PPC advertisers have a tough job—they have to possess great attention to detail and be a big-picture thinker at the same time. Not only does the job entail pinpointing small optimizations to increase conversions, but it also requires a bigger, more strategic vision, too.

As a PPC marketer, it can be hard to know when you should pull away from the data and when you should just make a decision based on the wider digital strategy. This especially comes into play when you see a lull in paid search performance because it could be due to a number of reasons. So if you find yourself in a similar situation—where your paid search campaigns have plateaued and you haven’t seen growth in a while—make sure to ask yourself these questions.

1. What does my impression share performance look like?

I’m a big proponent of spending smarter, not more. And to do that, it’s necessary to dive into the gritty details.

Before you’re tempted to raise your budget, check out your search impression share metrics—or the number of impressions you actually received vs. the estimated total number of impressions you might have received. A few competitive metrics you should absolutely pay attention to that fall under this umbrella are search exact match impression share (IS), search lost IS (rank) and search lost (budget). These will help you identify why you’re not getting all of the impressions you could be getting.

Search lost IS (rank)

To simplify, ad rank is largely a combination of your ad quality and your budget. If your search lost (budget) is low, but your search lost IS (rank) is, say, 25%, this means you need to try to optimize your content, or pick keywords that better align with your content.

The next step would be to dig into the quality score of each one of your keywords. If you have a very organized account structure with single keyword ad groups, this shouldn’t be too daunting of a task. A few questions to ask yourself include:

  • Is your ad relevance average or below average? Make sure your ad copy aligns with your keywords by incorporating your keywords into your ad copy.
  • Is your landing page experience average or below average?
  • Is your expected CTR above average but your conversions remain low? This might not be the right landing page to send individuals to, or you may need to update it to incorporate more of your keywords. It also may mean that you need to improve your landing page user experience.

Search lost (budget)

Once your keywords, ad copy, and landing pages are working together in harmony, then you should raise your budget. This is the last item you should be quick to go to because it can be reduced by improving the other metrics above.

Search exact match IS

Search exact match IS indicates what percentage of time your keyword shows up when individuals search your keyword exactly. If this percentage is low, and your search impression share is low, that may mean that you need to limit the number of broad search terms you’re using.

2. What are your paid search competitors doing that you’re not?

At the core, PPC is all about beating out your competition. Are you spending more month-over-month but not seeing your conversions increase along with that spend? It may be time to look into your Auction Insights report to see what your competitors are up to and who may be impacting your performance. Three big insights you can pull from these reports are possible new keywords, your campaign’s search intent, and possible content gaps.

New keywords

Find out which brands are dominating the #1 spot or creeping up on your position. Then, use tools like SEMrush to see which keywords those competitors are bidding on that you’re not. You could be missing out on an entire chunk of profitable search terms.

Search intent

Data aside, there are a few things you can glean from the Auction Insights report just by looking at who’s showing up in there. Look at the Auction Insights report at the campaign level, then run a quick audit of the sites that show up alongside your brand. If these other brands have nothing to do with the product you’re offering, chances are you’re bidding on the wrong keywords.

For example, imagine you sell winter hats. Multiple websites showing up in your Auction Insights report only sell baseball caps. You may be spending more to compete with brands that better reflect what individuals are actually searching for, but don’t represent what you’re selling. Stop wasting money and pick new keywords that make sense for your business.

New content

By looking at the sites in your Auction Insights report, you also may be able to identify opportunities for new content to test and possibly opportunities for entirely new campaigns. Pay attention to the site’s messaging and how they present their product or service. They may be offering something you’ve never thought of that would work great for your business as well. Some things will work better than others but it’s all about testing to find what sticks.

3. Am I supporting search campaigns with prospecting campaigns?

Paid search is an obvious investment for most businesses because, depending on your keywords, your audience most likely has a high intent to purchase. However, search campaigns work best when they’re accompanied by other paid media channels, with various goals in different stages of your marketing funnel. You don’t have to keep throwing more money at your search campaigns to see better results, you just have to put your money in the right places.

If my search campaigns aren’t seeing great results, my first questions are: Are we running any prospecting campaigns currently? And has the client recently decreased their advertising spend in other areas? When you’re interpreting search data, it’s important to always think about how other advertising efforts may be affecting your search conversions. Often you’ll find that search conversions spike alongside a spike in television spend. More people are hearing your name and becoming more familiar with your brand and clicking on your search ads.

I find that when you distribute spend across multiple paid media channels you see more success, but it’s often hard to convince stakeholders of the importance of prospecting campaigns. The fact is that the results are harder to measure and they aren’t immediate. These campaigns can also be more expensive because the target audience is a bit more passive or may have never heard of your brand before.

However, prospecting campaigns are necessary to keep building brand awareness and converting new customers. If you’re only paying for search, throw a portion of your media spend towards a prospecting campaign on Facebook and see what happens.

Stuck in a rut? Look to your data.

Next time you’re stuck on what to do next with your stagnant PPC efforts, utilize your Auction Insights, continually research new keywords, and use your competitors to spark ideas. Always keep in mind other factors that may be influencing traffic and strategize on how you can use those to your advantage. You’ll be happy with the results that follow.

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Mysti Eichinger

Mysti is an observant and analytical person who’s always thinking about the big picture first—the how and the why behind what’s happening. It serves her well in her role as a Paid Media Associate at Element Three, allowing her to plan intelligently and make informed choices based on ad performance. She’s a self-starter—most of what she knows about paid media today, she taught herself, and she takes the opportunities she sees with gusto.