Per­haps you’ve heard The Byrds croon out these famous lyrics:

To every­thing (turn, turn, turn)
There is a sea­son (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every pur­pose, under heav­en
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

In these words (lit­tle-known fact: they’re actu­al­ly pulled from the Bib­li­cal book of Eccle­si­astes), we’re remind­ed that spe­cif­ic actions often have spe­cif­ic pur­pos­es… it’s just all about tim­ing.

As we think about PPC, I can’t think of a more impor­tant prin­ci­ple for audit­ing low con­ver­sion rates in your account than this.

The rea­son this prin­ci­ple is impor­tant is because there is a strong temp­ta­tion for a client who has hired an agency (or a boss and a PPC employ­ee!), to become over­ly fix­at­ed on fix­ing audi­ences (i.e., your mar­ket­ing) when that may not real­ly the prob­lem.

It takes a deep knowl­edge of the account and adver­tis­ing space (as well as a lit­tle guts), to push back on this, but push­ing back may be the very thing that saves the account.

If you focus on fil­ter­ing audi­ences when that isn’t the solu­tion, you will stran­gle your mar­ket­ing fun­nel and the account will suf­fer a slow, painful death.

Let me illus­trate what I mean prac­ti­cal­ly before offer­ing a solu­tion.

Painful Illustration You Can Relate To

Your client is a lawyer in Cal­i­for­nia who wants to offer a solu­tion for peo­ple whose insur­ance com­pa­nies screwed them over dur­ing wild­fire sea­son.

You are the PPC ana­lyst, and you iden­ti­fy and bid on awe­some audi­ences tar­get­ing peo­ple who are active­ly inter­est­ed in insur­ance claims, as well as looka­like audi­ences based on client cas­es.

You also dug into Search queries and iden­ti­fied high intent terms that you bid on:

[wild­fire insur­ance claim]

[fire insur­ance lawyers]

[insur­ance claim lay­w­ers]


You aren’t a newb at PPC, and you have ultra-tar­get­ed Exact match terms in the account, and even some Broad Match Mod­i­fied to pick up oth­er tar­get­ed queries with the bud­get you have left.

You have checked Search Query reports and can vouch for the tar­get­ed queries send­ing traf­fic.

In fact, you’re killing CTR and aver­age posi­tions on those top terms and you have to admit, you’re a lit­tle proud of the account. I mean, you nailed it.

The cam­paigns are pushed live for a cou­ple of months, con­tact forms begin to be filled out and cus­tomer info is sent left and right (think George from “Sein­feld”, snap­ping).

You opti­mize your bids and ads based on this, and all seems like gravy.

What a great account!

You smile.

Then the client calls.

The cam­paigns aren’t work­ing. What can they do to help?

They begin to micro­man­age your every move.

Is this key­word prob­lem­at­ic?

Why did you use “the” instead of “a” in the ad?

Those Face­book ad pic­tures should have a brunette instead of a blonde.

You know. The impor­tant details that will real­ly move the nee­dle. 🙄

You begin to learn that the con­tact forms aren’t con­vert­ing over to actu­al cas­es signed by the lawyer and the client is con­vinced your tar­get­ing is the rea­son.

What do you do?

Audience Optimization vs. Post-Lead Optimization

The more con­ver­sa­tions I have like this, the more I have become aware of the two key sides to solv­ing the Sign-Up to Sub­scrip­tion issue.

That’s SaaS ter­mi­nol­o­gy, but it real­ly is a B2B, lead gen­er­a­tion prob­lem.

What do you do when you the lead qual­i­ty dips?

There are two pri­ma­ry places you can look:

  • Audi­ence (the mar­ket­ing)
  • Post-Lead Opti­miza­tion (the client)

Audience Optimization

The client is nat­u­ral­ly going to want to focus on audi­ence fil­ter­ing because, well, it’s easy.

It’s some­one else doing the work. It’s the third par­ty who must have screwed some­thing up, and frankly, there are a lot of third par­ties who make ter­ri­bly audi­ence deci­sions so this is a war­rant­ed step.

In this step, we look at the type of traf­fic we are send­ing. Can we improve on our ad tim­ing, ad cre­ative, key­words, bids, devices, etc.?

This is mar­ket­ing, and there is near­ly always improve­ment that can be done here.

How­ev­er, this is not the whole sto­ry, and there is a real dan­ger (per­haps you are now think­ing of an exact con­ver­sa­tion you’ve had in the past) of becom­ing so fix­at­ed on the mar­ket­ing aspect that the client-side respon­si­bil­i­ty is neglect­ed.

Post-Lead Optimization

This is the sec­ond aspect of improv­ing lead qual­i­ty, and one that resides entire­ly on the client side. It takes a lot of work, and it requires insane amount of buy-in from the client.

