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This week’s PPCChat session was hosted by Julie F Bacchini where she sought experts’ views on plateaus in performance, what are some things PPCers can try in that dreaded plateau phase, any theories about what causes plateaus and more.


Q1: Have you experienced this – you’ve got an account performing well, but it gets stuck at a certain level and seems to want to just stay there?


Sure. @stevegibsonppc

Woo boy, have I. Happens pretty frequently in my experience. Especially if you’re dealing with volume constraints. @CJSlattery

Most definitely. It can be maddening… @NeptuneMoon

Several times over the years. @robert_brady

Yes. It seems to be caused by limited creative in my experience. Especially if the ad set has plenty of runway with a large audience. @RyBen3

Sometimes this is because more work needs to be done, sometimes this is because creative/strategic thinking needs to be changed, sometimes it’s just the reality of that industry and PPC… and the plateau isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. @PPCKirk

It happens quite a bit. Sometimes it’s the client (not wanting to change things, no budget, no testing). sometimes it’s volume. You gotta come up with something though. @360vardi

Um, YES! @JuliaVyse

Ugh, yes. @adwordsgirl

Absolutely, there always seems to be a limit with keyword traffic but is important to work on the little things for long-term growth. @MaverickAdverts

It is always interesting to me when this happens. I enjoy the puzzle of trying to figure out what the next step is, and just how we are going to get to that next level. @Jturnerpdx

Oooooh yes, I have! too many times to count. @mindswanppc

Sorry late, but yes and it drives me little nuts. @lchasse

Often. We just use fancy words and say “we found the inflection point”. @JonKagan


Q2: Have you also experienced accounts or campaigns where you just can’t get them to perform to the level you want, no matter what you try?


Absolutely! not necessarily tanking, but can’t get the place it needs to be. @JuliaVyse

There have been goals I’ve fallen short with. Sometimes there are things out of your control. @MaverickAdverts

Those were THE WORST, always makes you feel like you have no clue what you’re doing. @HomeOfJones

Also yes. If there is little to no investment in awareness or branding, search does not generate demand, it merely captures it… @NeptuneMoon

I hate it when I come up with a great idea or copy and then it doesn’t perform. It’s important to follow the data, but it’s also important to see if it’s affecting lift in other areas where you didn’t think it would grow. @RyBen3

Had this happen many times as well. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be, sometimes you’re just not doing it right. Can definitely be infuriating though. @CJSlattery

Only time this happens to me is if client just doesn’t have the budget for proper campaign management or isn’t poperly funded or motivated to compete in the pool they have chosen. @ynotweb

Also a big yes. Sometimes there are auctions where the client just can’t justify the CPC even at healthy conversion rates. @robert_brady

Yes, though sometimes that may be a matter of changing expectations. Maybe the best thing for that Search account isn’t to keep beating profit out of it, but to maintain it and expand into another channel to increase targeted searches! @PPCKirk

In those case perhaps goals is the issue. In other times you try to do what you think will work better and it fails. Like the old structure or targeting was clearly dumb, and you’re like shit I can fix this in a day. and then it doesn’t work and you are clueless. @360vardi

CRO is a major challenge here. you might be doing everything right, accounting for every specific nuance, but if the funnel is broken post-click, you/the client/the UX team HAVE to fix it. govt, insurance, health & financial clients have a real challenge here. @JuliaVyse

Yes yes. Especially when it’s a case of fixing the quality score. It’s hard for my brain to not go to a “let’s just pause those keywords” strategy”. @mindswanppc

Ugh, yes. Sometimes its a budget issue, sometimes we’re not on the right platform and sometimes it’s just not meant to be. @adwordsgirl

Yep, it happens. The worst is when there is no logic as to why. @JonKagan


Q3: Do you find that plateaus in performance happen more frequently on some platforms vs. others? If so, which ones?


