2-step methodology for dealing with PPC performance downturns

What happens when your paid search campaigns are experiencing a sudden and unexpected performance drop? Columnist Jeff Baum shows how to handle this situation — without losing your clients’ trust.

2-step methodology for dealing with PPC performance downturns

The most important thing I’ve learned from my 15 years of PPC experience is that sooner or later, account performance will take a downturn. When that day comes, we must be prepared to deal with the consequences of performance not meeting expectations. These consequences could range from stakeholders losing trust in your abilities to receiving ultimatums to “fix performance or else,” and worst-case scenario, someone else being brought in to take over the paid search program you’ve spent so much time and energy building.

Performance downturns can be very stressful and put you on the defensive. However, having a solid methodology for responding when performance is bad can help instill confidence that you have what it takes to turn a negative performance situation into a positive one.

This article discusses a two-step methodology for confronting underperformance in a way that helps you garner trust with your stakeholders and instill confidence in your ability to manage PPC accounts through the tough times.

Step #1: Diagnosing the problem

Clients and stakeholders need to have confidence in those managing their paid search program. When performance takes a downturn, they depend on their account manager to tell them what the problem is. If an account manager cannot demonstrate they understand what the problem is, then why would the client/stakeholder have any confidence that the account manager can solve their performance issues?

How do we go about diagnosing the root cause of a problem? Diagnosing a problem requires diligent research to pinpoint:

  • when a problem first began to occur.
  • what key metrics are lagging and thus leading to the performance downturn.

Putting the methodology into practice

I’m currently dealing with an account performance issue that is causing this month’s performance to lag in terms of lead volume. I ultimately identified the issue as a drop-off in brand keyword traffic. How did I discover that brand traffic was the source of this issue? I did it by analyzing the following key metrics:

  • CPCs: Accountwide cost per click spiked dramatically from October to November. This was my first indication that a traffic pattern shift occurred.
  • Conversion volume: AdWords pixel conversions were down significantly month over month.
  • CTR: Click-through rate also dropped significantly.

The sudden drop-off in conversion volume and CTR, along with a spike in CPCs, led me directly to consider recent brand traffic performance. Typically, this account I manage has very steady traffic patterns with steady CPCs and conversion volume. As I dove further into brand campaign performance, I saw that branded impressions and clicks dropped dramatically, which caused CPCs to spike and volume to drop. Because of the brand traffic performance drop-off, cost per conversion increased dramatically due to the account’s over-dependence on non-branded traffic.

Further digging into the account, I discovered that branded traffic dropped suddenly at the end of October. This information allowed me to focus on specific changes made to the account during that period. I ultimately discovered several high-traffic branded keywords were paused in error as part of an overall optimization. These keywords were unpaused and bids readjusted. Traffic and conversion volume is now recovering.

As you can see from the example above, it took quite a bit of research to arrive at the problem’s root cause. Once a problem has been identified, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Communicate what the performance problem is and recommend solutions

Throughout the course of my career, I’ve seen a lack of understanding and communication be the downfall of many business relationships. I’ve witnessed PPC account managers fundamentally not understand the performance problems they’re facing, ignore the fact that a problem even exists and fail to address problems head-on with their stakeholders. Allowing any of these things to happen quickly erodes trust.

To maintain your credibility as a PPC expert, it’s imperative that you do the following when there’s an underperformance issue:

  • Own the fact that an underperformance issue is occurring. Denying or minimizing an issue will make your stakeholders angry. Owning the issue helps convey that you understand how urgent the problem is.
  • Communicate the issue verbally, in written form and through visual means to demonstrate that you’ve made the effort to be fully transparent and that you’re willing to educate your stakeholders as to what the problem is.
  • Explain in full detail your recommendations for fixing all underperformance issues you’ve identified. Never leave stakeholders with just the problem. They depend on and expect their account manager to offer solutions that will lead to improved performance. Our stakeholders view us in a similar regard to doctors when their accounts aren’t healthy. How would you feel if a doctor diagnosed you with an ailment but didn’t recommend any course of treatment? This is how clients feel when they’ve been informed of an underperformance problem but not offered any guidance regarding how to get their account back on track.

Clear communication and context helps remove fear. Oftentimes, stakeholders become emotional and lash out because they feel their account manager doesn’t grasp the gravity and urgency of a situation. It’s our job as account managers to take the lead in eliminating fear of the unknown by providing as much background information and context as possible regarding an underperformance problem’s root cause, and propose sufficient courses of action for remedying the situation.

Final thoughts

No matter how hard we try, we’ll never be able to avoid the inevitable performance downturn. However, what we can do is be prepared for how we’ll respond when this time arrives. Fully understanding root causes of performance issues, developing the appropriate solution and decisively communicating all of this to our stakeholders is crucial to successfully surviving performance downturns.

It’s easy to be liked and respected when everything is going well. The real test comes when things are not going according to plan. Going through the fire of underperformance and successfully coming out on the right side of it will help build your credibility and your stakeholders’ trust in you.


[Article on Search Engine Land.]

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Jeff Baum is a seasoned PPC advertising professional with Hanapin Marketing. He has a 12 year track record of success in digital advertising. He has developed and implemented strategies to substantially grow revenue and profits for a variety of lead generation and e-commerce businesses. He has also been responsible and accountable for managing hundreds of thousands of dollars in PPC advertising spend per month. Jeff is a recurring writer for Hanapin’s blog, PPC Hero, and also manages Hanapin’s RWE (Remote Work Environment) program.


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