Google Search Ads Performance Turnaround at Takewalks.com
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.
Up until that point, an external agency was managing the PPC 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 risk involved, but I reckoned it was one of those “now-or-never” moments where the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks. Once I brought 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 PPC 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.
The natural increase in CPC due to a tougher competition during the Black Friday sale was not managed as it should have. This caused the overall cost to go up without being followed by an increase in revenue. This meant the ROAS was going down. On top of that, a natural increase in traffic and a poor PPC sale strategy caused the conversion rate to decrease compared to the previous weeks.
This was exactly the opposite of what we would have expected.
Step 2: back to the fundamentals
During the previous months, the third-party that was managing our accounts used to constantly test 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). More often than not, we actually didn’t allow enough time for the new Google Ads features to pass the learning phase successfully.
The Black Friday sale was the tipping point. Now it was necessary to take full control over 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 forget about these, between a new cost per conversion bid strategy and new discovery ads formats. 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 as simple as that.
I opened Google Ads Editor, rolled up my sleeves and started re-writing ads, re-organising ad groups and keywords, re-evaluating landing pages and writing new smarter ad extensions.
Because of the lack of fundamentals in the current PPC 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. And by very cheap I mean that their CPC should be at least 85-90% lower than non-brand campaigns’.
With the current PPC structure, it wasn’t the case. Branded keywords would have cost between a quarter and a half of generic keywords. Definitely too expensive. This was harming the whole account’s efficiency.
In fact, brand keywords are usually not very sensitive to bid changes. They 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 would have been key to decreasing the overall cost 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 fully automated 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 would have got 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-touchpoint attribution model. This is because nowadays 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, in this case, it wasn’t available in our account yet. So I eventually 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 fully automated ones, which usually require a learning period. Given the short timeline I was working with, eCPC was definitely the best fit.
Step 6: dynamic search ads
Although essential, the account restructure was obviously taking some time. So I decided to also launch some dynamic search ads campaigns that could have covered the keywords I had not been able to create yet. This turned out to be an excellent 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 turnaround was a success. Despite a disappointing first week into the sale, starting from the Black Friday day revenue started to grow 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 searches decreasing their cost per click by 95% and generic searches by 50%.
ROAS almost doubled following the turnaround, with revenue increasing significantly and overall cost almost halved.
check my full resume.