Where do you start the analysis process when you detect an issue with your PPC account? How do you determine the root cause of a performance downturn? Answering these questions incorrectly could you lead down a rabbit hole of aimless stats that provide no real solutions.
Once you have established a hypothesis on what has happened to performance, then you need to dig into the stats. Diving straight into the minutia (such as keyword level data) can cause confusion, slow down your ability identify the issue, and cause you to miss other (more important) issues within the account.
Analysis prioritization is critical when diagnosing an ailing account. Knowing where to look within an account for optimization opportunities is just as important as knowing what to do when these opportunities are discovered.
Start at the Top
Initiate your analysis at the highest level of your account. Normally this means at the campaign level. For example, if your CPA is over goal, then you need to concentrate on the campaign that is hindering your performance most.
You should focus on the campaign with the most volume that is providing the weakest returns. Optimizing a campaign with a high CPA that only generates 3 percent of your volume isn’t going to influence your account, but focusing the campaign that produces 24 percent of your volume makes more sense.
Work your way down from the campaign level, into ad groups, ad texts, keywords (for search network campaigns) and placements (for display network campaigns).
Review the Trending
Don’t base your analysis on a handful of clicks or conversions. Any campaign/ad group/keyword can have a bad day or even a bad week. There can be external factors that influence performance such as seasonal cycles or shifts in the competitive landscape. Determine if the lagging performance looks temporary or if it’s indicative of a bigger problem.
Run a trending report to determine if this campaign/ad group/keyword has a declining performance. To get a snapshot you should look at stats at least two weeks before performance started to suffer.
Extend your analysis out by a month or two to get a more complete view of the trending. You may find that the performance of this particular campaign/ad group has actually been declining gradually.
Determine the Root Cause
As you conduct the trending analysis, you should also be looking for evidence indicating what has caused the issue.
For example, I was analyzing a Display Network campaign within Google AdWords recently. Our overall CPA had increased and I was trying to determine the root cause. During my reporting timeframe (two months) our impressions/clicks had remained steady, CTR hadn’t changed much and our conversion rate had fluctuated only marginally. The root cause was our CPC. It had been rising incrementally over the previous three weeks and this was causing our CPA to suffer. When I started my analysis, I was certain that my conversion rate had decreased – and I was incorrect.
Upon further investigation there were a couple of websites within our GDN distribution that had elevated CPCs. We removed those websites from our general, keyword-targeted distribution and targeted them individually with specific (lowered) bids.
Focus on the Most Impactful Changes
After conducting the trend analysis and determining what the issue’s root cause should be, you need to create a plan-of-action. Focus on the changes that will directly influence the root cause.
For example, if low CTR appears to be the underlying issue but your average position is higher than three, increasing bids isn’t going get you anywhere. To address this issue you may need to look at testing new ads, keyword segmentation, and negative keywords.
Monitor Campaign Changes
Don’t make changes within a campaign and think your work is done. Actually, it’s just beginning. You need to monitor the campaign in order make sure that the proper changes were implemented and performance is trending in the right direction.
If performance doesn’t improve, you may have made drawn the wrong conclusions; made the wrong changes; or the alterations may not have been strong enough.
Optimization efforts shouldn’t be made on the fly. A plan to analyze performance, understand stats within context, and make changes that will impact specific issues should be part of your ongoing campaign management.
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