Neil Patel

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How to Know When to Kill a Digital Marketing Campaign


Brands have never had so many options for digital marketing.

While it’s great to have such freedom when connecting with an audience, it can also create a few problems.

If you try to cover every channel, you could overload yourself.

Take into account traditional marketing methods along with digital:

  • SEO
  • Email
  • PPC
  • Social ads
  • Organic social
  • Content marketing
  • Influencer marketing

And that’s just off the top of my head.

The wheel of digital marketing is spinning pretty fast.


It’s easy to see how the abundance of opportunities could overwhelm even savvy marketers. The more you do, the more likely you are to create campaigns that don’t deliver the desired results.

You might even create a few that outright tank.

You’ll need to shut down those campaigns and reign in your efforts before your marketing spend gets out of hand.

Where campaigns can go wrong

Putting together a winning marketing campaign is a challenge — there are a lot of components involved. Getting it to work as part of your overall digital marketing strategy takes even more work.

Small mistakes, oversights, and omissions can dramatically hinder the performance and lead generation of campaigns.

What may have sounded great getting bounced around during ideation can perform miserably once executed.

Check out some of the most common causes of campaigns that go sideways — or that never quite gain enough speed to leave the runway.

Not targeting the right people

Marketers generally know who their customers are.

Or, at least, they think they know who their customers are.

buyer personas demographics 2

Anyone can develop a buyer persona based on assumptions. However, if those personas aren’t backed up by real data, you run the risk of targeting the wrong people.

You have to know who you’re targeting, the sweet-spot that gets them to convert and whether or not they’re the right customers for your business.

What kind of data do you need?

  • Customer challenges
  • Behavior patterns
  • Goals
  • Motivational data
  • Pain points

Demographics — including education, income, and employment — are just as important.

buyer personas demographics

Try to market to the wrong people, or to everyone, and you’ll have a tough time hitting those campaign goals.

Incomplete research

Marketers are a creative bunch.

When we hit on (what we think is) a terrific idea, sometimes we run with it full-tilt.

Unfortunately, that can mean research gets neglected.

Research is a critical part of marketing, from the individual buyer personas to the market research necessary to know whether your campaign message and channels are appropriate.

It’s incredibly easy to miss your mark – and even enrage your audience – when research isn’t completed. Just look at the popular slip McDonald’s made.

The company ran with a #McDStories hashtag on its official Twitter handle.


But if the company took the time to understand its place in the market, it would know that people don’t eat McDonald’s for its fresh and wholesome ingredients. They eat it because it’s convenient and cheap.

So, the web took the hashtag and ran with it – but not the way McDonald’s had planned.


Wrong (or unrealistic) success metrics

If the right metrics aren’t aligned with your campaigns you could be misled by the data.

There are a lot of indicators of success when it comes to digital marketing, such as:

  • Boosts in brand recognition
  • Elevated sales
  • Improved conversions
  • More customer engagement

Just to name a few. There are a lot more for each marketing channel and individual campaign.

Email marketing alone has a laundry list of trackable metrics.success metric email

Pick the wrong metrics, and it’s easy to chase the rabbit down the wrong hole.

Consider this: If you’re running a campaign that is dumping gobs of traffic into your funnel, you might feel like all that visibility for your site indicates a win.

But if conversation rates plummet, you could be losing more than you gain, even with more customers.

It’s important to track the right metrics for individual campaigns and make sure you’ve got realistic goals in place.

You got the message wrong

The success of your campaign depends largely on how your audience receives your message.

That can be scary if you don’t carefully craft the message of your campaign.

Have you ever upset a coworker, friend, or family member after sending an email or text message that got misinterpreted? Picture that snafu as it plays out across a wider audience of thousands.

That’s what happened with Huggies when it didn’t consider the angles on one of its campaigns.

huggies dads

Huggies had to pull an ad after stay-at-home dads got upset over the brand’s “dad test” campaign and the way in which it depicted dads as poor caregivers.

According to Adweek, client rep Joey Mooring says the intention was not to poke fun at dads, “but only feature real dads, with their own babies in real-life situations, putting our Huggies diapers and baby wipes to the test. We have learned that our intended message did not come through, and we have made changes.”

So, the company changed over to the “easy chair” campaign, which showed babies napping quietly in their dads’ laps in recliners.

huggies easy chair

It’s hard to recover from the wrong messaging though, especially when you upset your audience.

