Why Is a Previously Rocking PPC Campaign Tanking?

Today’s #AskPPC question, which comes to us from Momna in Islamabad, is dedicated to all the amazing agencies and marketing managers, who inherit account structure “baggage”.

“I’m managing a PPC account that used to perform well before it was handed over to me. When I took on the account, all campaigns were paused and when I started to enable the campaigns again, they didn’t produce the same results as they did before pausing. Now the cost/cov is also too high – that was not the case before the campaigns were paused. I want to know why this is happening, How can I control its cost/conv? In this PPC account, there are shopping and search campaigns and the website is ecommerce.”

A star-powered campaign losing all its mojo after a long pause is more common than you might think.

Here are a few reasons why.

  • Machine learning: Campaigns in a prolonged pause lose some of their clouts with the ad network and need to “earn” it back.
  • Outdated practices: The campaign might have been perfect for previous PPC rules of engagement, but might be running afoul of the new ones.
  • False positives: The previous account manager may not have proper conversion tracking set up, meaning the previous conversions/cost per conversion weren’t accurate.

Here’s how to identify which is wreaking havoc on your campaigns, and troubleshoot to victory.

How to Troubleshoot Your Tanking PPC Campaigns

1. Machine Learning: To Pause or to Run Low Budgets

No one likes spending money without being able to tie a real benefit to the investment.

It is important to factor how much machine learning and algo shifts factor into account performance.

Pausing a high performing campaign for a day or two isn’t going to kill it.

What will are the following:

  • Turning the campaign on and off again: The data sets won’t be significant enough to help the ad network understand campaign performance. This will cause budgets to be misallocated (or not spend at all).
  • Pausing campaigns instead of using schedules: No one wants to waste money on low-value hours, which is why ad scheduling/day-parting exists. Make sure you’re using an ad schedule, rather than pausing the campaigns during off-hours.

It’s better to run a campaign with a $5-$10 daily budget than to pause it for a month, then reactivate.

Check the struggling campaign’s change history for frequent status changes.

If you see five or more campaign pauses in a 12-month period, you have a teachable moment for your boss/client.

Find out why your client/boss made so many changes. The pauses might be justified if there were a lot of business changes (site redesigns, product fluctuation, etc.).

2. Outdated Practices: Match-types, Bidding, Delivery

One of the reasons I love digital marketing is it’s always evolving and there are always opportunities to learn.

Yet this also means campaigns can’t get complacent in their account management style.

In the previous #AskPPC post, we discussed match-type oriented campaigns and how they no longer make sense in our close variant world.

Campaigns that excelled in the past may have become outdated while they were paused.

Here are the campaign choices to look for:

  • Match-Type Duplicates: Does the campaign have “trainer” and “training” on the same match-type in the same ad group? Two-word keywords on modified broad as well as three and four-word variants? You likely have match-type duplicates.
  • Bidding Strategies: Enhanced CPC used to have a bid cap (30%), target CPA (cost per acquisition) used to require conversions before applying, and target page location got replaced by target impression share. Check the bidding strategies the campaign was on, and make sure the client/boss understands how they might have changed.
  • Ad Delivery: Accelerated delivery (As of this writing) is no longer an option and if the campaign strategy banked on accelerated delivery, it might fail on standard delivery.
  • Too Many Keywords/Ad Groups: Healthy campaigns will have 5-7 ad groups and healthy ad groups will have no more than 3-5 keyword concepts on multiple match-types. Old campaigns might have keyword/ad group overload

Old campaigns have the benefit of historical data, but they might also have some skeletons in the closet.

Be sure you audit the campaign before turning it back on for outdated practices.

If the campaign does have these or other outdated choices, be transparent with the client/boss that a restructure is needed.

Explain why you will be making the choices you’ll make, and be honest about timelines.

3. False Positives: Untrustworthy Conversions + Artificially Low CPAs

Nothing is more frustrating than finding out your client’s/boss’s expectations are based on bad data.

It’s unfortunately easy to set up conversion actions to double (or triple) count.

This can happen because:

  • Counting Every Conversion: When you set-up conversions, you can choose to either count “one” or “every”. Most businesses will get more value out of knowing the unique user vs. all the actions they took.
  • Tracking Steps Instead of Completed Journeys: Using analytics goals as conversions can be really powerful, but it’s important to only pass through goals that translate to revenue. Counting newsletter sign-ups or spending three minutes on a page is less useful.
  • Treating the Landing Page As the Conversion: If the click to conversion rate is higher than 75%, odds are the landing page is being counted as the conversion. Check to see where the conversion code was placed/which URL is being used for event tracking.

“Off” conversion tracking causes artificially low CPAs and more dangerously, tells the ad network a keyword/traffic type is more valuable than it actually is. This will cause your budget to be funneled towards dubious value.

Be sure to audit your conversion tracking and conversion actions when taking on a new account!

Aside from conversions, old campaigns need to be audited for branded queries sneaking into non-branded campaigns.

Branded keywords happen in non-branded campaigns because:

  • They weren’t added as a negative everywhere aside from the branded campaign.
  • There’s broad, modified broad, and phrase keywords for the branded term to be added onto.
  • The branded term is actually a service keyword, and it’s hogging the budget.

Check the search terms report for branded queries in the campaign.

If a branded campaign doesn’t already exist, be sure to create one, and add the branded term as a negative everywhere else.

Make sure your client understands you’re doing a “data detox” and to expect conversion volume to go down (and CPAs to go up), but conversion quality and value to improve.

Final Thoughts

Is there a way to definitively say why a campaign might be working one day and not working another without seeing it?


These checks should provide a reasonable process to audit campaigns coming across your desk, and more importantly, help you help your team understand it’s not you.

Have a question about PPC? Submit via this form or tweet me @navahf with the #AskPPC tag. See you next month!

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Image Credits

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita