Just about every search marketing professional can tell you a horror story about inheriting a campaign that had been mangled by another SEM company.

With the right know-how, a damaged SEO campaign can be fixed.

In other cases, the damage may have actually been made by well-meaning, but inexperienced clients. While it is generally assumed that no credible SEM company purposefully intends to run a search marketing campaign into the ground, it definitely can happen (and it happens with non-credible SEM companies too).

In these instances, the difficult task of reviving such a campaign and getting things back on track falls squarely on the shoulders of the new SEM company who has chosen to take on the troubled project. For those brave search marketing professionals, there are some very important steps to follow in order to successfully unravel the mistakes made by previous SEM companies, or in some cases, the blunders the clients have made for themselves.

Assess the Damage

First the SEM company taking on a mismanaged search marketing campaign needs to do some digging to discover the severity of the issue(s). Check into the extended traffic history of the website using Google Analytics, or any other tracking system the client has been using. Pay close attention to which keywords are driving the most traffic. Are the site’s pages optimized for those keywords? Are the keywords driving traffic relevant to the client’s site? How is the engagement data looking for various landing pages?

If you are taking on an existing paid search campaign, special attention needs to be given to the CPL (cost per lead) or CPA (cost per acquisition) of the campaign’s keywords. The previous SEM company may have been touting the success of a client’s PPC campaign by highlighting the total amount of conversions, without divulging that the cost per conversion was twice what the actual sale was worth.

What if the client’s website isn’t using any type of tracking? Well, at least you have just identified one major issue, and you have a place to start. 

Inspect the Foundation

Inspecting the raw data of a site’s traffic stats and keyword data can give you an idea of where some fixes need to be made. Additionally, the inheriting SEM company should also inspect the basic on-page SEO elements of the client’s website. In the world of search engine marketing, proper implementation of on-page elements such as title tags, h1 tags, meta descriptions, internal links, intuitive and functional navigation, proper keyword density, and original, relevant content can be likened to the foundation of a building. Without these elements in place, a search marketing campaign will be shaky at best, and much more likely to collapse later down the road.

Set the Client’s Expectations

Once you have identified the contributing factors behind the poor performance or lack of results that the client’s previous search campaign may have been experiencing, you need to communicate to the client what needs to be done in order to get things back on track. It is especially important that the client understands the timeline involved in correcting these issues. If you are inheriting a campaign that has been operating poorly and implementing bad SEM tactics for an extended period of time, it can be several months before things start to turn around.

Stop the Bleeding

The problems have been identified and the client understands what needs to be done. Now the mission of turning a negatively performing campaign into a successful one begins. Depending on the issues that have been identified, it is always a good idea to start with the most severe first. In most cases, this would mean addressing any on-site mistakes that have been made, particularly in the areas of title tags and content. If there are absolutely no title tags at all, that is priority number one. Is there duplicate content throughout the site? That needs to be removed and updated with original content ASAP.

Keep the Positives

In some cases, the campaign you inherit may not be a complete disaster. Among the many issues of the campaign, you may come across a few positive aspects that appear to be working for the client’s site. As the saying goes, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If there are some powerful backlinks that exist among the spammy ones, remove what is hurting the campaign and keep the positives.

If the previous SEM company optimized a page for a certain keyword that perhaps you wouldn’t have yourself, but it seems to be working, let it be. Removing the good with the bad can actually set the client’s campaign back even further—which is definitely not something you want to do with a new client who is likely to be sensitive to negative performance. 

Good luck!


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