You Can’t Buy More Conversions

12 Comments Written on July 5th, 2011 by
Categories: Analytics, Google Adwords

Perhaps you’ll find this scenario familiar:

Your Adwords search campaign for “Vocal Lessons” features a fairly broad, say two-word keyword phrase like “can’t sing”.

You notice that the conversion rate is OK on this keyword, but the cost-per-conversion is a bit high. You’ve tried tweaking the bids on it to get it more profitable, but it’s still just barely profitable.

Looking into it more deeply, you run a Search Terms report to see how Google matched your phrase-matched keyword to actual user queries.

You notice that the exact match [can’t sing] has generated a lot of clicks but no conversions, whereas the exact match [why can’t I sing] is the search that’s actually driving the conversions on that “can’t sing” keyword.  In fact, the cost-per-conversion and conversion rate on that exact [why can’t I sing] keyword are fantastic, and you would like to get more of that ‘hot’ traffic and those cheap conversions.

So, you decide to add that exact search, [why can’t I sing] to your adgroup as a keyword on its own.  Maybe you also raise the bid a bit on it to try and improve your ad position, hoping to grab even more conversions.

Then something strange happens:  After a little time has gone by, you notice that that exact match keyword, [why can’t I sing], isn’t converting at all anymore.

What happened to those sweet, sweet conversions?  You even bid up trying boost your ad position and that should give you more conversions shouldn’t it?  What’s happening here?

Blood From a Stone?

A good friend of mine (with an infinitely higher level of PPC skill than mine) once told me a few years ago: “Geordie: You just can’t buy more conversions”.  This was his point and it applies both to Display Network placement campaigns as well as Search:

Sometimes Google’s ‘mad scientist’ mix of bid, placement, matching tech, and other factors combine in your favour and find pockets of traffic that for whatever reason, be it ad-to-keyword performance, bid, match type voodoo, or whatever, creates a ‘conversion sweet spot’ where the traffic ‘just works’.

That’s great news, but you can find yourself getting ‘conversion greedy’, trying to make that ‘perfect storm’ of elements spit out more conversions.  It just doesn’t always happen.

In fact, more often than not I’ve found the opposite happens: One element (the exact match keyword) has been yanked out of the perfect storm and the entire sweet spot up and disappeared. Now, not only do you not end up with more conversions than you had previously, you can often end up with none.

Again, you ‘just can’t buy more conversions’, or put another way, ‘you can’t get blood from a stone’.  If something is working, and working exceedingly well, you may be best off simply leaving it alone.

Another Approach to Tweaking the Keyword’s Profitability

“But that phrase-matched keyword was barely profitable overall, you can’t just leave it like that!”.  That’s true.  However you can make adjustments another way without messing with the mojo.

For example, if the Search Terms report shows, as it does in our example above, that when Google matches [can’t sing] to your phrase-matched “can’t sing” keyword, you net a lot of clicks but very few (if any) conversions, you can try adding the exact match [can’t sing] as a negative keyword for this adgroup only.  This will filter out exact match searches for [can’t sing], but won’t stop your ad from showing on [why can’t I sing], the query that nets you the most conversions.

* What can you do if you’ve tried isolating the keyword or placement and conversions went South?  All is not lost, often you can revert to the adgroup’s previous configuration and bids and things will right themselves.  This often works, but nothing is ever guaranteed in Google-land.

The Only Route to More Conversions

The bottom line is that sometimes you just need to accept that you’re getting the best quality and quantity of traffic Google can give you on a particular keyword scenario or Display Network placement.  Of course, you need to be profitable overall with your phrase-matched keyword, but it is completely possible to ‘mess up the mojo’ with what is working and shoot yourself in the foot by trying to get more for less.

If you want to garner a higher volume of conversions, you often need to move on and find another ‘sweet spot’ or ‘perfect storm’.  The only way to do that is to keep testing new adgroups until one presents itself.  What you’ll find is that there are pockets like this everywhere.  In one of my campaigns, a scenario like the one mentioned here has netted over 28,000 conversions over 4 years.  Having learned this lesson the hard way, I’ve let sweet spots like that lie and work their magic over time.

