Written By: Matt Martinez, Paid Search Campaign Manager at MuteSix
Google Ads performance is bound to shift over time. Any experienced marketer will tell you it’s inevitable. However, when those ebbs and flows stray too far from your standard baseline, it’s important to identify what is causing them so you can pivot and optimize your campaigns accordingly.
When looking at account performance, there will be a standard level of yo-yoing in key metrics like CVR, CTR, ROAS, conversions, and more. But when performance isn’t following a typical week over week / month over month trend, how can you get to the bottom of what’s going on?
Rather than press the panic button, follow this MuteSix “Google Ads Performance” checklist to determine why your numbers are fluctuating and then learn how to address any issues you find as you make your way down the list.
It’s important to develop a performance baseline that you can always reference throughout your campaign. The easiest way to do this is by defining the most important KPIs as defined by the client. These can be ROAS, CPA, revenue, or other performance-related metrics. Whichever KPIs you settle on, be sure to keep these at the forefront of your performance report and to reference them often.
Once you’ve set your KPI baselines, it will be much easier to tell if your performance is wavering beyond what’s normal for different time frames. For example, if your acquisition campaigns goals are at ~2.0x ROAS, and you’ve been consistently hitting within 5% of that range week over week, a drop in ROAS of 15% immediately merits a deep dive into the culprit for this drop.
On the other hand, if you are looking at performance month over month, fluctuations of 15% may be normal due to seasonality, consumer purchasing sentiment, or other factors unique to the business. More on that below.
When tracking performance over time, it can be easy to get lost in the numbers, especially when keeping tabs on multiple campaigns, ads, and accounts. Having a baseline set and top of mind will make it infinitely easier to catch what is normal vs. abnormal to a specific account in time to address any issues.
Setting this baseline also gives you the ability to track your performance in tandem with these five key areas you need to consider to determine the “why” behind your performance metrics.
When it comes to evaluating fluctuations against your baseline, one of the first areas you want to check is how your media buying may have influenced the trends you are finding. While outside factors like seasonality can certainly affect Google performance, clients want to see what you’ve changed week over week to impact your numbers—and whether that’s positive or negative. That starts with your media buying decisions. Here are some common media buying changes that can affect performance.
Moving campaigns from a manual bid strategy to an automated strategy can put campaigns into a “learning mode,” causing performance changes in the short term. Certain bid strategies have varying effects on your results.
For example, shifting a campaign from Max Conversions to Max Conversion Value may cause an increase in revenue, but come at the cost of increasing your CPA and ROAS. Depending on which KPIs clients value most, these changes can cause fluctuations against your baseline.
In general, creating a shared bid strategy will force Google to prioritize campaigns with better performance. This can cause short-term changes that affect the account widely because the change is shared between multiple campaigns.
Another critical facet to consider is how your budget is allocated across your account. For example, if you have been shifting more spend to retention or bottom-of-funnel campaigns, reducing spend on bottom-of-funnel campaigns, or reducing spread across the board. All these changes in budget allocation can affect your performance and it’s important to identify any modifications that align with drops in behavior. After identifying the potential cause, reassess your allocation.
When it comes to Google, your audiences can drastically change performance. Ask yourself: Did you recently change your audiences on YouTube or display? Have your keywords changed across search campaigns by introducing new ones or removing some? While media buying is typically the first place to look when considering departures from your baseline, always double-check your audience and targeting settings in tandem.
Outside of the changes made within the Google Ads platform, the natural next place to look is your creative and how that may have affected performance across the board. Here are a few common creative changes that can impact your KPIs.
Large changes across multiple search campaigns can contribute to a change in performance holistically. While one copy change or test in a single campaign may not move the needle exponentially, drastic changes can cause a drop in CTRs and subsequently drop the number of converters relative to the traffic drop.
Similar to changing copy, ad creative on thumbnails for YouTube or banner ads for display are the first visual your audience sees. If you’ve gone in a completely new creative direction, this can cause a larger impact on the account, creating an abnormal fluctuation.
Given that conversion rate optimization(CRO) is so critical, changing the landing page destination or testing different variations can cause a large fluctuation in performance if the conversion rate is vastly different from the initial page.
Once you’ve checked everything within your realm of control, it’s important to start evaluating what may cause significant drops outside of Google. Depending on your strategy, you may have some channels pulling in a larger percentage of acquisition / top-of-funnel traffic, and these can cause a ripple effect across the account.
For example, if you know Facebook or Influencer traffic is responsible for a majority of your brand awareness and new customer acquisition, follow up with the manager of those channels to see if anything has changed recently. This can be a change in spend, a drop in performance, or something else that the channel manager will be able to inform you of.
If you are not cohesive across all digital channels, performance can suffer. Between Google, Facebook, and other channels, keeping consistent communication between them can help you adjust your marketing dollars more efficiently.
Outside of other channels you may have control over, the client may be able to provide additional insight as to large changes in the account—whether that be website issues, billing problems, or product issues. Here are some of the most common non-media factors to consider and investigate.
Are there any issues with the products supply chain? For example, a product on backorder that is then updated on the site can detrimentally affect performance. Ask the client and check to see that the supply chain is healthy and isn’t causing any potential issues for customers.
From website outages on Shopify to website maintenance, it’s always worth checking to ensure the website itself is healthy, as these factors can impact sales.
This can even include site speed. Note, adding some plugins in Shopify or other website upgrades can slow your site down and turn away potential customers, thus dropping conversion rate across the board.
An easy way to check if there is anything off with the site is to look at your site analytics in Shopify, analytics, or any other site provider and try to detect if there are any drastic changes week over week or month over month. A sudden drop in website visitors could signal a broken link or increased loading times, but it’s up to you to detect any issues.
Finally, after you have looked into all other factors that may be contributing to a drastic change in performance, it’s time to look at some of the most common outside factors. By first verifying nothing else on the media buying, creative, or client side is affecting your account, finding other issues can not only help provide context, but also give insights the client can learn from and apply to their overall marketing strategy.
Understanding seasonality can help you understand why performance might change and how to respond accordingly. For example, a client selling pine-scented candles may likely experience a drop in sales throughout the summer months.
Working in tandem with seasonality, it’s also important to understand how consumer sentiment and shopping behavior may change in relation to real world events.
For example, after the first round of stimulus checks in 2020, shopping behavior was purchase oriented. With extra discretionary income, many brands saw a considerable bump in sales. Additionally as states gradually began to reopen in 2021, online food and beverage sales plummeted as brick-and-mortar stores reopened their doors.
At the end of the day, understanding where changes in performance are coming from is critical to being able to adjust your campaigns so you can return to your baseline. It’s also important to understand fluctuations so you can have clear client communication, while also helping provide context to changes that may help their overall business.
In order to monitor your Google Ads performance, we suggest you do the following: determine a baseline against your KPIs, keep that baseline in a place where it is easily accessible, and dedicate time every week / month / quarter to assess how your metrics have shifted. Once you identify any number of the above causes, adjust your strategy accordingly.
The above checklist is a great place to start. However, if you’re a brand looking for more hands-on support to help create, monitor, or return to your baseline when optimizing your Google Ads campaigns, reach out to the Google advertising experts at MuteSix.