you are running ads, when and where you’re increasing or decreasing bids, and how automation is working for or against you (if you’ve set it up at all). It’s a best practice in PPC to separate your search and display buys in to different campaigns so you can better align your strategy with network performance. I see this setting ignored in many DIY campaigns so campaigns are often opted in to both search/search partners and display. These networks perform differently from one another and can be better controlled by giving them separate campaigns, goals and budgets.


    Under or Over Bidding

    When you add keywords to an account or conduct regular reviews of existing keywords, take some time to review your Max CPC vs what you’re actually paying per click and what Google’s estimate for top of page, top position and first page bid. You don’t have to bid to position 1 to succeed in PPC. Keep track of how your average cost per click and position change over time to see the trends for your industry. It’s also a good idea to keep up to date with product changes on Google’s end so you can be aware of how your account may ebb or flow when they remove side rail ads and add an ad spot above the organic results.

    On the flip side, many accounts have a chronic under-bidding issue. Recently, I discovered in an account that many keyword bids were so low that the ads were rarely peeping above the bottom of page one. While the cost-per-click estimates were fairly high and cost-per-lead was over goal, it seemed counterintuitive to push bids even higher but a quick test showed that by making the bids more competitive, we could actually increase conversions and lower the CPL.

    In addition to Max CPC bidding, we often see a set-it-and-forget it attitude to bidding. For instance, using Google’s automated features like CPA bidding but not monitoring how it performs overtime. I’ve seen accounts spend less than half of what they are capable of due to under-setting the CPA goal. So while these tools aren’t necessarily useless, do exercise caution when setting them up and check in regularly.


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      Localizing PPC Copy For Multi-Location Businesses

      Ad copy is where you have some of the most creative opportunity in the paid search space.  That creativity comes with some boundaries since AdWords only allows a certain amount of characters to convey your message and earn a potential customer’s click. In order to accomplish this, you must not only appear in the space but you need to also appear relevant and be relevant to their local query.

      When your goal is to capture local traffic and make yourself appear more relevant than your competition, there are a lot of things you can test to see what works best for your account. For multi-location businesses that have a national presence, it’s especially important to convey the benefits that come with a local based business, such as: responsive customer service, quick response times, a local brick and mortar location, and a local phone number. You can convey these things both in your ad copy and on your site/landing page.


      When writing ad copy for a local location, you can help your ad stand out by utilizing local, specific information in the text. For instance, if I’m searching for Noblesville Indiana lawn care, as a searcher I’m more likely to respond to an ad that speaks to Noblesville service vs a generic brand ad that doesn’t mention my criteria at all. You can get creative with the type of localization you add depending on how granular your service area may be.

      For instance, if you serve the greater Denver metro area, you could utilize well-known landmarks right in your ad to help potential customers see that you are, in fact, aware of the area and also give them some insight into what areas of a larger metro you serve.

      When writing your creative, avoid a “set it and forget it” mentality. As promos in your local area change, apply the promo details and deadlines in to your ad copy and extensions to create a sense of urgency and coincide with other offline marketing efforts in your local area.


      There are a large variety of extensions you can add to your account that can show along with your ad copy. These extensions add extra text and information outside of your 25-35-35 character limit and can also be tailored to appeal to people in your local vicinity.  Here are some ideas for things to implement in these extensions:

      • BBB ratings (if you have a favorable rating)
      • 3rd party reviews (local publications)
      • A call extension with a local area code
      • Sync your location extension with AdWords from Google My Business
      • Opt in to search partners so your ads are eligible to show in the maps channel
      • Utilize sitelinks with descriptions. When Google shows extended descriptions, it’s an additional opportunity to include text in your ad copy. You can link people to different pages of interest other than the final URL you choose for your ad.

      Landing Pages

      After you earn your potential customer’s attention and click, make sure you deliver on your ad promise with the landing page. Provide a localized experience that speaks to the geography and service your custom is looking for. Provide information about your role in the community where applicable, and it’s always a good idea to include examples of your work in the community, especially if you’re a service based provider. For instance, if you do lawn care in the suburbs, show off some of your before and after examples of an actual, local homeowner’s’ yard.  


      After the sale, keep up the rapport with your new client base and ask them if they’ll provide a review of your work. New customers are more likely to consider a service provider that can demonstrate their work through a testimonial.  Your customers can leave reviews on your Google My Business listing or store Facebook page as an example.


