I’ve noticed a lot of PPC discussions lately where ‘take it with a grain of salt’ seems to be the answer. As search engines continue to expand ideas and opportunities for PPC marketers to use, it’s important that we realize, not everything is going to work the best and sometimes there’s no real way around an issue other than to get down to the nitty-gritty fundamentals.

The following is a list of tools and metrics that I’ve learned to ‘take with a grain of salt’ when optimizing PPC campaigns.  Disclaimer:  this list doesn’t seek to claim that these things aren’t important, never work, or shouldn’t be consulted.  Enjoy : )

1.)   View-through conversions:  I have a remarketing campaign in one of my client’s PPC accounts with over 30 view-through conversions this month.  Good branding, right?  Well, possibly, but let’s take a look at what a view-through really is and why we can’t jump to conclusions about the benefit for the account.  View-through conversions have the following characteristics:

  • View-throughs are attributed to the date of the last impression within 30 days
  • Reported for display ads (not text ads)
  • Conversion equals a view-through if it follows an impression without a click
  • Conversion is not a view-through if a click occurs on the Display Network
  • Conversion is attributed to Search and Display impression if both occur
  • Multiple view-throughs can be attributed to a single impression

The view-through conversion can be a bit confusing as demonstrated by the characteristics above.  Essentially, a view-through is attributed when a user who has a cookie from a previous visit, views your ad on the Display Network (without clicking), and later converts.  You can argue the conversion either way: the user saw your ad and it reminded them to come back and convert, or they simply had the intention to come back and convert and just happened to run across your ad that was briefly on their screen while surfing a DN website.  While it’s tempting for me to take all of the credit for those 30+ view-through conversions, it’s obviously not a full-proof metric.

You can use view-through conversions to determine which of your placements on the DN are successful.  For reporting purposes, however, you’ll want to only count those conversions resulting from an actual click, and avoid using view-throughs for reporting due to their overlap with Search clicks.

2.) Quality Score:   Before you grab your pitchforks and come to hunt me down, please note that I’m absolutely not promoting the idea of never looking at Quality Score or considering it an unimportant metric – it’s quite the opposite!  I will tell you, that if you’re spending sleepless nights worrying about your account’s Quality Score, you can calm down a bit.  Quality Score does ultimately help you improve your ad position for a lower cost, but it’s also important to focus on other metrics. Over time, AdWords forgives a low Quality Score as you continue to optimize your account for better structure and peformance and the low score plays a smaller role in the calculation.

Click-through rate is a huge factor in calculating a keyword’s Quality Score, and ultimately, where you want to begin when you look for ways to improve your Quality Score.  By keeping your eye on the areas that are easy fixes and will help to improve your account overall, you can see improvements in Quality Score too.  It’s important to note that while a keyword might have a low Quality Score, what’s more important is the return you’re seeing, not the keyword’s score.

3.) Impression share:  This metric is handy to show you where you can make some improvements in your account to attract more traffic.  If you opt in impression share metrics through the Dimensions Tab, you can even find out what percentage of impressions you lose according to budget and rank.  However, consider an account that contains more phrase and exact match keywords than broad match ones.  Broad match keywords tend to increase traffic, but can also have a damaging effect on your CPL and ROI if they are attracting a lot of irrelevant traffic.  Your accounts may lose overall impression share with less active broad match keywords, but your CPL may thank you.  What your focus needs to come back to is the return on your investment.

In addition, if you’re not looking to reach the top spot for all of your ads, you’re going to have a lower Lost IS (Rank), but as long as you’re positioned for the best possible ROI, this shouldn’t bother you too much.

4.) Enhanced CPC & the Conversion Optimizer:  I’ve heard pros and cons for these tools, and despite tests that I’ve run with both, I can’t seem to ever get them to work better than ordinary, manual CPC bidding (or I could just be a control freak).

To differentiate, enhanced CPC is supposed to help your account achieve a better ROI by allowing Google to automatically increase or decrease max CPC based on its chance of converting.  The Conversion Optimizer lets you bid based on how much a conversion is worth to your business so Google can show your ad where/when it “thinks” you’ll get a conversion.  Enhanced CPC doesn’t look at your CPA like the Optimizer does.

In my tests, I noticed that a number of things usually occur: costs may increase, CPL might spike, and conversion numbers didn’t magically increase.  I’ve noticed some will say this is essentially a Google money making method, but others have had some success.  The key is to test it, test it, and test it!  Hopefully it will work well for you.  What is your experience with these tools?  Feel free to share below.

5.) First page bid estimates:

This metric estimates the cost-per-click needed for your ad to reach the first page of the Google results when a query matches your keyword exactly.  It’s based on the keyword’s Quality Score and advertiser competition.  The reason I ‘take this with a grain of salt’ is because it’s exactly what is says – an estimate.  Raising your bid to meet this estimate is by no means a guarantee of ad placement as it is dependent on Quality Score, CPC, budget, account settings and competition.

I’ve received some pretty ridiculous first page bids before ($60 cpc estimate anyone?) for old, passed around accounts that have poor metrics.  Obviously, it doesn’t make sense to listen to Google and raise your bids to a cost that’s going to ruin your goals.

Whatever you decide to take with a grain of salt, remember that what’s most important is to keep your eye on ROI, and use the arsenal that you have at your disposal, but know when to cut your losses when something doesn’t work and TEST IT, TEST IT, TEST IT!