Search and FB mostly, but I wonder if its because there’s often less investment in other channels. = more room to grow. @JuliaVyse

I find plateauing to happen more frequently on Search, simply because you can run out of search volume, especially for niche industries. And going broader is often a ton of waste. @CJSlattery

A search seems to keep chugging along regardless, it tends to be things like Reddit and Twitter I’ve had issues with stalling out in the past. @HomeOfJones

I’d say display campaigns when targeting niche groups. You can always create new ads, but it’s hard to succeed when your market it tapped. @MaverickAdverts

Search, by itself, is not an infinite well. For it to grow, more people must actually be searching for what you’re selling, either by brand or generically. Social tends to be limited more by budget and/or creative, in my experience, if your target is big enough. @NeptuneMoon

I would say search plateaus more because there’s a finite thing you could do at some point. You can always test other displays, paid social. @360vardi

I think we’ve seen it happen the most in Search mainly because there are only so many people who are searching for xyz product/solution. @adwordsgirl

Yes, especially with search. If you are already getting most of the impression share. Search is driven by user volume, which means there is a limit. @lchasse

Hate to say it, but I usually plateau first on Microsoft. But I also notice it varies by vertical. @JonKagan


Q4: What are some things you like to try if you find yourself in that dreaded plateau phase? Does it vary by platform?


For text campaigns, I try to expand keywords slowly and experiment with bidding strategies. For display (including social), it’s about targeting and creativity. @MaverickAdverts

@markbclicky & @JuliaVyse both mentioned it but CRO and site changes tend to be big for me in resolving the plateau’s but it can depend on channel. @HomeOfJones

Shake it up with something we haven’t tried before that (like weird ad copy shifts) or things we have tried a long time ago and didn’t work. I don’t like it when a client said “we’ve tried it 5 years”. Digital shit changes constantly. @360vardi

For Search when all the go-to optimization measures aren’t working – it’s time for audience and radical testing. Audience – which ones should we be excluding, bidding up, etc. Radical testing – totally different LPs (not just editing the lp we are using). @mindswanppc

Try to see if there’s a way to expand the reach even further but we usually start to look at the site & try to see if we can diagnose why conversion rates aren’t higher. @adwordsgirl

Though we pull different levers per platform, I like to step back and look at the product, the message, how we’re qualifying leads, all those things that make a funnel fancy! @JuliaVyse

I like to start reading industry trends. I also have a go-to playlist that gets the brainwaves moving in diff ways to stimulate ideas. I think it’s important to realize you don’t have all the answers & you should leverage relationships/thought leaders where possible. @RyBen3

Reexamine assumptions. For example, are the people who are converting actually the people who you think most convert? Sometimes small adjustments or pulling out an ad group/set to be more specific can make a difference. (Also, sometimes not). @NeptuneMoon

“Like to try” maybe strong wording, but begrudgingly, sometimes we have to make radical changes which are very uncomfortable. This is for clients that may be major players, so the stakes are high. @ynotweb

If we are seeing search plateau, you can (1) try expanding your keywords, (2) look for other areas such as video or (3) work on improving CRO on the site, so you optimize what you are already getting. @lchasse

Comb through the site data, to see if there is something glaring showing why folks are abandoning. Then eyeball the competition ads. @JonKagan

(but really for all these questions) check. the. tracking. uuuuuugh. @JuliaVyse

On the search end, DSA can be worth testing. Combine with RLSA and you might find some new keywords from what your past visitors are searching.@timothyjjensen

There are infinite strategies to try when you hit a plateau but only a few will be likely to ‘move the needle’. Needle movers = new channel (Bing, Google Shopping), the new audience (international market maybe?) and new offers. @FindingAmanda

I like to get a fresh set of eyes on the account. Asking someone else who hasn’t been in the account to take a look has always revealed a few ideas of something I just didn’t notice bc I got stuck in the weeds. @Kristin_palmer1

Depends on the platform — for search, I tend to switch to a core + bro-dience targeting structure; for FB/IG, I tend to start testing different audiences and creative, then scaling up as appropriate. @SamRuchlewicz

Think of new innovative ways for new campaigns, maybe hit up social media platforms and use interactive campaigns. @thisisnotjoycee


Q5: What do you find, generally, is a client’s attitude about a performance plateau?


