We lost a client recently. Not because of anything we did (if it were that kind of story, I wouldn’t be telling it here).
When we landed the account, we looked at their AdWords traffic, cost per click, and cost per conversion, and went ahead and got them a lot more traffic at what we were told were profitable margins.
Trouble was, their margins weren’t nearly as robust as they thought (and told us). So we optimized them to a point where they were servicing a lot more customers and still not making much money.
Kind of like the joke about the businessman who loses two dollars on each transaction, but remains optimistic: “We’ll make it up on volume.”
Needless to say, this client didn’t remain with us for long.
Which brings me to the point of this article: the “tell me three times” principle.
“Tell Me Three Times”
We always have to remember that business is just a subset of a larger discipline called “ecology.” If it’s a rule in ecology, it almost certainly also applies to human systems of energy and matter transfer. And ecology has a rule that permaculture teacher Toby Hemenway calls, “Tell me three times.”
It’s more formal name is “feedback redundancy.” Meaning, if a bit of information is critical to the survival of an organism, that organism makes darn sure that it receives that information from at least three independent sources.
In his book
Gaia’s Garden, Hemenway cites human balance as an example. We stay upright based on visual feedback, on the vestibular system of the inner ear, and on the proprioception of muscles (sensing where the body is in space).
If we relied just on sight, for example, we would fall over every time the camera flashed (which would make for spectacularly interesting family portraits, by the way).
Having all three systems working independently helps assure that we’ll be able to stay on our feet even when one system fails or is temporarily compromised.
The PPC Balance System
Don’t rely on your AdWords or adCenter or Facebook PPC data exclusively for data on the health of your account. Instead, achieve feedback redundancy by incorporating at least two independent data sources.
The most common and convenient of these are some analytics program (the free Google analytics if you’re more cheap than paranoid, and some paid system if you tend toward the reverse), and your downstream “customer catchment” system.
For ecommerce advertisers, the catchment system includes your shopping cart and bank account. For lead generators, that would be your prospect database or email list.
Counting Conversions in AdWords
If you’ve spent any time staring at your conversion data, you’ve probably noticed some strange things. Like 200 percent conversion rates for some low-traffic keywords. Like 100 percent conversion rates for entire ad groups.
The greater-than-100-percent conversion rates come from double-dipping prospects, while the “all-conversion-all-the-time” ad groups typically are the result of setting the conversion code on the landing page rather than the thank-you page.
And even when you’ve set up everything correctly, AdWords doesn’t always behave. Sometimes conversions are reported within 15 minutes, and other times they take a day or two to show up.
And your prospects don’t cooperate with your goal of perfect data either, darn them. Sometimes they perform the same search on different browsers, or even different computers. Sometimes they block cookies, or clear their cookies.
No, relying solely on AdWords for conversion data isn't good business practice.
Analytics uses a different counting mechanism (a site-wide code rather than a “mousetrap” trigger on the conversion page), so it’s not likely to fail concurrently with an AdWords problem.
Routinely comparing the two data sets can alert you to any potential problems in the feedback system. You can set up this reporting on a daily or weekly basis, depending on the velocity of your data, through automated reports within AdWords and Google Analytics or whatever paid program you’re using.
Factoring Business Results
The third leg of your feedback system measures output, or the desired business results. Like “number of sales this week” or “number of people added to my autoresponder list.”
You might think that this is the only number that really counts, and in some respects that’s true, but there’s a danger in relying on it exclusively: you lose the ability to intervene intelligently in the system if you’re just staring at the end of the line.
(Actually, it’s only starting to be funny eight years later.)
Back in the day when Google let you do whatever you wanted on your landing page, I ran ads for an ebook on beekeeping and sent people to a landing page that surveyed them on their biggest beekeeping questions.
Based on several hundred survey responses, I commissioned the ebook, while I took the AdWords campaign offline while waiting for the finished product. Once it was done, I restarted the campaign and put up a sales page.
After two weeks, not a single sale. So I tweaked the page and added a lead capture form offering a free chapter.
Another two weeks, and not a single lead.
I gave up.
Several months later, I was performing some AdWords cleanup and revisited the beekeeping campaign. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I had forgotten to switch the landing page from the survey to the sales page.
Turns out I had spent more than $200 collecting several hundred more survey responses that were all sitting uselessly in a database that no longer interested me.
You know what? It’s still not a funny story. But at least it’s cautionary. I no longer rely on ecommerce, lead gen, or back account data to let me know what’s going on in my accounts.
So my sense of balance and my bank balance are both more robust thanks to the “tell me three times” rule.
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