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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.  

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about Julia Muller

Marketer by education and experience since 2000 with extensive experience on the agency and client side both.

April 2017

Hey @Julia_Muller  nice article! 


I happened across a free paid-search-audit from WordStream which was I found to give a pretty fair analogy of the nuts & bolts of one of my campaigns etc. 


You can find it here for a bit of fun...






Julia_Muller Top Contributor
April 2017

Hi @Citizen,


Wordstream produces oodles of great content, can't take that away from them! You think they give a fair analogy? I don't doubt they do. The link you posted is indeed a genious marketing move by Wordstream, applause. That said, they are also a bulk operator, with a product geared towards a novice advertiser. If I may put it in those words. (Full disclosure: my former agency used Wordstream for a year back in 2014).


To reiterate, AdWords audit has to be paid imo, regardless of who it is from. An agency giving an audit would be incentivised wrongly if they worked for free. A client receiving a freebie is not a client, they are at the mercy of the auditor because they didn't pay. Freebies are poison for all involved. Plus, seasoned PPC professionals know that the less an auditee knows about PPC, the more audit results can be spinned out of context.




Spencer_Wade Top Contributor
April 2017

Great post Julia, we use Free audits but for our agency it's more about all the technologies and how they are performing which opens up lots of avenues of helping the business. And we only audit inbound data. No sales calls or pitches we try and just present the facts and always try and keep in mind its an art and a science, what was great yesterday may not be the case today. But I agree there are lots of companies more concerned about their own agenda to ever be concerned about the business in question and truth behind the reporting.

We like to take the happy medium stance, we are just educators, not salespeople we educate you even if you go somewhere else, as we have seen being an educator will always deliver new long term opportunities. For example the last few audits we gave are now customers, did they sign up after the initial meeting NO, we didn’t want that, we wanted them to go test our data against the competition, they did and they came back, which makes signing them up easy, no sales involved as they already trust our recommended next steps.

The only way to learn is test against the best which in most cases in our opinions it's ours teams, scary at times but an excellent way to learn. At the end of the day, Karma catches up with the bad and slick sales pitches burn out fast.

Great post! 

Julia_Muller Top Contributor
April 2017

hey @Spencer_Wade! I hear you. It is my opinion that AdWords audit should never be free, but I respect what you're doing. As long as it works for you, it makes sense Smiley Happy.