Paid Search Audit Musings & Inspiration
Getting a Paid Search Audit is a lot like hiring an accountant to audit your books. If you're an advertiser, you’ll be trusting a specialist with figuring out something only they can know to be true, and will be at the mercy of their expertise.
If you’re a PPC manager, granting access to your AdWords campaigns has to bring up a question: What if they discover that I'm not as good at AdWords as I think I am? An AdWords manager may feel jittery about letting someone at least as good them (or possibly better) look at and judge their performance. A nerve-wracking suspense similar to when you submit your SATs for scoring.
And for a good reason, there are a few ways a paid search audit can end on a high note and a few pretty disastrous possibilities that I can visualize as well. Including losing an account in management.
So PPC managers do not exactly volunteer their performance for auditing. But when you're an advertiser, and your business' livelihood hangs on the success of your marketing channels, a PPC audit is precisely the answer. When a business owner has that nagging feeling that they’re not getting the expected return on investment for their paid search effort, there’s no better way to deal with it, but to take the plunge and get an AdWords audit. A paid search audit is generally also the least expensive, easiest to pull off and quickest way of figuring out if your budget is working for or against you.
At the end of an audit they may come out with a confirmation that not only they were right to suspect an underwhelming efficiency of their budget, turns out they were concentrating their efforts in the areas of least resistance and of the least potential return. Or they may learn that whatever they’re doing is really the best course of action, given the circumstances of the business; and there is no potential to substantially improve their AdWords performance.
Whatever the outcome, I think it is important to say something about the level of trust and comfort an auditee must have with an auditor. They need to know that their auditor is highly professional, yes. But there’s another, perhaps even more important condition that needs to be satisfied! They need to feel comfortable that it is not just another pitch for services that they'll get out of an audit.
I mean no-one wants to open their books to the individuals whose sole purpose is to find a way to pitch their service(s) right back to the advertiser. At their own expense, mind you! And let's face it, there’s a constant possibility to fine-tune a medium to large size AdWords account. AdWords is a living and breathing auction, as competition comes in and out of the targeting you chose and your qualify for. Your demand fluctuates with seasonality, and even with your competitors' advertising efforts. I.e. they may be lifting search awareness for your products or services with their online and even offline efforts, like Cable TV, for instance. All those are valid factors of Paid Search that make it impossible to "set it and forget it" your AdWords campaigns.
But there’s also always a possibility to spin AdWords Audit findings to one’s disadvantage. Unfairly so.
And the way to deal with that possibility in my mind is to find the most trustworthy team or an individual who will perform an audit. Only the best can you entrust your heart and soul of search - ppc campaigns. The best in a sense of a company that has a solid reputation to lose should things go wrong. In addition to the company itself, status of the individuals who’d perform the audit should ideally involve a component of a reputation that can be spoiled, if your audit experience turns into a fiasco. Opening up your “AdWords books” is a vulnerable moment that can only be put in the hands of the best of the best.
Checking out who they are, the longevity of their involvement, the demonstrated success should be the considerations as well. But also feeling out their intent of why they do audits is important. Of course, every PPC agency does audits to see if they can offer better performance. But if they offer an audit for Free, for instance, it's a dead giveaway of them looking to poach you as a client.
Frankly, I have not seen an AdWords campaign that one can’t say there are problems with. This is due to performance being “subject to interpretation” in the cases of unclear tracking. Accounts not set up per best practices, not performing well are among the obvious issues that will be noticed during an Audit. But there may also be some instances when good results may be spun out of context.
To give just a few examples, a business may be getting a great amount of leads, but an “auditor” with a hidden agenda may spin those leads as too expensive Or they may present that while you’re getting a bunch of calls, you are missing out on form fills, triggering an unassuming client to think to themselves “Why aren’t we getting all those forms fills on top of the phone calls?” Yet what that client may not know that it’s current managing agency has long established that form fills were out of price-range, while calls are affordable and supply enough new lead volume PLUS grow this client’s business steadily year over year. In the case of Video campaigns they may say you're not earning views, or your view rates are low, and a client who doesn't have benchmarks to compare will not be able to argue with that. There are many possibilities. Endless really.
But an obvious #1 sign that an agency is offering an audit in the hopes of getting their foot in the door to then turn around and pitch their services would be the price point they charge. What do you think, GPs? Let me know!
PS: This article is inspired by the Paid Search Audit discussion, collaborated on by my co-workers, two of the AdWords community Top Contributors @Kim_Clink and @PPCBossman. If you click on the link, it'll open in a separate window, and will lead you outside of this community.
Marketer by education and experience since 2000 with extensive experience on the agency and client side both.
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