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6 Reasons Why Your Paid Search Ads Might Not Be Working

6 reasons why your paid search ads may not be working and how to fix them. Crucial tips for optimizing your campaigns and achieving PPC success.

Published on

Jun 11, 2024

Written by

Sophie Fell


Google Ads

Whether you’re pouring $500 a month or $500,000 a month into your paid search advertising efforts, there’s nothing more frustrating than a campaign that just doesn’t work. While platforms such as Google and Microsoft Ads have made it user-friendly to create a campaign, they have a way to go in making (the right) optimizations simpler for those new to the world of PPC.

With that said, let’s take a look at 6 of the most common reasons why your paid search ads  might not be working and, crucially, how to fix them.

A lack of research beforehand

This is less common for those working with paid search agencies like Two Trees, but, if you’re advertising on search yourself, you may have inadvertently skipped one of the fundamental steps of campaign creation.

Whether you’ve started with keywords you think your prospective customers will utilize, or you’ve adopted Google’s suggestions, you may be lacking one crucial element: data. You would never launch a new product or service without market research, right? So why would you do the same when spending money on marketing?

To ensure demand and a strong ROI for your search engine marketing campaigns, it’s important to start with the research process. Tools such as Google Keyword Planner and Microsoft Advertising Keyword Planner are great (free) starting points. By typing in some keyword ideas or your website and target location, both tools will give you both keyword data for your ideas and suggestions for other related keywords to use. 

This part of the process serves several critical functions that will ensure PPC success:

  1. Keyword planning ahead of time can help you to forecast demand and projected results before spending a penny on advertising.
  2. You can create themed ad groups ahead of time, ensuring that your keywords are sending traffic to the right places on your website.
  3. You can plan ad copy to include the most popular keywords and even make landing page adjustments based on this, giving an instant boost to your quality scores and, eventually, CTR.
  4. Finally, it’ll help you to skip weeks of testing and learning to find the ‘right’ keywords that people are using to find your brand, product, or service. 

By using data-driven keyword planning ahead of time, you can save yourself money, boost efficiencies from the get-go, and avoid an optimization headache!

A misuse of keyword match types 

One of the biggest sticking points for success on paid search is keywords and, more specifically, keyword match types.

Today, there are three keyword match types to select from: broad match, phrase match, and exact match. In theory, they work as below:

Broad match keywords are the broadest of match types, with the biggest possible reach. A broad match keyword could be something like: Men’s blue jumper. This keyword, when matched with a user’s search query, could appear for searches such as ‘blue sweater for men’, ‘male navy sweater’, or misspellings such as ‘man bleu sweader’, as long as the intent is similar. While they are the broadest-reaching keyword match type, they may deliver weaker or less engaged traffic to your website. Today, both Google Ads and Microsoft Ads encourage the use of broad match terms in conjunction with smart bidding strategies.

Phrase match keywords are midway between broad and exact, generating a smaller audience size than broad match keywords but delivering higher intent. The phrase match keyword “men’s blue jumper” will match searches for items such as ‘size 10 men’s blue jumper’, ‘where can I buy a men’s blue jumper’ or ‘blue jumper for men’. 

Exact match keywords will generate the smallest audience size, but the highest intent, with the idea of only triggering your ads if the user’s search query exactly matches your keyword. An exact match keyword of [men’s blue jumper] will only trigger your ad when this search term is used or a close misspelling of the same intent (i.e. mens bleu jumper).

Despite this being the general guidance on keyword match types, unfortunately, this isn’t always how they work in practice. While there have been innovations to both Google and Microsoft’s AI and machine-learning algorithms to better understand user intent, broad match keywords often deliver entirely irrelevant traffic by ‘matching’  your keywords to irrelevant search queries. 

So, if all of your keywords are broad match, despite strong volumes of impressions and potentially even clicks, you may be sending low-quality traffic to your website. To fix this, regularly check your Search Terms Reports to see which search queries are triggering your ads. For any irrelevant search terms, add these as negative keywords to your campaigns - this will tell the platform not to match your keywords to search terms that contain such keywords in the future. 

Having said that, when combined with smart bidding strategies such as Maximise Conversions, Target ROAS, or Target CPA and large volumes of historical conversion data, broad match keywords do work for advertisers with large-scale budgets. If that’s not you yet, we would suggest sticking to 80-90% phrase and exact match keywords within your account, and gently testing broad match keywords. 

No conversion tracking 

If you’ve worked with agencies, you would’ve likely heard this before. Today, with privacy laws ever-changing and third-party cookies quickly becoming obsolete, conversion tracking is a must-have:  not only for measuring and proving ROI but for optimizing your campaigns too.

If your search engine marketing account doesn’t have conversion tracking in place, you’re missing out on significant functionality. Smart bidding strategies cannot be used without this, which leaves you in the dark when it comes to optimizations. How can you optimize your campaigns, ads, and keywords, if you don’t know which action(s) users are taking once they land on your website? Not only that, you could be pouring hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars into keywords that simply don’t deliver, based on engagement metrics such as CTR rather than conversion rates.

