In a client onboarding, I had just finished presenting my carefully-prepared slides on our proposed CPA goal when the client cleared his throat, stammered, and said “that’s all great, but what I’d really like is to see average position and CTR improve. Can’t you just do that?”

The goal of any business’ paid search account is to deliver value, either by increasing revenue and ROI for ecommerce clients, or driving qualified leads at an affordable CPA for lead gen clients. But many advertisers have other ideas – they want to focus on something else, like total impressions, CTR, average position or even impression share. All of these metrics can help evaluate certain types of performance, but none should be your primary paid search evaluation metric. Here’s why.


Just because the chart is going up doesn’t mean you’re making more money. Photo via Pixabay.


A client was concerned about a 15% drop in total impressions after his first month working with me. “Fewer impressions means fewer people see my ad,” he explained. Previously, he had been bidding mostly on short-tail keywords in broad and phrase match, so he had tons of impressions, but a poor CTR and few sales. But in his mind, paid search impressions were like free display ads.

This client wasn’t totally off the mark. We’ve written before that PPC drives increased direct traffic that is not valued in last-click conversion models. However, if I really wanted to drive more impressions within a set budget, I would bid all keywords to the lowest possible position on the page. They would get tons of impressions, but most searchers would never see the ad.

Instead Focus On:

If you’re looking for brand uplift, why not consider some expansion initiatives that will actually bring a direct return? Keyword inventory expansion, a limited broad match test, expanded display and remarketing, and adding new geographies can all generate new traffic with measurable results.

CTR or Clicks

Another advertiser wanted to focus on improving CTR. CTR is a goal that feels natural. If 10% of site visitors convert and you double site visitors, then that’s twice as many conversions, right?

CTR can be valuable for increasing relevance and improving Quality Score, which ultimately helps achieve a better average position at a lower CPC. However, a click is only really valuable if the clicker will purchase your product, either now or in the future. More clicks are a waste of money if the clickers never convert.

I could easily double your CTR by including “See Our Amazing Kitten Pictures!” in your ad copy, but those clickers will probably not buy your gardening tools or data management software.

Instead Focus On:

CTR can sometimes be a useful short-term evaluation metric if conversion tracking is broken or your agency has only had a few weeks to work on the account. But if all those extra clicks are not turning into sales or leads, you need a new strategy. If you have a great CTR but poor conversion rate, consider whether your ad copy is properly qualifying the audience. Are they expecting kitty photos and getting a B2B software lead form?

If that’s not the issue, then determine if your keywords are capturing the right audience. Are the searchers matching to your keywords really looking for your product? Finally, consider testing some landing page tweaks that will ease the conversion process and improve your conversion rate.

Average Position

My favorite client used to remind me at least twice per week that he wanted to be on top of the page for all of his main products. He was a pretty competitive guy, who never hesitated to remind me exactly where he wanted to kick his competitors.

Believe it or not, PPC is not a race, and the ad on top of the page is not the winner. Assuming you have a strong Quality Score, then average position depends almost entirely on bids and competition. You can’t control competition, so the only way to get on top is to pay more. Usually a lot more.

Instead Focus On:

I proposed a test to the client mentioned above. We paid nearly 50% less per click in average position 2-4. For that price, we could afford 50% more clicks within our set budget. All those extra clicks turned into extra conversions, and he saw a big jump in overall conversions and a drop in CPA.

If you have an unlimited budget to sit in average position 1 all the time, then I can’t stop you. Just remember that nobody’s ever said “Hey! Did you know he’s in average position 1 for all of his keywords? Let’s go buy stuff there!”

Bounce Rate, Page Views, & Other Engagement Metrics

These types of metrics are popular with DIY website designers. They spent hours coding the perfect color scheme, and now they want everyone to enjoy it as much as they do. Engagement metrics are useful to look at, but they’re rarely appropriate as a primary paid search metric. PPC is a direct response channel, which means it connects you directly with people who want to buy your product. You should be making it easier for visitors to give you money, not sending them on a scavenger hunt across your website.

Instead Focus On:

Ideally, a paid search visitor should visit the smallest number of pages needed to make a sale. If you have granular ad groups, then you should take searchers directly to a page showing the product they searched for. Once they have converted, add their emails to your marketing list, suggest other pages they might like, ask them to like your Facebook page, and retarget them to bring them back to your site to improve your average LTV (life-time value).

If you’re not optimizing your paid search campaigns around direct value metrics, you’re not doing it right. You’re investing hard-earned money in your marketing efforts, so why wouldn’t you expect it to provide the same in return?