How to uncover the root cause of PPC performance changes
Here's how PPC managers can embrace root cause analysis to mitigate performance issues and get things back on track.
At some point, your PPC performance will take a nose-dive. Once you’ve managed PPC campaigns long enough, you will likely navigate numerous crises.
Pinpointing the source of a specific issue can be challenging. Here’s how PPC managers can embrace root cause analysis to mitigate performance issues and get things back on track.
Root cause analysis for PPC accounts
Root cause analysis is necessary to identify the underlying factors impacting PPC account performance.
The process involves a systematic approach to identifying the problem, collecting data, analyzing the data, and determining the root cause of the issue.
For reference, here is a quick list of the steps you should follow to conduct root cause analysis within your PPC account:
Define the problem
Clearly state the problem and its impact on your PPC campaigns. Make sure everyone involved understands the issue.
Collect relevant data about the problem, such as when it started, how often it occurs, and what factors are involved.
Identify potential causes
Brainstorm all possible causes of the problem. Use fishbone diagrams or the “Five Whys” technique to identify the root cause.
Test the cause
Analyze the data to see which potential reason is most likely to be the root cause. Test your hypothesis by implementing a solution and measuring its effectiveness.
Implement a solution
Develop and implement a solution that addresses the root cause. Monitor the results in your PPC account and adjust the solution as needed.
Finally, document the process so you can learn from it and prevent similar issues in the future.
This process can be applied to almost any business challenge. However, this process is highly relevant when diagnosing a PPC account.
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Getting to the core issue of your PPC account
The third step in our root cause analysis process mentioned the "Five Whys Technique," a tool used to identify the underlying cause of a problem. It's a general principle that is relevant to our PPC analysis process.
The technique involves asking "why" five times to drill down to the root cause of the issue, based on the idea that there is always a deeper cause to every problem.
For example, here is a thought exercise when analyzing a PPC account:
- Conversions dropped by 25% between April 15 and April 18. Why?
- Let's analyze PPC traffic first. Traffic remained steady, and other metrics appeared stable, but the average conversion rate dropped. Also, there were no significant changes to targeting, bid algorithm, or audience signals. Why else?
- Website traffic isn't an issue. Let's look at the website. Engagement metrics such as bounce rate and time on site look stable. Site engagement was steady, but purchase rates declined. Why?
- Let's ask the website team if any site changes were made. Yes, they did make changes to the site during that. Why?
- The development team removed a series of popular products due to low inventory. They still needed to have a chance to notify all the teams.
Of course, diagnosing a PPC account can take many different routes. But you can see how this process pushes account managers to continue digging for the right solution.
Isolating the impacted timeframe
The first step in identifying and analyzing an issue within a PPC account is isolating the timeframe where a change occurred.
This makes it easier to pinpoint the root cause of the problem and develop an effective strategy to address it.
Account managers can thoroughly analyze the data by narrowing down the period, including the keywords, landing pages and ad copy, to identify the factors contributing to the decline.
This analysis can help account managers develop a tailored strategy to improve performance and prevent future declines.
Additionally, isolating the timeframe allows search marketers to measure the effectiveness of any implemented solutions and ensure performance remains stable and positive going forward.
Determining macro and micro issues
When analyzing account performance, it is crucial to differentiate between macro and micro issues.
Macro issues affect the entire account and can result from external factors such as changes in search algorithms or the introduction of new competitors. Examples of macro issues include:
- Problems with targeting or ad messaging.
- Lack of budget.
- Issues with landing pages.
Resolving macro issues can lead to significant improvements in account performance.
External factors such as changing search algorithms, user behavior, or seasonal changes can also affect account performance.
Therefore, teams should consider these factors to develop an effective root cause analysis process to determine potential issues within a PPC account.
On the other hand, micro issues are specific to individual campaigns and require a different level of attention. Examples of micro issues include:
- Low click-through rates.
- High bounce rates.
- Low conversion rates.
Nevertheless, identifying and addressing micro matters can significantly improve campaign performance.
Tools for PPC root cause analysis
Root cause analysis is an excellent framework for diagnosing your PPC campaigns. However, you will need tools to help activate this process.
Below are a few tools that can help you analyze issues as they arise within PPC.
Account change history
A performance change in your PPC account can often be traced back to a specific campaign change. The account change history log is the first place you conduct your analysis within Google and Bing.
As mentioned in our five-step process, isolate the timeframe and affected campaigns.
Your Google and Bing advertising accounts contain the data and the reports you need to get you started (and perhaps finished) with your root cause analysis.
Pair your account report to isolate the time and campaigns with your change history log to understand if a specific change is the cause of your issue.
As part of your root cause analysis, you should also look at how all digital channels are trending. Google Analytics helps analyze traffic sources, including paid, organic, social, and referral.
If you need to diagnose a performance issue, you first isolate the impacted timeframe and then review Google Analytics to understand if multiple channels have been affected.
We have discussed macro-trends influencing account performance. Google Trends helps understand high-level trends within your industry/vertical.
This tool varies in its usefulness. Google Trends is the highest level of data you can review and the least personalized to your specific account.
Still, it can provide industry trends as you conduct your analysis.
A systematic approach to analyzing PPC issues
A robust root cause analysis process is critical to identifying the underlying factors affecting PPC account performance.
By following a systematic approach to identifying the problem, gathering relevant data, analyzing it, and determining the root cause of the issue, PPC marketers can develop a tailored strategy to improve performance and prevent future declines.
When performance fluctuations arise (and they will), remember not to panic and take a methodical approach to solve the problem.
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