SEM Performance Warning Signs & What Action to Take

Website traffic growth banner. Computer with diagrams, growth charts. Magnifying glass. Vector flat illustration

Common SEM Account Performance Problems & What You Should Do to Fix Them

If you’re not an experienced SEM account management professional, it can be difficult to really know for certain if your paid search efforts are working the way they should, or if they’re optimized for maximum performance. There are a lot of moving parts in an SEM account, and lots of different ways to tune the dials within each campaign. Even when you have everything setup and configured according to proven SEM best-practices, your account performance will still fluctuate from day to day due to search trends, seasonal changes, competitive activity, and many other factors.

So, how can you confidently know when your account is running in to trouble, or simply not performing to its maximum potential? Fortunately, there are several telltale signs you can look for that point to various types of paid search account problems. Once you have identified that things need to be fixed in your SEM account, you can begin to take steps to tweak your campaigns and improve performance. Based on what’s going wrong, if things are really heading south, a total account may be needed to get your account back on track.

Knowing these SEM warning signs is important for any business that leverages paid search as part of their digital marketing strategy. We’ve compiled a helpful reference list of the most common indicators of poor SEM performance that you can use to conduct a quick and easy health checkup on your PPC accounts. If you’re noticing any or all of these issues, your friendly SEM experts here at WMT are just a call or email away and are ready to help. Let’s get right to it!

Indicators of Poor SEM Account Performance

Campaign Clutter & Disorganization

This is a really common indicator that we see happen a lot. Start by taking a quick look at your campaigns, ad groups, and keyword lists, and consider what you’re seeing by asking yourself some questions. Do you see endless lists of campaigns and ad groups for every conceivable product, service type, or customer segment? Are your ad groups stuffed with hundreds of keyword variations? Are general keywords found in the same lists as those that are specific to products, services, or brand names? These are all signs that you’ve got a cluttered and inefficient SEM account.

This kind of clutter can really hinder the performance of your campaigns by spreading budgets thin across too many different targets, watering down the effectiveness of your messaging. Clutter and disorganization of your SEM account also makes it extremely difficult to effectively optimize your paid search efforts to achieve specific goals. In short, a cluttered campaign tries to do too much and ends up never doing enough. It’s time to condense, simplify, and refocus your SEM approach.

Constantly Rising Click Costs

Rising cost-per-click is something that every PPC advertiser deals with at one time or another. In general, click costs have historically shown a gradual rise across the board for all advertisers as time goes on. However, if you’re noticing click costs rising quickly, it can be a powerful indicator that your account is in need of some urgent attention. 

There are many factors that can cause click costs to start rising. Sometimes it’s simply due to a powerful competitor cranking up the aggressiveness of their SEM campaigns, and you are paying the price of keeping pace. Other times it’s because your landing pages and ad copy are not aligned closely enough with the keywords you’re targeting. Whether it’s one of those factors or some other reason, there are ways to combat rising click costs and keep your bids low, without negatively impacting the ability of your campaigns to attract valuable visitors.

Outdated Campaigns & Ad Formats

The options available to SEM advertisers have expanded dramatically over the years. There is so much more to choose from in your paid search campaigns than just simple text ads. If you have been running the same campaign types and the same ad formats for years, without adding anything new to the mix, now is the time to take the time to freshen things up and take advantage of the many powerful new PPC tools that are available to paid search advertisers.

Google Ads, for example, offers an extensive selection of SEM ad types and formats you can use to reach different audiences with influential messaging. Text ads are still very effective, but are now also available in dynamic formats that automatically change based on the search query and the landing pages on your site, delivering greater precision and relevancy for each individual user. You can also choose from visual display ads, product-specific shopping ads, Gmail-native ads, and many other unique formats that offer advantages for different campaign styles and objectives.

One of the most interesting and flexible ad types that Google Ads has introduced is their Responsive Search Ads. These types of ads use multiple headlines and descriptions within a single ad, and mixes and matches them to test out different variations of ads dynamically. For a more extensive look at Responsive Search Ads, here’s a helpful tutorial video from the Google Ads team that explains them in greater detail.

