Troubleshooting Paid Search Performance

Identifying a decline in paid search performanceWhen sales from paid search suddenly spike in the wrong direction, it can be a nightmare figuring out how and why. It shouldn’t have to be, though. There is always a reason, and it can be found. If conversions from paid search suddenly fall off, here are some ways to troubleshoot.

Contribution: If the paid search channel typically makes up a steady percentage of total online sales, check web analytics to see if the percentage is the same or has fallen.  If the percentage is even with past performance, this indicates a site-wide issue. If the other online channels are showing sales percentages that are in line with historical performance but paid search has fallen, then the problem likely lies with paid search.

Tracking: Check to see if tracking fell off. For example, if all the lost conversions are coming from mobile, it is likely due to something on the mobile site. If there was a recent change made on the technical side to the website that happened around the time sales fell off, investigate there. This could include a new site launch, installing a new technology solution such as bid management or container tag, etc. Tracking problems can be difficult to troubleshoot, but if the timing of the drop off coincides with some type of technical change, that is a good place to start looking.

Other Channel Activity: TV, Display, Paid Social and Direct Mail are all big top-of-the-funnel drivers of sales that ultimately convert in paid search. If one of these programs got shut down or scaled back, this could be a reason why paid search sales are off. Often the management of these advertising programs lives elsewhere in the organization, so some investigation may be necessary to determine if this could be the source of the problem.

AdWords/Bing Campaigns: In the search engine interface, there are a number of things to check.  It is always best to look for changes in your top converting campaigns and ad groups first since only a small percentage of campaigns, ad groups and keywords drive the lion’s share of conversions.

  • Check trademark vs. non-brand performance to see if the drop off is similar. If most of the falloff is coming from trademark, check to see if there was a drop off in sales coming from direct, too (meaning those who navigate to your site through the search bar, not the search engine).  If so, this indicates a site-wide depression of sales, not just sales from paid search. If the drop off is mostly in non-brand, it could be that the sales have shifted to PLAs. This may not be that obvious from the outset if the PLAs are managed by a different agency than the one managing paid search.
  • Ad approvals:  new ad copy may have been disapproved.
  • Impression share: See if impression share is the same or different in the current timeframe versus the timeframe before the drop off. Check Auction Insights to see if a competitor may have swooped in and taken away share.
  • Budget capping: Make sure campaigns are funded properly
  • Policy issues: Unlikely, but I have worked with three companies in the past whose campaigns were paused due to Google policy changes affecting merchandise they sold.

Google Trends: Run a report showing search interest on your trademark terms. If interest is down, then impressions should be down, too. If you have access to Hitwise or comScore, check to see if you are losing share-of-voice on top terms to a competitor.  Last Holiday, many brands lost YOY impression share to Amazon, with many consumers initiating their search there rather than the search engines.

Hopefully one of these troubleshooting tactics will uncover the source of the drop off. Some are easier to fix than others but understanding the source of the issue will inform the appropriate marketing tactics to employ to either fix or, if necessary, offset the decline.

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