Tips and Tactics For Diagnosing Low Click Through Rates

Besides the bottom line of goal conversion, click-through-rates are one of the most important metrics in campaigns. At Netvantage, it is the one campaign metric we have full control over and we make it a very big deal. As I talk to clients, they often ask what our process is for addressing campaigns and click-through-rates. Here is a typical workflow for how I do it when managing campaigns on a day to day basis. Now, talk to 20 PPC managers and you’ll likely get 20 different processes, all with good merits. There are dozens of variables to look at, so I am not saying my approach is the best, this is just a breakdown of a typical routine for assessing click-through-rate for me.

I like to break these down into different scenarios as I evaluate ad groups, ad copy and keyword testing.

Low Average Positioning & Low Click-Through-Rate

If you are seeing your click-through-rates (CTR) looking low, say, between 1% and 3% or worse and your average positioning for a keyword or set of keywords is between 3 and 6 over a specific date range. In this case, an immediate action would be to increase bids. Use the Google Keyword Planner to try to figure out what the average cost per click for that keyword is compared to your current average cost per click. From here, adjust your bid, perhaps starting with a 10% or 20% increase. After increasing your bid, check the keyword again after 100 to 200 impressions to see if your average position has increased. If your average position has increased, then you’ll want to evaluate if your CTR has increased. Now, keep in mind here that I have disbanded the aspect of relevance and quality score when trying to use bidding to increase average position. This, of course,¬†is a factor. But, in terms of trying to get quick wins, bidding is going to get the quickest path to improve CTR.

High Average Positioning & Low CTR

If you check a set of keywords over a sample of impressions and you see your average position in the 1-3 range, yet your click-through rates are low then you’ll want to address the following three variables:

  1. Ad copy verbiage
  2. Ad Extensions
  3. Actual search queries

Ad Copy Verbiage

For ad copy, if our ads are getting impressions in prime SERP positions, but not getting clicks, are we missing the mark with our copy. Review your ad copy and make sure that it is aligned with the keyword matches you are using in the ad group, a lot of this comes back to the principle in Google Ads that I subscribe to, which is having small numbers of keywords in ad groups. This allows me to write ad copy that incorporates keywords into the ad copy, which over time has proven to help get clicks.

Ad Extensions

For ad extensions, these are becoming very critical as paid search CTRs are turning into a real estate game. The more Google monetizes ads with increased space and size, the more critical ad extensions are going to become. If you feel like your ad copy is sufficient and your bids are aligned for good average positioning yet your CTR is low, check your ad extensions. Use as many as you can. Sitelinks, with accompanying text, Click-to-Call, Location, Snippet, Callouts and Product Reviews, these are take up more real estate against your competition and get you more opportunities to display features and benefits. If you are following the playbook above and CTR is low, your competition may be beating you on ad extensions, thus taking up more space and pushing your ads further down the search engine results. Be sure to review and capitalize on your opportunities.

Actual Search Queries

For actual search queries, I like to pull that report for the keyword variations we are bidding on. Remember, if you are using broad, modified broad, or phrase, the keywords you are bidding on may differ greatly then what you actually show up for. It is important to look at this data and get a feel for what the market is actually typing in and what those individual CTRs are. There may be subtle variations in how your target audience is searching for your products or services and the way in which they are typing in the queries. I call it “keyword vernacular.” Evaluating this data can help frame ad copy and help your re-write test verbiage to use to better match the queries you are showing up for.

Low Average Positioning & High CTR

If your average position is lower than 3, say 4.2, or 5.6, this means you are showing up on the bottom of the page or on the second page, and likely showing up in the 3rd of 4th listing on occasion. If you have a strong CTR with this positioning, congrats! This means you are writing highly effective ad copy and ad extensions that is resonating with searchers as compared to your competition! Next steps on this? Well, you could hold serve and make sure your CTR remains strong. Depending on your cost per conversion thresholds, you may want to see where your average cost per click is and see if perhaps there is room to increase bids. If your CTR is good, your Quality Score for relevance is likely strong. Thus, if you increased your bids, you would likely get rewarded and see a rise in your average position. However, you may be working with a specific budget and average cost per click range, and your campaign is accomplishing the goals you want it to, then perhaps leave your bids where they are.

High Average Positioning & High CTR

If you are seeing your average position between 1 and 3 and your CTRs are high against your benchmark, then you are indeed in a good spot. However, your work is not done. Don’t put the campaign into auto-pilot. A few things to consider in this scenario.

  1. Competition. Use the Ad Preview Tool and keep an eye on what your competition is doing and saying for competing keyword sets. Over time, they will likely be active in making changes to displace you.
  2. Bid to average cost per click ratio: Evaluate what your bid ceiling is to what your average cost per click is over your sample data period. If the ration is tight, say your bid is$3.00 and your average cost per click is $2.90, in this scenario than you should probably keep your bids where they are. Hopefully, over time, your strong Quality Score will enable cost savings and you will see a better spread between your bid and your average cost per click. However, if you are seeing a larger gap between your bid and your average cost per click, such as $3.00 and $2.05 you may be able to test something I call back bidding. In this example,
  3. Finally, even if all seems to be functioning well in the campaign for CTRs, never stop testing. People ask me all the time, what is a good CTR? The superficial response I give, “higher”. Each campaign and keyword vertical is different, so what the percentage for CTR is good is different. However, even if your CTR is “good” keep testing. Always run 2 ads per ad group and keep challenging your high performing ad copy with a test ad. Even if your CTR is 12%, maybe you could get it to 13%. Additionally, keep checking your Actual Search Query reports. Evaluating this data can help with keyword and¬†keyword match selection, as well as broader market audience knowledge.

As I said, by no means is this the best approach for managing CTR, and there were many other variables we didn’t discuss, but this is a quick hitter guide to managing an important aspect to PPC campaigns.

Joseph Ford

Joe Ford is a Managing Partner at Netvantage Marketing. In addition to overseeing day to day business operations of Netvantage, he directs paid search strategy and management. Ford is on the Marketing Committee for Impression 5 Science Museum, and the Executive Board of the Capital Area IT Council. He was previously a member of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Board of Directors for 8 years. Additionally, Ford is an adjunct faculty member in the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University.

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