Digital Marketing

Emergency Guide to Fixing a Failing PPC Campaign

How do you know a PPC campaign is tanking? It’s usually not just a gut feeling, though some of us have been doing this for so long, that could be a part of it. More likely, the clues are in the numbers. Your CTR, CPC, and CPM are so far below your KPIs, you can’t even sleep at night. You saw a huge drop month over month and wonder which of the 10 optimizations you tried is the culprit. Whatever it is that’s dragging your campaign down, you must run your full gamut of reports to determine the “why” before you go scrambling for solutions and end up using the wrong Band-Aid.

Once you’ve pinpointed where the decline is coming from, use the guide below to determine the most direct and impactful course of action to take. And, as always, start small so that you can keep track of when the needle starts to jump back in the right direction. The last thing you want to do is dig yourself deeper with too many changes all at once.

Fix: Simplify keywords and go big on the high-value ones

Go beyond Google’s default broad match keywords and do the work to determine your best option for exact match keywords, or in Google’s words, “an exact term or close variations of that exact term.” Exact match keywords will give you the highest conversions because you’re serving up the exact answer the person is looking for. If you’re only vaguely familiar with Google’s exact match keyword targeting, check out our post Experts Weigh in on Google's Exact Match Targeting Update for an in-depth look at the pros and cons and how to make Google’s tricky algorithms work for you. And below are examples provided by Google that show how variations for exact terms work.

Image from Google Using exact match

When you’re digging around in your reports looking for ways to hone in on your exact match keywords, sort for the keywords that aren’t getting any traction and nix them. You’ll never miss them, and neither will any of the people who weren’t clicking on them.

Now you should be looking at a dashboard of top-performers, and it’s time to give these high-value keywords what they need and deserve—budget! Instead of stretching your budget to every keyword in existence, go all in on what you already know is working.

Fix: Double-check your ad creative from click to landing page

When it comes to PPC ads, you have to get to the point quickly, and for advertisers in the space, “the point” is your unique selling point. No matter the ad unit or platform, you must lead with your most enticing message. Don’t try to get too clever and bury it, confuse it, or make it too vague. Also, remember that the person searching is looking for an answer or solution. Here are a few examples:


Bad creative/copy

Good creative/copy

Dandruff shampoo

Looking for dandruff shampoo?

Get rid of dandruff in one wash

Lightweight snow shovel

Choose from dozens of snow shovels

Save your back with our light-as-air snow shovel

But don’t go overboard on your product or service’s benefits. If you overpromise, like offering free shipping, and then the customer gets all the way to the order page and realizes free shipping only applies to orders of $300+ and his purchase is $40, welllll, he’s going to be quite peeved and probably close the tab faster than you can serve him a last-ditch popup.

Just as important as a strong leading message, that creative theme needs to continue all the way through the customer’s journey. It’s called message match, and according to Unbounce, 98% of PPC ads fail to correctly message match at some point in the journey. So be the 2%!

Screenshot from Unbounce 98% Of Your Paid Ads Are A Colossal Waste of Money

Pretend you’re the customer and test out all of the various ways a person might click through an ad, where they land, where you funnel them from there, etc. At every point:

  • The original message/offer should be carried through. If the person searched for “women’s athletic socks,” they should be taken to a landing page with just women’s athletic socks. Not a home page where he or she must then perform the same search.

  • Images should look like they came from the same campaign. Better yet, use the same image, or slight variations of the same image throughout the journey. If a PPC ad features a cartoon banana, but the landing page is full of real photography, the searcher is going to think they took a wrong turn somewhere.

  • The next step in the flow should be obvious. Don’t inundate the shopper with a dozen other offers or links. They’ll either get lost down a rabbit hole and not buy anything, or be so overwhelmed and confused they simply close the page.

To make sure your campaign journey feels the same throughout, set up your ad groups to target a single intent. You’ll do this by simplifying the relevant keywords down to about 5 that fully represent the one pain point a person could be shopping for. So in the earlier example of the snow shovel:

Intent/product feature

Ad group keywords focused on


Weight, easy to lift, save your back,


Slide off the blade, stop snow from sticking to shovel

What you don’t want to do is mix and match. If someone is searching for the lightest snow shovel, but you’re telling them your shovel will help the snow slide off the blade … that’s a classic case of message mismatch. Don’t do it!

Fix: Set up your KPIs to ROI

This is not the first or last you’ve heard us talk about this. No longer are top-of-funnel metrics ok for marketers to focus on. Now that we can measure much farther down the funnel—SQLs, opportunities, customers—that’s also what we need to align our KPIs to. It’s not about collecting a max amount of leads to throw at sales, it’s about directly contributing to the company’s bottom line. AdStage Join is paid marketing technology that focuses on exactly that—linking ad data to down-funnel metrics like Google Analytics goals and Salesforce data.

Take a look at your reports and figure out how you can go deeper. Instead of stopping at cost per lead, sync up with your CRM to track sales, then calculate cost per sale, revenue, and finally, your marketing ROI.

Even though there are loads of programs and software to help you automate pieces of your campaigns and do some of the other manual dirty work for you, do not for one second think you can set it and forget it. You’ll only ever be able to pull a bad campaign from the grave, and get more and more from your PPC campaigns if you’re constantly refining, testing, and optimizing.

AdStage Team