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5 PPC Pitfalls that Kill ROI

Navah Hopkins

PPC is a lot like the classic scene from Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark: one minute Indy is waltzing through the carefully laid booby-traps, the next he’s running for his life.

How big is this boulder? On average, $3,600 in wasted spend per year, hours of frustration, and hundreds of missed opportunities to engage transactional users (who could become brand evangelists). Yet there are ways to avoid the giant boulder that is failed PPC campaigns, and the best way to start is to know how it’s triggered.

While there are many factors contributing to the success or failure of a campaign, they all stem from five root causes.


Pitfall #1: Time, or Lack There of

One of the worst pitfalls in PPC is ending a campaign before it’s had time to get its legs under it and prove success or failure.

The average campaign needs three-to-six months in order to be successful, yet many first-time advertisers expect results within days or weeks. No matter how good or bad a campaign is from inception, Google and Bing need time to evaluate the quality score, as well as generate enough data to provide conversion metrics. By halting campaigns within a month of beginning them, there is no way to meaningfully assess metrics or targeting.

Case in point: in order to set up conversion tracking, there must be 15 interactions within 30 days. Most campaigns need time to work up to that requirement.

Speaking of time, campaigns do not automatically show ads “9-5” or only during the week. If a brand’s product or service is focused on B2B, odds are they want to only show the ad during 9-5 on weekdays. While we’ll get into targeting in greater depth later, it is important to note that an ad can blow through its budget and stop getting meaningful impressions if it’s not matched up to the correct time slot. While impressions are “free” on the SERPs, unproductive views of an ad lowers CTR and the probability the ad will come up. Google isn’t in the business of serving ads with a bad track record.


Pitfall #2: Favoring High Volume of Aspirational Users, Instead of a Realistic Market Share of Transactional Users

SERPs focus on serving the users’ needs, specified by their query. The problem many advertisers face is gaining a reasonable understanding of the markets who may or may not be triggering their ads.

A transactional user is one with an intent to purchase, usually indicated by a long-tail search like, “sushi near me” or “adwords management platforms.” These users might need to do a little more research before they buy, but they are ready to transact within 30 days (usually within a matter of minutes). Yet the vast majority of users are aspirational — they would like to convert but can’t due to any number of valid reasons, or they are just interested in research (think images of wedding cakes, expensive cars, and market intelligence produced by a SAAS company).

Fortunately there are tools like negative keywords and tiered bidding to ensure a campaign doesn’t waste money on folks who will never convert (even if they really want to). While “long-tail” keywords have been going up slightly in price (industry depending), they remain one of the best strategies to segment users into profit boosters and ROI killers.

Additionally, by crafting campaigns with a tiered bidding approach, advertisers are able to get the numbers for significant data, while reserving their budget for folks who expressly search for terms indicating transaction like “sushi near me” or [sushi near me]. Broad searches (or searches with no modifiers) are not a bad move if used in conjunction with an overall strategy. Most advertising interfaces don’t suggest to do anything beyond broad, so it’s a common pitfall to pay for users that just don’t make sense.


Pitfall #3: Putting All Your Energy into Ads that Lead to Non-Converting Landing Pages

An ad campaign is only as good as it’s follow-up, and in online marketing that translates to the landing page.

Landing pages are as much science as they are art. But the good ones all have one thing in common: a clear path to conversion. Many folks get intimidated by the pressure to make the display url in an ad the same as in their actual domain. This pitfall is a waste of time and money that Google doesn’t want you to fall into — hence, why it allows for the display url to be different than the destination. There’s a lot of wonderful articles on what makes a great landing page, but that doesn’t stop folks from falling into bad landing page purgatory.

Landing pages should rarely be the homepage of a domain, unless the ad is specifically meant to guide the user there. (Exceptions exist, like HTML5 sites that are essentially a single page.) They also shouldn’t bombard a user with products if the user clicked an ad for a specific product. This is especially important if the advertiser is leveraging Dynamic Keyword Insertion.


Pitfall #4: Misfiring on Targeting

Targeting in PPC takes many forms: device targeting, time targeting, location targeting and more. Yet where so many advertisers fall down is on not enabling ad-targeting to protect their budget and CTR.

A big misfire is enabling mobile targeting when the brand doesn’t lend itself to mobile, and worse, doesn’t lead to a mobile-optimized landing page. Conversely, when a brand really makes sense to focus on mobile (i.e. a conversion is a call), but the campaign spends most of its budget on desktop devices.

A really good way to figure out which device to target is taking a look at the domain’s analytics. Often times, folks dive into advertising lamenting the lack of data when they have a robust analytics report waiting to provide value. Ignoring the data leads to targeting misfires, which in turn leads to expensive CPAs.

Location targeting is equally important as device and time targeting. While it’s true some brands are location-agnostic (national/international e-commerce), that doesn’t mean campaigns should be. By segmenting campaigns into regions the advertiser capitalizes on more transactional users, proves out where their best business is, and can use region-specific keywords more likely to catch the eye of the user.


Pitfall #5: Ignoring Lessons Learned by Competitors

It is inevitable that a brand will have at least one competitor, if not hundreds. It is tempting to fall into the “I’m better than them, I don’t have anything to learn” trap, but this is precluding important performance and trend data that can mean the difference between success or failure.

There are many tools that allow an advertiser to perform a competitive analysis. But the best ones (SEMrush and WordStream included) show whether a keyword/phrase is competitive, expensive or falls flat on impressions. No campaign (when starting out) has performance data, but competitors do. And while advertisers can’t dive into the in’s and out’s of an account, they can see performance, making pragmatic decisions rather than grab-bag guesses.

Want to avoid these pitfalls? Check out the upcoming webinar by WordStream and SEMrush on using data to avoid common mistakes in PPC! Save the date: January 8, 2015 at 12 p.m. (EST).

Image credits: Indiana Jones, Wasted Time, Bullseye, Shutterfly

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Navah Hopkins is part of the Customer Success team at WordStream, with a passion for innovation and all things data. She brings five years of SEO and PPC experience, helping small-to-medium-sized businesses navigate algorithmic changes like Panda and Penguin, as well as make meaningful strategic decisions. When she’s not working on PPC, she blogs about her favorite trends in online marketing, innovation and finance, with the end goal of making complex concepts accessible to all. Her last article for SEMrush was "5 PPC Pitfalls that Kill ROI."
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