At some point in our tenure as a PPC account manager, we all encounter an account that just seems flat out stuck. Conversions start to steadily decrease, click-through rate starts to slide, and if you’re especially unlucky you’ll start seeing your traffic numbers stall too. I recently had an account that had all these problems for no easily identifiable reason, and thought it would be worthwhile to share some tips about diagnosing a problem PPC account.

Here at Hanapin, when we have an account whose performs starts to decrease we conduct what we call a RAR (Red Account Review). This is an opportunity to bring in some extra eyes to help conduct a full account audit. It’s frequently difficult to identify the problems in your account when you’ve been buried in it day in and day out (you know, the whole can’t see the forest for the trees thing), and some fresh, outside perspectives can help tease out small (or large) things that you might be overlooking. Even if you don’t work with a team of other PPC account managers, you can still conduct your own RAR using the tips below.

As some background information, the nature of my client’s business made it difficult to simply add new keywords to campaigns, and I wasn’t finding conclusive evidence to point to a seasonal slow down. This account was performing well at all hours of the day and was already properly geo-targeted, though I did check to make sure these settings didn’t require any tweaking.

Without future ado, here is the insight I collected from my recent RAR:

Click-through Rate

Do all your campaigns have a poor click-through rate, or are there just a few that are dragging down your overall average? Don’t be afraid to run a historical performance report going back at least 3-4 months and pause the underperforming keywords, or even ad groups if necessary, in these poorly performing campaigns. By pausing the underperforming components within your campaigns, you will free up your campaign budget to spend more on the ad groups that are converting.

For me, the key to my account’s rebound was analyzing data at the ad group level. Your campaign’s health is contingent upon ad groups that are working. Similarly, you can go a step further and take your lowest converting groups and pause all low quality score keywords.

Also take a look at your ad volume. Are you running too many ads within each ad group? Try narrowing your ads down to 2-3 per ad group and make sure there are clear differentiations between your ads. Not only will this help better focus your traffic in having fewer ads, but running fewer ads with clear variations will provide solid ad testing data down the road.

And last, but not least, review your ads’ call-to-actions. Are they enticing? Are they turning off potential clickers in some way (outdated sale mention, etc.)? Don’t get so lost in your analytic thinking that you forget to review your ads themselves.

Cost Per Click

Is your cost per click headed through the roof? Pay attention to your bid changes. It’s easy to go into your account and start making bid increases across the board to try and combat lower than ideal ad positions.

When I audited my account I realized that most of my keywords were actually above their first page estimates, so I started slowly decreasing bids to be only 5-10% above their first page bid estimates and monitored their position to make sure they didn’t slide too much. Good news: my ads didn’t go down in average position. Remember, your ad’s position is only partially related to your monetary bid, and by lowering your bids you’ll extend the shelf life of your campaign’s daily budget.

Poor Traffic

Another problem I was noticing was a decrease in my ads’ impressions and clicks, but simply increasing budgets wasn’t helping much. When something is blocking your traffic and you can’t figure out why, proceed immediately to your campaign settings. Maybe you need to accelerate your ad delivery to give it your campaign a boost.

Are you ads set to rotate for clicks or conversions (or neither)? Experiment with your ad rotation settings to figure out what works best for your account. Checking your campaign settings is especially important if you’ve inherited a PPC account from someone else. Don’t assume that things are set up the way you want/need them to be.

Cost Per Lead

As I mentioned above, my client’s cost per lead had really started to climb as my conversions decreased. While all of my above tips will help increase conversions, therefore also helping to bring down your cost per lead, here are some more tips to address an increasing cost per lead.

Typically branded keywords are not expensive, so try dropping your bids on your branded keywords since there’s little to no competition. Also, review your keyword match types. Maybe your keywords are being targeted too broadly and are costing you too much money. Look for opportunities to use modified broad keywords and/or long tail keywords to find more qualified traffic.

In case you were wondering, after implementing the things I mentioned above, my account had a fantastic recovery. My conversions increased 50% in a month, and my CPL decreased 36%. My clicks also increased 23%. So, my account diagnosis was a success. For me there wasn’t one glaring hole, but a few small ones. If you are having trouble diagnosing your account, this is likely the case for you too.

I hope these tips help you better diagnose a problem PPC account, though this list is just the beginning. If you have any additional tips you’d like to share, please let us know in the comments below. And if you try any of these tips and see an improvement in your account like I did, let us know that too.

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