With that said, 2024 has some new best practices for setting up conversion tracking. Previously, it was important to just track your end goal (i.e. a sale, a lead form submission, or a phone call). Today, your conversion tracking should include so-called ‘lighter’ engagement events along the conversion path too. Such events may include a newsletter sign-up, a video view, an app download, or an abandoned cart. This fuller-funnel conversion tracking methodology allows the algorithms of your chosen paid search platform(s) to auto-optimize towards users throughout more of their journey to conversion, making your advertising efforts much more effective.

If you’re using smart bidding for conversions,  ensure that each conversion goal is set up as a ‘Primary’ or ‘Secondary’ conversion goal respective to how important it is. An app download may be a lighter conversion event, while a successful check-out is likely to be a primary conversion goal. Multiple primary conversion goals will simply confuse the algorithm, and you’re likely to end up with many more abandoned carts than you would’ve otherwise. 

Weak CTRs

Anyone who has gone near a search engine marketing or social media marketing account will likely know the importance of CTR or click-through rates. As well as a crucial ranking factor in the auction process, CTR gives a strong indication of the relevance between your keywords, ads, and landing pages.

In previous years, the gold standard for CTR was 2-3%. However, as our knowledge of search improves and algorithms learn more, the average CTR on Google in 2024 is 6.42%, and 2.83% on Microsoft (industry dependent). So, a CTR below either of these benchmarks is a cause for concern, as it indicates low ad group relevancy and will impact account efficiency.

With crucial ranking factors (that we know of) including ‘Expected CTR’, a low website CTR means that you’ll struggle to outbid the competition in the auction process, and it’ll also cost you more to bid to get your ads in front of each prospective customer.

To remedy this, take a look at your Assets Reports. These give you an indication of how your ad headlines and descriptions are performing. Instead of replacing an entire ad and plunging your campaigns back into the learning phase, slowly replace those ranked ‘Poor’ and ‘Average’ with better-performing options to improve your Ad Strength and Expected CTR.

You’ll also want to regularly review your ad groups. With recommendations provided by platforms, your ad groups may have grown over time to include more than 15-20 keywords, and you’re likely to be harboring multiple themes within a single ad group. Again, this will affect the strength of your ads and Expected CTR. So be sure to separate out and create new ad groups - sticking to a single theme within each - and tailoring your ad copy within each ad group to make it as relevant as possible.

Inaccurate campaign settings

Unfortunately, some of the most basic campaign settings have the ability to ruin your campaign performance. Time and time again, we’ve seen inaccurate location targeting, language targeting, and mismatched goals set.

Sometimes, Google may default your geographic targeting settings to target those ‘interested’ in your target locations, instead of those within your targeted locations. If your product or service is unique to a target audience within one area, ensure this setting is set to those within your targeted location.

Beyond location targeting, language targeting matches queries “where the keywords match and Google believe that the user understands at least one targeted language”. On Microsoft Ads, the language campaign settingdetermines the language that you will use when you write your ads and should be the language of your customers”. 

Even if your brand is wide-reaching internationally, your ad copy is likely to be in one single language rather than applicable to all languages - which is the default setting. So, ensure that the language settings on each of your campaigns match the language within your ad copy. If you are serving a global audience, you should create individual campaigns per language (and location) to serve your prospective customers best.

You’re not spending enough

And finally, the dreaded reason: you’re simply not spending enough. Now, that doesn’t mean instantly changing your daily budget from $10 to $100 a day. However, there are a few budget limitations that can hold campaign performance back, despite an otherwise healthy PPC budget.

Low daily budgets. If each of your campaigns have daily budgets in place, this may restrict the platforms from aggressively bidding to reach your target audience if this daily cap has already been met. 

Not only that, low daily budgets may mean that you don’t have enough budget for your ads to serve all day. That could mean that your budget is depleted by 10 am on a Friday after a handful of clicks, missing out on crucial Friday afternoon or weekend traffic booms that some brands experience. This will also limit your Search Impression Share, allowing the competition to outbid you more regularly to appear in the SERP.

Instead, monthly budgets can be a good alternative that gives the search engine platforms flexibility to upweight and downweight bids for prospective customers who are more likely to click, convert, or take action on your website.

Low bids. If you’re using a bidding strategy such as Maximise Clicks in conjunction with a Max CPC bid, this can also be limiting in some situations. If using a smart bidding strategy such as Maximise Clicks, it’s best - where reasonable - not to limit your CPC bids to enable aggressive bidding when needed.

Low bidding strategy targets. On smart bidding strategies such as Target CPA or Target ROAS, you’re encouraged to set targets. However, setting these thresholds too low will impact your ability to show up in the SERP.

Aside from monthly budgets, these are just a few ways that budget may impact your results, despite an otherwise healthy budget being available.

Final Thoughts

In summary, for true PPC success, these six elements are some of the most common that can lead to campaign failure. Utilize this guide to comb through your accounts and campaigns, double-check your settings, and make changes as required for a successful campaign structure.

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