13 minute read

Seven Reasons Your PPC Isn’t Working

Written by Roan Fair

PPC In The Covid-19 Coronavirus Crisis

Visibility has never been more important right now. And there are few better forms of visibility than PPC – your company’s name right at the top of Google.

So you can target users with ‘sit forward’ advertising that matches your message to their query at the crucial point of search.

Done right, PPC works – even in a global pandemic. One of our B2B manufacturing clients is this month enjoying a 536% return on his PPC investment. Another in professional services is seeing 487% ROI (and April 2020 is outperforming April 2019).

The secret of this success is to give people very real reasons to want your product or service when their first instinct in lockdown is to hold back and avoid spending.

You must also be sure your PPC is working correctly. Here are some potential snags that could undermine your campaigns’ performance. And how you can fix them…

PPC Struggling? We Feel Your Pain – You Are Not Alone

Google Ads (formerly AdWords) is fabulous when it works – and it usually does. All those juicy conversions roll in and your heart soars. But then one cold, dark day your campaigns stop converting. Or they convert less well and at a much higher cost.

Many years ago a colleague and I used to call this PPC pain the ‘icy claw’. It’s an insidious feeling – as if a freezing talon has reached into the pit of your stomach.

You struggle to find the problem. It can feel as if all hope is lost; you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders as you try to pin down what went wrong (something a Digital Marketing Audit might help with).

Fear not. We feel your pain. And we’re going to make that pain stop – by showing you some solutions that can help you if:

  • your PPC has stopped working
  • your PPC never worked properly in the first place
  • you think your PPC is working (but actually it isn’t)
  • your PPC is working quite well but you want still more out of it (who doesn’t?)

Let’s Skip The Basics For The Moment

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Yes, PPC is an ad auction which – in the run-up to Covid-19 – was becoming more competitive and more expensive…reducing return on investment. After all, you’re not just competing against humans anymore. Today you’re up against more automation than ever before.

And yes, at a basic level PPC comes down to three questions. Are you getting enough:

  • impressions that lead to…
  • clicks that lead to…
  • conversions? (Or phone calls?)

But let’s pop those fundamentals to one side for now and look at some harder-to-diagnose problems…


1. Your PPC Is Gradually Getting Less Successful Every Month

And you can’t figure out why. You’ve checked last year’s performance and your current malaise is not due to seasonality. This time last year your conversions were increasing every month – but now they’re falling. So it’s not seasonal.

You see that the decline is a gradual one but there’s definitely a downward trend. Every month for the last quarter your conversions have been dropping. It feels as if your PPC’s very lifeblood is seeping away. Your campaigns are slowly bleeding to death but you don’t know why; you can’t find the ‘wounds’.

I have an expression for this phenomenon; ‘the tide is going out’. That’s because the atrophy is so subtle that at first you don’t see it happening. Only after a few weeks do you realise that you’re being left high and dry…and that flood of conversions you once enjoyed is now ebbing away.

So what’s causing the problem? The answer is impression share – ie ‘how often your ads are showing’.

For those of you who haven’t heard of ‘impression share’, it’s arguably the most important PPC metric of all because if your ads aren’t showing, you’ve got nothing. No ad impressions means no clicks – which in turn means no conversions.

Through no fault of your own (other than perhaps ‘PPC over-enthusiasm’) you can get drawn into a vicious circle that looks like this…

  • You want more conversions so you add more keywords to get more traffic.
  • This dilutes your impression share because you’ve added more keywords without increasing your budget.
  • Your conversions fall because your best performing keywords are now getting less budget.
  • You notice a drop in conversions and add yet more keywords, further diluting your impression share.
  • And the cycle repeats until you do something about it!

Here’s the bottom line: if your impression share is only 50% then your ads are showing only half the time. You’re fishing only half the pond…and what if all the fish you want are in the half you’re not fishing?

That – in one paragraph – is why impression share is so crucial.

