When To Pause A Keyword

PPC keywords – they can’t all be zingers. Every seasoned PPC pro has had the experience of entering in hundreds (or thousands) of keywords that they thought were relevant, sure-to-convert winners, only to find that some of those keywords turn out to be money-hemorrhaging duds. Some times it’s pretty clear that a keyword wasn’t as relevant as you thought it was, and deserves a pause. But sometimes you see some keywords with performance just on the line between profit and loss. How can you decide whether to cut your losses on these keywords, or try to fix the situation?

Before you make the call to pause a keyword, you need to make sure you have enough data. You can base this either on time or on traffic. If you base your analysis on time, consider how long the keyword has been consistently running. New keywords, ad groups, and campaigns need to go through an approval process behind the scenes. Sometimes it can take up to a week for a new campaign element to start getting all the impression share it is eligible for. Before you judge brand new keywords, it’s best to have 2-4 weeks of stats to look at before you make the call. Also, if your keyword is related to a highly seasonal product (i.e. Christmas gifts or flowers), then you probably shouldn’t base a keyword’s performance solely on off-season stats. For example, if you are trying to judge the all-time profitability of your Valentine’s Day keywords, you probably shouldn’t be looking at August’s stats. To eliminate seasonality bias in your analysis, look at a 12-month window of keyword performance. If a keyword is driving a lot of traffic but hasn’t converted once all year, that’s a pretty good indicator that it should be paused.

But, sometimes you don’t have the luxury of doing a long-term analysis. Sometimes you gotta go on traffic. When I look at keyword viability based on traffic, I think about what my absolute rock-bottom break-even conversion rate is. One percent is a pretty good rule of thumb. If you’re converting at 1%, you’re still doing pretty crappy but you might be able to do better eventually. If your goal is a 1% conversion rate, you would need to get at least 100 clicks to know if you would be able to meet that goal. If your goal is 2% conversion, you would need at least 50 clicks, and so on and so forth. If you pause a keyword before it meets that traffic threshold, you might be pausing a keyword that will be successful in the future, but just got a bad break from the outset.

You also need to consider if the keyword’s position is a factor in poor performance. If you start a keyword with a low bid and it shows at the bottom of or off the first page of search engine results, it’s probably going to do poorly due to lack of visibility. As an experiment, you should boost the keyword’s bid to a higher position (say, position 3-4), to see if it starts converting. If you boost the bid and the keyword still sucks, it’s probably a good indicator that the keyword deserves to be paused.

With some proper keyword pruning, you can make an unprofitable account into a moneymaker in just a matter of minutes. But, if you get too aggressive with your pauses, you could hurt your future performance. Use these tips when pausing your keywords, and you’ll be sure to eliminate the losers while preserving the winners.

About Shawn Livengood

Shawn Livengood is a search engine marketing professional based in Austin, Texas. He has extensive experience managing pay-per-click ad campaigns for clients in various industries, from small home-based businesses to large international companies. You can connect with Shawn on Google+.
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