How To Troubleshoot & Optimize A Bad Performing Google Ad Campaign

How To Troubleshoot & Optimize A Bad Performing Google Ad Campaign


Google Ad campaigns can sometimes feel they are headed in the wrong direction and every new change you make to try to steady performance seems to just make things worse. 


If you haven’t created your campaign yet, here is a great article on how to set up a Google Ads campaign.


A lot of our clients at Half Past Nine come to us from other advertising agencies that were not able to get good returns. 


Calculate your current ROAS (Return On Ad Spend) here.


We have inherited a lot of bulky Google Ad accounts that we are tasked to “fix”. 


The process I go through to audit and correct a campaign is written about in the article below.


However, let me save you time if you are reading this trying to figure out what is wrong with your account. 


90% of the time with poor performing accounts it is the Ad Account Structure that is causing the issue. 


The Ad Account Structure consists of the campaigns, ad groups, keywords, and negative keywords. 


Believe it or not, the way these are arranged makes a huge difference in performance. 


We recently took over a huge account that had this issue. 


I moved around a few keywords and their CPA (Cost per Acquisition) immediately dropped 20% and stayed that low since then. 


“Thank you so much! What did you add to the account?”.




I can’t tell you how many times, early in my career, I would stare at the Google Ad dashboard and not understand what is going wrong. 


Now the ad account structure is always the first thing I check when auditing an account. 


How You Should Structure Your Google Ad Campaign


Google ad campaigns should follow a very simple structure to ensure there is no internal bidding and you are getting the best cost per click. 


Each campaign you run should only have 1 offer or 1 product. 


For example, if you sell various types of shoes, you may want to set up a campaign to show only your sandals. 


The more specific your campaign is to what a user typed into Google the more likely they will click and convert. 


Within your ad groups of the campaign, you should break down your campaign further into different segments. 


If you are creating a campaign for sandals, your ad groups could be separated by the different brands you offer. 


You will then want to add new keywords to each ad group but this is the part where most advertisers mess up. 


Never use the same or similar keyword in two different ad groups or search campaigns. 


For example, let’s say out of the sandals you sell you carry Birkenstocks and Rainbow Sandals. 


You should make an ad group for each and within those ad groups, you should have specific keywords for each brand.


Campaign: Sandals


Ad group: Birkenstocks

Keywords: Birkenstock sandals, Birkenstocks, Where to buy Birkenstocks, Cheapest place to buy Birkenstocks, Birkenstocks online

Negative keywords: rainbow sandals, boots, socks, dress shoes


Ad group: Rainbow Sandals

Keywords: Rainbow sandals, rainbow shoes, where to buy rainbow sandals, cheapest place to buy rainbow sandals, rainbow sandals online

Negative keywords: birkenstocks, boots, socks, dress shoes


This is a very simple account structure breakdown but where we see the issue is when different ad groups have the same keywords, like “+sandals” in both. 


This means you are bidding against yourself which will drive your cost per click higher than it needs to be. 


Good Practice


It is also good practice to include negative keywords within each ad group of the main keywords in the other ad groups. 


Also by structuring your campaign like this you can better write the ad copy that will persuade a user to convert because it will be very specific to their needs. 


If you need to check this for your campaign you can either go into each ad group and try to identify keywords that are crossing over or you can play with the filter tool to show you all keywords in bulk.


Go to your campaign, click “Keywords” in the left sidebar, then make sure you are looking at all enabled keywords and add a column for “ad group” to see where each keyword is routing. 


Use the filter tool to search for specific phrases like “rainbow sandal”. 


You should see that all the keywords coming up should be routed to the same ad group. 


If you see several ad groups using the same or similar keyword you need to pause the outlier keyword and move it to the better-suited ad group. 


You should do this for your negative keywords too. 


For negative keywords, you should have specific keywords for each ad group, then also general keywords that are used account-wide. 


You may sell shoes but not socks or accessories, you would want to add “socks” as an account-wide negative keyword. 


Once your ad account structure is properly set up or checked you can move on to the next audit technique. 


Understanding Why Google Ad Performance Dropped


After running the check for any structural issues to eliminate internal bidding, now is the time to do a basic performance check to identify any sudden or gradual drops in the charts.


Account Overview


First, I will look at the overall account performance in the “Overview” tab. 


The metrics I like to look at are Clicks, Conversions, Cost per Conversion, or Conv Value/Cost (if you have tracking properly set up), then Cost. 

I usually do 4 basic checks with the date ranges:


  1. 30 days compared to the previous period 
  2. 90 days compared to the previous period 
  3. 12 months compared to the previous 12 months
  4. Last month compared to the same month but a year prior


Usually, at a very high level, this should show you any dramatic drop in performance. 


Campaign Overview

After I observe the account performance, I dig a little deeper into each individual campaign. 


I pretty much repeat the same 4 checks for each campaign to try to identify any performance changes.


If I notice something on the campaign level I will observe the “Change History” tab on the lower left sidebar of the screen. 


I will change the date range to 30 days before and after the day the performance changed. 


For example, if I noticed a big dip in performance on March 30th, I would set the date range to March 1st to April 30th. 


