Help, Viral Searches Killed My PPC! 5 Tips for Detecting Unrelated Search Queries Early


In the past, Erin covered how celebrity-related keywords can screw up your traffic: Help, My Search Query Report Has Bieber Fever! Now I would like to talk about new queries which can appear instantly because of new viral content and interfere with your existing PPC campaigns.

Last year, a Denham Springs woman set up a “middle finger” made of Christmas lights on her roof to upset neighbors. (NSFW?!) Of course the media attention as well as the offensive Christmas lights disappointed some residents in Denham Springs, but companies who sell Christmas lights and run PPC campaigns on Google and Bing were furious about unrelated queries popping up during the busiest time of the year.

Trending PPC Keywords

Those advertisers who worked hard on their negative keywords weren’t able to predict a query like “middle finger Christmas lights” or “middle finger light display” and add it to their list of negatives. As the story became viral, millions of people around the world began to search for it, causing hundreds and thousands of dollars in loss for the advertisers.

trending keyword data

In today’s world almost anything can become viral and attract millions of people to use new search queries that didn’t exist before. One day you are getting a great CPA selling trips to the Gangnam District in Seoul, the next day millions of people are searching for an addictive music video.

Detecting Trending Search Queries

It is impossible to predict how a new product, celebrity, news story, or viral video can trigger your ads. But it is important to detect unrelated traffic early and save your account before it runs out of money. Here are five tips we recommend when working on your AdWords or Bing Ads account:

  1. Don’t leave your account on autopilot. I know a lot of business owners who built their PPC account a long time ago and left it as is. Over time some of the targeted keywords become obsolete, change their meaning, or attract unrelated queries. Even today potential clients ask me if it’s possible to have a one-time account build-out and leave it as is. (The answer is no!)
  2. Pay close attention to your metrics such as cost per click, click-through rate, and cost per acquisition. Viral queries normally have lower cost, lower CTR, and no conversions. Go to the query report if you see an unexpected increase in traffic and decrease in cost and click-through rate.
  3. Make sure your top queries perform roughly equally day by day with no interruptions or sudden drops. Viral keywords can “eat” your daily budget and leave no room for normal queries to perform.
  4. Check your search queries at least twice a week. I highly recommend checking your queries regularly using QueryStream. Our software helps to detect new queries, unrelated queries, and new negative keyword candidates.
  5. Set irrelevant viral queries as negative keywords. If you’re a WordStream customer you can use the 20-Minute PPC Work Week to add the negatives our software suggests to you. WordStream software can detect new keywords which are affecting your account. New viral phrases will be picked up and brought to your attention when you log into the software.  

Have you ever been burned by a sudden spike of viral keywords in your PPC campaign?

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Megan Marrs
Apr 23, 2013

Nice advice Sergey! It never really occurred to me how easily viral events could have disastrous effects for PPC campaigns. I guess the best thing is to monitor your account carefully and act fast if something looks fishy. Great post!

Vance Woodward
Apr 23, 2013

This is actually a really interesting phenomenon. I hadn't thought of the impact these massive viral videos would have on the search traffic. It's unfortunate people lost out on so much money, but you raise a good point that peopl need to be very on top of their PPC management. It doesn't take very much time or effort to go in and adjust your negative keywords, and while there will still be an impact, you should be able to nip it in the bud fairly quickly if someone is properly observing and managing your account.

Apr 24, 2013

Great insights. Really informative stuff!

web disgner
Apr 24, 2013

Great tips! I find a lot of business owners get caught up working in the business and need to take more time out to work on the business rather than in it. Awesome article.

Roye Okupe
Apr 25, 2013

I must admit, I am one of those who completely forgets about my PPC campaign, and I have seen the effects that can have. Great insights here. Thanks for sharing

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