1.1 Diagnosing Falling Impression Share

It is vital that you find out how much impression share you have – and where you are losing it. Check the following:

  • search impression share – the percentage of the time your ads are showing
  • percentage of impression share lost due to lack of budget
  • percentage of impression share lost due to rank (you were outbid by your competitors)
  • exact match impression share – your impression share if all your keywords were [exact match].

Your Impression Share, ‘IS lost to budget’ and ‘IS lost to rank’ should all add up to 100%.

1.2 How To Fix Falling Impression Share Due To Budget

You have a number of choices. The lazy option is to invest more money by boosting your campaign budget. Google might secretly love you for this but your financial director won’t. You’re just papering over the cracks.

The more cost-effective option is to focus your impression share on the keywords that are working best for you. Optimise each campaign by concentrating your impression share on the best converting:

  • Days of the week
  • Times of the day
  • Devices
  • Locations
  • Demographics.

You can pause keywords that aren’t converting. Or you could (and should) dig deeper to find out why they aren’t working. Is it down to intent? Or unappealing ads? Poor landing pages?

Or are you simply attracting the wrong kind of traffic? In which case some well applied negative keywords will save you from racking up unwanted impressions and costly extraneous clicks that are never likely to convert.

There’s a lot you can do before you decide to make Google richer than it already is.

1.3 How To Fix Falling Impression Share Due To Rank

Again the easy option is to hose money at the problem by bidding more. And, yes, bids are important. But there’s something else you should look at first – keyword Quality Score.

Like Impression Score, Google’s Quality Score of 1-10 for each keyword is crucial: get a 10 and you’re laughing; get a 2 and your ads won’t show.

Your Ad Rank – which determines your ad’s position on the page – is based on Bid x Quality Score (actually, there’s a little more to it than that but let’s keep it simple).

And it doesn’t take much of a drop in Quality Score to ruin your day. At best your ads will be outranked (and your costs will rise as you bid more to hold position). At worst your ads will not appear…and the low QS keywords will gradually start to ‘infect’ your good QS keywords and turn them rotten too. A bad QS keyword is like a bad apple that spoils the barrel.

So how do you fix the problem? It’s time to delve into the fascinating world of Quality Score…

2. Your Lousy Quality Score Is Stopping Your Ads From Showing

Lower Quality Score means lower Ad Rank, which means your ads will appear in lower positions.

This in turn means that you’re more likely to lose impression share due to rank. Ouch.

Quality Score runs from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) and it matters a lot because – aside from ad rank – it directly affects how much you will pay for each click.

2.1 Is Google Being Less Generous With Quality Score?

It sure feels that way. And we look at keyword Quality Scores pretty much every working day.

Yes, it’s true that increased competition may be as much (or more) to blame.

But there is something that makes me look beyond this: Quality Score on brand keywords….

There shouldn’t be much competition on your brand keywords. True, it’s an age-old PPC trick to bid on a rival’s company name – but this is seldom worthwhile because the low QS that you’ll get makes the process expensive. It may not convert that well either.

So there is less competition on brand keywords. This means you should have a much greater chance of getting a QS10 on your brand keywords:

  • expected clickthrough rate will be high because people are searching for you by name
  • ad relevance should be good because your headlines, description, final URL and display path will reflect your brand spectacularly well (won’t they?)
  • landing page experience will be good too for the same reason.

So why is Google now less likely to give QS10s across the board? A couple of years ago, every keyword in your brand campaign would have been a QS10. Now it’s possibly to see a QS9 or QS8 sneaking in.

Why? Well, it doesn’t take much of a QS drop to make you push up your bids (and make Google richer) – especially if you spark a bidding war with your competitors.

All this can feel like ‘shrinkflation’ when confectionery manufacturers reduce the number of sweeties you get in the packet but don’t cut the price. Shame!

Or when government ministers impose a sneaky stealth tax on pensions. They’re hoping you won’t notice.

But we do.