Then in the Change History tab, it should point out all the changes made in this date range for this campaign. 


I can then start to see the specific optimizations made to the campaign within that date range that most likely caused the dip in performance. 


If the change was made within the last 30 days or so, usually they can be “undone” within Google with a simple button click. 


Unfortunately, if you didn’t catch this mistake in time, you may just have to read the changes that were made (Most commonly: keywords added or removed, or bidding strategies changed) and undo them manually by adding back the keywords that were removed or changing the bid strategy in the “Settings” section. 


Did you have reviewed each campaign and still can’t find any noticeable cause of the downward performance?


You still have a couple more options to explore. 


Ad Group Overview 


Usually, any performance changes can be found within the campaign level overview, but if you could not find anything you can still look further into each ad group of each campaign. 


Hopefully, you wouldn’t have to do this because it is tedious and can be time-consuming.


I would repeat all 4 checks I have mentioned above for each Ad Group. 


Sometimes you can find deeper issues with performance. 


If you are not sure what to look for in the chart, you should see some type of consistency with clicks, costs, and conversions. 


If there is an issue with the ad group you will see a drop in either spend, clicks, or conversions. 


This drop could be sudden or gradual but this is what you are looking for. 


Last Resort (Insert Papa Roach Reference)


At this point if you have followed this guide on troubleshooting and optimizing your Google Ad campaign, you should have verified the following:

  • No internal bidding exists and your campaign structure is set up to give the lowest cost per click and deliver a highly tailored ad to your audience
  • You have looked over the account, campaign, and ad groups to see any sudden or gradual drops in performance and identified the changes that were made that could have caused this performance change 


Now there are two things left that could have potentially caused a negative impact on your campaign:

  1. Ad score 
  2. Impression share


Ad Score

Believe it or not, I have inherited very large accounts with all the ads having an ad score of “poor”. 


If you don’t know, when setting up search ads in Google, there is a very helpful tool that tells you your “Ad Score”. 


The better your ad score is the more likely your ad will win the top-of-page bid over your competitor’s ad. 


Sometimes when performance drops it is just because your ads are fatigued and need to be updated to an “Excellent” rating. 


This is the last factor when Google decides which advertiser wins the top spot, with better Ad Scores or Quality Scores your performance is most likely to improve. 


Dynamic Text Replacement


Also, an expert tip to improve Quality Score is to use Dynamic Text Replacement on your Landing Pages. 


This would auto-insert exactly what the user typed in on Google, within your text ad, and on your landing page. 


Isn’t that cool? 


It also improves your quality score and conversion rates!


For example, if you sell Juice subscription boxes online, you can utilize Dynamic Text Replacement in this way:

  • User types in “Healthy Juice Subscription” 
  • Google shows your ad that says “Healthy Juice Subscription | Exactly What You’ve Been Looking For | Juice Store Express” 
  • User clicks your ad and the landing page says “Have you been looking for a Healthy Juice Subscription? You’re not alone! Read more about our organic juices, juice cleanses, or monthly subscriptions below” 
  • The user starts to read more
  • 10 seconds pass and a pop-up appear saying “1st order 35% off! Enter your email below for a discount code on your Healthy Juice Subscription” 


This is a very advanced strategy that always leads to more conversions because you tailor your funnel to each individual user. 


Improving Ad Score and Quality Score can improve your campaign performance but this most likely won’t cause a “night and day” difference. 


It is always good practice to keep your ads at the highest rating possible for maximized potential out of your ad budget. 


Impression Share


If you have gone through this entire article and still cannot find the cause of your Google campaign’s performance drop, I feel very bad for you. 


This can be very frustrating and this is a position I have found myself in a lot when I first started out. 


However, I started realizing, if I can’t find any changes that would have impacted performance it is 9 times out of 10 an external factor. 


Usually what it comes down to is the market is becoming more competitive. 


A new competitor could have started advertising on the same keywords you are targeting.


Sometimes existing competitors decide to triple their budgets and this will hurt your performance. 


If this is happening it means you are losing more “Impression Share”.


You can observe if this is happening to you within the “Insights” tab on the left sidebar of Google Ads or on the front page of your account “Overview”. 


Competitor Research Tools


Also if you have access to either SEMrush, SpyFu, or Ahrefs for competitor research, you can observe trends better. 


We once had a client that had a very gradual decline in performance every month since the pandemic hit (in the pandemic they did very well actually). 


I was having a very hard time trying to identify the exact cause of this decline then eventually looked at 3 of their closest competitor’s website traffic using SEMrush.


All three had the exact same traffic pattern as our client with a gradual decline since the end of 2020. 


Our client was still outperforming their competitors but the pattern was the same across the board.


This showed us that the gradual decline in performance was caused by an external factor that is also affecting the entire industry. 


(The example above makes more sense if I could share the industry that the client was in but due to client confidentiality I cannot). 


Best Google Ad Optimization Processes


Running a Google ad campaign can seem overwhelming but this should be handled very patiently. 


Sometimes clients will pressure you for good results immediately and it is important to be bold to explain to them it takes time to properly optimize a campaign. 