Irrelevant Locations & Scheduling

By default, most SEM campaigns are set to target all locations, all the time. If you’re running a large, international e-commerce business, this may be perfect for your goals. However, If you’re a business that targets a specific region or set of locations, it’s not exactly an efficient use of your budget to target the whole country or the entire world. Same thing goes for your ad scheduling. If you’re paying to drive visitors to your website during business hours or encouraging them to visit your stores, showing ads in the middle of the night is just a waste of money.

Take a look at the reports showing the locations of your PPC visitors, and the time-of-day reports that show when your ads are getting clicks, and see where budget is being wasted. Fixing issues related to irrelevant locations and inefficient ad scheduling can prove to be extremely valuable, and if you dig even deeper into these data sets, you could reveal areas of opportunity that you may have previously overlooked.

Extremely Low Click-Through-Rates & Conversion Rates

Click-through-rates are a good indicator for how well your targeting aligns with your ads. CTR is calculated based on how many clicks your ads actually receive per 100 times they actually appear in the search results. For example, a CTR of 3% means that only 3 people out of 100 actually clicked on your ads. Doesn’t sound great, does it? Not so fast, there. The thing about CTR is that it should always be weighed along with conversion rates. The reason for this is some campaigns may have a really low CTR, but convert extremely well. Other campaigns may show a very strong CTR, but fall flat on the conversion side.

Curious what a ‘good’ CTR really is? It’s a tough question to answer, and varies for all businesses, but Wordstream has conducted an extensive analysis of CTR benchmarks to help narrow down some general examples.

CTR and conversion rates require a little more experience in order to conduct a deep-dive analysis, but a general comparison of conversion rates and CTR from your different campaigns and ad groups should reveal some indication on whether some are performing better than others, or if they’re under-performing across the board. Fixing CTR and conversion rates requires realignment of many SEM elements including ad copy, keyword lists, and landing pages to make sure they all work together to effectively deliver an experience that matches the intent of the user.

Low Keyword Quality Scores

Another indicator of under-performing SEM campaigns is consistently-low quality scores on your keywords. PPC platforms like Google Ads offer Quality Score as a metric in their dashboards so you can get a general idea of how strong the connection is between your keywords, your ad copy, and your landing pages. Similar to how low CTR and conversion rates are signals that indicate misalignment of these same types of SEM elements, the Quality Score metric serves as a quick and easy reference to identify those specific keywords that are simply not being targeted effectively.

Once you’ve spotted those keywords with low quality scores (generally shown as a score out of ten, in this format: x/10), you can begin to explore where the misalignment might be. Is it the ad copy, is it the keyword itself, is it the landing page, or is it a combination of all three? Choosing which of these elements to change first can be a challenge, but WMT can help provide clarity and direction you need to get those quality scores up.

How to Fix a Poor-Performing SEM Account

Like we said at the beginning of this article, an SEM account has a lot of moving parts. Like any other system with many moving parts, there are multiple ways that these parts interact with each other, and changing any one of them can have ripple effects on the others that are not always easy to anticipate. Because of this, it is critical to conduct a thorough analysis of any SEM account that is under-performing to discover the true underlying factors.

The best way to do this and pinpoint the problems as well as areas of opportunity is with an SEM audit. This extensive review and research process provides a comprehensive look at your paid search account from the bottom to the top, factoring internal and external elements such as competitive activity, market conditions, and other influences. When WMT completes an SEM audit for you, you’ll have the clarity of direction and powerful recommendations needed to boost the performance of your paid search campaigns and achieve a stronger return on your investment.

Take the Next Steps & Reinvent Your SEM Strategy

If you’re tired of mediocre results from your paid search campaigns, now is the time to take action and refresh your SEM account for higher performance and greater efficiency. Contact the team of paid search experts at WMT today and arrange for a consultation on how we can help you improve your SEM campaigns and drive a stronger ROI from each and every click.

About the WMT Blog

We are a digital marketing company and want to share ideas as inspiration for current and prospective clients.

Subscribe to our newsletter and get instant updates when we post new articles.

Request a quick estimate on any of our professional services designed to help brands increase exposure across all the most important touchpoints - SEO, Paid Search and Social Media.

Related Digital Marketing Articles