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        4 Considerations When Implementing Multi-Location PPC

        Businesses with dozens or even thousands of locations have a unique paid search (PPC) challenge; how to efficiently execute a localized strategy. I’ve worked on many multi location PPC accounts that approached the issue of multiple locations in different ways, and while there are pros and cons to all account structure strategies, below are the main considerations that we, at Flint Analytics, take in to account when determining the best solution for each of our clients.


        Adwords offers a few choices when it comes to billing: automatic payments, manual payments and invoicing. Depending on how many locations you intend to advertise for and how you intend to pay for each location’s spend will determine which option will fit your needs best.

        I’ve worked on ppc accounts for huge, Fortune 500 companies that had little concern for individual store KPIs and instead were focused on regional and national performance as well as performance by service category (campaign group level). In this type of model, it was best to use one PPC account that rolls their media dollar spend up to one invoice at the corporate level where the marketing department received a monthly invoice for all locations.

        Alternatively, I’ve also experienced companies that have individualized needs for each of their locations. For example, perhaps you have 100 franchise locations that all pay in to the same marketing pot and you need to be able to easily access individual store invoices. In this scenario, it may make more sense set up separate accounts for each store or region of shared stores that share an invoice. Each account can pay with a credit card as an automatic payment or set up monthly invoicing (if they meet Google’s invoicing requirements and pass the credit check).

        The company’s need to keep track of their media spend will determine how you want to set up their Adwords account(s). This is something we hammer out with clients early on in the process so you set up everything correctly the first time.


        Adwords made things easier for us when they rolled out the capability to share daily media budget across multiple campaigns. You can even set many separate daily budgets and share them across different campaigns. For instance, say you have 10 locations in a Midwest region that all share the same media budget. You could make a “Midwest Budget” and share it with only the Midwest stores’ campaigns. Then, say you have 20 stores in the Southern region. The same concept would apply; create a “Southern Budget” and apply it to only the campaigns that are targeted to your Southern region.

        This technique makes it easier to provide many store campaigns with a chunk of daily budget and allows the AdWords system to allocate those dollars where they’re needed throughout the day. The major pro to this system is avoiding the task of manually allocating dollars across campaigns. That being said, there are also some cons to this setup. For one, if your daily budget is limited because you only have say $5,000 to spend per day but your keywords and geographies can spend $20,000 per day, AdWords won’t necessarily send the dollars to the top performing campaigns, but rather, to where those dollars can be spent.

        Day-to-Day Management

        Granular ad groups with relevant ad copy and corresponding landing pages are the backbone of PPC. When planning your account structure, it’s a good idea to think through how many ad groups, keywords and pieces of copy you’ll end up with and if you’ll be able to effectively manage the workload. If you’re managing 20 accounts under the same company, can you efficiently keep tabs on their performance and make bulk changes quickly if they’re all in separate accounts? Alternatively, if you don’t make your campaigns and ad groups granular enough, can you reap all the benefits of a localized structure or will you run the risk of appearing too general/national to capture a local audience?

        Landing Pages

        Businesses with multiple locations may struggle with PPC performance when they send all of their visitors to the same landing page or to a small batch of landing pages that aren’t localized. Users are more likely to convert when the landing page matches their search query and provides them with the content they’re looking for without having to dig in to your site to find it. We can take this concept one step further by providing a localized landing page that matches the user’s intended location or physical location.

        As an example, let’s look at an appliance and electronics store that operates hundreds of locations across the United States. Let’s assume this location has three stores in the Indianapolis metro area. If you’re running a refrigerator sale at all nationwide locations, and someone in the Indy market searches for “GE profile refrigerators Indianapolis”, you’ll be able to appeal to that potential searcher by sending them not only to a GE refrigerator product page, but can take them one step further by showing them products available in their service area. On the landing page, that searcher is more likely to explore your offerings if they can see that there is an appliance store within a few miles of their home where they can go see the appliance in person after browsing on your site.

        In addition, think of the other calls to action you can add to your landing pages to help improve the localized experience: discount coupons for their store, a trackable phone number if they want to call directly, your local address and store hours, relevant offers that may sweeten the deal (like free shipping and installation), an efficient e-commerce system if they’re ready to buy, etc.

        Your multi location PPC strategy is made up of many components and PPC work is never really finished, but the key items highlighted above should help you get off on the right foot. Do you have any questions about how to improve your multi location PPC? Contact us here.


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