If you run a PPC account long enough, you will most certainly have a day, week, or month where your metrics completely tank and you (or most likely, your boss or your client) will freak out. This can be quite stressful as it happens, but random declines in performance are more common than you might think. I’ve been through quite a few in my years as a PPC practitioner, so here’s my wisdom on determining whether you’re having a bad day or a bad trend.
When you see a sudden decline in performance, go through these steps:
1. Did anything change?
Did you make a sudden change to your account that might be affecting how your ads are being served or how your traffic is being distributed? Has your budget changed, or did you have a major campaign turned on or off? Go into your change history or your internal notes to see if there was a change that triggered a performance drop. It also helps to see your change history to check if a nosy client made a huge change without telling you – this happened to me a lot back when I was doing agency work.
2. Did anything get disapproved?
Do a quick check of your ads and keywords to make sure something didn’t get suddenly disapproved. Sometimes Google or Microsoft might decide to disapprove a top-performing ad or keyword, and you might not get the notification.
3. Was there a holiday?
Account performance almost always drops over holidays, including three-day-weekend holidays like Memorial Day or Labor Day. This is pretty easy to diagnose for local accounts, but could be a little trickier for international campaigns where you’re not as familiar with the culture (pro tip: Europeans love to take random holidays). You should also make sure there were no current events that might be affecting performance. For example, during the recent Diamond Jubilee celebration in the UK, I observed a significant drop in traffic during the four days of the celebration. As soon it was over, traffic came back to normal the next day. It’s kind of cool to see the productivity of an entire country through the window of a PPC account.
4. Check your other PPC account.
If AdWords dropped in performance, check your AdCenter account. If your AdCenter account dropped, check your AdWords. You are running accounts on both platforms, right? If performance drops in one account but not the other (assuming that the accounts are more or less the same), then you can tell that the problem is isolated to the faulty account. If you see drops in both accounts simultaneously, you’re probably looking at an external trend that is affecting all search traffic.
5. Check your organic traffic.
If you’re ranking pretty well for some key terms, check how your organic search traffic is doing. If organic takes a dive at the same time as your paid search, you’re either looking at an external search trend, or a problem with your website.
The most important thing in this diagnosis period is to not freak out. Like a pilot easing out of a nosedive, you can’t just jerk your controls around until the problem is solved. You have to make a smooth transition out of your tailspin, or you’re just going to make the problem worse. Look at all the angles and find problem areas. Fix one thing and observe for a day or two. If things are better, keep observing. If not, tweak one more thing and observe for another day or two. Whatever you do, don’t make a ton of changes each day for a solid week in a vain attempt to find something that works. Even if you do succeed in fixing your account performance, you’ll have no idea which change you made actually solved the problem.
Once you make a fix, be sure to note your diagnosis and your solution for further use. PPC history does repeat itself, so you may find a need for this solution in the future.