How To Diagnose A Drop In PPC Traffic

Aug 20th 2015

How To Diagnose A Drop In PPC Traffic


“Why has my click volume dropped?”

“Why are my impressions lower than they were last week?”

“Why aren’t I making any sales?”

These are some questions you might ask yourself when you go into your Adwords account and check day-over-day, or week-over-week data. You’ll look at the nice graph you first see in your account and see something like this:

Cue heartburn.

So, what happened? And where do you start diagnosing the problem?

First, let’s start with some problem areas you might have had direct influence over:


Drastic increase or decrease in keyword bids.

If you take notes when you make changes to an account, check those first and cross them with the day you saw a big drop in traffic. If you don’t take notes, check your change history. Did you adjust the bids on a high-traffic keyword or ad group? This goes both ways, too. If you really ramped up bids and your daily budget is somewhat low, that single keyword or ad group could be gobbling up your daily budget before any other keywords have the chance to drive traffic, so both your clicks and impressions would be down. On the other side of things if you absolutely “tanked” a keyword’s bid that historically brought in a lot of traffic, that will bring your account-wide traffic numbers down.


Negative keywords blocking targeting

Although Google has released an update to “Adwords Alerts” that usually lets an advertiser know about this, this can still happen if you’re too aggressive or short-tailed with a phrase match keyword. A quick way to check this would be to run the keyword diagnosis tool on all active keywords in your account. This gives you a more detailed report on how keywords are being effected, what their quality score breakdown is and (potentially) the insight you are looking for:

Changes in Landing Pages

This may not cause a drop in clicks or impressions directly, but “poor landing page experience” is a quality score factor, so a 404, slow load time or bad redirect could indirectly affect your campaigns. I like to run a check on my top-traffic landing pages at least once a month just to be sure their load speed is quick and still relevant to the keywords I’m targeting. For an advanced metric analysis, navigate to Google Analytics and run a “Page Timings” report under Behavior -> Site Speed. The golden number here is three seconds: anything over that and you should look into reducing the number of scripts on page, compressing images, checking your host provider, etc.

And now a few causes for a traffic drop that you didn’t “directly” change, but happen in the outside world even if you aren’t touching your campaigns.


Ad Disapprovals

Here’s another cause that Google has a tendency to alert you to, but it’s not always made apparent. Check your “Ads” tab and sort by clicks so that you’ll see the top traffic ads for your date range. Set your date to the past 60 days–make sure it goes before you saw the drop in traffic–and see if your top traffic driver has any non-approved labels. Adding the “policy details” column will give you more details.


Changes in Competition

This can be a tough one to really diagnose, but in industries with high levels of seasonality or “big players” waiting for shopping peaks, it’s possible for them to come out of nowhere and outbid or outrank your keywords or Google Shopping campaign. There’s no easy way to truly determine this but the “Auction Insights” report can provide some help. Let’s say your traffic drop happened on August 20th, 2015. I like to look at all of July’s data, run the auction insights report and save it. Then run August’s data so far. Compare and contrast your impression share, position above and overlap rate. If your impression share changed significantly over the period or a new competitor has come in and outranked you it’s possible that your traffic is suffering as a result. It’s rare that your overall traffic would really dive because of this but with in markets with intense competition it’s certainly a possibility.


Another way to see this would be to plot your search impression share vs search impression share lost due to rank. If you see that your Search IS has dropped, it’s likely that your Search IS Lost Due To Rank will increase linearly. This means you’ve adjusted bids too drastically or a competitor has come in and you are no longer as eligible for as many auctions due to bid or quality score.



An obvious one, but if you’re in a new service industry or have started selling a new-to-you product, these are possibilities. Start looking at Google News to see if you’re seeing a swing in traffic toward your product or service. Google Trends is also a simple resource for seeing how searches are trending month-over-month and their regional distribution.

Google Trends


Product Feed Disapprovals

This is an eCommerce-specific one for those of you running Google Shopping campaigns. Sudden drops in these cam

paigns are likely due to a feed expiring or being disapproved. Head over to Google Merchant Center to find out what’s going on and where you need to adjust your feed.


I’m a big fan of Google Analytics alerts but one of my favorites is the one I use to alert me within 24 hours if we’ve had a drop-off in Adwords or Bing traffic.

Open up Google Analytics and navigate to the “Admin” tab. Under “View – Personal Tools & Assets” you’ll see a “Custom Alerts” tab. Pick that and copy the following structure so that you’ll receive an email within 24 hours any time your paid campaign’s traffic drops significantly compared to the previous day.

How do you go about diagnosing traffic drops in Adwords? Have you had your traffic drop off and didn’t know what to do? Let us know in the comments below!

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