How to Analyze the Most Important PPC Reports

PPC Hero - PPC Basics Blog Series
Of all the reasons to love pay-per-click advertising, the reporting capabilities have to be number one! All of the major (and minor) PPC search engines offer reporting so that you can make smart, informed decisions about your advertising. That being said, reports are only capable of providing the best data when they’re analyzed correctly. So, today’s PPC Basics lesson is based on helping you to get more out of your PPC reports by learning how to analyze and use the data.

Account Level & Campaign Reports

Pulling reports at the Account and Campaign levels is great for getting the “big picture” data for your PPC performance. All of the major search engines offer these types of reports as part of their “dashboard” in each interface, or you can pull them as independent reports.

I typically utilize these reports to plot account-wide trending in longer time periods. Want to know how September performed over August? The Account or Campaign report is a quick way to garner that comparative data. Look for trends in click-through rate, conversion rate, cost-per-click and any other metric that is important to your PPC campaign. Just remember that the Account and Campaign reports are a summary of everything. If you’re running Search and Content ads, you may need to filter your reports to distinguish between the two.

Another important use for Account and Campaign reports is for budget planning. Many PPC advertisers rely on Campaign-level daily budgets to manage their spending throughout the month, and the simplest way to report on that spend is by utilizing Campaign reports!

Google Account Level Report

Keyword Reports

Now this is where the fun begins! Keywords are arguably the most important part of your PPC campaign and therefore need care and attention when discussing reports. While you can view important metrics for your keywords within the PPC interfaces, I would strongly recommend you utilize manual reports.

Why bother with spreadsheets, you ask? When I pull keyword reports, I like to view comparative data. Perhaps I’d like to compare the past seven days to the seven days prior to that. Or what about month-over-month? Pulling manual reports will allow you to compare that data side by side in an easy to read format. Once you’ve pulled the data, you need to decide on the metric that’s most important to you and begin making bid adjustment decisions. Because I typically review these reports in Excel, I like to highlight keywords and make notes for my actual changes for later.

For Keyword reports, the primary metrics you should pay attention to are Average CPC, Average Position and if you are tracking conversions – Conversions and Cost-Per-Conversion. Depending on your goals, each of these metrics can and will influence how you manage your bidding strategy. Other special considerations include Match Types (each one will perform slightly different) the time period you pull for your report (too short and your data sample will give you a potentially inaccurate picture).

Ad Text Reports

All of us here at PPC Hero are big proponents of testing (test everything), and nowhere is this a bigger factor than with your Ad Texts. As such your Ad Text reports take on a pretty important role in your paid search efforts.

Now I may get in trouble with some people on this one, but I like to utilize the ad text reporting capabilities of the PPC interfaces. Thankfully, Google and Yahoo have placed most of the important metrics in an easy to read format (and sortable by data point). You can quickly review your active split tests, compare the metrics and pause the underperforming ad text. Then you can (and should!) turn around and write a new ad to begin a new split test. I left MSN out of this because they don’t offer custom date flexibility within the campaign structure, so to pull more informative reports you’ll have to go the “manual” route in the reports section!

One of the biggest questions on an advertiser’s mind is deciding which ads you should pause. Sometimes, it’s blatantly obvious – one ad has 30 conversions, the other has 2. Assuming 50/50 distribution, you can pause that horrible ad and move on with your life. However, there are times when the decision is quite difficult. Say you have an ad group that is uber-targeted and you only generate a handful of clicks and impressions in a given month. You will need to rely on a tool to determine statistical validation. I like the Teasley Statistically Valid Test tool. Here’s a screen shot of a validation test in action:

Teasley Statistically Valid Test

With this tool you can insert Impressions and Clicks to determine if the difference in CTR is significant enough to make a decision. Or you can insert Clicks and Conversions to determine the significance in conversion rate comparisons. Very helpful indeed. Throughout all of this, just make sure that you have your settings correct to get an even rotation for your ad texts (don’t let Google or Yahoo! optimize!!!).

Placement Performance

In this reporting fiesta, I haven’t touched much on the Content Network. So, now it is time to talk Placement Performance. While this is a Google-specific report, it is still extremely important. When I first started doing PPC, the only way you could tell which websites were generating Content traffic was to utilize detailed server logs. Thankfully, Google created the placement performance which simplified the process significantly!

Choose your time period, campaign or ad group and choose to view reports based on domains or individual URLs (site-wide or page-based). I would recommend that you choose individual URLs so that you can make the most accurate decisions. Like I’ve stated throughout this post, you need to know which metrics are most important to you before analyzing the Placement Performance report. You can only pull this report “manually” and it works to your advantage for sorting and prioritizing in Excel. Sort by CPC, Average Position, Cost-per-Conversion, etc. and start making notes as to which sites are doing well, and which are stinking up the joint.

What do you do with that data? For sites that are performing poorly you can do two things: 1) add the site (or URL) as a negative site or 2) add the site as a placement and lower the bid. And for those sites that are doing well? Add them as Placements in your campaign and up the bids!

Google Content Network and Placements

Search Query Performance

Well, you guys (readers that is) voted the Search Query Performance report as your favorite report a few months ago. So, I’m kinda obliged to include it here, right? Right. As I mentioned above, keywords are arguably the most important part of your PPC campaigns. But when you run Broad Match (or Advanced Match) keywords, you leave yourself open to the keyword matching technologies of each search engine.

What does that mean for you? You likely are driving unqualified traffic to your website and essentially throwing money out the window. Google’s Search Query Performance report details for you which search queries users are entering into the search engines to find your ads and your website. You should be pulling these reports at least once a month for your accounts.

To analyze this report is fairly straightforward. Run the report for a designated time period, and scan it for anything that seems out of place. Take the time to read each one, you may need to think about the search query semantically (customer intent) to truly understand if it is relevant or not. Your findings in this report will lead you to add Negative Keywords to “train” Google (and Yahoo!/MSN) to only serve your ads on relevant keywords.

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Reports are your greatest defense (and offense) for improving your PPC campaigns’ performance. When used right, that is! I hope that this summary has proven useful for those familiar with pay-per-click, but will serve as a great resource for those just getting started. Have anything to add or any helpful tips for analyzing data in PPC reports? If so – leave me a comment!