If you don’t have access to consumer panel testing for your marketing campaigns, then research is your next best choice to get your message on point.

Wrong content for that stage of the buyer’s journey

Content marketing is a powerful method for generating leads, building relationships, and growing your business in the digital space.

As long as you do it right.

You could be producing the best content in your market space, but if it lacks direction and is served at the wrong stage of the buyer journey, then you’ll struggle to reach your goals.

Directionless content does little to help your business.

Blog posts, white papers, and videos created without purpose or a call to action to move the customer forward provide little more than a takeaway for the customer.

directionless content

Truly effective content, served at the right stage in the funnel, serves to solve pain points for your audience.

It maps their path to a solution.

It nurtures them through every phase of the buyer’s journey as they progress through your marketing or sales funnel.

hs buyers journey

Poor timing

The web might be churning 24/7, but that doesn’t mean your customers are always attentive.

There’s already been plenty of research into the best times to send emails.

best time email

And even the best times to send a Tweet or post to Facebook for maximum engagement.

Buffer social media science study US popular times to tweet 639x800

It’s not just about when they’re watching, though. Sometimes, the campaign is just ill-timed and relevancy is lost, which cripples the performance of the campaign.

You really need to understand the activity of your audience and how their activity changes over the days, weeks, months, and seasons.

For example:

  • Consumer goods marketing might be better served to capture attention on weekends and later in the evening
  • The busiest grocery shopping time for consumers is around midday on Sunday
  • Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days for sending B2B emails, according to SmartInsights.
  • Online retail business ramps during the holiday season. 2016 was the largest-grossing Cyber Monday ever, with revenues calculated at more than $3.3 billion.

What happens when you don’t get your timing right?


Just ask Nesquik.

There are times when virtually every element of a campaign can be perfect, but the timing is just completely off.

The company developed a mobile app that would add rabbit ears to any photo. It was a brand-awareness campaign that Nesquik launched with its new app, promoting “National Bunny Ears Day.”

Bunny fierslide

The campaign was solid overall, and it’s the kind of thing customers eat up (Snapchat filters, anyone?)

The problem is that Nesquik tried to create their own national holiday event rather than running it alongside something else more relevant… like maybe Easter.

Or even just pairing it with an announcement that would capture the attention of its audience.

Instead, the hashtag campaign got mediocre mentions and was quickly buried in the darkest archives of Twitter and Instagram.

Everything you do should be tracked

The only way to know if your campaign is dying a slow and painful death is to pay attention.

Specifically, pay attention to the metrics that are most important to that campaign.

In the examples above, there’s a variety of metrics that revealed whether or not a campaign was faltering, from brand sentiment to Facebook insights.

facebook insights

Those metrics helped the brands realize their mistakes and move forward with the next step:

Either revise the campaign and revamp the strategy or kill it outright.

When you’ve got a handle on your digital marketing metrics, you can pivot quickly when a campaign is underperforming to shut down what isn’t working while pouring more effort into the campaigns that are crushing it.

Simple metrics for tracking the snoozers

Metrics are dependent on your goals and will vary depending on your campaign, as will your key performance indicators (KPIs) for success.


I don’t want to overwhelm you, but there are hundreds of analytical combinations that you could be tracking for insight into marketing campaign performance, customer behavior, and more.

Thankfully, not every metric is important to your campaigns.

In fact, depending on your campaign goals, you might only need to watch one or two metrics.

Here are some of the mainstream performance metrics that are common among digital marketing campaigns.

Channel-specific traffic

Traffic is a bit of a vanity metric by itself. It doesn’t necessarily provide any actionable insight, especially when you’re looking at overall traffic.

But channel-specific traffic can help you pinpoint which of your marketing campaigns are underperforming.

Note the four sources of traffic in analytics.

  • Direct visitors – The people who land on your site by plugging your URL into their browser
  • Organic search – These are the visitors who found you through the use of a search engine
  • Referrals – All the traffic that found its way to your site from a link on another website
  • Social – This is the traffic brought to your site from various social media platforms

You can dig deeper by clicking on each to get more granular with traffic data, like looking at individual referral sources and the social platforms where traffic originates.

Individual page metrics

You can view individual page metrics by navigating to Behavior > Site Content and then choosing either “All Pages” or “Landing Pages.”

From there, you can dig into the performance of individual pages, including your public-facing site content, landing pages, and blog posts.

Bounce rates

The bounce rate is a good indicator of whether or not the landing page content is relevant and if your inbound campaign aligns with the right landing page.

