PPC Spidey Senses: They’re Real and You Want Them

This guy looks like he could manage the tabs off an AdWords campaign. Amirite?

I remember a client call I was on a few years ago. It was shortly after I made the jump to agency life and I was the excited kid on mute listening to the pros handle the client services portion of the job. After the call, I went right back to what I had been doing before listening in and was surprised when I got pinged by my manager. “Something’s up. My spidey senses are going off.” I thought, WTF are you talking about? ‘Spidey senses’? The call went fine. Client seemed happy with performance, they didn’t have any questions, etc.

A couple weeks later they decided to take the account in-house and they were no longer our client.

That was my first encounter with PPC spidey senses. I was so surprised, but at the same time weirdly impressed. I didn’t want the client to leave, but I had no idea what clues they’d given on the call that they might not be our client in the near future. Over the past 3 years since that call, I’ve spent at least a portion of my energy trying to figure out what these spidey senses are and where I can get some.

What Are PPC Spidey Senses?


Spider-Man’s “spider-sense” manifests in a tingling feeling at the base of his skull, alerting him to personal danger in proportion to the severity of that danger. (Source)


Basically, spidey senses in PPC are those little things that alert you something is off or give you an inclination about what’s going to happen. Unlike Spider Man’s senses, I like to think PPC senses can alert you to things that are good or bad, but you know something is different. You’ll need to take action. Let’s run through where all these senses can impact your work life.

Account Trends:

Have you ever logged into an account to see that something’s wrong and immediately know exactly what the problem is? I have. It’s…creepy to put it mildly, but very helpful. Over time, working in a specific account, in a specific vertical, or with a particular website, you start to know what’s going on. Let’s run through some of the ways these senses can manifest in account performance trends.

  • Flatlines: It happens to everyone. Upon log in, one or all stat columns are 0’s. What’s going on? Tracking errors? Billing problems? Something else? Based on the specific account, chances are you’ve got a pretty good idea who the culprit is.
  • Unnatural Trend Fluctuations: All accounts have natural ups and downs and you get used to those. Your spidey senses go off when those trends look to be unnatural. You can tell something is wrong without needing performance to flatline.
  • Unexpected Performance: With new targeting type launches, you usually have a pretty good idea how it will perform based on the other campaigns in the account and how that targeting type has performed for your other clients. So when your new Display campaign has a conversion rate double that of your Search campaigns, you know something might be amiss.

When these unnatural trends take hold on your account, there could be any number of things that are happening, but your spidey senses are what let you know what’s most likely happening and therefore, where you need to go to fix the problem.When looking into account issues, senses don’t prove what is/isn’t wrong, they simply guide you to the most likely problem so you can investigate and prove it using the appropriate tools.

On the other side, you’re not always looking at the post mortem.

  • Forecasting Performance: It’s impossible to know what will/won’t happen in your accounts, specifically over a holiday or during a mega sale, etc., but that seems to always be when clients ask something like, “What type of performance do you think we’ll see in the next week?”. Over time, and with practice, you’ll begin to get an idea of what the range of performance could look like and explain where your reasoning came from (without setting those potentials as expectations).

Whether reviewing abnormal trends or trying to forecast (within reason) what’s going to happen in an account, your spidey senses can help you bridge those gaps quicker than if you came to the problem on your first day in PPC.

Industry Changes:

Not all changes take place in the limited scope of one account. The overriding trends in the industry are also subject to spidey senses. I personally am not strong with these topics (yet), but I know some folks who are. Here are some things you might develop senses for:

  • You get a sense for how a particular targeting type or channel will perform for a client based on what you’ve seen elsewhere, whether in your own accounts or case studies of other accounts.
  •  You can start to foresee changes coming down the pike that will have an impact on your accounts, whether it’s simply a new targeting option in a channel or an entirely new channel altogether.
  • You can sense that one of your favorite targeting options is going to go away based on a new, relatively similar type of targeting is coming out. (Search Companion in Google, anyone?)

These might not have a big impact on your day to day, but when you hear news about something changing, you almost begin to prep for the repercussions automatically. Here, your senses can help lessen the blow or put you in front of the competition.

Client Relationships

Probably the biggest area I’ve seen these senses help out is with client relationships. Whenever there are two sides involved, any number of things can happen, good or bad. Below are a few areas that can benefit from you honing your spidey sense when it comes to your clients:

  • Succubus ClientsAs the post points out, these guys can have a huge impact on your agency’s revenue and the account manager’s morale. From the first couple of calls in the sales process, you should have a sense for these succubus clients and be confident that you’re doing your entire company a solid by turning them away.
  • Departing Clients: It’s never fun to lose a client, but it’s even worse when you’re getting blindsided by it. Your spidey senses can give you a bit of forewarning about these vacating clients to help lessen the blow.
  • When You’re Going to Land a New Client: Sometimes you just totally nail the sales pitch. You got your point across, talked about all the cool things you and the client could do together and based on their questions and responses, you can just tell they’ll be around for a while.

For tips on maintaining strong client relationships so you don’t have to go through the departing client part, check out this post: Customer Retention for Agencies: 6 Tips on Keeping Clients for the Long Haul

Tips for Honing Your PPC Spidey Senses

In case you couldn’t tell, the ingredients for these spidey senses whittle down to what all of us (millennials in particular) hate hearing: time, experience, repetition. That being said, I’m going to give some tips anyway. Here are a couple things that I think know have helped me better understand what’s going on from start to finish in all my accounts today.

  1. Pay close attention and take notes on your client interactions, good and bad. Are the questions you’re getting on calls leading forward or questioning the past? Has a client who typically asks a large number of questions suddenly become content with everything you say?
  2. Read case studies from others. Whether it’s initial tests of a new targeting option or channel, or just an in-depth review of holiday season behavior, you can build up knowledge based on other’s experiences to help hone your own skills.
  3. Review micro and macro performance in your account. It’s one thing to pay attention to those unnatural trends on a daily basis, but reviewing trends on both large and small scale can give you a better understanding of how your accounts will perform over time. Furthermore, as you do this on all your accounts, you’ll get a better sense for how similar account types perform in comparison to each other.
  4. Get involved (or just lurk) in the conversations going on in the public sphere. #PPCChat is a great place for this, but the AdWords Community and /r/PPC are a couple others where questions are flying. Some LinkedIn groups are great for that as well. Bounce around and see what the different groups are talking about.
  5. Attend conferences when you can. Conferences combine a few of the pieces above into a short burst of great sessions, keynotes, conversations, and networking. These might be fewer and further between, but conferences can be highly valuable when honing your PPC spidey senses.
  6. Write posts like this one that have you paying attention to what’s happening in the industry and allow you to start seeing the overall trends of the year. You’ll spend a good amount of time researching, but you’ll gain knowledge about the specific changes going on but also the higher level currents that are moving the industry.

Consider this post your radioactive spider bite. Go forth and push your limits. Pay attention to conversations that might be above your head in preparation for the day you understand them. Analyze your accounts and other’s case studies to find similarities and differences, then figure out why they’re one way or the other. Pay attention to nuance within your client conversations to better understand their motivations and satisfaction levels.

What do you think? Do spidey senses really exist? What tips do you have to help hone those skills? Share with us in the comments!

Oh, and I’ll just leave this here.

Spider Pig, Spider Pig. Does whatever a Spider Pig does.

Spider Pig, Spider Pig. Does whatever a Spider Pig does.