What Really Happens When You Pause Paid Search Ads

Holidays and PPC ad campaigns have a tricky relationship. There’s a huge range of ad performance fluctuation that can happen on holidays, both positive and negative, based on the type of business, specific holidays, and competition.

On the one hand, you have the obvious holiday season – the major league of advertising. Sales for most consumer-focused ecommerce sites will skyrocket leading up to Black Friday and Christmas, and even lead gen advertisers can see improvements, depending on their business.

On the other hand, many mid-year holidays tend to have a depressive influence on ad campaigns. People are out at events and spending time with family, so buying habits tend to take a backseat to the more important things. Still, as advertisers, we need to have strategies built around these special days.

With July 4th around the corner, many advertisers will consider pausing their Google and Bing Ads campaigns for the day or even the full holiday weekend. 

Here are some of the reasons you might be considering pausing your ads accounts, based on reasons we’ve heard from our clients:

  • You’re truly overworked, and you can’t take in more business, 
  • Your business will be closed for an extended time (warehouses that are closed over a holiday, for example), 
  • You’re launching a new website,
  • Your stock status is depleted, or you are having staffing issues,
  • Your actual business is itself going through a “pause” situation. 

As always, you should talk to your ads account manager for the best strategy for your account, but as a general rule, pausing ad campaigns is a sledgehammer solution to a scalpel problem. So why is it an issue? What happens when you pause your paid Search campaigns?

Think of ad campaigns like a car: you can’t go from 60 to 0, or you’re going to cause some damage.

Because of new advances in algorithmic learning, ad campaigns have a sense of momentum. When you pause a campaign, Google’s algorithmic learning will be signaled that there has been a major change in the account. Whether you’re pausing for an hour or a week, this signal still tells Google the algorithm needs to readjust for something, and that in and of itself will change ad performance when the campaign is reactivated.

Another pitfall has to do with how long your PPC campaign is paused. While your ads are paused, your competitors may not be. In a competitive zero-sum market, you’re not only leaving conversions on the table, but you’re also making it cheaper for your competitors to buy them. While it is true that holiday ad performance can be anemic, you’re effectively doubling your loss and giving your competition easy access to cheap customers.

All that being said, the most important and detrimental shift will be the ad campaign taking time to readjust to the new environment. These algorithms are fine-tuned enough to pick up on differences in the market even from one day to the next, so your campaign will have to catch up to the current state of the auction. This gets expensive when the algorithm must experiment with click costs to determine where the new efficiency lies.

So what can you do to combat this? 

In this situation, you have two choices, depending on how you judge the holiday traffic that will be available.

  1. Budget Decrease

Reducing your budget during the time you need to be “off” will still allow your campaigns to serve ads. This may not be an acceptable solution for all situations, but generally, it will alleviate the problem. Decreasing the budget will send a signal to your Paid Search campaigns that there is a change. However, Google won’t penalize your ad rank and resultant performance because you haven’t paused the campaign. This is also the most flexible option as it allows you to automate the decreases and increases with automated rules. It can come with some fluctuation as the budget returns to normal levels, but that instability is temporary.

  1. Ad Schedule Blackout

The second option requires a little proactive adjustment but shields your campaign from any fluctuation in budget. You can alternatively go into the ad schedule and set the schedule to not run on whatever days you need to opt out of. However, this only works if your pausing is less than a week, as it will affect all future weeks. Remember to revert the schedule change after the time passes. This gives you the option of truly shutting down all traffic on a given day or days without truly hitting the big red “pause” button.

These are all changes to the ad campaign, which will come with some fluctuation, but when you truly pause the campaign, you’re damaging the momentum of the account and Google’s assessment of your future value.

The only time you’ll want to pause ads is when you don’t intend to run them ever again and simply want to preserve data (a good practice! You almost never want to remove campaign content, it removes valuable information that can’t be recovered), or you intend to be paused for a long period of time, and you want the campaign to start from scratch when it is turned back on.

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