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Google Ads help: Why your clicks and impressions have suddenly flatlined

What are the most common reasons you'll see unexpected drops in Google Ads clicks or impressions? Moreover, how do you know when a drop in clicks or impressions is actually a blessing in disguise?

Google Ads help: Why your clicks and impressions have suddenly flatlined Blog Feature

May 6th, 2020 min read

One of the most stressful situations you can experience when managing your Google Ads is a sudden dip in your performance that you can’t explain right away. (Especially since these drops are often followed by emails from your boss wanting to know why your traffic, leads, or sales are down for that campaign.)

I know this because I've been there.

And this is particularly true right now, as consumers react to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which (understandably) has resulted in sometimes volatile and unsteady paid media campaign performance. So, I'm having more than the usual number of conversations with clients about unexpected peaks and valleys in their campaigns. 

No matter when this happens (pandemic or no pandemic), it's still no fun to feel the pressure of the people you work with and for looking for explanations about why a particular Google Ads campaign isn't delivering as expected. 

Sometimes, the reasons for dips or overall lackluster performance may be outside of your control. Of course, other times, you are in control. But how do you know the difference as soon as possible, and potentially prevent such dips from happening in future?

Moreover, how do you know when a drop in clicks or impressions is actually a blessing in disguise?

You need to train yourself to look more deeply and strategically at your performance

If you're new to paid campaign management, don't worry. With a little practice, you'll level-up quickly on determining where your campaigns have faltered, as well as providing sound explanations (with clear action items) to your team, so everyone feels assured and relieved.

The most important thing to note from trying to analyze sudden performance changes is that you need to look deeper. Always.

Simply reviewing your overall campaign performance over time doesn’t cut it. You might see certain metrics dropping off without notice, but there really isn’t an easy way to explain why at first. Again, keep calm and dig on.

The more you're willing to dive into the nitty gritty details, the better you will get at identifying patterns after you analyze those ads where performance has dropped.

Here's the thing, though — there are a thousand reasons as to why your Google Ads suddenly stopped performing. (Want me to list them all? Yikes, how much time do you have?) 

But some of the most common problems you'll run into with subpar Google Ads campaign performance revolve around the number of clicks and impressions you're getting. Those are the exact problems we're going to be talking about today.

If you're not looking at issues with clicks and impressions, then... well, I can't help you. Sorry, best of luck to you in your future endeavors. Just kidding, our Google Ads guide has a lot more detailed information on performance challenges that don't have to do with clicks and impressions, so start there.

OK, let's talk about the most common reasons why your clicks and impressions are bidding you adieu... 

"We're seeing a lower click-through rate, in addition to lower clicks and conversions."

This is often the culprit when experiencing a lower click volume. You basically have two metrics that impact how many clicks you have:

  • Your click-through rate (CTR)
  • The number of impressions you’re getting

There are a few reasons why you may be seeing this outcome.

1. You changed your ads

"Well, duh, Dan." If you change your ads and then your CTR drops. Obviously, that’s the reason, right?

Yes and no. There's more to it than that. Sometimes you need to change your ads because you no longer offer certain products or services, or something has drastically changed within the company to cause you to pivot. 

If that’s the case, then great! You’re done!

Now you can respond to whomever is asking with a kindly-worded note stating, "Well, we don't offer that thing that most people were looking for, so... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯"

OK, maybe don't do that.

But you will need to reset expectations with everyone involved and strategize what changes you can make to ensure you’re generating the leads the sales team needs, if a product or service pivot is the culprit. You should also talk about how such issues can be avoided in future, so when a product or service change happens, your ads can evolve seamlessly, as needed. 

The next time you need to change your ads, you have to play it safe.

In many ways, testing new ads is the same as A/B testing. Leave a few of the older ads running so you can get a good measure of how your new ads are performing.

Like I said before, I've been where you are. Sometimes you are so absolutely positive that your new ads are the most well-written ads you've ever created. There's absolutely no way they won't perform better, so you don't need to test.

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

google-ads-testing

Listen to my guy, Alec. Always. Be. Testing.

Most ad platforms have automation intelligence that are optimizing where and when your ads are being delivered, and to whom.

Messing with the system can throw it into a re-learning period — wherein all previous parameters and benchmark rules no longer apply — so, your performance will dip as the system rebounds.

When you see this drop, keep in mind that it doesn't mean your new ads are worse than the previous ads. You simply need to give the artificial intelligence time to adjust. So, take it easy, and don't jump ship just because you see a little water on deck.

Now, if enough time has gone by and you’re still seeing underperforming ads, it’s time to roll back the old ones and strategize again.

2. Your average ad position as gone down 

Let’s say you typically deliver ads in the first or second position and, suddenly, you find yourself in the third position... or worse, not appearing at the top of the page at all.

