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September 24, 2007

How to Turn Around an Unprofitable PPC Campaign

Did you know that 80% of new advertisers fail to achieve a Return on Investment from their Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns? I didn’t either because I just made that up. But seriously, I bet the percentage is very high. I seem to be spending more and more time helping clients and Search Engine College students to tweak their AdWords campaigns these days. Unless they live and breathe search marketing, I think it is difficult for most people to allocate the time and resources necessary to maintain a successful PPC campaign. Plus there are just so many little tricks and secrets that most people don’t know about. I’ve heard so many horror stories about PPC campaigns hemorrhaging money in the hands of new advertisers and I’ve seen a few shockers first hand.

As one of their first assignments, our PPC Marketing students at Search Engine College are required to set up a new Google AdWords campaign, complete with carefully considered strategies for keyword selection, ad copy and matching types. More often than not, what they come up with is a campaign that is destined to fail. I then spend the rest of the course teaching them what’s wrong with their campaign, how to correct the errors and how to make sure their campaign has a good chance of succeeding.

But it’s not just first-timers that make mistakes with Pay Per click advertising. I’m often asked to review PPC campaigns for my clients, some of whom have been advertising for years. I often cringe at what I find when I login to their account. Campaigns that have been unprofitable for years are left to flounder and waste thousands of dollars because the staff are too busy to manage them or are simply ignorant of what it takes to fix them. Unfortunately, the “Set and Forget” mentality is alive and well in PPC.

The Unprofitable Campaign

Take last week for example. A client asked me to take a look at their Google AdWords campaign because although it brought traffic to their site, it didn’t seem to be resulting in any direct business. They had decided that PPC was simply unprofitable and they were ready to abandon it as a marketing channel. I logged into their account and had a good look around. It wasn’t the worst campaign I’ve seen but it was pretty close.

Here are the problem areas I discovered and rectified:

Not Enough Ads

This was the single biggest problem with the campaign. There weren’t anywhere near enough ads to cover the number of keywords the client was targeting. Some ad groups had 18 keywords and only 1 ad! Ideally, each keyword should have it’s own ad, sometimes two, because it is important that each ad is laser-focused on the keyword and includes repetitions of that particular keyword. You should always create multiple text ads for each keyword so that you can measure which ads work best. Not everyone will click on the same ad so you need to create and test multiple ads with different wording to see which convert best. AdWords will gradually show only the best performing ads over time.

Using Ads That Don’t Reflect Target Keywords

One or more of the ads didn’t use the keyword in the ad headline. For example, one Ad Group targeted the keyword phrase ‘bridesmaid dresses’ but that specific phrase was not in the headline or ad text. The single ad they had in place actually related to wedding dresses so it wasn’t relevant to be triggered for ‘bridesmaid dresses’ and related keywords. The client had tried to cover all bases with a single ad, but this was never going to be effective. To entice people to click, they need to see the keywords they’ve just searched for appear in your ad. You should always use your target keyword in your ad headline and first or second line of ad text.

Not Using Enough Ad Groups

This was the second biggest problem with the campaign. There weren’t nearly enough ad groups to cover the keyword themes the client was targeting. Many of the keywords in each Ad Group required dividing into several other Ad Groups based on unique keyword themes. For example all “bridesmaid” related keywords and ads needed to go in their own Ad Group, while all keywords and ads relating to ‘used wedding dresses’ needed to go into their own Ad Group and so on. Then several new ads needed to be drafted for each new Ad Group to laser-focus on those keywords as described above.

Not Using the Quality Score Column

The client didn’t have Google’s Quality Score column showing, so it would have been difficult for them to know the quality score of their keywords so they could tweak bids and ads. I switched it on immediately. To find the Quality Score, look at the Keywords tab and click on “display columns”. This column will show “Poor”, “OK” or “Great” for each of your keywords. The better your score, the lower the minimum bid Google requires you to pay for each keyword.

Opting into the Content Network

The client had opted into Google’s Content Network as well as the Search Network. Using the Content Network will almost always produce a lower ROI and higher click charges because the network includes many personal and irrelevant web sites that show AdSense ads. These often have content only loosely related to your subject matter but it is often enough to trigger your ads to appear as a contextual match. In my experience, Click Fraud also seems to be more common in accounts that utilize the Content Network. I advise my clients to avoid the content network like the plague unless they have an e-commerce style site where they can expect some drive by sales. Needless to say, I flicked the Content Network off on this campaign pretty quickly.

Not Using Content Bids The client had opted NOT to use Content bids, even though they had opted into the Content Network. If you must use the Content Network, you should always use separate, lower bids for your keywords on that Network because the ROI is so much poorer. The number of clicks you are likely to receive on the Content Network is much larger, but of a much lower quality and less likely to convert so you shouldn’t pay as much for them. You can set your maximum bids to a lower amount than the search network by opting in to use Content bids.

Not Using Position Preferences

Still under Campaign Settings, the client had NOT enabled Position Preferences. This is a powerful feature of AdWords that gives you the ability to tell Google what positions you want your ad placed in for particular keywords. For example, you can set it to positions 1-3 for some keywords, meaning that you want your ad shown in ranking position 1 to 3 for those keywords or not shown at all. For keywords where you don’t need to maintain top positions, you can set it to 1-10 to indicate to Google that you want your ad shown in whatever position is available for the bid amount you’ve set. This is a particularly useful feature for more competitive keywords, where you can specify lower positions for your ads where keywords have too high a price tag for positions 1-3. Obviously if your bid amounts aren’t high enough to secure you the positions you want, your ads won’t be shown, but this still gives you more control over when your ads appear and how much you spend.

