We are sometimes asked why sales on an advertiser's brand name are down year-over-year. We wish we could flip a switch and reverse the trend, but the answer really is: We do not control brand sales, only the competitive side of the paid search game.
We believe that when users search for an advertiser by name they will most likely get to that advertiser's site with or without a PPC ad. These orders are not driven by search advertising but by other marketing channels, customer referrals, and the strength of an advertiser's brand. PPC ads should not take credit for these orders, nor can PPC control the volume of traffic on these ads.
What to Look For
Many different factors can cause a drop in brand traffic. I recommend pulling monthly or weekly performance metrics to see if the drop in sales is related to a dip in impressions and clicks, which might show affiliates trumping and stealing traffic or a general decline in demand; OR a drop in conversion, which might show site issues or a change in competition.
More specifically, I thought it might be helpful to layout a short laundry-list of possible reasons why branded sales might be down:
PPC Brand Sales Are Down Because of Cannibalism:
- If Brand sales are off but overall site sales aren't, you're probably seeing cannibalism.
- Affiliates might be stealing the PPC brand traffic. Since only one ad can appear per display URL, affiliates may be taking the PPC’s spot on the page. Affiliates can be awfully tricky by mimicking the advertiser's normal PPC ad copy, making this tough to detect. (Check the ad properties to find offenders.*) To make matters worse, affiliates may only be serving the brand ads late at night or on weekends, outside of the client’s headquarters – making this nearly impossible to catch. If you see a spike in affiliate sales and a dip in PPC brand sales, you might want to dig deeper.
- Organic Listings are ‘taking’ the PPC sale. (This is really not a problem since it is free traffic.) If impressions are about the same and PPC clicks are down, it might show that the traffic is going to the organic listing. Look at organic performance to see if you notice a spike in this channel.
PPC Brand Sales Are Down in Truth:
- Product offerings, prices, web-site layout, and/or check-out process are less desirable this year, or worse than competition. Did you have a site promotion last year that helped boost brand PPC sales? See how overall site sales compare year-over-year to see if the brand dip is related to a broader site problem.
- Decline in advertising through other marketing channels: e-mail, catalog drops, television, radio, etc. If people are not thinking of your brand, they are not searching for it. We often notice a spike in brand traffic and sales after a catalog drop. (On the flip-side, if e-mails are sent more regularly this year, the client might notice a decline in brand PPC orders and a lift in ‘e-mail’ orders.)
- General economic changes. This may be seen through a dip in AOV year-over-year. Customers may just be spending less per order this year.
- Competitors squatting on your brand. This might be evident if the CPC is up, and the position is down year-over-year. Also, a dip in CTR might show that competitors are including an offer in their copy to steal your branded traffic and sales.
- Competitor's offline marketing efforts. If an arch rival is marketing heavily they may lure some of your "loyal customers" away during their promotion. Remember, most of your customers buy from your competitors as well.
While none of these factors is within the control of a PPC program, a performance report can help determine which of these variables are at play.
* Notes on Properties of an ad:
Google: Right click on the ad’s headline; look at the properties to see the full address.
Yahoo: Open a new browser tab. Type about:config in the URL address window, do a search for 'redirect' in the filter window on the top. Change the network.http.redirection-limit value from 20 to 2. Now, in another browser tab (or the same), do a search for the phrase on Yahoo. Click on the ad. In the URL window, the actual URL will appear - as doing this will break the re-direct. Be sure to change the value back to 20 so that you can be re-directed to other sites, if needed.
MSN: Follow the same steps for Yahoo, but change the value from 20 to 1. Be sure to change the value back to 20 when you are done.