The Hidden Skill Every PPC Manager Should Possess: Sleuthing

Computer Sleuth

An often-overlooked skill of a successful paid search account manager is resourceful, creative sleuthing. The definition of sleuthing is, “to track or follow.” PPC managers have to do exactly this when analyzing statistics and deciphering what is influencing their campaign performance.

The number of factors that may influence your PPC performance is almost endless. This is why PPC managers have to continually sharpen their analytical focus: to see through the noise to find legitimate signals.

Another name for this process is root cause analysis (RCA). The root cause analysis process tries to find the source of an issue, as opposed to simply addressing the symptoms.

Recently, we were pushing to solve an account issue which led us down the path of RCA (root cause analysis). A B2B client contacted our team and said that close rates for PPC had been weakening over the period of a few weeks and they asked us to figure out why.

Below is the list of questions we asked ourselves during this discovery process. Initially, we started with elements within our direct control, the AdWords account, but as we pushed to find the root cause of the problem, our sleuthing led us to an unconventional conclusion.

Are There Any Tracking Issues?

When I see an issue impact numerous campaigns at once, a great place to start is looking at your website tracking. Tracking pixels and URL parameters are extremely fragile and the smallest change could break their functionality and this will negatively impact conversions, sales, revenue, ROI, etc.

However, upon review, we didn’t discover any issues with our tracking.

Anything Lurking the AdWords Change History?

I think this where many PPC mangers turn when performance shifts within an account. Did we change something that set us down this course?

Upon our initial review we could rule this out. There were no account-wide bid algorithm changes or anything along those lines.

Has There Been a Shift in Query-Focus?

Every business is cyclical. We thought perhaps search queries had shifted to themes that were less relevant and/or action-orientated.

As you expand your keyword list and adjust your keyword bids and budgets, you may generate unwanted results. For this particular situation, there were no new, outlandish search queries coming in and generating traffic that wasn’t ultimately converting.

Have We Launched Any New Messaging?

If the problem wasn’t our keyword list, then it has to be the new ads we recently launched. We thought we must have launched messaging that wasn’t appealing to our audience. That’s a solid thought, but in this case there had been no major messaging/branding initiatives.

Are There Any Indications Within the User Engagement Metrics?

We also looked at Google Analytics. The time-on-site and bounce rate for our campaigns were comparable to the website average. The conversion rates for raw leads (individuals who complete the lead form) remained strong in most channels, including PPC.

How Does Lead Quality Within Our CMS look?

We nailed down that there weren’t been any major changes to conversion rates. Leads were still being generated by the same queries that were triggering the same ads and landing pages as before.

Through the clients’ CMS, we conducted analysis on lead quality. Without going into all the details of what makes a B2B lead high quality, I’ll just say that lead quality hadn’t been compromised.

What Would Cause Close to Rates to Decrease on Quality Leads?

If lead quality was still the holding steady, then why weren’t these leads closing? After diving further into the back-end data of the client’s CMS, we found the needle in the haystack. There was a small column in our leads report called, “Lead Status.”

This column contains the current status of a lead. We noticed that the number of leads with a blank Lead Status was increasing. Lead close rate is tied directly to this column.

I’ll cut to the chase (and the chase was a few hours long). We discovered that there were many duplicate leads in our CMS database. One record of a specific lead was an PPC lead and the duplicate record was a direct sale.

What Would Cause Duplicate Lead Records?

We established that particular leads could have duplicate records. Upon this discovery, we asked the client to address this issue with their tech team (who is manages the CMS) and their sales team (who managers the sales staff).

In the end, we discovered that leads would come through the website via PPC, but often when a salesperson would close the lead, they would enter the sale as a new record and close out the transaction. As result, the proper attribution was being lost, and we had dozens and dozens of PPC leads that looked like they never closed – but in fact, they were closing just fine but the sales team had altered their sales process.


The initial issue was that B2B close rates for PPC were decreasing. In a sense, close rates were declining because the sales team was not attributing closed leads to the proper channel. This analysis process was laborious but very helpful because leads from all channels were having this same issue.

It would have been easier to try and increase bids or dump a ton of new keywords into the account in order to generate more traffic – but that would not have solved the issue. Even if we had doubled traffic, or tried launching a new spiffy landing page, the problem would have resided and only gotten worse with more volume.

This is just one example of why sleuthing is a critical skill of managing PPC accounts. Now, get out there with your magnifying glass, pipe, and Sherlock Holmes hat, and really start solving those mysteries. You never know where the clues will take you.

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