In somewhat recent history, I worked on an brand-new SEM account with a rather lengthy conversion cycle. Although conversions, revenue, return on ad spend, conversion rate, and cost-per-acquisition were the most important metrics (especially for the needs of this account), they weren’t there in the early days, and basic optimizations were needed.
So where do you turn? You’ve gotta draw some inferences until the harder data comes in. Here are the metrics I found most helpful when the ever-important conversion data simply wasn’t there.
Although it surely isn’t fail-proof, since no one wants clicks that end up going nowhere or lead to a very high CPA, CTR is a good early metric to rely on when the conversion volume isn’t there. In the early stages of an account’s launch, one can use the CTR to determine a failing ad (if it isn’t getting clicks, it isn’t going to go anywhere).
Also, when it comes to bid adjustments early on, it’s important to look at positioning and clicks. If certain keywords are in lower positions but still get clicks, that could imply that these have the potential to be high-volume, so bid accordingly.
If certain keywords are very relevant to your product offering, have strong positioning, and have gotten a lot of impressions, but don’t have many clicks, this could mean you have an ad text problem. It doesn’t necessarily mean your ad text is bad – check what else appears when you search on these terms. Are your competitors offering 10% off in their ad text, while you are offering a 5% discount? This might be your issue.
Next, and very important – do your BEST to get access to your account’s Google Analytics account.
You in? Good. There are at least three important GA metrics to look at in the early stages of an account.
This is a very important metric, because it indicates whether or not someone was engaged in the site. The bounce rate is those who have “bounced” within a blink of landing on the page (as opposed to those who stayed) – so the lower the bounce rate, the better. A low bounce rate doesn’t necessarily equal conversions, but it is somewhat safe to assume that there’s some level of interest, engagement, and matching when you see a decent amount of volume and a low bounce rate.
Pages Per Visit
This is very similar to the bounce rate in the sense that if browsers visited multiple pages within the site, they were probably somewhat interested in the product offering. It might only be a matter of time before they come back to convert – if you have an ecommerce site, for example, there’s a good chance they’re doing some comparison shopping.
Avg. Visit Duration
This metric is exactly how it sounds, and, similar to the previous two metrics – a higher time on site means more engagement and interest.
In order to view this data, go into GA and scroll along the left-hand side to Traffic Sources -> Sources -> Search -> Paid.
From there, you can look at the higher-volume keywords and make some optimizations accordingly. Any keywords that perform well on the bounce rate, time on site, and pages per visit front probably have better potential to convert down the road than those that don’t, so they should be prioritized.
Also, from the primary Dimension selection – it’s important to look at matched queries for keyword optimization/potential new exact match keywords. And if you have any landing page tests going on (common for a new client without data), it’s a good idea to view landing page performance from the other drop-down, under Traffic Sources.
Even if you don’t have an official A/B landing page test going on, if you have different paid search ads going to different LPs and notice they are performing differently, this could be good for advising the client on potential landing page ideas.
Remember, if you notice you have what you think is a very relevant keyword or query and it has a high bounce rate, low visit duration, or low pages per visit, this might also speak to a larger problem. Your client may need a landing page revision, or might have another issue (such as a competitor with better price point, or a public relations issue) that they need to address in order to succeed.
For these same reasons, you will want to check how paid search is performing compared to all other mediums – this will tip you off if your search campaign is having a problem or if you need to tip your client off to something they may need to address.
– Jaime Sikora, Account Manager