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How to fix your Google Ads performance from a bad situation: case study.

Walks City Experiences (now part of City Experiences Group)
How to fix your Google Ads performance from a bad situation: case study.How to fix your Google Ads performance from a bad situation: case study.

The Problem

The Black Friday sale is the most important commercial event of the year. Usually, a good chunk of the yearly marketing budget is reserved for the duration of the sale. At Takewalks.com the Black Friday sale lasted two weeks. Close to the end of the first week, on the Wednesday before the Black Friday, I realised the Google search ads’ performance wasn’t meeting my team’s expectations.

The Solution

Up until that point, an external agency was managing the Google Ads accounts. Because of the low performance during such a key commercial time, I decided to bring the accounts in-house, at least temporarily, to navigate through the sale. In fact, I was confident that a different PPC strategy would have generated better performance. I was still very conscious of the risks involved, but I reckoned it was one of those “now-or-never” moments where the expected benefits outweigh the potential risks. Straight after bringing the accounts in-house, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

Step 1: assess the current situation

As mentioned, I and my team were not happy with the Google Ads performance. What exactly determined our disappointment?

Because of the sale, I would have expected metrics like conversion rate and ROAS to naturally improve. But this wasn’t happening. In fact, quite the opposite.

ROAS and Conversion Rate were going down during the Black Friday sale.
ROAS and Conversion Rate were going down during the Black Friday sale.

During the Black Friday sale you can expect a tougher competition and CPC to possibly go up. It is normal, but you have to prepare for it. Unfortunetly, this hadn't been the case for our account.

So, the overall cost went up without a proportional increase in revenue. This meant the ROAS was going down. On top of that, a natural increase in traffic caused also the conversion rate to drop, compared to the previous weeks.

Things turned out the exact opposite of what I was expecting.

Step 2: back to the fundamentals

During the previous months, the agency managing our accounts was frequently testing new Google Ads features and automation. This seemed like a good idea, if it wasn’t for the highly seasonal nature of our business (tourism industry). Often, we could not allow enough time for the new Google Ads features to pass the learning phase successfully.

The Black Friday sale was the tipping point. There was not time for testing and experimentation. It was necessary to take full control of the accounts and make sure every minute of the sale counted.

In order to do this, I knew I had to start back from the fundamentals: ads, keywords, landing pages and ad extensions.

Nowadays, we often overlook these, being too distracted by new shiny ad formats or automation features. But the very first lesson you learn in PPC is that a good combination of ads, keywords and landing pages improves the quality score and decreases the CPC. It is really as simple as that.

I opened Google Ads Editor, rolled up my sleeves, and started re-writing ad copies, re-organising ad groups and keywords, re-evaluating landing pages and creating new ad extensions.

Because of the lack of fundamentals in the current Google Ads structure, this strategy alone would have helped turnaround the whole account. But of course, I had to do more to make sure I was successful.

Step 3: fix brand campaigns

The management of branded searches in Google Ads is one of the most debated topics in PPC. My view has always been that brand campaigns are fine as long as they are VERY cheap. By very cheap I mean that their CPC should be at least 85-90% lower than non-brand campaigns’.

In the current account structure, it wasn’t the case. Branded keywords costed between a quarter and a half of generic keywords. Definitely too expensive. This was harming the whole account’s efficiency.

Brand keywords' ad rank is usually not very sensitive to bid changes. In fact, those keywords often show up at the top of the SERP regardless, just unless competitors are directly bidding against them. But it wasn’t our case. There were no competitors directly bidding on our brand.

So I reckoned that fixing the brand CPC was key to decreasing the overall cost, while keeping the same level of revenue.

I achieved exactly that, mainly through a thorough campaign restructure and the switch to the eCPC bid strategy from a mix of Target CPA and other smart bid strategies.

Step 4: change the attribution model

I noted that the attribution model was still set to the last-click, despite the heavy use of smart bidding.

The model was moving the conversion credit towards brand campaigns, which are naturally close to the conversion event. Because of the brand searches’ issue I mentioned earlier, this caused myself and my team having a misleading picture of how the campaigns were actually doing in terms of revenue and ROAS.

I wanted to make sure every touch-point could get its fair amount of conversion credit, so every campaign could have performed at its best.

In general, I am of the idea that regardless of your PPC strategy, you should always go for a multi-touch attribution model. This is because the user journey is too complex to be measured purely on a last or first click basis.

I usually go for the Data-Driven attribution model, but unfortunately it wasn’t available in our account yet. So I went for the Position-Based Attribution Model.

In a couple of days, this changed the whole picture! But also, it helped the Google bidding algorithm work better and give more value to generic and top-funnel campaigns.

Step 5: change the bid strategy

As I mentioned earlier, a mix of different bid strategies had been used before my turnaround. In order to gain full control over the account’s performance across such a short period of time, I decided to switch all campaigns to eCPC. This bid strategy is an excellent compromise between a fully manual strategy and an automated one, which usually requires a learning period. Given the short timeline I was working with, eCPC was definitely the best choice.

Step 6: dynamic search ads

Although essential, the account restructure was obviously taking some time. So, I decided to launch some dynamic search ads campaigns that could cover the keywords I had not been able to work on yet. This turned out to be a successful strategy given the tight deadline for Black Friday.

Step 7: negative keywords

Last but not least, I went through the search terms report of the previous two years and made sure any non-relevant search query was excluded from my campaigns. I used a single negative keyword list applied at the account level.

The Outcome

The turnaround was a success.

After a disappointing first week, revenue finally started to go up while cost was kept under control and even decreased. Eventually, we achieved a +19% revenue YoY over the two-week sale period.

Following the turnaround, overall CPC went down significantly, with brand keywords decreasing their cost per click by 95% and generic keywords by 50%.

Decreasing the CPC is key to any Google Ads turnaround.
Decreasing the CPC is key to any Google Ads turnaround.

ROAS almost doubled following the turnaround, with revenue increasing significantly and overall cost almost halved.

ROAS increased significantly after the accounts takeover.
ROAS increased significantly after the accounts takeover.

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