We asked Marketing Managers from start-ups to FTSE 200 companies to tell us the largest issues they face in PPC today. Our sample included B2B businesses as well as more traditional ecommerce.
Unsurprisingly, the issues they are facing are too much to cover in one article, so welcome to part one of a four part series!
In this series, we’ll be answering the predominant issues facing marketing managers in 2019, covering:
- Competitors (coming soon!)
- Attribution (coming soon!)
- Account management (coming soon!)
The performance issues addressed in this article:
- How to stop your costs going up and your ROI going down
- How to increase your conversion rate
- What to do about poor quality traffic
- How to boost performance of lower performing products
- What to do when the weather affects your performance
How to stop your costs from going up and your ROI going down
In pitches we constantly hear “AdWords was consistently profitable for us 3 years ago, but now it’s getting more expensive and we want to know what to do about it”.
Because of all of the external factors that can affect performance in your Google Ads accounts, you need a dynamic approach to managing your accounts – what worked last year won’t necessarily work this year.
Some of this is out of your or your agency’s hands; if Google increases CPCs in your industry, or more competitors decide to compete, you cannot stop that (unless you are lastminute.com – but you really do have to have serious weight with Google).
The key to improving your ROI is to firstly cut out wasted spend, and then to maximise on strong intent.
We would suggest that you run a serious account audit. My colleague Wes’ guide to that can be found here.
The top areas to focus on if you want to reduce waste include close variants, match types, and low Quality Score keywords.
1. First, cut wasted spend by focusing on the performance of close variants.
Close variants in our experience always perform worse than searches that actually match with your keywords, assuming you’ve chosen your keywords sensibly. This is particularly true for exact match close variants.
That makes sense, as presumably close variant matching for exact match was only introduced to increase Google’s revenue.
You will still be able to see in search term reports which close variants you matched, so you can make the decision to add them as keywords in their own right should you wish.
The link above has a full explanation on how to set up the script, but it is very easy. We suggest setting it to run every day.
2. Avoid high CPC phrase match, try BMM instead.
Match types are also another large area where accounts are typically wasting money without realising.
In our experience, phrase match should be avoided like the plague. It consistently results in higher CPCs then BMM, and thus lower ROI.
Even in circumstances where phrase match has been used over BMM because the advertiser is trying to preserve word order, this can be mitigated by clever use of negatives.
The typical example is for flights. For example, “london to paris flights” has a distinctly different meaning to “paris to london flights”. Phrase match would allow you to preserve this order and the different meaning, whereas with BMM word order does not matter.
However, you can still use a BMM keyword, which will typically have lower CPCs than phrase match. This is possible by using a phrase match negative of the word order you do not want to pick up.
For example, if you wanted to appear for “paris to london flights” but not “london to paris flights”, you can add the latter as a phrase negative, and still add +paris +to +london +flights as a BMM keyword.
3. Pause low quality score keywords.
A large proportion of low Quality Score keywords are often lurking in accounts and driving up costs, lowering ROI.As you can see from the chart above, a Quality Score of 4 is 75% more expensive for your CPCs than one of 7.
Evidently it is worth auditing the quality of your keywords to see if you could be saving a serious amount of spend here.
Fortunately, you can analyse each component of Quality Score, to determine exactly how you can fix your lower score keywords: ad relevance, landing page experience, and expected CTR.
3a. Ad relevance and expected CTR is why we advocate so strongly for single keyword ad groups.
Having one keyword in each ad group means that you every ad for that keyword can be tailored to the keyword exactly.
So, you can have the exact keyword in the first headline, meaning your ad relevance goes through the roof, thereby improving your expected CTR and ultimately your quality score.
Creating single keyword ad groups may seem daunting at first, especially in an account with thousands of keywords.
Any decent agency will have a campaign building tool which will easily build out the structure for you – we have developed one at Clicteq, so get in touch if you want advice on this.
Bear in mind that if you create new ad groups and move keywords into them, they will effectively be new keywords, and so you will lose the quality score you have built up.
However, as above, the payoff could be huge so it’s certainly worth trying.
3b. Your landing page experience score is commonly believed to principally be a reflection of site speed.
You can check how Google rates your speed at this site. With more traffic moving to mobile every year, upgrading your user experience on both mobile and desktop is no longer a nice-to-have.
Other factors in landing page experience include the relevance of the landing page to the query, and how easily navigable it is.
3c. If you do not have the resources currently to upgrade your site, we’d definitely recommend doing some landing page testing.
Even if it doesn’t seem like you’ve got many pages to pick from, it’s worth testing to ensure that you are using the best one possible. It’ll also confirm which pages it will be the most cost effective to start optimising.
