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Well, why not?

Paid search doesn’t always work. For some, it probably feels like it never works or might even be a scam. Unfortunately, I know a lot of people who hold those opinions. Since I’ve been in the search and digital marketing industry for quite a few years, I can point to hundreds of personal experiences where it does work and has worked extremely well! 

However, I’m not here for a debate. There are 7 reasons why PPC doesn’t work and I want to unpack the specific reasons to help do everything possible to show why some think it isn’t worth it. Unfortunately, I’ve seen all of these and they are legit reasons why paid search won’t work or why its performance will be limited.

Unlike failed SEO, with PPC you’re investing in resources to manage it as well as an ad budget. The search engines will take your money whether your PPC campaign is working or not. With that being said, let’s understand why it doesn’t work so we can avoid wasted budgets and efforts!

Some reasons you might not have considered before

1. Unrealistic Expectations

I recently wrote about the reasons why SEO doesn’t work for Search Engine Journal. Unrealistic expectations are a key there too. We have the ability to use the search engines’ tools for planning as well as third-party research tools to do some predicting and projecting.

It is dangerous to launch a PPC campaign for the first time without doing your homework. Going off of hearing that a competitor or a friend in the industry gets tons of business from PPC is the wrong justification.

We have the ability to project PPC results out as much as the tools allow us to. Use them and have an educated point of view for setting goals and the right expectations before investing.

2. Lack of Experience

A lot of the time when I hear about people writing off PPC, it is due to having run a campaign with inexperienced in-house staff or vendors. I know it can seem tempting to take a new account ad credit from Google and to start building out your own account. I get it. However, there’s a reason there’s a whole industry of paid search practitioners and providers.

There are a ton of things to learn, things not stated clearly in the search engine advertising interfaces, and again, they’ll take your money whether it is working or not.

If you’re going to go it alone, please, please, please at least go through the training options available for the search engine(s) you’re starting up with. There’s a reason there are hours of training videos and certification specializations.

3. Falling Out of Date

Building on the inexperience risk is the aspect of falling out of date. It isn’t enough to learn and do PPC. Things change. Even critical details like match types and how they work. Just when you think you have it mastered, something new emerges–or is taken away.

Yes, contracting out to a vendor who has gotten stale or hiring someone who hasn’t done PPC in a while is a risk. I’m talking more about not staying on top of what the search engines are telling us and what the industry is writing about regarding known upcoming changes and those smaller nuances that happen over time.

4. A Loop that Isn’t Closed

Paid search might feel like it can operate more in a silo or independently from other digital marketing channels. In some ways, that’s true. However, it is a dangerous game to keep PPC on an island and expect a strong performance.

PPC (as well as other digital marketing channels) fail when it doesn’t have a closed-loop on performance. I can pull all the right levers in Google Ads to generate impressions, clicks, and even conversions, but if those conversions don’t become sales, then none of it matters in the end.

I shared this in my SEO article and it is true for PPC as well. There’s nothing worse than having reports and charts that show everything green, up, and to the right, and having a client or boss shoot it all down by saying that it has had zero impact on sales or closed business.

I’m not saying that what happens after conversion is on the PPC, but it is on PPC to optimize and get to a point where the right traffic is converting.

5. No Clear Funnel

A factor that sometimes contributes to not having a closed reporting loop–and one that is critical in unlocking PPC’s potential, is having a funnel.

Sure, it is tempting and advisable to start with targeting traffic that is close to a purchase. That’s not the whole story or opportunity though. Knowing the normal customer journey, who people research before they buy, and the factors that go into that are critical.

We need to know the overall marketing funnel, targeting, and customer journey. Without it, PPC will fail or be severely limited. The funnel impacts keywords, targeting, messaging, remarketing, and how someone is engaged with. This is super important.

6. Missing Support

Again, PPC can’t happen in a silo. A lot of the work happens in an advertising platform, sure. However, we’re ultimately talking about traffic that we want to do something specific. That traffic is going to a landing page or website.

Unless the person managing PPC is well versed in branding, copywriting, UX, and CRO, then PPC can’t be put in the silo. It is necessary to provide the paid search effort with all of the resources needed to see impressions and clicks become conversions. Give them content people and the tools necessary to do the job all the way.

7. Following the Wrong Advice

I noted earlier the critical need to stay up to date and not fall behind on search engine advertising functionality updates. That also includes best practices and strategies. Continuing to learn, read, and keep us is important. Being closed-minded or on a single track is dangerous.

However, so is being wide open and following the wrong advice. Whether that is advice from a search engine advertising rep that doesn’t know your business as well as you (don’t get me wrong, there are many that are great), copying a competitor’s strategy, or implementing something someone else wrote about online, use discernment.

I’ve been to many enlightening sessions at industry conferences with friends and colleagues presenting compelling viewpoints and debating the merits of their strategies and approaches. Whether it relates to how to structure a campaign, how many keywords to have in an ad group, or the use of match types, there isn’t one single way.

My agency has taken over accounts from “experts” who only focus on a single industry and made improvements. We have also lost accounts to those niche specialists. There are many ways to succeed. Don’t get stuck on one method, don’t blindly follow advice, and do have a testing plan.

The takeaway

Unless someone has written off PPC forever, my hope is that through understanding the reasons it doesn’t work, anyone who is skeptical or has been burned in the past can know that it can work.

I’m not promising that it is a magical revenue source for any specific company or industry. I know some specific legit cases where I have recommended against it. However, I also know that if the reasons it didn’t work could have been avoided, it is often worth a second chance if we can work through the checklist I have unpacked to get ourselves to the best potential outcome.

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