Depends on where the plateau is. Is it plateaued at a high-performing level? Pretty cool with it because we’re making money and open to push into new things? performing not so well? Discouraged. “Maybe it just doesn’t work for us.” @CJSlattery

My favorite answer: it depends! a plateau can happen in a good/profitable place. and it can happen in a not good place. and if your client is looking for long term loyalty, they will react differently than someone chasing growth at all costs. @JuliaVyse

I find that it’s very linked to the amount of internal pressure they are (or aren’t) receiving combined with their personality type. @Kristin_palmer1

They do not like it. Most of my clients are very growth-oriented, so plateaus are just walls we have not knocked down or climbed over yet. @lchasse

At some point, they think they don’t need you anymore. Why am I paying you if I see the thing every week, month” That why it’s important to always add value outside of performance. @360vardi

Truthfully the ones who are discouraged are harder to deal with for me than the ones who are angry. @CJSlattery

To be honest, a lot of the time as long as it isn’t costing them money they don’t really realize but for big accounts, they are more open to try and break the plateau. @HomeOfJones

Usually to try another form of marketing. @MaverickAdverts

I agree it does depend where the plateau happens – if the initiative can’t gain momentum it is very different from “we are making really good numbers, but of course always would like more…” @NeptuneMoon

Client’s often come to me wanting me to “fix PPC” when there are bigger business factors (ie website issues, inventory issues, resellers with lower prices, etc) that are hurting performance. @FindingAmanda

I try and communicate to them about the possibility of it in advance, and keep that info coming the whole time, so they aren’t surprised and take it in stride. @JonKagan

Sorry, another point: Which is also why I’m worried about the trend to black box the information. We it becomes all about results, then the relations with clients become 100% transactional “what have you done for me # wise lately? @360vardi

They think we are coasting. Even if every variable is the same MoM, we should be able to extract some kind of insight to continue to improve performance. If it’s flat @ cost metrics the client is happy w/, then let’s test a new campaign type or channel. @SarahMRomano

We’ve ‘tapped out’ of our market on possible search impressions. If that’s so, you need a better product. If you are serving a need in the world, you should have an audience. @RyBen3

They tend to question why they’re still paying us. @adwordsgirl


Q6: Do you find that performance plateaus share any commonalities, such as length of time, a certain level of volume, etc.?


There are so many variables, so I try not to connect dots that might not be there. If I see results trending down or being stagnant, I try to examine the specific situation. @MaverickAdverts

I find it happens after a restructure. So I intervene, audit, suggest some major changes, then give the changes time to iterate. from there, it often gets to a good but stable place. @JuliaVyse

Other than plateaus due to extremely limited audience/traffic, we generally do not see a plateau before 16-18 months (in paid search), even when dealing with customers who receive >75% of traffic. Always improving ROI in some way, even if traffic remains the same. @ynotweb

Nothing like that, but it happens when you put all your focus into one area and don’t develop other things (like site changes, other channels) focusing on individual trees rather than the forest. @360vardi

Hitting a plateau usually after a period of time, just means it is time to push into some different areas to continue growth. Whether that is new campaign types, new channels, etc… There is usually a way to push past, it just may not be easy to find. @lchasse

Honestly, I’ve never really even thought about trying to figure that out. All accounts are different, I don’t think it’s worth the time. @adwordsgirl

Time on site/bounce rate always seems to become most abundant when I can’t seem to grow it any further. @JonKagan


Q7: What do you do if you have “tried everything” and the account or campaign just won’t budge?


This is a tough one. it’s different per client and per goal, but I like to try a new channel and see how they work together (or don’t). @JuliaVyse

This is a tough one. And by that point, I’m usually feeling pretty bad about myself on the account. Will try to suggest doing something completely different but usually the client doesn’t trust us because of lack of performance and then we get fired. @CJSlattery

Phone a friend. @MaverickAdverts

If you’ve tried everything within a particular channel, trying another channel to see if you can get a little momentum going. It can be hard to get buy in to try another channel when the one(s) you’re currently managing stagnate. Optimism helps and a plan. @NeptuneMoon

Burn the office. Collect insurance money. OR get my head out of my ass, ask for help from someone who doesn’t live and breath the account. “tried everything” doesn’t really exist. Also this industry changes, so there’s always something. @360vardi

