The PPC Audit
The reality of the world we live in is that nothing, no matter how well it’s constructed, is truly perfect. There are always flaws in human endeavors, and it’s really no big deal if you realize and accept it. Your PPC accounts are flawed. Even if you used best practices to build them, gave them 100% of your attention, and watched them with an eagle-eye. It’s time to accept it, audit each one to find the errors, correct them, and move on to the next one.
A PPC audit’s an important part of maintaining the health and functionality of an account. Even when your accounts are performing well, you should consider auditing to see if there are any areas you could be doing better. This attention to detail will do wonders for your campaigns, and go a long way toward validating the trust your clients place in you.
So, the first question we need to answer is what exactly is an audit? A PPC audit’s an in-depth, comprehensive inspection of an account to determine areas that need improvement, and possible mistakes that could be affecting the account’s overall performance. Think of the audit as a checkup. It’s your responsibility, as the doctor, to ensure your patient, the account, is as healthy and fit as possible, and to make any alterations or recommendations you believe will benefit the patient in the days, weeks, and months to come.
The next obvious questions are when and why should you audit your PPC accounts? The answer to both of these questions is simple. Any time you feel an account needs to be looked over, or if it’s underperforming, is a great time for an audit. But, steer clear of performing audits soon after strategy changes or updates. These situations can produce unclear results due to the information you’re basing your reporting on being skewed in the first place. It’s best to give the account some time to accumulate data that’s based off the updates and changes before you dive in.
The last thing we need to discuss before jumping headlong into the auditing process is who would best perform the audit of your account. It seems obvious that you would perform the audit, and in many instances you would be correct, but sometimes it’s a good idea to get a fresh set of eyes to look over your work. It’s basic human nature to feel that simple mistakes are something you never make, so why take the time to check them? This is dangerous hubris, even if it’s not a conscious decision, and should be guarded against carefully. If the account has serious problems then by all means attack them head-on, but if a deep-dive is what you’re after perhaps another person would be the best choice.
Now, after all the preamble is over, we’re ready to begin auditing your account. There are as many ways to audit as there are account managers, and each of these methods, I’m sure, have their own merits. So, keep in mind that these are suggestions not rules. The best audits will be performed using the system you feel most comfortable with, so take what you will from what I’ve given or use it in its entirety. It’s up to you.
Let’s start by checking some basic things first. In order to perform an audit that has meaning we need it to include a long enough range of time. Auditing the last 30 days of account activity may not give you the data you need to understand exactly what’s happening in the account. I’ve found that 90 days of data is the minimum required to get any legitimate, meaningful results, and a year’s worth of data is the perfect range to get all the answers you’re looking for.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the metrics that mean the most, so understanding them prior to your audit’s a huge key to success. As the account manager, you more than likely have a solid handle on the KPIs involved, but it never hurts to check with your client to ensure you’re on the right track. If you’ve turned the account over to someone else to perform the audit make sure they have a complete, working understanding of the metrics you need to focus on to meet the client’s expectations.
Settings are our next destination. This is where a great many mistakes can be found since specific settings are usually set when a campaign is begun and rarely revisited. One of the most common problems found in settings is campaigns being set to target both Search and Display. This is a no-no. Always have your campaigns set to one or the other. Here are a few more things to look for in settings:
- Is Enhanced CPC on? Is this the best method?
- What is the Ad Delivery Method? Is it relevant?
- What is the Ad Rotation Preference?
- Are you segmenting by device? Check Analytics – could you better control spend by splitting mobile out?
- Is Location Targeting correct? Are you pulling conversions in places you don’t offer goods or services
Now that the basics have been covered we’ll take a look at the account structure starting with campaigns. The biggest factor here is whether the names all make sense and are easy to understand. If we have numbered the campaigns, or have given each a name, do the numbers or names make sense? Do they give an indication of the ad groups you’re going to find? As mentioned above, this is also where we can check to be sure our campaigns are opted into Search or Display only. We can also see whether Interest Category or Topics are separated into their own campaigns, or folded into a Display campaign. Below are a few more things you will want to check:
- Are campaign budgets being used effectively?
- Is there a “branded terms only” campaign?
- Is your negative keyword list to extensive? Is it blocking traffic that could convert?
- Is campaign converting well? Is budget cap being reached too early?
Once we have determined that the campaign structure is sound, we can turn our attention to the way the ad groups are constructed. The work you put into properly grouping your campaigns and ad groups will yield relevancy, Quality Score, and improve your portfolio overall. It’s important to remember not to create an ad group that reaches too wide as it makes writing ad copy almost impossible. Here are some more things to look over before we move on:
- Are the ad groups the subcategories of a main category?
