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CPA, The Canary in the SERP

Bob Connolly, Digital Marketing Director, Midwest Dental

As the digital marketing director of a large dental service organization, I manage the PPC campaigns of 220 dental offices. The offices span 17 states and four brands. Each market is very different. Some are rural, some are in the heart of big cities, and some are in-between. Some have one dentist, some have four. Some need 100 new patients a month. Some only need five. With all this variety, there is one thing that doesn't change. If your CPA sucks, your campaigns suck. Heck, I would argue that CPA, or cost per acquisition, is the single biggest indicator of your campaign's health.

Before I explain why let me explain how our campaigns are set up in Google Ads. Each office has several campaigns including new acquisition, brand-only, display and remarketing. And each office has alpha/beta campaigns. These are not of the testing kind however. Instead, they work like this. Each ad and keyword begins life in a beta campaign. When an ad and keyword combination result in a conversion, they are moved into an alpha campaign via an automated script. This keeps the alpha campaigns free from junk and comprised only of successful keywords, and ads. It works awesome unless your CPA has seen better days.

  If your CPA is high, it is very likely that your impressions are low, your conversions are minimal, your ad rank is not number one, and your search lost to relevance is off the charts 

Google is pretty easy. It wants just one thing. That is, when a user enters a search query, your ad matches the query, and your landing page converts the query. That’s it. You do that, and you are golden.

And this is why CPA is maybe the most important indicator of how your campaigns are doing. Look at your CPA. Bad CPA is the canary in the SERP. A silent campaign killer. But if you listen closely, you can use its warning as a great opportunity to fix your accounts. If your CPA is high, it is very likely that your impressions are low, your conversions are minimal, your ad rank is not number one, and your search lost to relevance is off the charts. Not to mention, all that wasted spend.

The nice thing is you don’t have to be a digital genius to fix this. It could be as simple as finding missing conversion code on your landing page. Or maybe your ads are appearing for keywords you don’t want, eating up your budget, never converting, and eventually no longer displaying. By the way, there is absolutely no reason to show for searches that you don’t want. It wastes money and eventually sends your account into a death spiral from which the only return may be to blow it all up and start over. Of course, maybe your ads are just bad.

In the end, it all boils down to this- Are you giving Google what it wants? Ads that match searches that match your landing page, and that convert? It really is that easy. And it all starts and ends with your CPA. So, how’s your CPA?

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