Optimization Frequency & Filters


Google recommends not changing a campaign after its launch for 3 months. 


This is probably the best time frame however I rarely listen to this. 


For a brand new campaign, I will wait 2 weeks before I start to make optimizations. 


You have to allow enough time for Google to show your ad to enough people and collect statistically significant data. 


After the first two weeks, I revisit a campaign weekly and I will make gradual changes taking into account the best performing keywords, ad groups, and campaigns. 


If you make changes to a campaign too often you run the risk of not collecting enough data.


You need data to understand if that change made a positive or negative impact on performance. 


About every 3 months or so I will go into a campaign and make huge cuts using the filter tool within the keywords.


If your campaign has been running for over 3 months I would recommend looking into these filter settings and “cutting the fat” or pausing the poor performers (Keywords & Ad groups) of your campaign.


  • Set date range to previous 90 days
  • Add filter of “Conversions < 1”
  • Add filter of “CTR < 2%” 
  • Add filter of “Cost > $0.01”


This should show you a query of keywords that are performing poorly and spending your budget. 


Every campaign is different so make sure these recommendations fit your specific campaign before pausing anything.


I will also check the campaign’s average CPC for each keyword.


To make sure the price we are paying is in line with the keyword research we did for the campaign. 


Didn’t do keyword research? You can try it out here.



Google Ads has a really great feature on the sidebar called “Recommendations”. 


When this feature first came out I loved it and I would apply every recommendation. 


Except campaign performance started getting worse. 


I had to do a lot of digging to fix each campaign.


Then I realized that these automatically generated suggestions aren’t perfect.


I do, however, like to go into this tab to see what Google recommends.


Sometimes it catches things I may have missed in an account.


Before I make any changes I manually verify everything. 


A lot of times I find the recommendations are close but not exactly good fits for the current campaign. 


Google Automated Rules


Make sure your ads never surprise you with a huge drop-off when you least expect. 


You can set up automated rules on the Campaign, Ad group, keyword, and demographic levels. 


To access this feature just navigate to the top bar that says “Tools & Settings”, then under “Bulk Actions” you will see “Rules”.


Some very basic rules to implement are on the campaign level.


If Cost per Conversion exceeds a percentage of your average cost per conversion.


When your cost per conversion starts to get too high, Google will automatically pause that campaign or ad group.


You can also set a rule for campaign cost to make sure you don’t go over budget.


Google’s budget pacing allows for some days to spend 2x your budget and other days to spend half.


Usually, within the month you spend exactly your budget.


We have found on some campaigns we can go slightly over budget with Google.


This automated rule is great if you have a strict budget to work with.


This means you won’t wake up to a big surprise when you see performance drop or runs over budget. 


You can also set more advanced rules.


If an ad group starts to pass the average monthly or daily conversions, Google can automatically raise that budget to allow for more impressions.


Sometimes we find certain days or holidays will have a huge surge in searches.


If we are not accounting for this surge we may lose a lot of potential conversions.


Instead of waiting for each one, it is better to set a rule that will be enabled to help automatically.




Search Engine Marketing (SEM) mainly focuses on Keywords you choose to bid on. 


Google allows for 3 types of keywords: Broad match, “Phrase match”, and [Exact match]. 


You should utilize all 3 types of keywords within your ad groups.


Some people even split up their ad group by the type of keywords they use, I would not recommend this. 


Ad groups have proven to do better when the keywords all follow a similar topic. 


The type of keyword would make no impact on performance within a themed ad group.


Your negative keywords are keywords you do not want to bid on.


Just as important as the keywords you want to target, negative keywords help you specify your offer.


Let’s say you sold yoga equipment but did not offer yoga classes.


You may want to add “classes” to your negative keywords. 


Don’t underestimate how powerful negative keywords can be.


The last and biggest optimization to check weekly is your “Search Terms”.


This is a list under the “Keywords” tab that will show you what was typed in and shown your ad. 


If you offer only yoga equipment and you shouldn’t appear in a search for “Cute Yoga Studios Near Me”. 


You may want to add this search term as a negative keyword to your campaign. 


Going in weekly and vetting the search terms is the key to success with Google Search Ads. 


Final Thoughts


The purpose of this article is to walk you through the troubleshoot/audit process of a Google Ads campaign.


This should help you to identify your main performance issues.


There are also a few good tips for optimizing your Google Ad campaign.


The most important thing to remember is that all those “conversions” or “clicks” are real people. 


It is easy to see the numbers and want more for a lower cost. 


The best way to optimize your campaign is to keep making the funnel process a good experience for each user. 


Make sure your ads have an “Excellent” ad score. 


Each ad should route to the proper landing page which will reflect in your “Quality Score”. 


Make sure your quality score is higher than 7 and aim for 9 or 10. 


This will allow for the most impressions and highest conversion rates. 


If you are still having issues with your campaign you can always reach The Marketer


Trying to manage your own Google Ads Campaigns is difficult and can be very costly.


Let a professional agency run your ads for you. 


If you are thinking of working with a full marketing and advertising agency you can work with The Marketer at Half Past Nine