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4 Reasons Not to Break Your Campaign's Continuity

  |  May 20, 2011   |  Comments

It's important to think about long-term strategies and compromises that minimize the damage caused to paid search ROI with needless rebuilds.

In golf, there's a phenomenon known as a "member's bounce." Member of posh club strides up to the tee, whacks a ball out of bounds left, yet it kicks right off a bank into the fairway, into perfect position. Guest hits a beautiful drive down the middle, but it catches a hump, kicks forward, and rolls into a water hazard. Advantage, member.

These bounces aren't all luck. History creates a file of deeper knowledge about hidden tricks and hazards. Newcomers have to pay their dues.

Think of your paid search account as a private club where life gets more predictable the more time and money you've put in. Your ads and keyword setup gain increasing familiarity with their environment, causing more favorable bounces as you hone them.

In light of that, why would anyone wreck their campaign history by significantly (or even frequently) rebuilding their account?

Two common types of account disruption are:

  1. The complete revamp, often triggered by a website rebuild or a significant change in strategy, but sometimes undertaken for aesthetic reasons (cleaning up a "messy" account)
  2. Frequent changes in ad copy

On paper, account disruptions are often worth it. But frequent major disruptions cut into the bottom line for four reasons. As such, companies need to think about long-term strategies and compromises that minimize the damage caused to paid search ROI with needless rebuilds and scattergun testing.

The following four problems are created when your account's destination URLs, ad copy, and other key elements are a perpetual construction zone:

    • Quality Score history (keywords and matched ad). Your ad rank, and the CPC you pay for maintaining that rank on the page, stems from your Quality Score. Keyword Quality Score, as stated in Google's documentation, derives largely from the "CTR on the keyword and the matched ad." Keyword CTR history may be retained to some extent no matter what shells you move around in the account. But there is no getting around the fact that as soon as the keyword is matched to different ads, Google has to start fresh collecting that Quality Score data. If you've been enjoying favorable performance due to extensive testing and a good history, now you'll have to rebuild that history. It will cost you.
    • The intent file, micro-decisions, etc. Rebuilding accounts to "tidy them up" is often a good move. But untidy accounts can sometimes be uncannily smart accounts. Various long-tail keywords may be bid precisely, etc.; "member's bounces" keep happening despite what appears to be slipshod campaign organization. If you don't like the way someone has organized an account, by all means consider improving it. But be aware that you could see a protracted dip in performance at first. Also, without some continuity in understanding why some things are working and why some don't – say, with a succession of weakly-engaged account managers who know only enough about consumer behavior in a vertical to be dangerous – accounts may turn in lackluster performance despite considerable busywork put in by well-meaning newcomers. Continuity is good.
    • SERP sweet spots. Many parts of accounts can develop an equilibrium for another reason: the position on the page. Whether it's how an ad looks in premium position, a certain new ad format like Sitelinks, or something else, rebuilding accounts and frequent ad changes may break the underlying structure that led to that success.
    • Troubleshooting is harder. When a number of elements of an account reach equilibrium, it's easier to isolate what might be underperforming or going wrong with a business. When many factors are reset at once, it's likely to create worse ROI at first. From there, the second-guessing starts. Since Google doesn't publish particularly detailed information about Quality Scores or complex regression analyses of user responses, numerous stakeholders will toss ideas into the mix instead of recognizing that a lag in performance and the need to re-optimize is typical following a major reorganization. Too much construction dust in an account, coupled with a battery of diagnoses as to "what's wrong," can lead to chaos.

By all means, test and fix accounts where needed. The spirit of kaizen should live in your account. Just don't break too much, too often.

Looking to accelerate or consolidate the "Quality Score love" process on an established account that has been extensively rebuilt? Consider tactics like the following:

      • Use CTR-friendly tactics like incorporating the Sitelinks unit.
      • Reduce the number of short-term promotions as a proportion of your overall ad mix, if that's something your company does. Give "evergreen" (unchanging) ads a chance to win and keep some of them active throughout the account, so you always have a reliable fallback.
      • Be vigilant about adding copies (or only very slight variations) of your winning ads in many ad groups, so these winners grab a higher share of impressions. Also, if you're feeling some Quality Score pain, weight your criteria for "winning ad" more towards CTR than ROI.
      • Set your ad rotation to "Optimize for Clicks" for a while.

Some of these tactics may only need to be applied temporarily, depending on your objectives.

In real life, I'm not sure about joining a private golf club. They can be stuffy, and it would get boring playing the same course over and over. But for your paid search ads, familiar territory can often be profitable territory. Beware of the dreaded "Quality Score reset," and other hazards associated with needless disruption of your key campaign elements.

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Andrew Goodman

Goodman is founder and President of Toronto-based Page Zero Media, a full-service marketing agency founded in 2000. Page Zero focuses on paid search campaigns as well as a variety of custom digital marketing programs. Clients include Direct Energy, Canon, MIT, BLR, and a host of others. He is also co-founder of Traffick.com, an award-winning industry commentary site; author of Winning Results with Google AdWords (McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed., 2008); and frequently quoted in the business press. In recent years he has acted as program chair for the SES Toronto conference and all told, has spoken or moderated at countless SES events since 2002. His spare time eccentricities include rollerblading without kneepads and naming his Japanese maples. Also in his spare time, he co-founded HomeStars, a consumer review site with aspirations to become "the TripAdvisor for home improvement." He lives in Toronto with his wife Carolyn.

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