Never, ever give up! I had a client in a declining industry that liked me because I kept trying new ideas and making small improvements. @FindingAmanda

In that situation, it’s decision time. You usually have 3 options: (a) the PE approach (cut everything that doesn’t perform mercilessly); (b) the VC approach (pour jet fuel on the spark + see if you can start a bonfire) or (c) the pivot (find a new market/value prop). @SamRuchlewicz

I try to get someone else to take a look at the account to see if they can see something that I can’t. @adwordsgirl

I will send a note to #ppcchat immediately!  Tough one, but I think it is channel changing time. The other thing is to just have a good old fashioned brainstorming session with your client. Talk crazy ideas and start testing. @lchasse

If its a successful campaign and it’s making the client money- then we recommend expanding to other outlets/platforms. If it never returns on investment, then we are upfront that they shouldn’t waste their money & should re-evaluate product, audience, pricing, etc. @ynotweb

Don’t be afraid to be honest and say “I’m not sure what else we can be doing in this platform, but I think (idea x) has promised”. Let clients know you want to see success for them as much as they want to see that success. @NeptuneMoon


Q8: Do you have any theories about what causes plateaus to happen in the first place?


Seasonal trends for some businesses – search volume isn’t always there in slower times. @timothyjjensen

It’s algorithmic media, so if a bot is aiming at CPA, CPCs, video views or whatever, it’s hard to break it away from what it’s learned to do for months. laws of inertia as applied to G/FB algos. @JuliaVyse

I think plateaus are natural and expected. I think everything eventually ends at some sort of plateau. You’re usually not on the ultimate plateau but over the long term, improvement and growth trends towards zero. @CJSlattery

The first obvious one (not by anyone here in #ppcchat) is laziness. Not willing to test new ideas. Otherwise, sometimes we need to jump out of that box to find growth opportunities! @lchasse

I like to think that the better you are at what you do, the harder it is to move the needle. Like 100 Meter sprinter will improve milliseconds at a time. @360vardi

Be honest with the client. Sometimes, you just can’t force a square peg in a round hole. @JonKagan

Uninformed or unrealistic expectations. @JonKagan

Part of it is that the machines are still pretty dumb and don’t really know how to deal with even micro seasonality, for example. So taking back come manual control if you gave it over can help. @NeptuneMoon

Some combination of (a) the law of shitty clickthrough rates, (b) limited economic growth, (c) increased competition and (d) rapid pace of innovation tends to conspire to stagnate/plateau campaigns. @SamRuchlewicz


Q9: What do you wish clients understood better about account performance over time?


Focus on long term trends, not short term. @timothyjjensen

Related to plateaus but also swings one way or another, and that’s if we’re doing our jobs well, the general trend is towards improvement and growth but there are periods where it stagnates or sometimes goes the other way. @CJSlattery

Customer acquisition and lifetime value of a customer. Sometimes clients look too closely at just the base numbers vs. growth and lifetime value. The other area is usability and CRO on your website or through your call center, etc… Big Impacts! @lchasse

That we can’t control everything, but we will try to move as many levers as we can. Sometimes some people don’t convert because they didn’t feel like it at the moment or couldn’t find their wallet. @360vardi

Look beyond CPA, ROAS, etc. How has the health and strength of the business grown? Think beyond the first action/sale. Really look at your whole customer experience through actual customers’ eyes. @NeptuneMoon

If you are good at what you do and have maximized your budget, there is always a ceiling in your future for any single platform/campaign. @ynotweb

Con’t: what I can do is bring good traffic to you. you have a role to play by having something worth a damn for visitors to enjoy once they arrive. @JuliaVyse

That there is a lot of randomness in the short-term outcomes, but a relatively high degree of predictability in long-term outcomes/performance. Don’t change things because of a short-term dip, but absolutely do change things when that dip becomes a pattern. @SamRuchlewicz

What @SamRuchlewicz said!! don’t panic over 1 day of performance anomaly! Wait for the trend! @mindswanppc


PPCChat Participants


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