2.2 Your Expected Clickthrough Rate Is Undermining Your Efforts

Google scores Expected Clickthrough Rate (CTR) as below average/average/above average. CTR is the big determinant of quality score. It’s a huge incentive to make your ads better (and thus improve the user experience for searchers).

But it feels as if the pace has hotted up in recent years. You’ll have to split test your ads more often than you did before.

You may even be forced to do so before you’re comfortable with the amount of data you have – because if you wait too long your keyword may already have dropped to QS2 (aka ‘dead’).

And because it is an ‘expected’ clickthrough rate, it can feel as if Google is penalising your keyword before it has given it a proper crack of the whip.

2.3. You’re Being Penalised For Poor Ad Relevance

Quality Score Ad Relevance (below average/average/above average) is self-explanatory. And it can really bug you.

Google can still penalise you for ad relevance even when your ad headline, final URL, display URL, display path and description all contain the keyword!

It feels nuts! C’mon Google…how much more relevant could such an advert possibly be? How could the bleedin’ obvious be somehow less than 100% relevant?

There are various possible solutions:

  • split test ads (especially with regard to length)
  • do some keyword research – what are other terms that Google would expect to see alongside that main keyword?

Always think about the end user – what would they want to see in your ad? What would make them click and convert? Make the call to action on each ad awesome! (Try popping a CTA in the headline!)

2.4. Google Thinks Your Landing Page Experience Would Be Disappointing

Landing Page Experience (below average/average/above average) matters so much for both the user and for Google.

Offering searchers a ‘below average’ landing page experience is like going into battle with one hand tied behind your back – you’ll never get much more than a QS7 if your landing pages are poor.

Like so many aspects of PPC, landing page optimisation and conversion rate is an entire blog post (or series of blog posts) in its own right.

But here are some basic pointers:

  • Match your landing page to the search term, the keyword and the ad. Match the ad text closely so the user is seeing exactly what they would expect from the ad they’ve just clicked.
  • Try a short, sharp, punchy page. Yes, ‘you have to tell it to sell it’ but that doesn’t mean waffling. Experiment with a bullet-pointed page text that’s the same length as the email form next to it.
  • Get rid of all the distracting navigation menus. You want the user to fill in the form…not click away to another page.
  • Have as few email form fields as possible. And keep the preceding text short – Name (not Full Name), Email (not Email Address), Phone (not Telephone).
  • Provide proof – add a testimonial quote, membership/awards and logos that build trust.

3. Your Campaigns Are Set Up Badly 

Set up your ad groups badly and your ad relevance will suffer – hitting your Quality Score, Ad Rank and impression share.

For this reason you should obsess about ad group granularity.

Google’s official recommendation is that you can have up to 20 keywords in each ad group.

But your Quality Scores should improve if you ‘go granular’ with:

  • one keyword (of various match types if you like) per ad group – so that the ads (and ideally the landing page too) are focused on that one keyword.

At this point we could go off at a tangent and discuss that merits or otherwise of separating keywords by match type but let’s keep it simple…

4. Your Campaigns Have Been Infected By Zombie Keywords!

Keyword Quality Score is like freedom: the price is eternal vigilance.

To preserve good QS across your account, you may be forced to delete some keywords, ads and even entire ad groups for the greater good (“the greater good”).

That is because it only takes one bad apple to eventually spoil the barrel. A QS2 keyword is like a zombie; it’s dead (it won’t enable your ads to show)…but it can still infect the living.

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Ignore the problem and eventually that zombie QS2 it could turn other perfectly decent keywords into zombies too.

Here’s the tragedy. A QS2 ‘zombie’ may be a great keyword that you once knew and loved. But now it’s dead/undead.

There may a faint chance of getting it back to a QS3 or QS4. But most of the time it’s likely to remain a zombie QS2 or QS1.

So you must delete it. Be strong. Do what has to be done.

5. Your PPC Stopped Converting For No Apparent Reason!

In the worst case scenario all your PPC campaigns suddenly stop converting. Day after agonising day you get nothing.

