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What to do when performance tanks in PPC

In any PPC campaign, the ultimate goal is to improve and deliver better results year after year. Ideally, trendlines in your performance charts are going up and to the right.

Yet, despite the best of intentions, an account can hit the skids. Results tank and you might not be exactly sure why. 

I’ve seen this happen too many times:

  • From falling victim to a hacking incident and having a $100,000 budget blown up even before the workday started.
  • To Google shutting down an account due to a sudden spike in holiday spending, resulting in a $150,000 loss in sales.

In this article, you’ll learn some steps to address PPC mistakes, missteps and errors that have helped my team get things back on track. 

What to do when your PPC campaigns perform poorly

When your account starts performing poorly, you need to take swift action. There are two main factors at play here: internal and external.

Internal issues are essentially problems we create ourselves – mistakes that could have been avoided with different choices or actions.

On the other hand, external issues are events or changes beyond our control, like the emergence of new competitors, economic conditions or search engine updates.

When things go south unexpectedly, our first step is to investigate internal factors because these are within our control and can often be fixed.

Dig deeper: PPC management checklist: Daily, weekly and monthly reviews

Internal PPC checkpoints

Change history report in Google Ads or Bing Ads

This tool is invaluable in these situations. The change history report contains the footprints and fingerprints you need to solve the crime of poor performance. 

This is the place to start understanding if someone tripped a wire that can quickly be fixed. 

Some questions to look for and ask yourself:

  • Was a daily budget set to be a lifetime budget, causing an overspend? 
  • Was a broad match keyword that should have been an exact match uploaded to the system? Now there is unwanted traffic to the site? 
  • Was a landing page uploaded incorrectly?
  • Has anyone new been added to the account?
  • Were any bid strategy changes made or CPA targets changed that would alter performance?

Development changes

Different teams may not have a clear understanding of each other’s actions. For instance, your development team might implement changes without fully grasping the overall impact.

To address this, it’s crucial to establish an early checkpoint with other teams and thoroughly review their release notes. This ensures everyone is on the same page and understands the changes being made.

Some of the things to look for and ask about:

  • Were any tags or conversion events removed from the site? Probably the number one most common self-inflicted wound. 
  • Were any CAPTCHA changes made on the site? This is a good example of something well-intentioned, but can create issues for conversion rates, even if the quality of leads increases. 
  • Were any new experience elements added? Think about chatbots popping up, call-to-action banners, or anything else that might be altering the consumer experience

Dig deeper: 3 ways to stay on top of PPC performance

External checkpoints


Did a new competitor come out of the blue and start spending aggressively? 

You can use the auction insights report in Google Ads to monitor this.

You should be doing some regular competitive monitoring, but that doesn’t mean that sometimes other brands just do something that is out of the normal, and it impacts your results. 

Seasonality or promotions

This seems obvious, but sometimes the simplest reason is the answer. 

  • Looking back before things broke, were there any promotions with your brand or around you?
  • Has your business had any seasonality that you might not have accounted for? 

Many of these things are pretty knowable (Prime Day, Labor Day, Back-to-School), but too often, we don’t appreciate these events’ influence on our business. 

Analyzing historical data can help you identify such trends. For instance, we had a business heavily tied to the holiday season, where we significantly increased ad spend for a specific day. It was intentional, but we failed to notify Google Ads about this expected surge. 

This lack of communication led the platform to suspect fraud, shutting our account and causing substantial losses.

This situation is similar to calling your credit card company when traveling abroad. 

While it may seem unnecessary, it’s a precaution that can prevent potential issues. In our case, it could have saved us from the account shutdown and the associated revenue loss.

External events

Have unexpected events like wars, natural disasters, or interest rate hikes affected your account? You might think these events are irrelevant to you, but they can substantially impact PPC performance.

For example, we experienced a 40% decrease in CPCs for one client, which was closely linked to inflation and CPI numbers. While this worked in our favor, it caught us off guard, and explaining it using other data points was challenging.

In another case, one client saw a 15% drop in conversion rates year over year due to factors related to the war in Ukraine. Although it’s not a positive development for the business, it underscores how geopolitical events can profoundly influence the economy and consumer behavior.

Dig deeper: How to keep up with macro trends that impact PPC performance

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Tips for tackling PPC performance issues proactively

To prevent problems and make it easier to spot issues, consider these three tips:

Report annotations for key changes

Create a process to add annotations to your reports when significant changes are made to your website. 

Often, issues may not be immediately apparent and could take days or weeks to surface. 

Annotations serve as breadcrumbs to help you trace your steps and identify the cause of problems over time.

Quality assurance (QA) process

Implement a QA process, which can involve using a buddy system to review changes before they go live. 

While it may not always be necessary, the principle of “measure twice, cut once” applies here. Taking extra care to review changes can prevent errors from occurring.

Strong password security and avoiding shared accounts

Ensure strong password practices and avoid shared accounts. Shared accounts can make it challenging to pinpoint who made specific changes. 

Strong password security, including two-factor authentication, is crucial to prevent unauthorized access to your account. 

Bouncing back from PPC setbacks

While nobody wants their account to experience a decline, it’s a situation most PPC marketers will have encountered at some point. 

This article provides a roadmap to swiftly identify issues and steer your campaign toward profitability and growth.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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