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Pay-per click (PPC) professionals have to know a lot of skills and tricks, but one of the most important is simple sleuthing, although it’s not really simple at all. By definition, sleuthing is “tracking or following,” similar to what a private detective does, but a PPC manager must do this with statistical analysis.

Data can have a solid impact on your campaigns, but you need the sleuthing skills to make sense of all those numbers. Items that can influence PPC performance consist of a laundry list of details, so PPC managers have to develop laser focus to sift through the fluff and find the goods.

A better term for sleuthing in this field is RCA, or root cause analysis, which refers to the effort to find an issue source. This is a better approach than fixing symptoms.

It’s kind of like figuring out what’s wrong with a patient instead of slapping on a Band-Aid or taking Tylenol for a headache. There’s a lot that have in common with PPC managers, but the approaches are different.

Making the most of your sleuthing

When you’re sleuthing, you need to have a list of the right questions at your fingertips so you stay on track. The “discovery process” takes time, and it’s easy to get sidetracked. You might start with your AdWords account since it’s in your total control, but the root problems might be elsewhere.

Ask yourself whether there might be any tracking issues, and if so, pinpoint what they may be. If several of your campaigns are showing an impact, you might want to start with website tracking.

By tracking URL parameters as well as pixels, you might notice that a seemingly minor change has completely changed your revenue, conversion, or sales. Tracking issues are the place to start since they’re often the easier to fix.

However, if you’re ruled them out, ask yourself if there’s anything hidden in your AdWords change history that indicates a deeper problem. This is usually the go-to source for PPC managers, where they are likely to see if they changed something that put the campaign on a wrong course.

Smart sleuthing

If you can also rule that out, next ask yourself if there’s been a query focus change. Businesses are cyclical, and maybe the search queries have changed so that they’re not as relevant.

Keyword lists expand, and this can lead to results you don’t want. However, if there aren’t any new or weird search queries, the sleuthing continues. Have you sent any new messaging recently? Maybe the real issue is those new ads aren’t as appetizing as you thought.

If your ads are solid, ask yourself whether there are issues with user engagement metrics. Google Analytics can help with this. Check your bounce-back rate and time-on-site data, then compare those to the average.

Raw leads should lead to strong conversation rates, so double-check this figure. Also verify if your lead quality in the CMS is looking good, since this is where you can get data on lead quality.

Solving the case

One of the best questions you can ask yourself is what could possibly make “close-to rates” decrease with quality leads. Why aren’t you closing? You might have duplicate leads hidden in the database of the CMS.

But what could cause those duplicates? It might be nothing more than a manual error, but you need to cross-check with everyone who has access.

Thus you will solve another mystery … but not without the right sleuthing skills.

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