Troubleshooting Your Underperforming PPC Campaign

by Charlie Nadler April 29th, 2013 

You've performed keyword research, created ads that speak to your target user's intent with a compelling call to action, and spent time perfecting your landing pages. Now you can sit back and watch the conversions roll in!

If you've ever managed a PPC campaign, you know there's always more tweaking required before you have a well-oiled conversion machine. Here's a guide to troubleshooting that underperforming campaign.

A Methodical Approach to Diagnosis

First, let's diagnose your issue. This involves considering all factors, testing, and narrowing down the problematic variables. To isolate the issue, test one variable at a time.

Low Traffic Volume

Hopefully you used something like Google's keyword tool to get a sense of search volume when you set up the campaign, and we'll assume that your match types aren't overly restrictive. If your high-volume keywords aren't driving traffic, consider the following:

  • Is the budget and bid high enough? Low volume doesn't necessarily mean you need to increase your budget and/or your bid but sometimes that's the case. If your bid isn't enough to get your ad on the first page of results or if your budget is preventing desired volume, you'll need to adjust. The following metrics can help you determine if this is the issue:
    • Impression share To see if your ads are landing in front of eyeballs, look at the impression share. This will show the portion of impressions served of all eligible impressions. If your ad is missing out on impressions because of poor ad rank rather, this will be reflected by the Lost IS metric. More on that later.
    • Average Position If your position is seven or worse, you're probably not landing on the first page of search and your impressions are not likely to click on your ad.
    • Is Quality Score affecting your ad? If you're using AdWords, Google will serve you with a Quality Score based on the relevance of your ad to your keywords and landing page, CTR, account history, and quality of the ad and landing page. Click on the keywords tab in AdWords to check your scores; low scores push the average position of your ads back, resulting in lost IS. If the quality score is low, it's time to revisit the ad copy and landing page. The more these are aligned with messaging and a conversion point that speaks to your target (and makes sense for your search phrases), the better the score.

Low Quality Traffic

If you're getting a lot of traffic but not seeing conversions, it's likely due to either low quality traffic or a conversion-unfriendly landing page. Start by taking a look at matched search queries under traffic sources > advertising.

This will give you a snapshot of what search phrases are driving clicks and what those visitors are doing on the site. Use this insight to exclude low quality keywords that are popping up or change match type if necessary. For example, if you're using broad match, there might be a lot of junk variations coming through, in which case you'll want to add modifiers or switch to phrase match for more focused clicks.

High Quality Traffic and Low Conversions

If your PPC campaign is generating a good volume of qualified traffic but you're not seeing conversions, you can be pretty sure there's work to be done on the landing pages. There are plenty of resources to help design a landing page optimized for conversions, but the biggest considerations are going to be as follows:

  • The obvious conversion-helpers: short prominent contact forms, relevant copy, clear call to action, multiple forms of contact, social proof and testimonials, and an enticing conversion point
  • Bury content that's not critical for PPC visitors
  • Use data to tweak landing page layouts
  • Segment the campaigns into ad groups that point to dedicated, focused landing pages

Don't Forget the Bigger Picture

While taking a methodical troubleshooting approach will point you to the problem area, this isn't a guarantee that you're now one tweak away from a successful PPC campaign. Successful channel execution is founded on research and sound strategy: you understand your target market and have reason to believe PPC is a viable channel; you've analyzed the competition, determined the best opportunities and crafted messaging that speaks to your strongest themes. If this hasn't been done up front, you're (trouble) shooting in the dark.

Charlie Nadler

Charlie Nadler is the marketing strategist for Simple Machines Marketing, a Chicago marketing consultant firm that uses time-tested strategies to help businesses grow.

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