PPC advertising should be straightforward.
You buy an ad. Your ad appears on Google. That ad gets clicked.
You spend a little dough per click, and voila – you’re a marketing genius.
Traffic is booming and you’re appearing in all the right places.
Except that’s not always how it works.
And for some strange reason, you can’t quite figure out why.
Not to worry. Most of the time, you just need to know where to look.
You need to be able to spot those common problem areas. Many of which might be lying to your face.
Here are the seven biggest pay-per-click nightmares that can kill your ROI before it even gets off the ground.
1. Neglecting Attribution Models
It’s painfully obvious to say that Google Analytics can help you track traffic and conversions.
It will show you exactly which areas of your sales funnel are working vs. which ones aren’t.
The trouble is that tracking PPC conversions in Google AdWords isn’t quite the same.
Google AdWords uses a “Last AdWords” click attribution model.
Meaning that the last PPC ad someone clicks before conversion gets all the credit for that conversion.
This can make it harder to know exactly where users are engaging, what’s bringing them back, and why they converted.
That’s because PPC attribution is designed to build demand now that you’ll convert later on. It’s less like “click > conversion” and more like:
Generic impression > generic click > generic impression > brand click > conversion
To top it off, there are different attribution models that actually tell you where the credit for your conversions is coming from based on what you find important. You could assign every touch point equal credit for conversions, for instance.
Basically, it’s not as easy as saying, “I got a click and therefore my AdWords are working.”
A better solution is to focus on (1) URL tracking and to (2) create an attribution model that meets your conversion goals.
This is important because some devices act like conversion helpers but they don’t actually obtain the conversion credit.
That’s why first and last-touch attribution models don’t always cut it.
How many steps do it needs to take before the buyers can be converted?
Did they actually convert from your PPC ad the very first time?
People just used it last.
✅ Social referred them.
✅ Organic found you.
✅ Email nurtured them.
❌ PPC swooped in to steal all the credit.
Put everything in its place. Don’t lose sight of the big picture.
2. Incorrect Conversion Tracking
The thing about PPC is that your ad isn’t the be-all-end-all.
You don’t sell in an ad. You just get people to click.
PPC ads typically go to landing pages that have CTAs and the CTAs are the thing that’s driving the conversion. (But how would you know if you’re not tracking attributions, right?)
Yet conversion tracking isn’t setup properly.
The primary CTA is ignored.
Or worse, you’re counting clicks as conversions.
It’s not that they were just counting the wrong conversion metrics, though. This example was actually ignoring their CTAs completely.
The primary page CTA was a phone number. Anecdotally, phone calls brought better customers that converted faster.
And yet, no call tracking.
You have nothing without historical conversion data.
❌ You have no idea which campaigns are performing best.
❌ You have no idea which keywords are performing best.
❌ And you have no idea where you’re overspending to cut back.
You’re flying blind. Any campaign tweaks or changes are shots in the dark at best.
Neglecting attribution is one thing. But screwing up conversion tracking is quite another.
Notice that this still applies to things outside of “AdWords conversions.”
More often than not, that ringing phone in the background is the direct result of your digital efforts.
70% of phone calls are driven by digital channels, according to Invoca’s Call Intelligence Index that tracked over 30 million calls.
Now compare that to the pitifully low lead generation rates in the Unbounce Benchmark Report that hang somewhere between 2.8% and 6%. And those are just leads, not even closed customers!
Those phone stats are impressive as hell now.
‘Cept for one teeny, tiny problem.
PPC gets the credit about 0.0% of the time in this instance.
Which means you, dear marketer, get 0.0% of the credit. Which nets you 0.0% of the budget required to keep those calls coming in.
Sure. AdWords call extensions are a start.
But more often than not, someone’s clicking through to your site. They’re browsing around. They’re learning and comparing before dialing.
Those call extensions catch none of this.
You need something, anything, like custom phone numbers to track dials from each page.
3. Ignoring Revenue-Based Metrics
PPC “conversions” aren’t always conver$ion$.
If your conversions aren’t making you money, they’re not conversions.
PPC success is about the big picture and the customer journey, absolutely.
But ultimately that journey should lead to a purchase. It should lead to revenue.
Clicks, impressions, and CTRs matter. To a point. But not in the big picture.
But the same holds true when PPC conversions = leads.
Just because campaign A delivers more leads than B doesn’t mean it’s “better.”
Yet that’s what happens. Every single day. In the team talks and discussions with clients or bosses.
Budget gets pulled from B and put behind A.
You need to dig a little deeper. You need to analyze how Cost Per Lead, Revenue Per Lead, and Lifetime Value of a Customer look before making those resource calls.
If you were trying to track LTV, for example, you would want to open up your Google Analytics, set the acquisition date range, select your LTV metrics, and select a few comparison metrics.
This would show you whether or not all your blood, sweat, and tears were actually making you money. Or if you’re still just measuring things that don’t matter in the long run.
4. A/B Testing Bad Offers
Uh oh! Ad CTR is low.
Better A/B test to make sure things are working smoothly, right?
Yes and no.
A/B tests can often be a huge waste of time.
It’s not to say that testing is totally useless. But most of the time you’re not actually ready for it.