4. Once you’ve cut wasted spend, focus on indicators of strong intent.
Clearly, this is getting harder and harder to manage manually. The most effective and efficient way to do this is either through scripts, or through using bid strategies.
We’d recommend using scripts on lower volume accounts.
That is because bid strategies rely on Google’s machine learning algorithms which are great at making smart decisions when they’ve got plenty of data.
When they do not however, they can tank an account.
You can find over 160 tried and tested scripts here for all kinds of functions, but the ones we’d recommend in particular for maximizing on strong intent include:
You’ll find instructions on each hyperlink of how to set the scripts up.
We’d typically set these to run once a month, to ensure there is enough meaningful data for bid modifiers to be determined.
If you decide to use a bid strategy, start with either target CPA (tCPA) or target ROAS (tROAS).
Which you should use depends on whether you have products of different value or not. tROAS takes into account the revenue generated by a conversion, whereas tCPA does not.
For example, tROAS appreciates that it’s worth spending more to acquire a customer that will spend more, but tCPA is suitable for most B2B accounts, where leads are considered equal.
The learning period for either bid strategy can be 4-6 weeks, so expect some volatility to start with.
Rather than using an AB script for testing bid strategies, it is better to use the Drafts and Experiments section of Google Ads for this – a useful video tutorial on how to set that up can be found here.
The reason for this is that an AB testing script turns one variation off and the other on each hour, which is disruptive to a bid strategy’s learning period.
How to increase your conversion rate
One part of this is the same as above – maximising on strong intent, and make sure that you are using all the available signals, in a sensible way, to be present in front of the right people.
Reducing wasted spend will give you a higher conversion rate on paper, but really that’s a false increase – all you’ll be doing is getting rid of people who were never interested.
What you want to do is make the people who were on the edge of conversion cross that line.
1. Improve your ads. That can be either through urgency, personalisation, upfront pre-qualification or landing page testing.
1a. Making your ads more urgent in this case means placing limited time offers right in your ad copy. One very effective way of doing this is to use countdown ads – a form of ad customiser.
If you are running offers only on specific items, consider using ad customisers pulling from a business feed.
You can then easily change the offer for one set of items, without having to manually change hundreds of ads.
1b. Personalisation can also be a very powerful tool.
Again this can be achieved through customisers, and means you can include very tailored messaging in the ad copy.
For example, “50% off delivery within Manchester” or “25% off for returning customers”.
Both sets of this information you can include using customisers, for both location and audience membership.
1c. Pre-qualification is an important step to take in ads, if you have lower limits for customers to be eligible for your products.
It might feel a bit painful to put anything in your ad copy that could potentially deter customers, but avoiding pre-qualifying traffic in order to keep visitors up, is a false economy.
If you have minimum requirements, it’s not like up-selling. You can’t make a business have more employees or revenue than it does, for example.
Don’t waste your media spend on people who do not fit your criteria.
1d. Consider choosing less traditional landing pages in order to improve your conversion rate.
You might be surprised about which landing pages actually lead to the best conversion rate.
Homepages for example, despite requiring the longest user journey from landing to conversion, tend to tell more of a brand story. As you know, that can be a powerful influence.
Try ranking all the possible landing pages on your site from the least to the most specific (so for example homepage, category page, sub-category page, then product page).
That should give you an idea of what to test. For example, you could test the least specific (i.e. the homepage in this example) against the most specific (product landing page).
Depending on the outcome, you can move the test further towards one end of the scale until you find the best converting page.
2. On-site improvements cannot be overlooked in order to increase conversion rate.
If you have the resources, hire a CRO agency.
If resource is more limited, you can take some fairly common sense steps to improve your user experience:
- Showcase available inventory, not sold out items
- Have a prominent CTA
- Highlight your USPs up front
- Include ratings, reviews, and testimonials
What to do about poor quality traffic
1. Decrease poor quality traffic by creating RLSA audiences of unprofitable visitors.
The most common way to use RLSA audiences is to bid up on recent visitors, or visitors who have shown an interest in your products.
However, you can use RLSAs to identify people who are not interested.
For example, if someone has visited several times and not converted, you may decide that you no longer want to pay for their traffic – if they want to convert they can come through organic.
Bear in mind, if you are using a last click attribution model, then you may see a negative impact on the volume of your conversions by doing this.
However, firstly organic and paid search should always be viewed holistically. Pitting the two channels against each other will only result in one cannibalising the other, and you ultimately paying more per sale.
Secondly, run an analysis on customer visits per conversion before deciding on a cut-off number of visits for blacklisting someone.