Unsurprisingly, when this happens, you're going to see a huge drop-off in clicks.

Why did this happen? There are a few potential culprits:

  • Your competitors have increased their bidding
  • Your quality scores have decreased, so your ad rank drops as a result
  • You have decreased your bidding

"Wait, what's a quality score again?"

Your quality score is a value Google calculates based on your ad click-through rates, relevance, and the quality of the pages you send clickers to. Or, more simply, it's a measure of how compelling your ads are, in addition to the fact that users like what they find once they click-through and don't bounce away.

If this is what you're seeing, the first step here is to not freak out. At the end of the day some things are just out of your control.

Sometimes, your competitors will simply start outbidding you to such an extent that you can’t keep defending the same ad positions and click volume.

🔎 Related: How much should it cost to work with a Google Ads or PPC agency?

In some cases, you may hear from your boss that you need to do whatever it takes to get more clicks. Remember to focus on the big picture and communicate to them the "why" behind your decreased bidding strategy, or how aggressive your competitor has begun bidding for those ad placements.

The goal here for you is to be calm and clear about what is happening and why, and to be strategic (not reactive) about your next move. Because simply increasing your bids may not be the right move.

3. Your competitors have revamped their ads and, boy, are they really good

One of the reasons for low CTRs is when competitors start promoting something new or bidding more aggressively for the same keywords you are. 

If you’re selling the same product or service at around the same price with the same benefits, you’ll definitely start to see fluctuations in your click volume, depending on how aggressive your competitors’ promotions are.

Do a little testing here; if your CTR and overall click volume all of a sudden dip, search for your keywords and see if your ads are the most attractive on the page. Because if there isn't much difference between what you and your competitors are offering, you are going to need to get creative in finding ways to stand out. 

"Actually, our click-through rate is the same, but our overall clicks are down"

If your CTR is roughly the same as always and you’re still seeing your clicks drop off, there is only one possible culprit:

Decreased impressions.

Fewer people are seeing your ads, so while the conversion efficiency is the same, the sheer volume of people passing through is way down.

This is probably the hardest problem to solve as an ads manager. 

At the end of the day, you can't control how many people are searching for a given keyword or why, all of a sudden, there's a search volume crash. Your ads don't sway search behavior.

So, what does explain why you see an abrupt downward shift in search volume toward a given keyword? Well, there are a few obvious culprits.

1. The seasons have changed 🍁

“But Dan, my industry is seasonality-proof!”

Newsflash, it isn’t. 

It doesn't matter what your industry is, B2B, B2C, and e-commerce companies all experience some kind of seasonal fluctuations in demand. It’s just human nature.

Even if your product or service is just a delight all-year-'round, sometimes you still have to deal with companies running out of budget for the quarter or year, so they can’t spend. 

The reasons behind seasonal fluctuations are endless. For example, if you're a landscaping company, your ideal buyers aren't likely to be looking for your services when it's cold outside. so do some brainstorming to see if you can solve some of those hesitations to spend.

This could mean altering your offerings based on the time of year, or changing up your ad strategy to be more appropriate to the current climate out there. 

Again, you can’t control when or how often people search, so if there is a lack of demand for whatever reason you’ll need to rethink your ad strategy. 

2. You've changed your keyword strategy

Switching up your match types to be more strict, pausing keywords, adding new negative keywords, all of these can dry out your impressions like the Sahara desert.

changed-your-google-ads-keyword-strategy

Sorry to say, your impressions have run dry. 😢

Of course, some of these changes aren’t necessarily bad.

You obviously want a lot of impressions so you can get more clicks and traffic, but you need to make sure it’s the right traffic.

Let’s say you paused some of your broad match or modified broad match keywords and instead tried to focus on some more specific phrase match or exact match keywords. This will 100% of the time reduce the amount of impressions you’re getting. 

🔎 Learn about keyword types: Google Ads getting started guide (chapter 6)

Think about it.

You’re basically telling Google:

“Stop delivering my ads when someone searches for something kind of like this keyword, and only show it when someone searches for exactly this keyword.”

So yes, your impressions will go down. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

If you’re spending your budget on more relevant keywords by choosing to focus on phrase and exact match, this would be a very healthy strategy to implement because the quality of your traffic will go up.

The same goes for pausing keywords and adding negatives in — fewer keywords will naturally result in fewer impressions. But if you are improving the quality of the traffic to your site, then this decrease in impressions is a good one. 

However, you see a decrease in conversions at the same time, then it’s time to worry. 

Now is the time to undo whatever the thing is that you did!

Dig in and figure out why the keywords you initially thought you needed to change or pause were bringing in good conversions. Those searchers might know something you don’t!

