The truth is that even the best-planned, most expen­sive search mar­ket­ing cam­paign can pro­duce unex­pected or unin­tended results. You have to build agility and flex­i­bil­ity into your plans that are closely con­nected with the tail end of the SMARTER goal-setting process—eval­u­ate and reeval­u­ate. Those two steps are in there specif­i­cally to man­age risk. We will talk more in depth about risk man­age­ment and key trou­bleshoot­ing steps for any search cam­paign in new series of articles.

Join me on the jour­ney where we’ll reveal the solu­tions to com­mon data ail­ments such as data dis­ap­pear­ances and anom­alies, low traf­fic vol­ume, low-quality traf­fic, high-quality traf­fic, and low conversions.

Let’s kick off with a prob­lem that can hap­pen any time with search accounts:

Your con­ver­sion data has a sharp decline from expected performance.

Con­ver­sion data is some of the most impor­tant infor­ma­tion in a search mar­ket­ing cam­paign. A big drop in data isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing because it can show mar­keters how to adjust and iter­ate on a cur­rent account. But you’ll want to fig­ure out what caused the drop off as soon as you can. By tak­ing a method­i­cal, well thought out approach you can usu­ally find the cause before the prob­lem results in lost rev­enue. Below are six steps to effec­tively diag­no­sis the issue.

1. Revisit the mar­ket­ing goal of the cam­paign. This includes mak­ing sure you know what actions you want to track as con­ver­sions. Are you prop­erly cap­tur­ing these actions within your ana­lyt­ics tool or has some­thing changed in your imple­men­ta­tion? Do you have a clear under­stand­ing of what other events might be hap­pen­ing in your com­pany that affect your paid search accounts? I like to keep a pro­mo­tional cal­en­dar handy just for instances like these. It is easy to assume a dip in con­ver­sions auto­mat­i­cally means that some­thing is wrong, when in real­ity it could be some­thing as sim­ple as a pro­mo­tion has ended. Mak­ing sure you’re clear on these points can help you iden­tify what’s really “off” and what might be a nat­ural rhythm in the data as you start div­ing into the reports.

2. Deter­mine when exactly when the drop-off started. You can do this either by look­ing at daily con­ver­sion reports, or if you are an Adobe Ana­lyt­ics cus­tomer, check out the new anom­aly detec­tion fea­ture. When you are ready to pull your con­ver­sion report, be sure to pull a large enough slice of data at a daily gran­u­lar­ity to deter­mine exactly when the decline began. See if you can nar­row down the root cause of the issue. Is there a spe­cific account, cam­paign, or ad group that is the trou­ble­maker, or is the decline some­thing that spans the entire port­fo­lio of accounts?

3. Exam­ine your campaign-level set­tings. Is the bud­get depleted? Are the loca­tion, device, and net­work tar­get­ing set­tings where you want them, or did it some­how get changed? Next, drill down to the set­tings and data at the key­word and ad level, and look at items such as key­word and ad sta­tus. Was there an increase or decrease in CPCs or posi­tion, and qual­ity score?

4. At the ad group level, see if you can deter­mine which ad group is show­ing the decrease in traf­fic and/or con­ver­sions. If you know this, you can then dig deeper into keyword-level per­for­mance. Are the key­words dri­ving traf­fic to the right page, and is that page still active? Look at your high-converting key­words. It’s pos­si­ble one or more of these aren’t con­vert­ing any­more. We will dis­cuss what do with these finicky key­words a few weeks. Here are some other things to look for: Have any ads become dis­ap­proved or new key­words intro­duced? Maybe some neg­a­tive key­words are now block­ing traf­fic or key­word addi­tions to other ad groups are receiv­ing the traf­fic instead of the orig­i­nal ad group/keyword combination.

5. If all the items we have just dis­cussed are as expected, the next thing you’ll want to do is run a change his­tory report for the rel­e­vant time­frame. Alter­ations to the web­site and pric­ing or prod­uct changes can all cause con­ver­sion data to skew. So can changes to the range of key­words you’re using. If more than one per­son is using the account, the change report can show you who made a par­tic­u­lar change.

6. When I use a tool that relies on track­ing, such as Adobe Media Opti­mizer (AMO), I also look at ratio of search engine clicks to media instances. This met­ric refers to the num­ber of times the AMO code is load­ing on the web­site, and it should always match search engine clicks within 10 per­cent. The 10 per­cent accounts for issues such as some­one not load­ing the page prop­erly or back­ing out before the page loads. At that point, you will need to dive into your ana­lyt­ics imple­men­ta­tion to deter­mine if any­thing is amiss there.

Addi­tion­ally, your data drop-off could also be caused by land­ing page URL errors such as typos, 404 errors, or redi­rects. Keep­ing your tech­ni­cal SEO in top order can pre­vent this kind of prob­lem from crop­ping up.

As a final note, it can be help­ful to have some strate­gies for how to inter­pret line data in con­text as you look at all these reports. I rec­om­mend this arti­cle on Search Engine land.

So there you have it: an overview of my process for trou­bleshoot­ing a decline in con­ver­sion data. Stay tuned for next week’s arti­cle on what to do if your data com­pletely and unex­pect­edly disappears.

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