Investigating Why SEM Performance Has Fallen Despite No Account Changes

March 20, 2019

As data marketers we’ve all been there: our SEM account performance is hurting but there is no silver bullet that answers, “Why?”

You’ve combed through your account multiple times and you can’t find out what’s going on:

  • You’ve checked ad and keyword status and find nothing out of the ordinary.
  • You’ve reviewed performance and see that it’s down on new and old campaigns alike.
  • You’ve checked approvals and see no new disapprovals.
  • You’ve checked recent changes and there is nothing that was done around the time of the dip, or at least no changes made that would have caused the dip.

 It feels like you’ve run out of options. You can’t tell your boss that you don’t know why performance is down – or can you?

There is one more check that you can AND should be doing any time you see a large change in performance (up or down!).

Review Google Analytics’ Channels Report.

By using the channel report you can’t identify exactly what is happening in the market, but you can determine if SEM is the culprit or if there is something larger at work.

The Channels report can be found under Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels

This report breaks out your website traffic by the source that drove that traffic. Google groups the most common sources of traffic into select Default Channel Groupings or buckets: Direct, Email, Organic Search, Social, Paid Search, Display, Referral and (Other). Note that “(Other)” is any source of traffic that Google Analytics is unable to identify. These groupings are determined by the Source & Medium dimensions associated with the traffic or the referral URL. You can see this when you click into one of the Default Channel Groupings from the report and change your primary dimension to Source or Medium:

or by adding Source / Medium as a secondary dimension to the report:


You can also create custom Channels based on select rules if you don’t want to use their Default Channel Groupings. I don’t recommend this unless you are an advanced user of Google Analytics and have experience creating profile filters and custom segmentation with RegX.

Additional information on Channel groupings can be found here.

Troubleshooting Market issues

Typically if something is wrong with the SEM account, it will be the only channel in this report that shows dips in performance metrics. However, if you see dips in performance metrics such as CVR across ALL channels, it’s safe to assume that there is a larger macro issue affecting the site or its traffic as a whole.

While this doesn’t solve your performance issues, it does bring you closer to answering the original question of “why is performance down?” If this is happening to you across your digital channels, you’ll want to follow-up with additional checks:

  1. Were there changes to the website when my performance started to dip?
  2. Were there changes made on one channel that might impact other channels (e.g. a big email promo with a coupon can impact your other channels)
  3. Is there a seasonal trend that could explain the change?

With these checks done, you are better prepared to talk to performance changes and whether or not there is something at play that is affecting MORE than just your SEM campaigns. Plus you look like a hero for going above and beyond your own fiefdom of SEM to help answer the why.