It’s a PPC manager’s worst nightmare – you hear from your sales team that suddenly the leads you are sending them are no good – An unexpected decline in lead quality that can affect any account. The question is, what steps can you take to deal with this shocking news?

Your first step should be identifying the cause of your lead quality issues. Check back over everything you did around the time the issues started to show. I’ve listed down a few key things to look out for when analyzing your account history:

Things to look for that you might have directly changed

  • Bids – have you bid up poor lead quality keywords, and bid down expensive keywords with good lead quality?
  • New ads – if your messaging was changed you might be attracting a less valuable type of lead.
  • Recently added keywords – have you added more research focused rather than sales focused terms recently?
  • Geographic targeting changes – have you started targeting leads from more countries? Check that these countries aren’t the source of your issues.
  • Increased display traffic – display traffic is generally less well qualified as you are picking up users who are in the research phase, rather than the action phase. If you’ve started doing a lot more display advertising, this could be a cause of lower value leads.
  • Adding mobile campaigns – it’s not necessarily the case that mobile leads will be of a lower quality, but it could be the case. If you’ve recently started targeting mobile users, look to separate out your desktop and mobile campaigns.
  • Turning on search partners – it isn’t always the case, but Google search partners can be a cause of bad leads. Check your search partner vs. Google traffic mix using the segment button in AdWords.

Things to monitor that might have passively changed

  • Quality scores – we recommend downloading a monthly keyword report and saving it so you can look back over your QS change history. If the rest of your account (impressions, clicks, cost) are still holding fairly steady, it is probably unlikely to be a QS issue.
  • Recent news events. Watch out for this – sometimes your account can get caught in the crossfire of a national news story which brings a ton of increased search traffic, with users looking for news on something rather than to buy. A recent example is a huge traffic influx for ‘latest share price’ terms the day of Facebook’s IPO (Initial Public Offering), which really threw off lead quality in one account.
  • Conversion Optimizer bid changes – If you treat all your leads as being worth a flat CPA, Google’s CPA bidder might start ramping up cheap conversions of a lower quality at a cost of higher quality, expensive leads.
  • Seasonality – with traditional eCommerce you expect a much higher purchase value around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a big dip around February/March time. Make sure you are aware of these seasonal cycles for your accounts.

If you can find your issue this way, fixing the problem should be relatively straightforward: Reverse your changes, bid down your low quality keywords, re-write misleading ads etc.

However, if you can’t find any immediate issues things can be a little trickier. In the short term you can try a few things such as rewriting ads, and bidding up your historically stronger keywords, but these are no guarantee for success. You need to put in place some longer-term changes that will enable you to stay on top of lead quality issues in the future:

  • Blanket CPAs are a good starting point, but can be dangerous. In an ideal world you will work to a return on ad spend (ROAS) model.
  • Schedule weekly lead quality check-ins with your sales team. If this isn’t possible make sure they alert you as soon as they begin to notice an issue in the future.
  • Segment out your campaigns – geographically, thematically, by device. The more specific you can be, the more reactive you will be to one particular area causing lead issues.
  • Keyword attribution – Being able to track sales back to individual keywords will make keeping on top of your lead quality much easier to do. Use a program like Sales Force to assign revenues back to your campaigns.

Case Study – Geo-Targeting Issues

I thought I’d finish with a quick example from one of my accounts that recently suffered from a dramatic drop in lead quality. For this particular account the aim is to get people to sign up for a free trial, which then leads to either a direct sale or to a sales team contacting users via email or phone.

After a couple of months of tweaking the account with some best practice changes, in July this year we began a large account restructuring project that also coincided with a project to improve landing page sign up rates. The results were fantastic – a 250% increase in leads, CPA hitting goal, and a very happy client.  However, at the end of August we found out that the quality of our new leads was nowhere near as good as they had been previously. After reviewing the data it turned out that the geographic make up of the account had shifted so that a much higher percentage of leads were coming from India, who just happened to be signing up when most of the US-based sales team were sound asleep. At the same time, the number of students signing up also rose dramatically as a percentage of total – users much less likely to buy once the free trial was over.

When we looked at the dimensions tab, we saw a huge swing towards leads from India

In order to fix these issues a couple of steps were taken. First, the account was reorganized so that the geographic targeting aligned with the back-end data. This allowed for us to work to geographically specific CPAs rather than a blanket total.  In other words our new Asia campaign now had a $20 CPA and our USA domestic campaign had an $80 CPA – much more in line with our return on ad spend.

Second, we mined through all our back-end data to try and identify where the rise in student sign-ups had come from. We found a number of keywords, which although still relevant, were bringing in users doing research rather than wanting to buy something. By adding these in as negative queries we were able to cut down the number of these leads, without affecting the rest of the account. With these two fixes September’s lead quality is at a much stronger level.

Hopefully next time you find yourself with lead issues this post is helpful! Alternatively, let us know if you’ve had any lead quality issues of your own, and how you dealt with them.