3. Your quality score has dropped

Google being Google always wants ads to be the best and most relevant match to whatever query a searcher is, well, searching for.

They make money by being the number one search engine, so if they start showing ads that don’t make sense or send users to websites that don’t answer their search, people would be less likely to use it.

Luckily for us, Google is the best at this.

Unluckily for us, it means making ads and campaigns with good quality scores can sometimes be a real pain.

In fact, quality scores play such a large role in the success of your campaigns that keeping your score healthy should be your number one priority, so you can get the Google campaign results you're looking for.

Google updates their parameters for quality score all the time, so a large culprit for decreased impressions is that you might have taken a hit here for some of your better performing keywords. 

The lower your quality score, the higher you need to bid in order to maintain the same position as before.

So, if you identify some keywords that have a lower score, the easy fix is to just increase your bids. This will definitely cost you, but it is a very fast solution to get those impressions back up.

The far better (and cheaper) thing to do would be to sort out why your quality score took such a hit in the first place, and then take steps to bring it back up.

🔎 Related: What Google Ads and paid media services does IMPACT offer?

Quality score is calculated based on the relevance of your keyword to the search query, the relevance of your ad copy to the search query, and the relevance of your landing page to the search query. 

See a pattern? Relevance across the board is essential.

If your CTR is close to the same as its been and your score drops, check out your landing page. It could very well be that the Google search algorithm updated and they recrawled your site.

From my experience, most of the time the landing page is the issue.

Change up the content on the page to be more relevant to what people are searching for, or fix glaring issues with the UX and you should bump that score back up to where it should be. 

"We're confused, because our CTR is higher than ever, but somehow our clicks are still down?"

Now this is where it gets to be a real head-scratcher.

I’ve seen weird cases when other metrics have actually gone up that would typically be followed by an increase in clicks. But that increase never materializes. 

How the heck does that happen?

1. You spent your budget too early

So let’s say you’re doing everything we’ve already talked about correctly. You’ve taken care of your quality score issues, adjusted your match types for maximum impressions, and increased your bidding to make sure you get that coveted top position.

All of those things should make your positioning and CTR skyrocket. Now why wouldn’t you see more clicks?

Let’s walk through it.

With the higher CTR, you’re actually starting to get more and more clicks earlier throughout the day and actually running out of budget before the day is over. Your wallet literally can’t keep up with how amazing your campaign is running. 

Example time!

For mathematical ease, let’s say you give your campaign $50 a day and your bids are $2 each. You should be getting 25 clicks a day. 

But now, you increased your bids on some keywords that are converting really well up to $2.50. Now you’ll only be able to afford 20 clicks a day. 

If those 20 clicks are converting better than your 25 clicks were, then it’s time to scale that bad boy up. Give it some more budget to get back to the number of daily clicks you want with a much higher return.

2. Your better quality score is resulting in fewer clicks

It’s counterintuitive, yes, but it can happen.

Let’s take two keywords for an example. You have $300 a day to spend. The first keyword is a really good keyword that is super relevant to your business, but it’s more expensive and more competitive. The second keyword is also pretty good, but not as good as the first one.

The first keyword has a quality score of 4/10 and your average position for that keyword is seven. This is obviously not ideal.

It has a CPC of $6 and you give it $120 a day to spend. You should get 20 clicks.

The second keyword has a quality score of 8/10 and an average position of 1.8 — way better. You give this keyword $180 a day and the CPC is $1. You should get 180 clicks.

For your $300, you get 200 clicks. 

OK, so now you pull all the levers mentioned above and you increase the first keyword's quality score to a 7/10. This means your positioning will be better, and your CTR is higher. 

Now you start thinking:

“Wow this keyword is performing a lot better! Let me give it some more budget because it is so relevant to my business.”

You give both keywords an even $150 each.

Math time! Because your quality score increased on the first keyword, you should be paying less than you were before. Now you are paying $4 per click.

With that $150, the first keyword gives you 38 clicks and the second keyword gives you 150. For that same $300 you are now only getting 188 clicks.

That’s a 6% decrease in overall clicks.

Weird, I know.

Remember, drops aren't always a bad thing

The most important thing to take away from all of this is that just because your clicks are down, doesn’t always mean something is actually wrong with your Google Ads campaign.

Look a little deeper into all of these factors that can decrease your click volume. You’ll often find that just a few minutes of tweaking can get those clicks back up. Alternatively, you may find that while your clicks or impressions are down, the quality of conversions you're getting has gone way up. (This can also help you build up a case as to why you might need more budget.)

So, before you start panicking when your performance waivers, find out what those clicks actually mean and present that. Ask yourself (and more importantly, your boss) “Would you rather pay for more clicks or better clicks?” 

Then cue up your mic drop. 🎤

google-ads-guide-2019

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