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Paid Search Metrics with a Bad Reputation (and Why You Should ‘Hear Them Out’)

Posted on Monday, August 19th, 2013 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, SEM


Understanding the relative health and success of your online marketing campaigns can be a fickle activity.  All too often, marketers make conclusions about their campaigns before truly understanding what is going on beyond their data.

Sometimes, taking a deeper look at negative trends or decreasing metrics demonstrates a more accurate portrayal of an account’s overall health and success, which can be better than you initially feared. So before you panic about your account’s declining impressions and increasing costs, or other metrics that can strike fear in the hearts of marketers, consider these points:

  • Impression Drops: While sudden decreases in Impressions generally tell the story of declining reach and exposure, this shift could be to your benefit. If you have eliminated ad service on queries and placements that were not performing well, or were simply irrelevant, feel free to kiss that traffic goodbye.  This type of cut actually benefits most accounts, as it frees budget and allows other keywords and placements to show more often.  If your Impression decline was not paired with a loss of leads or other conversion metric, this traffic shift should help focus your budget on a more engaged audience, which over time could actually enhance your account. 
  • Account or Campaign-level CPC Increases: A lift in CPC often sets off alarms like “efficiency loss” or “increase in competition” which are real and valid concerns in the world of search.  However, changes to this metric should only be a cause for concern if it is at the exact match keyword level.   Account-level CPCs are heavily dependent on campaign and keyword mix.  If you are experiencing an influx of branded traffic, for example, your account-level CPC would decline, simply because your branded (and most likely cheaper) traffic is more heavily weighted in the aggregate view.  The increase you are seeing could be the result of the scales tipping the other direction, which does not provide actionable insight in the world of search.  Similarly, if you see CPC fluctuation at the campaign or ad group level, it could be a shift in the keyword mix for that grouping or a traffic change related to match types.  The best way to look at CPC changes is to evaluate the trend of high volume Exact Match keywords.  Combined with other metrics, like Average Position or Search Impression Share, you should have a more clear understanding of whether or not CPCs are actually changing, and what is causing that shift.    
  • Increased Spend: If you are maintaining your click-through-rate (CTR) and conversion rate, there is no need to panic! This may mean great things for the account. Spending more can be a sign of incrementally capturing more value. Compare your spend increase to any potential shifts in your conversions before jumping to conclusions about whether or not the extra dough was worth it.   
  • Click-Through-Rate Drops: Many advertisers like to look at click-through-rate (CTR) as the only metric to define ad copy success.  However conversion rate should play an equal part in determining which ads to cull and which to keep running in your account.  In some cases, it may be beneficial to pause ads with a higher CTR because of lower conversion rates.  If your ad copy attracts a lot of users, that’s great.  Unless, those users don’t find what they were hoping to when they reach your landing page.  A more focused ad might attract fewer potential customers on the SERP, but if those who do click to the site have a clearer understanding of what they will get, you could see more conversions with less traffic (and having spent less money). 
  • My ad isn’t showing in 1st place: Being in 1st position on the SERP can be a valuable placement for volume driving keywords.  However, if the increased CPC that comes with taking this prized spot isn’t counter-balanced by an equal or greater increase in conversion rate, your ideal position might be in 2nd or 3rd. Put your ego aside and let the data tell you if it’s worth it to be at the top of the SERP.
  • My ad isn’t showing at all times: Great efficiency gains can come from limiting ad service during certain times of the day or days of the week.  Data can show that certain times of day or days of week are not a valuable use of budget. Using large data sets that evaluate time of day and day of week trends can drive a strategy that might limit service in certain times, saving valuable marketing dollars for the times when your account is more efficiently serving ads and converting better.

Looking at high level metrics in isolation is not enough when trying to evaluate the success of your paid search campaigns. It is important to understand what account or external changes have influenced increases and decreases by checking under the hood to evaluate risks and opportunities. Stay tuned for our next blog post: Paid Search Metrics Too Good to Be True (and What They Might Be Hiding).

About Katie Carlson

Katie Carlson is an Account Manager at The Search Agency that specializes in SEM. Working in the Online Marketing space since 2007, she has managed web experiences and online media buying for national and global brands. Katie’s experience ranges from content creation to affiliate management. In 2010, her responsibilities shifted to focus on the management and optimization of direct response paid search campaigns as a primary revenue channel in the financial vertical. Katie graduated from Mount Saint Mary’s University with a Bachelor’s in Business, a Concentration in Marketing and a Minor in Rhetoric Communications. In 2011 Katie completed a Master’s in Business Administration from Loyola University, Maryland. She enjoys watching college basketball and playing in city sports leagues.

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