Watching an AdWords program can be a dizzying experience for first-timers or those who haven’t seen them through their entire lifecycle before. The first few months of an AdWords campaign can mess with the psychology of the best of us. There are so many ups & downs with Google’s ad program, many question PPC’s usefulness altogether and go overboard, aborting campaigns that could have been successful.

This outline of what you should expect in early phases of a campaign should give an appreciation of how campaigns evolve over time.

Campaigns Throttled At First


Don’t be surprised if you see lulls or spikes in your campaign performance early on. We have seen this happen with many websites; even sites that have SEO and PPC-friendly landing pages with conversion tracking witness this issue. I often see an initial spike 2 to 5 days into a campaign, which I call the honeymoon period, followed by a slowdown.

To know what’s driving this, know first that AdWords is an auction system. Each company in the auction bids for top placement, but they aren’t all bidding the same amount. Using Quality Score, Google handicaps bidders so each of them pays what’s appropriate for them, given how closely their website matches the keywords that are being bid on. Part of what sets quality score is how past keyword auctions have gone – how often have searchers signaled their satisfaction with clicking on your ad (clickthrough rate, CTR) and what they did after reaching your site (bounce rate).

So realize that when AdWords campaigns are new, they don’t yet have data to rank you on these important metrics. If Google can’t grade your campaign fully, then it’s dangerous for them to give you a top ad spot at a low cost-per-click, ahead of other AdWords advertisers. What if your ad underperforms compared to theirs? Google would miss out on the opportunity to make money with that other advertiser (or worse, if no one clicks on your ad, Google has given that ‘prime rent’ location and all its coveted impressions away for free). So for the past few years, Google has been cautious with new campaigns.

Google can’t throttle you by price until until they have figured out what to charge you. So a few days into a campaign, they throttle back the traffic you see, and they later on make adjustments in light of your track record. This is what’s behind your AdWords traffic going up and down.

Clicks Increase with Data

Around the 2-4 week mark, after Google has enough of your clickthrough data, they start allowing Quality Score to dictate how much traffic you get. From here on, a campaign should start picking up momentum and spending on clicks. All else being equal, you should see a steady increase within this time-frame. It’s important at this time to try spending all your budget, and small and mid-sized businesses find this part of an AdWords campaign very counter-intuitive. Reality is, you need to find how much search traffic inventory is available to be bought on AdWords; or maximum ‘Impression Share’ as Google terms it.

Also, if you turn off some or all of your spend at this point, you will throw off the algorithm and when you turn spending back on, it will take the campaign longer to re-establish momentum.

Testing to Optimize Conversions

Once PPC ‘turbulence’ goes away, campaign traffic stabilizes and focus can turn to performance. During this time, whoever manages the campaign will be adding many keywords, especially long-tail variations of keywords getting high traffic. Ads that were turned on at the start of the campaign are being tweaked. Various landing pages are being put in competition with each other; choices are being made on the best elements to run in A/B tests.

Optimizing is done by restricting weakly performing elements and by promoting the strong ones. These elements will be in flux for much of the campaign, and it takes patience to ride out this phase and learn what yields the best results, but you will get there.

When it comes to AdWords campaigns, know that they follow a lifecycle, accept that things may not go exactly as expected. Let the data guide the way, and your campaign should achieve optimal performance for generating leads.

image credit: Flickr Sid Moswell