2. Run a thorough search query report to make sure you are not consistently appearing for irrelevant searches.
It can be easy to overlook long term trends in searches if you only look at search terms on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
We suggest analysing the last 6 months’ worth of data in your account. Rank your search terms from highest to lowest, in terms of cost, impressions, CPA, and conversions in turn.
That will give you a thorough understanding of not only what is costing you a lot, but also which searches you are appearing for often with little intention of conversion.
Anything you do not want to appear for, you can then add as phrase negatives on a shared negative list within the interface.
Using phrase negatives, even if it is just for one word, means you can negate any searches including that word or phrase – very handy for not having to add hundreds of combinations of negatives.
If the search terms you are pulling in that are irrelevant are from close match variants, you can use this script to negative those from your account.
3. Go a step further and run an n-gram analysis to determine which combinations of words do not perform well for you.
The link above will give you a full explanation on how it works. Essentially, it’ll collate your data in a way that can give you new insights into which combinations of words are not worth appearing for.
4. Double check that your ad copy is all still accurate.
That is, make sure you are not running sales ads for a sale that doesn’t exist, or that any offers you are advertising are still valid.
This sounds quite basic, but in large accounts this is surprisingly easy to do.
If you are running thousands of ads across products and/or territories for example, it is very possible for automated rules in Google Ads to have not run correctly, or for some human error to have occurred.
One approach to this is to look at ad groups where you are seeing a particularly good CTR but poor conversion rate – that would suggest there is something in your ads that isn’t being realised once they land on your site.
Alternatively, you can download your account into Google Ads Editor, filter for enabled ads, and then search for text relating to sales, discounts, or whatever your latest offer was.
5. Exclude app traffic from GDN, unless you have a specific reason not to.
Feel free to do the analysis yourself, but app traffic virtually always has a disproportionately high CTR, which is not reflected in the conversion rate.
The reason is that it is very easy to accidentally click on app ads.
If you are running remarketing also, then you can end up repeatedly chasing after those visitors, who really had no interest in the first place. That means it’s a double drain on your resources.
You can remove all app traffic in Google Ads Editor, by selecting “All apps” from the negative mobile app categories menu.
How to boost performance of lower performing products
It can be tricky to marry up your ecommerce priorities with your digital marketing activity, but there are some steps you can take with your Google Ads account.
1. If you have specific keywords for those products, check the impression share for the keywords.
If they are losing more than 5-10% to rank, then it would be worth bidding up on them to increase traffic initially.
If they are losing impression share to budget, but you don’t want to increase the spend on the campaign they are in as a whole, move them into their own campaign, and allocate appropriate budget there.
2. If impression share isn’t the issue, test different landing pages.
If it is a subsection of products you are struggling with, try sending searches directly to the product page for the most popular product within that subsection.
Or, try sending other related keywords to the page for your less popular products.
Bear in mind, it may just be that those products are not as popular, so monitor this carefully. You could jeopardise the performance of your account as a whole if conversion rates drop.
If you tend to run last minute offers on products to boost their performance, in your Google Ads account you can use ad customisers.
They run on a feed, which you can change the offers in quickly and easily, without having to change hundreds of ads and keep track of which offers are running.
What to do when weather affects your performance
Firstly, determine whether that is the case by correlating whatever your main KPI is with the weather over the last year – the more data the better.
1. If you are sure that weather causes fluctuations in performance, consider testing a weather bidding script.
This script from the Google Developers allows you to set the temperature boundaries for each weather type (i.e. what is “hot”, what is “cold”), as well as set the bid modifier you want to use.
This means your account will automatically react to unexpected changes in weather that could impact your results.
One issue you will face when trying to set up weather bidding, is that it is extremely hard to find downloadable historic weather data on which to base your analysis in the first place.
2. Decide whether you actually need to be able to bid differently depending on the weather, or if there are different signals you could use.
For example, a t-shirt e-commerce site may see interest peak when there is a bout of hot weather.
However, increased traffic from more impressions and a better CTR will mean budget is depleted quicker.
The result is lost impression share and therefore revenue.
In this case, it isn’t actually necessary to increase budgets depending on the weather. It is just necessary to increase budgets when impressions and CTR increase, regardless of why that may be.
In that case, Google Ads rules can be used to adjust budgets on specific campaigns if there is a spike in interest, to ensure that a minimal amount of search intent is being lost.
Read the other parts of this series, where we address the other main issues facing Marketing Managers:
- Competitors (coming soon!)
- Attribution (coming soon!)
- Account management (coming soon!)
Let us know through our contact page or in the comments below which issues you are facing in your PPC accounts, and we’ll see if we can help.