And you don’t know why.

Remember that icy claw feeling? This is a seriously sub-zero situation! It can be a real panic-inducer if you’ve never experienced it before and don’t know what to look for.

One possible reason is ‘the Dropped Gclid’ – you changed your website without changing the final URLs in your PPC ads.

So what is the Gclid? It’s the Google Click ID – the little autotag that tells Google that your PPC conversions actually came from PPC and not organic search, direct traffic, referrals or even social media. (Yes…really…even social media traffic does actually convert sometimes!)

You may think that everything will be fine if you follow the correct SEO practice and do a 301 redirect to tell Google that the page has moved. And you’d be right from an SEO standpoint…but you’d be wrong PPC-wise.

Doing a 301 redirect is absolutely vital for your SEO so that users are directed to the new page and so that your organic Google rankings are preserved. But it won’t help your PPC because the redirect will drop the crucial Gclid that says: “Hey Google, this is a PPC conversion.”

Sometimes – like the ‘tide going out’ – it can take a while to spot because you’ll still see clicks and impressions in your Google Ads interface…but you just won’t see any conversions.

Yes, people are still going to the landing page and filling in the form – so you’re still getting conversions. But they’re just not being attributed to the PPC. So you think your PPC is tanking when in reality it isn’t.

And to make matters worse, it can sometimes take a while for the penny to drop. During this time you may have misinterpreted the PPC data that you see. You might have been fooled into pausing or deleting ad groups, keywords and ads that in reality were performing really well! It can be heartbreaking.

So what’s the solution? Easy, use the correct new URLs from your website as your PPC final URLs. Be meticulous – check every ad in every ad group!

6. You’re Not Measuring The Right Goals

Occasionally we still come across PPC advertisers who are still not measuring their success properly because they haven’t set up conversion tracking. It’s rare but it still happens.

All they’re seeing is how many clicks and impressions they’re getting – not the conversions they’re generating.

What’s more likely is that someone:

  • has set up conversion tracking badly
  • is not measuring the right conversions
  • has too many ‘soft conversions’ – such as clicks on a certain page rather than real sales or leads
  • is still using Last Click attribution – so they can’t see the vital part that PPC is playing further back in the buyer’s journey
  • has not assigned a value to a conversion so they can’t compare its value with how much it cost to get it.

Once the only way to track conversions was to paste some code on a Thank You page (and Thank You pages can still be useful – not least for cross-selling). But now you may prefer to import your goals from Google Analytics because:

  • it offers greater consistency between Google Ads and Google Analytics
  • each of your Google Analytics goals could (and should) already have a value assigned to it
  • the whole process is so much quicker and easier.

It’s gorgeous because it’s so easy to measure:

  • Conversion Value – you must have given each of your conversions a value (or have imported the value already assigned in Google Analytics)
  • Conversion Value/Cost – your return on investment (ROI)!

Remember…without proper conversion tracking you’ll never get a true picture of how your PPC is performing; you’ll never be able to calculate your ROI.

And without true ROI, what have you got? Online invoices from Google, a bunch of clicks and impressions, a few hunches. Hopefully some phone call enquiries…maybe.

But you need more than hope – because hope isn’t a strategy.

7. Your PPC Competitors Are Kicking Your Posterior

It’s bad enough to lose out to your rivals. Worse still is when you don’t know you’re losing.

What if the PPC bullies are stealing your lunch and sniggering at you behind your back while you’re just drifting along, oblivious to the threat?

Want to know what they’re up to? Want to put them on the back foot?

Our PPC experts have a suite of smart digital tools that will strip your competitors naked – revealing all their threats and weaknesses.

So you can:

  • get more conversions
  • reduce your costs
  • improve your ROI.

Download Your Dummy Digital Marketing Audit

Originally published on Wednesday 29 April, 2020 | Last updated Saturday 31 October, 2020

Tags: For Marketeers, Digital Marketing