You know how sometimes when you’re doing a big spring cleaning, you find a cute pair of shoes you forgot in the back of your closet for a year? And they are suddenly cool again!

You know how sometimes when you’re doing a big spring cleaning, you find a moldy grape your cat batted under the fridge? And you realize: wow, there could be some special stuff under all of my appliances.

Though your PPC account doesn’t probably contain anything as amazing as sparkly shoes or as gross as moldy fruit, we might put some keywords in a junk drawer or throw an ad group in the basement and forget about them. Maybe they’re hard to handle, or maybe we’re just not getting what we want out of them anymore and newer ideas look more promising. And we’re probably all guilty of overlooking a few minor account problems in the interest of focusing on higher-priority areas. So in the interest of spring, I say we should all be getting things organized and cleaned up and finding awesomeness we’d forgotten about.

Especially if you have a very large PPC account, it can be very difficult to keep track of all of the things you’ve ever had active. You’re not going to magically remember that half a year ago, Random Ad Group A had decent lead numbers, but you needed a cost per lead of $6 and you struggled for months but it stayed at $8, so you paused it. Or that Random Ad Group B, which now has a cost per lead of $10, was at $5 all last summer.

Multiply this problem by hundreds of ad groups and thousands of keywords, all of which work or don’t for different reasons, and you have an issue that could be impacting your account’s performance. As such, it’s your job to go back and remind yourself exactly what was going on back in the day, and how it compares with what’s going on now.

One process we undergo for our accounts regularly is comparative past vs. present performance analysis. In AdWords you can do this at nearly any account level (campaign, ad group, keyword, ad), as well as segmenting by other settings such as distribution network. It can be extremely helpful in identifying areas of opportunity to increase your account’s profitability, and in addition it can help uncover and pinpoint the source of performance issues that otherwise can seem to be nebulously dragging your account down. The process can be time-intensive, but it’s useful enough that it’s worth undertaking.

When I approach this process, I like to be able to simultaneously compare what’s active in the account now and what used to be active but isn’t anymore, so I ensure my reports cover both paused and active elements.  It would be lovely if AdWords made it more straightforward to do very in-depth account comparison, but it doesn’t for now, so using reports can get you the data you need.

The Process

  • I generally begin at the ad group level, because it gives more detail than a campaign-level report without being completely overwhelming like a keyword report would be, but you can run the reports at any level. Run a report for whatever recent time range you’d like that includes all campaigns, and for the most detail, segment by ad distribution with search partners. Include all of the other advanced settings that you might want to know about, like conversions, cost/conversion, and conversion rate.  Then, run the same report for a previous time range (that is similar in number of days- this exercise is not so useful if you compare the past 7 days to 9 months in 2008), or multiple previous time ranges.
  • Export those reports to Excel! I generally color-code all data so each time range has its own color. Then, stick them all into one spreadsheet, and sort by campaign and ad group. Beforehand, I usually copy and paste all of the campaign and ad group names in their same columns, below the data and with no color coding, so that when I sort the data there are separations between each ad group to make scanning the data more straightforward. It is then easy to compare each performance metric for Campaign X for the individual date ranges. If a campaign is missing data in one color, you’ll know: it was off during that time. You can also graph the data in Excel to demonstrate significant changes to clients or others.

Click to expand

  • Search for performance differences in each ad group. Has CPL gone up or down substantially? What about your average position? What do click-through and conversion rates look like? Performance can change for many different reasons, and this exercise can help identify which elements are most important for you to focus on for each different ad group. For example, if click-through rates have gone down in spite of similar position and impression numbers, consider ad text messaging. But if click-through rates have gone down and you’ve fallen from position 2 to position 7, you might have bid issues or quality score issues as a main concern rather than simply ad messaging. This is the main value of this method: it allows you to see many elements that may impact performance together and consider what they are doing in concert.
  • Once you’ve identified a campaign or ad group with significant performance differences in two date ranges, it can be useful to run more detailed reports for just the campaign of concern and repeat the same process discussed above to identify which ad groups, keyword, or placements are contributing to the differences.
  • Don’t forget that this is a great method to find stuff that’s no longer active in your account, but might work now. The best (or, safest) candidates for this are ad groups or keywords that had reasonable performance, but were scrapped for sudden CPL spikes, or constant slight overspending, or just for budget constraints that might no longer exist. If your landing page has changed, or your ad texts have become more targeted, or you have a new specialized ad group a keyword might work better in, and you have the time to monitor performance, try it again. You can re-retire if you still can’t work it out, but we’ve had much success in reintroducing things like this in our accounts.

One of the strengths of PPC is its progressiveness. The industry is constantly changing, and there are always new things to try and discover. It’s one of the most exciting things about PPC management, but in an industry focused on development and progress, it’s important to remember that paying attention to what was going on in your accounts in the past can be just as useful as being future-focused. You’re not the same PPC manager you were last year at this time. New ideas and capabilities have developed in the industry, and you’ve developed new skills and perspectives. Things that didn’t work for you in the past very well might when you start again with them and apply your current-day knowledge. So while you’re busy finding new ways to grow account profitability, take a bit of time to look backward and you might find opportunities right at your fingers.