Many small businesses and startups simply won’t have the transaction volume when they launch a campaign for A/B testing to make much of an ROI difference.
Roughly speaking, when you have less than 1,000 transactions (leads, signups, purchases and so on) per month, you will be better off pouring your efforts into other areas.
I know you’re probably going to A/B test anyway. I get it. Some growth hacker said it was a good idea.
If you do want to double check whether or not your campaigns are working, you should focus on testing your offers. Not fiddling with colors or CTA buttons or other A/B testing elements.
Offers are the most important determining factor sabotaging your conversions.
Want better results? Un-suck your offer first.
Don’t spend so much time and energy obsessing over A/B testing PPC ads.
Not when your offer needs help. Not when your landing pages are fugly.
And not when your unique selling proposition isn’t so unique after all.
5. Focusing on Keywords Instead of Search Terms
Google often recommends that you bundle single keywords in an ad group that revolves around the same common theme.
In fact, they recommend you “start with 10-20 keywords.”
This is great advice.
If you are Google. Because it means you make more money – off of people that follow this advice, get terrible results, and then have to spend more on ads.
That many competing keywords makes message match impossible to pull off.
You won’t be able to laser target ads or landing pages. And you’ll overpay to get competitive traffic that’s not ready to convert.
You might select keywords. But you’re paying for search terms.
And one look at your search terms report will unveil the reason PPC conversion are nil.
In an ideal world, you should keep your keywords as tight as possible in each ad group. Some say limiting it to just a single keyword per ad group.
The reason is because you want to constrict the number of variations each ad shows up for.
Then you can refine with negative search terms to disqualify the leftovers and squeeze more from less.
6. Missing Message Match
The last tip sets up this one.
That way, each one is laser targeted to the ad and landing page.
People will convert better because your results perfectly line up with their query. And you’ll get an added bonus of better quality scores to pay less per click.
- The keywords someone types in, should
- Show up in the ad you show them, which
- Repeats the same messaging on the landing page
That’s how message match should work in an ideal world.
However, that’s not always how it does work.
One day, Oli from Unbounce decided that he was in too good of a mood. So he decided to make himself miserable by clicking on 300 different ads.
The result was that 98% did not match correctly.
Thankfully, there are two easy solutions to solve this problem.
Create a list of keywords that can be swapped in-and-out depending on what someone searches for.
Let’s say you sell multiple types of furniture.
You can use one basic ad template that will automatically switch out the exact product keyword someone uses (like “Couches”).
Same idea, but this time on your landing pages.
You can run the same scenarios to make sure that the product ad people searched for lines up with the same ad and landing page.
In the Stone Ages of digital advertising (like seven years ago), you used to have to do all of this manually.
You would literally create variations of both ads and landing pages to literally match every single keyword you advertised on.
Technology saves the day yet again.
7. All-Around Bad Ad Creative
Sometimes, you just suck.
Own up to it. Admission is always the first step.
Your ad text is still lame. Or, God forbid, your ads or landing pages are not mobile optimized (← yes, this still happens in 2017).
So maybe the problem you think is a problem isn’t really the problem.
But the good news is that this one is easy to fix.
If you try to run through the exact process your customers will, these problems should become obvious.
Here’s a perfect example.
This morning I looked for a “aptitude test for digital marketing” for hiring new people.
Everything started off great, until the first result’s ad text started going into MS Excel and a bunch of other random stuff that has very little to do with marketing.
Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, though.
I decided to overlook the irrelevant ad copy to click on their site and check out if they had what I was searching for.
I immediately regretted it:
There are so many issues with this page it’s hard to know where to start. But here goes:
- Zero message match. Page headline doesn’t match ad text or search query.
- Cheesy stock photos don’t perform well.
- A wall of text. Seriously. No one’s reading it.
- Random salary and employment stats.
- “Free Trial” CTA that doesn’t communicate benefit you’re signing up for.
You can see the page right here for yourself.
I’m not trying to be a jerk. (Not completely, anyway.) But so you can see how obvious these issues become.
Scroll down below the fold and here’s what you see:
More random junk.
They’re paying good money for these ads! I bet it’s not cheap.
Yet they’re shooting themselves in the foot with basic errors.
There are plenty of places you can go to learn about this stuff. You just have to do your own research. Spend an hour reading any good blog on PPC and you’d spot these issues instantly.
At the end of the day, you have to know the game in order to improve your game.
Not taking the time to learn the basics, or not learning which metrics are important or which ones you should ignore, can sabotage your PPC results.
Nobody said PPC was easy.
But there are certain things you can do to make it easier.
And there are many cases where you make it harder on yourself then it needs to be.
Look for conversions that lead to revenue. Track metrics and data that matter.
Don’t bother A/B testing miniscule information when it’s your offers and value props that dictate results.
Segment your funnels, but make sure each step in that funnel aligns to everything matches properly.
All of these mistakes are common. But they’re not surprising or new.
The solution is out there if you know where to look for it.
About the Author: Brad Smith is the founder of Codeless, a B2B content creation company. Frequent contributor to Kissmetrics, Unbounce, WordStream, AdEspresso, Search Engine Journal, Autopilot, and more.