Unnecessary Use of Multiple Campaigns

The client had actually created two campaigns, but they both had the same regional target markets and other settings. There is generally no need to set up multiple campaigns unless you have totally unrelated products or services, you are targeting different regions/countries and/or you have multiple advertising campaigns with different start and end dates.

Not Using Targeted Landing Pages

Some of the ads created by the client had destination URLs that led to pages on their site specifically relating to those products/services, which is ideal. But most ads led to the generic home page of the client’s site, which was never going to be effective, especially now that Google takes landing page relevancy into account when determining a keyword’s quality score. The destination URLs for all ads and keywords should be reviewed to ensure they are laser-focused to the search query. If there aren’t suitable landing pages for a keyword or phrase, the development of tailored landing pages for each keyword set or Ad Group should be considered.

Incorrect Use of Keyword Matching Options

Most of the client’s keywords were set to broad match. Broad match means that you want your ad shown for variations of your keyword/phrase. So if you target ‘wedding dress’ using broad match as my client had done, it means you want your ad triggered for ANY searches using those two words in any order. So your ad will automatically be shown for ‘hideous wedding dress’, ‘I need a dress to wear to my friend’s wedding’ etc. To avoid your ad being shown for inappropriate search queries, I highly recommend using “phrase match” and/or [exact match]. You can read more about the different keyword matching options here.

Not Using Negative Keywords

The client was not using negative keywords. The use of negative keywords is a very powerful but often overlooked feature of a PPC campaign. A negative keyword is a keyword that prevents your ads from being shown for irrelevant search queries. Adding a negative keyword to your campaign means that your ads won’t show for search queries containing that term. For instance, the negative keyword “–free” tells the PPC system not to show your ad for any search query containing the term “free”. This feature is extremely useful because it helps you rule out any searchers who are less qualified and less likely to be interested in your offering. For example, if you run an e-commerce site selling DVDs, you probably want to add “-free” as a negative keyword so that persons searching for “free DVDs” don’t see your ad. You should always include some negative keywords in your PPC campaign to ensure your ads are not triggered for inappropriate search queries.

Not Using Tracking URLs

Tracking URLs were NOT being used. As with any advertising campaign, results need to be tracked to determine overall ROI. Pay per click campaigns lend themselves to this because you can add a simple piece of code to the end of your landing page URL and most site statistical packages will allow you to track click-throughs. This code is called the tracking URL and looks something like this:
http://www.mysite.com/mypage.htm?source=adwords-mykeyword. Everything from the question mark onwards is the tracking code. Many of the larger PPC providers provide automatic tracking of your ads, but the statistics you get are not always detailed enough or, in my experience, accurate. I recommend implementing your own tracking code to the end of the destination URLs of all your ads, based on keyword, ad group name or unique ad creative. You’ll then need to set up your web analytics program to be able to track these individual parameters to determine which keywords, ad groups and ad creatives are the most effective.

Setting the Daily Budget Too Low

The daily budget was set too low. Because the client had been targeting very generic keywords using broad match and had also opted in to the Content Network, their ads were attracting thousands of irrelevant clicks (including some fraudulent ones!) and the costs of the campaign were skyrocketing. To try and curb this, the client had lowered the maximum daily budget for the campaign, meaning their ads were only being shown for around 2 or 3 hours per day until the budget was used up. What they should have done was to use more targeted 2 or 3 word keyword phrases, used phrase or exact matching options and opted out of the Content Network. That way, their ads would be shown 24 hours a day to a more targeted audience, they wouldn’t miss out on any traffic, they would reduce the amount of click fraud they were experiencing, yet they wouldn’t exceed their maximum daily budget.

Not Using Conversion Tracking Finally, I noticed that Conversion Tracking had NOT been switched on for the campaign and no conversions were being measured. This is because what constitutes a conversion for the client hadn’t been determined and conversion tracking code had not been integrated into the site. Not using conversion tracking makes it very difficult to measure the effectiveness of the PPC campaign. PPC advertisers should always define a successful conversion and establish conversion goals and targets prior to campaign launch. A successful conversion might be a sale, submission of an enquiry form or a newsletter subscription. Tracking such conversions is a simple matter of embedding some javascript tracking code into the conversion page. Tracking this data lets you identify how effective your PPC campaign is in isolation from your other marketing efforts.

The Turnaround

So what were the results of my investigation? Well, after I pointed out the problems to the client and made the changes, the campaign made a complete turnaround. One week after my changes, the campaign was experiencing Click Through Rates of up to 40 percent and the client began receiving higher quality traffic, more enquiries and a huge increase in conversions as a result. The turnaround has renewed their faith in Pay Per Click and they are now excited about increasing their PPC marketing efforts.

If you ensure your campaign avoids the 14 common blunders listed above, you too will be well on the way to a profitable PPC experience.

Author:  Kalena Jordan, one of the first search engine optimization experts in Australia, who is well known and respected in the industry, particularly in the U.S. As well as running a daily Search Engine Advice Column, Kalena manages Search Engine College – an online training institution offering instructor-led short courses and downloadable self-study courses in Search Engine Optimization and other Search Engine Marketing subjects.

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