One of the challenges when running PPC campaigns is that once they are setup and working well, it is easy to take your eyes off the ball.

This is especially true if your marketing job is multi-disciplinary and, metaphorically speaking, not dissimilar to spinning plates at the circus.

The problem is that PPC advertising is a zero-sum game. Every time an advert moves up the rankings, one or more has to move down. If your adverts are doing well, then you can bet your bottom dollar that at some point it will come to the attention of your competitors; and we all know the smarter ones do not sit on their hands. 

How to keep ahead of the game

When managing PPC campaigns, the workload is usually spread across a number of different product categories and platforms. 

The most effective PPC campaigns and advertising are data driven, which demands methodical and patient analysis. Not easy when the pressure is on. This presents a number of challenges, not least of which is that it is not possible to keep everything in mind at the same time.

The way I manage this is to make sure that for every campaign I oversee, I always have access to the information I need to evaluate performance and make informed decisions. 

These are the things I do to ensure this is always the case.

1. Record everything

I use advertising platforms all the time, and even I struggle to keep up with the various features and tools they offer. They are like giant machines which you control with a vast array of gauges, switches and levers. 

When you setup PPC campaigns, it is impossible to know the best way to set them up. There are tools that can help you identify the good keywords and suggest maximum bids, but ultimately you have to switch them on, see what happens and optimise. 

To do this effectively, you need a single source of truth – an analytics platform that records information in a consistent way. We all know what the options are, and we all know how to use at least one. The big challenge is investing the time and political capital necessary to ruthlessly insist that they are used.

The one thing that my clients have in common is that when I start working with them, there are huge holes in their data. Marketing channels that are not tracked correctly, conversions and goals that are not being recorded. Unless you fix these issues at the outset, you run the risk of having to rely on guesswork when things go south.

That is why having a reliable record of what you do should be your number one priority.

PPC campaign dynamics shown in a vector image
The PPC campaign Cycle

2. Use consistent measures to monitor performance

I like spending money when it is an investment, but I hate wasting it. So it will not come as a surprise, therefore, when I say that running PPC campaigns can make me feel a little anxious. 

I have come to realise that this is a good thing. The way I manage my anxiety is to monitor campaign performance to make sure my PPC investment is generating a return. 

This is how I do it.

  1. I review the performance of my PPC campaigns at the start of the day, to see how much we have spent and what we have generated in return on the previous day.
  2. I then look at the past seven days to get a feel for whether the previous day’s performance is typical of the last week and repeat the process for the last 30 days.
  3. I then compare the last 30 days with the same 30 days a year ago, to see how the period compares. If the business is a start-up, then I will compare it to the previous period.
  4. At the end of each month, I do a deep dive into the marketing performance and calculate the profit generated from the PPC campaigns. That includes calculating the costs of the products sold per campaign. I then review the configuration of the campaigns, based on the current conversion data.

At the end of the process, I will have a good idea how well the campaign is performing relative to other days in the current period and for the same period in the previous year. 

By regularly reviewing performance, you get a feel for the state of the market and are quickly alerted to anything that might need attention. I might not do all of this every day, sometimes checking yesterday’s sales is enough, but I will run through the whole process at least once a week. 

3. Structure your campaigns as simply as possible

After a couple of years of constant use, most PPC accounts look like the digital equivalent of the Titanic’s debris field. Whatever logic and reasoning were used in their creation has long since been buried by the flotsam and jetsam from multiple revisions, enhancements and tests. This can present huge problems when evaluating their performance. 

The best way of managing this is to embrace a principle used in software development called the separation of concerns. This recognises that we can build a much deeper understanding of what we do if we limit the context in which we work.

What that means in practical terms is limiting campaigns to one specific purpose. For example, sometimes a brand search campaign might be created to promote the business in a specific way for brand searches. However, we might want to promote the brand in a different way to consumers and businesses. In this case we would accommodate the principle by creating two campaigns, one for each segment. 

Okay, these decisions are not always easy. Sub dividing large product categories might be straightforward and the extra work justifiable, but smaller ones might seem like a waste of time. If you are unsure, I have found a good approach is to start with some broader campaigns and then break them up as I go along. Duplicating them and pausing the Ad Groups you no longer feel are working.

4. Avoid tunnel thinking

All analytical activities can become giant rabbit holes, and it is easy to become locked into one way of thinking. It is important to look beyond the standard reported figures and explore the following.

Compare attribution models

The most common way of attributing sales to channels is to use the Last Interaction visit. That is great, but it does not provide a complete picture. I look at two figures, the Last Interaction, and then the last PPC click (i.e. Sales where the conversion paths have included at least one paid visit.) 

While the first figure gives you a feel for the minimum contribution an advert has made, the second suggests the total business that might be at risk if you switched the advert off.

Mash up external sales and customer data

Another essential analysis is to export the transaction information data from your analytics system and join it your customer data. This will enable you generate useful information, such as whether your PPC customers are new customers or returning customers, what the lifetime value of these customers are, and what segment they belong to. 

Measure non-human interactions

The first time I ran a Twitter advert, Twitter told me it had generated approximately 70 visitors. Only a handful of them were recorded in Google Analytics. It’s not easy to spot bot traffic on your campaigns without using specialist bot protection like Beacon which detects and mitigates against bots AKA click fraud.

5. It is not just about the advert

My wife says that I can sound a bit like a robot and based on this article it is perhaps easy to see why. The danger of staring at charts all day is that you can become blind to the things that are not on them. Here are some to consider:

Adverts don’t make sales

Getting someone to visit your site is only one step in the sales process. When a visitor lands on your site, you have to keep them there. 

I once found a page on a client site that had generated hundreds of visits over a few months. No sales had been made because the product was £30 cheaper everywhere else.

The pages visitors land on, need to be relevant to what they searched for and prices need to be competitive. If a campaign is underperforming, remember to check the content before you start tinkering with your campaigns.

Branding is more important than most people realise

It is possible to provide the customer with everything they need at the price they were looking for and still not close the deal.

This is often about trust. It does not matter how good you are, if visitors have never heard of you nor are aware of your reputation, the leap of faith needed to place business with you can be too much. 

Your brand is more than a logo, it is what defines how people feel about who you are and what you do. Unless you pay attention communication this clearly and in a focused way, the end result will be low conversion rates.

6. Keep a campaign diary

Keep a note of everything your do in a Word document in reverse date order. You don’t have to give it “the full Samuel Pepys”, just keep a summary to remind you what you did and what you were thinking at the time.

Don’t panic

Finally, whatever happens to your campaigns, DON’T PANIC! Some things you can react to quickly to and some things you cannot. Poorly performing campaigns can be paused while you investigate what is going on.

Remember what Churchill once said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

When things go south, it is easy to forget that the skills you have, when combined with the relevant data, will be enough to see you through the storm.

Guest post by Phil Rothwell
CEO of Ecomevolve

Contact: phil@ecomevolve.co.uk
Web: www.ecomevolve.co.uk