5 Common PPC Optimisation Mistakes


You’ve researched hundreds of long-tail keywords, organised them into granular ad groups, and crafted ad messages which closely match the ad group’s keywords. You then set your Google AdWords campaigns live.

But after a while, you realise your PPC campaigns are not delivering the desired return on investment. You start making changes to bids, budgets, and keywords. Still no improvement, so you make more changes.

And so on.

It’s not long until you’ve lost track of what’s working and what’s not. Your keywords and ad groups become disorganised, your Quality Scores start to fall, and you start paying excessively high CPCs to chase after visitors and sales.

If any of this sounds familiar, perhaps you need to take a step back and review your campaign optimisation strategy. Are you making intelligent and informed decisions based on reliable, insightful, and unbiased data? Or are your bids being changed and keywords paused in a random and haphazard fashion in a drastic effort to improve results?

Below are 5 optimisation mistakes I’ve found myself guilty of from time to time, and some tips on how to avoid these common pitfalls.

 

1. Basing decisions on too little data

Data is a PPC advertiser’s best friend. Without knowing which keywords, ads, and landing pages perform better than other keywords, ads, and landing pages, it is almost impossible to create and maintain a profitable PPC campaign. But when assessing the performance of your campaigns, it’s all too easy to make uninformed changes to keyword bids and unnecessarily pause keywords and ads based on insignificant and unreliable data.

A keyword which has received 1 click and delivered 1 sale is not a high performing keyword. Similarly, a keyword which has received 50 clicks and delivered no sales is not a poor performing keyword.

Recommendations:

  • 200 clicks is a good rule of thumb – it gives the keyword or ad a fair chance to show its true worth, and any freak anomalies are likely to be cancelled out over a decent-sized data set. So avoid writing off keywords and ads with less than 200 clicks
  • Use larger data sets, but keep track of the time ranges used during your analyses (point 4)

 

2. Being too granular

Another common mistake is placing too much emphasis on the performance of individual keywords and individual ads, and failing to see the bigger picture. If you look at only keyword data, you will fail to spot how each of your ad groups and campaigns are performing.

Recommendations:

  • If your individual keyword data is too small, look at your ad group data – you’re sure to uncover greater insights. And if you ad group data is too small, look at your campaign data.
  • Same with ads. If you have the same ad messages across multiple ad groups, run a pivot table in Excel to benefit from a larger data set
  • Try to only make optimisation changes when you have at least 200 clicks, so keep moving up a level until you have enough data set to make informed decisions – any changes you make will them be more likely to have a positive impact on your account performance.

 

3. Assuming that just because a keyword or search query has converted in the past, it will convert again in the future

Because it won’t. Well, not always anyway.

People make a wide range of unique searches, so just because you made a sale after someone searched for ‘cheap Bahamas deals summer 2012′, does not mean that bidding on the keyword ‘cheap Bahamas deals summer 2012′ will deliver another sale in the future.

Recommendations:

  • Try to view your more obscure long-tail keywords as a whole, rather than individually
  • Pick out themes from your search query reports to get more insightful understanding on what types of keywords and searches are working, rather than the individual searches and keywords

 

4. Optimising the same data twice

One of the easiest yet most dangerous mistakes to make when optimising campaigns regularly is to overlap your date ranges. You’ve selected data for the ‘last 30 days’, made your keyword bid changes, then carry out another bid optimisation 2 weeks later, again using the ‘last 30 days’ of data. Your bidding decisions will be based on overlapping data, so your changes will be made with poor judgement.

Similarly, if you’ve changed bids in the middle of the month, but then view data for the whole of the month, your CPC, CTR, and average position data will not be representative of the current state of the campaigns.

Recommendations:

  • Record the date you make changes to your campaigns, and view data from that date onwards – it will then be more representative of the current state of the campaigns
  • Download campaign statistics using AdWords Editor – when you come back to optimise your campaigns on a later date, you can see what date range was previously used and select a new date range from that date onwards
  • Try to make routine changes such as bid adjustments at the same time each week or month, to get in the habit of selecting reliable date ranges (e.g. ‘last 7 days’)

 

5. Being afraid to walk away

There’s nothing more frustrating than investing huge amounts of time and effort into carrying out detailed analysis on your campaigns, only to find no findings whatsoever. After carefully compiling results to compare the profitability of prices versus non-prices in ads, or compare visitor engagement and returning visits of landing page A to landing page B, you secretly hope one proves to be a clear winner.

Really, you do.

But all too often, different ad messages and landing pages will perform exactly the same. When faced with such inconclusive and frustrating results, it’s often difficult to walk away and make absolutely no changes whatsoever to your campaigns. Despite the difficulty in doing so, walking away is essential to avoid making unnecessary and often detrimental changes to your campaigns.

Recommendations:

  • Realise that making changes based on insignificant data can worsen your campaign performance
  • Create two identical copies of each ad style within the same ad group, and let them rotate – only if both ads AA clearly beat both ads BB (or vice versa), can you be confident of a clear winner

 

Less is sometimes more

PPC campaign optimisation is an art. Especially when you want to include engagement metrics such as time on site and returning visits. Changes to keywords and ads should not be made haphazardly – they should only be made after careful thought and analysis, using reliable and significant data sets.

Not only does efficient and informed PPC optimisation require a good understanding of data analysis, but it also requires a good intuition and experience on when to make changes and when to walk away. Sometimes the best work you can do to a PPC campaign is to do no work at all.

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Alan Mitchell is an experienced Google AdWords specialist, with a proven track record in helping businesses increase their return on investment (ROI) from PPC marketing. To find out how logical PPC marketing can help your business, please get in touch today for a free consultation.

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  1. #1 by Peter St Onge on June 22nd, 2011

    Good points, Alan. Particularly on making sure you’ve got enough data before making a change.

    Coming out of portfolio management, the issues are similar. You choose a stock screen or a rule to determine e.g. which stocks to buy. You test the hell out of your screen, and only if it passes do you go deep on the position.

    Typical pitfalls are almost identical to what you raise here. I know I’ve done most at some point of another :)

  2. #2 by Alan Mitchell on June 22nd, 2011

    Hi Peter,

    You’re right – even if there is only limited data on a keyword level, it makes sense to move up a step and instead look at how your ad groups or your campaigns are performing, where the data is compounded.

    And if your obscure long-tail keywords are only receiving a handful of clicks, it makes sense to instead pick out themes to try and identify which types of keywords are working, rather than getting caught up in the detail.

    With limited data, making changes can be worse than making no changes at all.

    Cheers,
    Alan

  3. #3 by Matthew Simmons on June 28th, 2011

    Hi, Useful article. I think we often tinker with stuff that we do not have enough information to make key decisions. My carpentry teacher’s mantra was always measure twice – cut once. I use this quote in all my marketing talks -whether its SEO, or traditional marketing. It resonates with all audiences.

    M

  4. #4 by Alan Mitchell on June 29th, 2011

    Thanks Matthew,

    Nice analogy. Guess it can be applied to many scenarios, especially those involving measurement or analysis.

    Cheers,
    Alan

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