Note that not all bounce rates are equal, and each page will vary.

A particularly high bounce rate doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem; a visitor may have found the info they needed.

Though it could also mean a problem with relevancy, user experience, friction, the lack of a call to action, or something else entirely.

Kristi Hines does an excellent job digging into this metric and how to improve bounce rates.


Monitor the inbound traffic to individual pages and gauge the effectiveness of individual campaigns. Traffic is also ideal for monitoring the popularity of individual blog posts and topics.

If you’re running inbound campaigns, but not seeing the traffic coming through according to expectations, you can trace the problem back to the source.

Top landing pages

Not seeing the return on your campaigns? Look into where all that traffic is landing.

The top landing pages report shows you which pages are greeting the new people visiting your site.

They’re the first impression.

Take that into account when configuring your digital marketing campaigns, and use this metric to make sure you’re strategically placing information (and routing traffic) appropriately once visitors land on your site.

If content marketing is a large part of your strategy, your top landing pages will show which blogs are pulling the most traffic to your website.

So, if you’re putting a lot of energy into a specific topic, but it’s not grabbing traffic, consider scrubbing it or coming at it from a different angle.

You can also set up advanced segments among your top pages to view just the traffic from a specific traffic source.

Like, say, only the people from social media who land on a blog post.

New versus returning visitors

Your new visitors and your return visitors behave very differently when they arrive on your site.

Everyone wants to acquire new customers, but you also need to make sure part of your marketing is focused on growing relationships and keeping visitors coming back.

This report in your analytics can yield useful information such as:

Track these metrics regularly to review the ongoing popularity and effectiveness of your content efforts.

Cost per visitor (CPV) and revenue per visitor (RPV)

These metrics offer broad measurement tools to help you calculate whether a particular marketing channel or campaign is bringing you profit.

If RPV > CPV, then you’re doing something right.

This is a metric you want to track if you’re running PPC campaigns to help you set an appropriate budget and avoid overspending.

RPV can also be an indicator of a change in visitor traffic vs buying intent (dropping conversion rate), or a dip in average order value.

Total conversions

Your total conversions are the sum of all the anonymous conversions that happen across your site from various campaigns.

If conversions are low, marketers have to investigate what element(s) might be responsible.

It’s important to drill down from total conversions when analyzing the data. Low conversions could be caused by any number of issues, like poor user experience.

It’s not necessarily a problem with the individual campaigns you’re running.

Individual conversions

A key metric to monitor within your analytics is the individual conversions that take place. It’s the only way to know if individual components are functioning as designed along each stage of the sales funnel.

By looking at the individual conversions along the funnel, you can easily spot bottlenecks and either make the necessary changes or kill the campaign and refocus your efforts.

Examples of individual or “micro” conversions include:


Frankly, you can use any step you want your visitors to take in your list of potential conversions.

Track these actions in your analytics by adding them as events or by individual steps as goals.

Cost per conversion (CPC)

There’s a cost to everything you do, both in acquiring and maintaining customer relationships.

Called “cost per lead” or “cost per referral,” this is a key metric in understanding what every conversion costs you.

Ultimately, you want to drive your CPC as low as possible. If you can’t get the CPC down, the campaign you’re running tied to those conversions — no matter how effective — may need to be scrubbed.

It doesn’t help your business when high traffic and great conversions cost too much and soak up any available profit.

Cost per acquisition (CPA)

Your cost per acquisition is the ultimate metric for tracking the effectiveness of your campaigns.

Want to know exactly how much it costs you to get a customer to finally open his or her wallet? This is the metric.

example cac costs

While you want to monitor metrics like cost per click to get them lower and keep them there, you have to consider the big picture with CPA.

Imagine that you’re running a PPC campaign with terrifically low costs per click and a ton of traffic.

But you quickly discover that you’ve only gained a handful of customers.

That means you’ve paid through the nose to acquire just a few new customers. That’s a clear indicator that something isn’t right and it’s time to shut it down and make a change to your strategy.


There’s no cut-and-dried point where you’ll have a clear indicator that it’s time to kill a marketing campaign. In many cases, you’ll use the above metrics and others relevant to your campaign to determine a point (based on your KPIs) when a campaign is underperforming.

Once that point is reached, based on the data, you’ll make the ultimate decision to pull the plug or dig in and start revising your campaigns for better results.

What about you? What do you use an indicator that it’s time to shut down a digital marketing campaign?

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