In this part of the focus, the argu­ment is made that the audi­ences are not the pri­ma­ry prob­lem, rather the client’s abil­i­ty to con­vert them is the prob­lem.

Go back to the lawyer illus­tra­tion from before. In this instance, the client may attack the key­words say­ing some­thing like:

Peo­ple who type in attor­ney rather than lawyer have shown us to be a less valu­able audi­ence. They have a high­er lead to case-close ratio, so please stop bid­ding on the word ‘attor­ney’ and we’ll see that CPA low­er and be hap­py.”

This makes a lot of sense (and it actu­al­ly could lead to low­er direct­ly tracked CPA), but there is a giant, gap­ing, account mur­der­ing, mon­ster-sized hole in this log­ic.

Can you spot it?

Strangling the Funnel

The giant gap­ing hole is that the client is ask­ing PPC to do that which it can­not, con­vince the user of the val­ue of their ser­vices… and in doing so, the request to lim­it the (good) audi­ence to eke out a bet­ter KPI is actu­al­ly killing what mar­ket­ing is sup­posed to do: fill the fun­nel.

Fill. The. Fun­nel.

Yes, the fun­nel needs to be filled with a cer­tain lev­el of qual­i­ty audi­ence, and we can’t just find cheap clicks from bots in Out­er Mon­go­lia.

I know that, and you know that. I’m talk­ing to great PPCers with this post. For the most part, you’re not send­ing crap traf­fic.

You’re send­ing peo­ple inter­est­ed in learn­ing about how the client can solve their prob­lems.

If that is tru­ly the case, then it’s now up to the client, to sell that sol­id audi­ence at their own val­ue.

I’ll say it a dif­fer­ent way: mar­keters send qual­i­fied audi­ences, but it’s up to the web­site (client) to con­vince that traf­fic to con­vert to the macro-con­ver­sion.

What I mean is, if we try to fil­ter by pre­vent­ing cer­tain kinds of peo­ple in our audi­ences from actu­al­ly com­plet­ing the form sub­mis­sion, then we can prob­a­bly increase the Lead to Pur­chase ratio… but we’re not ulti­mate­ly fill­ing the fun­nel with poten­tial cus­tomers who should have been will­ing to con­vert.

I think an account will ulti­mate­ly see expo­nen­tial growth, not by lim­it­ing the cus­tomer base by con­tin­u­al­ly try­ing to fil­ter out peo­ple actu­al­ly inter­est­ed in the prod­uct, but by more suc­cess­ful­ly iden­ti­fy­ing how to con­vert more of those “oth­er” peo­ple already show­ing inter­est, but not yet bought in.

At the end of the day, the big issue isn’t that those “oth­er peo­ple” were not the per­fect demo­graph­ic, age, loca­tion, or gen­der (audi­ence demo­graph­ics tied to mar­ket­ing, so they can be improved by adjust­ing the mar­ket­ing).

No, the big issue is that some­one inter­est­ed in your product/service proved that by sub­mit­ting your macro-con­ver­sion, but then wasn’t ulti­mate­ly con­vinced by your site or fol­low-up process as to why they would get increased val­ue pay­ing for your product/service rather than going off to find anoth­er option.

When to Fix Audiences & Change Your Offer

This is where iden­ti­fy­ing the right kind of con­ver­sion rate opti­miza­tion is mas­sive­ly, huge­ly impor­tant.

Con­ver­sion rate opti­miza­tion, with the intent of shrink­ing the fun­nel, is an account killer.

If you think the way to solve your lead prob­lems is by lim­it­ing a good audi­ence, then you’ll nev­er blow up (in a good way).

This is because you’re actu­al­ly shrink­ing a sol­id audi­ence, who is inter­est­ed in what you have to offer by not ful­ly con­vinc­ing them of the rea­son they should choose you over your com­pe­ti­tion.

That’s not marketing’s fault, and it will nev­er be.

Mar­ket­ing is sup­posed to fill the fun­nel with great traf­fic. The website’s job is to con­vince that traf­fic why they’re the right choice.

So, which prob­lem is yours?

Are you send­ing crap­py traf­fic and audi­ences? Are you send­ing peo­ple not inter­est­ed in your prod­uct because of poor­ly cho­sen audi­ences or key­words? Then fix the mar­ket­ing prob­lem.

Are you send­ing the right traf­fic, but no one wants to pur­chase? If you try to lim­it mar­ket­ing, you’re only hur­ry­ing along your own death.

You need to focus rather on improv­ing your offer, step­ping up your email strat­e­gy, opti­miz­ing your land­ing page speed, or even dras­ti­cal­ly chang­ing your busi­ness mod­el around.

I love mar­ket­ing and think it’s amaz­ing­ly pow­er­ful, but the best mar­ket­ing won’t fix a bad prod­uct, web­site, or offer.