Have you run into this scenario before in your Search or Display Network placement campaigns?  Share in the comments!

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12 comments “You Can’t Buy More Conversions”

Great post, this happens all too often, especially when a client sees a report and says, “Hey lets improve our position on this ad-group (or campaign),” and won’t listen to your response of “I don’t think that is a good idea.”  I always let a good converting ad-group sit a while before making too many changes to maximize it.  When I do decide it is time to make changes I watch that ad group like a hawk to make sure I didn’t mess up the Google mojo.

+1 to that:)

This is also a great argument for tracking what you change, even if you’re SURE it’s going to work. I had a textbook ad group overhaul fail miserably a few months ago, because I switched one critical keyword from broad to phrase match and killed some session-based broad match. It was pretty much exactly what you said – I thought I pulled the relevant search queries from the reports and had covered my bases, but Google was working some magic that just happened to drive leads. So, I had to partially reverse course and try to learn something from it.

Good points here.

Sometimes you think that spending more money on what works well will increase sales, but it’s never that simple!

Good point. I also have gone through the same situation in past. I had changed the keyword from broad to phrase as analyzed in search term report. The result was not as good as expected. Ultimately, I rolled back the changes to normal. So, it is right “let sweet spots like that lie and work their magic”.

Great post. We get many a situation like this with our small local clients campaigns…it is hard for the clients to accept sometimes that you have done everything to reach that optimum converting point and throwing more at it and going after vanity terms will result in a failed campaign and ultimately one that will be hard to bring back. We have offered advice to help them expand their offerings and look at further ways to convert from other metrics/platforms than Google, rather than just throw the kitchen sink at it.

Great article!
Exactly what’s happened to my clients campaign a couple of times – few of them times when the client wanted to change structure / keywords and ad texts because they thought I’ve obviously not ‘known’ what I’ve been doing 🙂
The conversions dropped down completely.. I reverted back to the old tactics (wahey!) and all was good again.. as you say, if you find a sweetspot, don’t go mess with it!!

Thanks again,

I’ve had success with taking the exact match of the exact search phrase, you can find this by going into the keyword tab and extending the “see search term” and selecting “all”.  Take converting keywords for any period of time your want and putting that into a separate campaign with identical settings and ads.   Then increase the bids to make sure that those will activate instead of the other campaign, Google algo is forced to choose the higher bids keywords.  Conversion will stay the same if not increased because of the exact nature.  Just a thought…

As a client I would find it hard to accept from an expert that ‘trial and error’ is the only strategy for increasing my conversions. I am questioning ANY consultant’s competency when that happens.

If it only were that simple. Try having Google themselves “optimize” your adwords account and watch the “error” piece unfold.

I would suggest that any consultant worth his or her salt would be the first to directly contend that Adwords results are possible to predict accurately down to the keyword level, it just doesn’t work like that. If it did, too consultants would be simply printing money themselves via their magic ability to divine exact conversion ratios.

Adwords is an imperfect and completely unpredictable system. After account setup best practices are deployed it’s he who tests the most that wins.

Great point for discussion however, I’m inspired to write an entire post on it.

Good point. We cannot just buy more conversions through selecting exact keywords with good conversions. There must be other factors affecting this, such as the key theme expressed by the exact keyword which may be different with that expressed by the phrase-matched keyword. I believe there’s something with the keywords’ context.

However, I doubt about your point of adding exact negative keyword of [can’t sing]. Although it will decrease the cost and then the cost/conversion, I’m afriad this will change the key theme of the phrase-matched keyword which may result it won’t match it next time users search [why I can’t sing]. Have you done some tests on this? .

Hi Geordie,
I do agree with you, maximizing the conversion rate is really a critical issue. Thanks for sharing this useful post.

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