According to the Catholic Church, there are seven deadly sins. They are, in effect, the root of all of the other sins.

Can the same be said of PPC? There are many, many mistakes that can be made, but can they be tracked back to seven root causes? And are these causes similar to the seven cardinal sins?

It’s not quite as ridiculous as it sounds…

Gluttony

Gluttony means overindulging to the point of wastefulness (think Cookie Monster from Sesame Street). In the case of PPC, it’s really all about clicks.

You want clicks. If you aren’t getting a lot of clicks, there’s not much point in advertising. And Google rewards high click through rates, so they clearly want you to get a lot as well.

But how many clicks is enough? How far should you be willing to go in order to get those clicks?

Would you write a misleading advert in order to persuade people to click on them? If you got more, you could probably bid less, so the clicks would cost less.

But seriously, all you’re really doing here is to trick people into visiting your website. Once they find out that your special offer isn’t so special, they aren’t going to buy – these clicks are worthless, and you’re just wasting money.

Similarly, bidding on irrelevant keywords because you think those people could be persuaded to buy your product is generally unwise.

The value from PPC comes from the fact that you are advertising to people that are actually looking for your product or service. Don’t sacrifice that for the sake of a few extra clicks…

Lust

You’ve been advertising for a while, and your adverts are appearing in a decent position, but you really like the look of that top position in the paid search results. You know that if you could just get your hands on it, your conversions would go through the roof.

So you pluck up some courage, and decide to chance it and hope for the best. You push your bids up through the roof, and grab that top spot.

Unfortunately, your bids are now so high that each conversion is costing you far more than it’s worth, and your PPC campaign is no longer profitable.

Sinner! Don’t feel fooled by the allure of an attractive position in the search results. Your position may not be sexy, but it gets the job done. Base your bids on a cold, hard assessment of the value of the clicks to you, not on where that puts your adverts.

Pride

“Vanity – Definitely my favourite sin” – Al Pacino.

St Augustine defined Pride as “the love of one’s own excellence.” There’s nothing wrong with being excellent at PPC – I am, and it doesn’t do my accounts any harm!

But it becomes a problem if you start to believe that there’s nothing more you can do to improve your account. Not staying on top of the latest developments by Google or reading up on other people’s blogs because you think you know everything is pretty daft.

Good PPC analysts should constantly be challenging themselves to improve the performance of their accounts.

It’s very easy not to run search query reports, advert tests, and analyse the performance of every aspect of the account to find ways to make it better, simply because you’re confident that there’s no chance of finding anything to improve.

Don’t believe that your account can’t be improved, just because you’ve been working on it for a while…

Avarice/Greed

They say that the love of money is the root of all evil. That said, since this is only one of the seven cardinal sins, clearly ‘they’ aren’t the same people that came up with the list.

And I’m pretty sure that at least some of the evil things I’ve done in my life have been motivated by something other than money!

This is perhaps more of an issue for agencies than anyone else. If you are being paid a percentage of the amount being spent as your management fee, there’s clearly an incentive to spend the client’s budget in its entirety, whether it’s in the client’s best interest or not.

On occasion in the past, we’ve come across accounts where there were bid management rules tied not to the performance of the account, but to the amount that had been spent, so the objective of the account had been subverted from maximising its profitability to maximising its spend.

This seems to be self-defeating in the long term. The best way to retain a client is to deliver great results, and retaining a client is much more profitable that squeezing one for every penny you can in the short term.

Perhaps more generally, the sin could be optimising to the wrong objective, because that is what you will be judged on.

If the objective of a PPC account is to generate as many sales as possible cost-effectively, but the cost per conversion is a key attribute, then there’s a clear incentive to reduce the bids (and hence the cost per conversion) even if the overall effectiveness of the account suffers as a result.

Wrath

I’ve never heard of anyone making a bad PPC decision as a result of being angry, but perhaps I’ve just led a sheltered life.

However, the exact nature of the seven sins has varied over time, and it’s worth noting that when the Catholic Church came up with the ‘flip side,’ and the ‘seven cardinal virtues,’ they matched Wrath with Patience.

Wrath may not make people do foolish things to their PPC accounts, but impatience is perhaps the most insidious of all of the PPC sins.

All good PPC analysts (i.e. the ones that want to go to PPC heaven) check the performance of their accounts at least once per day. But what happens when inevitably the account has a bad day?

It’s very easy to jump straight into the account, looking for any little indication of what happened on the account yesterday, and make rash decisions based on insufficient information.

Reducing bids based on day or two’s data, when the previous bid was based on the performance of an Ad Group over months, is clearly going to do more harm than good.

It’s the same with pausing keywords that don’t appear to be working, or even ending tests too early. Your new remarketing campaign may not have delivered great results in the first few weeks, but you should be pretty certain that it’s not going to work before you pause it.

Running it for an extra week may cost you a bit of money if it really isn’t effective, but if it turns out to be profitable, pausing it prematurely will cost you far more in the long run.

Envy

This is a bit of an odd one. It’s not something that I’ve ever really understood, but it’s surprisingly commonplace.

It appears that many advertisers are more interested in what their competitors are saying and doing than they are in their own accounts. There are many tools out there that try to record exactly who is advertising on what keywords, and will give you a list of keywords targeted by each of your competitors.

To an extent, this makes some sense. There may be keywords that you haven’t thought of. To disregard this would be to commit the sin of Pride, but just how far do you take this?

Just because your competitors are bidding on a keyword, it doesn’t mean that it will work for you. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try new things, but at the same time, you shouldn’t assume that your competitors know what they are doing!

Adverts are a great example of when you should be looking at what your competitors are doing. But you certainly don’t want to copy their adverts. Instead, you want to distinguish yourself from them.

Give people a reason to click on your advert instead of somebody else’s, or they won’t click on it, it’s as simple as that.

Sloth

Sloth is defined as spiritual or emotional apathy, leading to physical inactivity (more or less).

This is probably the most common sin amongst PPC analysts, and the effect is similar to that of Pride, you don’t make the changes that your account requires in order to deliver the best results that it can.

Where an analyst has many accounts to manage, or many other duties in addition to managing the account, it’s very easy to neglect certain aspects of a PPC account, perhaps focusing on more interesting tasks.

Perhaps this is most evidenced by a lack of advert testing. There are rarely good reasons not to be testing adverts, only if the adverts are genuinely unlikely to improve significantly, and test versions are almost certain to reduce the overall performance is it not worthwhile. Otherwise, the potential to improve your click through rate and potentially your conversion rate remain untapped.

Checking though search query reports for new negative keywords is another of the less exciting pieces of analysis to do, and can be left undone if the analyst lacks the drive to improve the account performance to its fullest extent.

Perhaps in its mildest form, Sloth can lead to analysts not keeping abreast of the latest advancements in PPC (much as Pride can), not noticing that campaigns are running out of money before the end of the day, or just making careless errors.

Conclusion

So, are all PPC mistakes the result of one of these sins? In some respects, I’d say that they are, though perhaps it could be simplified further. 

If you manage your account diligently and patiently, working solely toward achieving the true objective and focusing every element of the campaign to that end, not allowing yourself to be excessively distracted by what others are doing, or allowing yourself to believe the task is ever done, then there is no barrier to your account delivering remarkable performance.