- Are there no more than 20 keywords in each ad group?
- In each ad group how many ads are running?
Keywords are one area in many accounts where problems can be found. There are many different factors that could be causing problems here, so we need to take a pretty in-depth look at the questions you should be asking, and exactly where you should be looking for issues and areas for improvement. The following list should help:
- What percentage of keywords are broad? Modified Broad? Phrase? Exact?
- How are they performing by type? Take a look at CTR, QS, and Conversions to get some insights.
- Is there a change that, if made, would increase performance?
- Are brand keywords in campaigns or ad groups with non-brand keywords?
- Do you have a negative keyword strategy in place to identify irrelevant traffic?
- Are bids set too high or low to maintain goals?
The ads in any account are a perfect place for mistakes to hide. As we take a look at them, it’s important to keep the basics firmly in mind. The fact that ads are heavy on copy, time-specific, and ever-changing can lead to simple errors being made, so our audit will focus on the small details that may have been overlooked. It’s also a great idea to run an ad copy test. All copy is flawed in some way, so testing it allows for enhanced performance. Let’s take a look at the steps to take:
- Are the ads grammatically correct?
- Are there any misspellings?
- Is the punctuation being used permitted by search engines?
- Are the ads current? Are they offering deals that have expired?
- Do the ad’s message and the buying cycle fit together? Is this the wrong time for this ad?
- Has an ad copy test been run? If not, run one.
Read the offiial Guide
Of all the changes we can make, and mistakes we can correct, Quality Score is the most difficult to influence. It takes time, and the right account structure, to rectify a poor quality score. There is no single way to improve, so be sure to gather the reports you can here and study them. This can give you an excellent insight into the relevancy of your keywords, ads, landing page, and overall user experience.
Ad extensions are a big part of the Google interface. They are known to have an enormous effect on click-through rates, so they are an integral part of any good audit. It’s imperative you understand that not all extensions will be important to a specific vertical or business, so the question we have to ask is does the particular extension offer anything to the account? If the answer is no, then leave it be and move on. You may want to check to see if sitelinks are implemented since they work well in all verticals. Here are a few more items to check:
- Do sitelinks lead to information on product or service?
- Is there a physical location for this business? Are location extensions in use?
- Are call extensions being used? Are they turned on only during office hours?
- Are call metrics being analyzed?
- For ecommerce sites, are product listing ads enabled via Google Product?
Networks are the next stop on our audit tour. We want to focus on the Display network segments here. There are quite a few things to look over, so let’s take a look at where we should start. Ask yourself the following questions as you scan the account:
- Are placements running automatically? Are some in the managed placements section?
- Are managed placements reaching the goals set?
- Do any of the automatic placements need to be moved to managed?
- Are poorly-performing placements being left out?
- Are there Interest Category and/or Topics-Targeted campaigns running?
- Are there more of these campaign types available?
- Are text and image ads for Display running? Are the images of different sizes to fit in many placement types?
Now, we want to look into remarketing, but only if you have any remarketing campaigns implemented. If you do, take a look at the shared library section to see what audiences you have set for remarketing. There are a couple other things we should look at here too:
- Are remarketing campaigns collecting members?
- Does each abandonment level have an audience set?
- Are you able to locate the cookie codes within the website code?
- Do the lengths of the cookies make sense?
Finally, we come to the real nuts and bolts of the account – analytics. It may be a good idea to point out here that not all accounts you audit will have an analytics account. This sounds ridiculous, I know, but it’s not as uncommon as you might think. If the account exists make sure it’s attached to the search account correctly, and, if it doesn’t, create one right away. There is no reason every account shouldn’t utilize analytics to enhance performance. It’s also a good idea to use a site research report to identify any new keyword opportunities. Below are a few more questions to ask:
- Has tracking code been used on the website? Is commerce enabled if it needs to be?
- Have conversions/goals been set?
- Does conversion data from analytics match search engine interface?
- Are metrics performing acceptably?
- Were any insights gained from looking through multi-channel funnels?
That wasn’t so bad was it? We made our way through the important parts of a PPC audit without any hiccups. So, now that our investigation is complete we have a detailed list of any issues we uncovered, and we can begin to decide how we’re going to go about remedying the problems. Prioritization is the key here. Ask yourself why you did the audit in the first place. Was it to uncover a specific issue? Or perhaps it was just a general checkup? If you were after a problem, identified it, and have a solution then by all means implement it right away. Anything else you came across can be prioritized to follow after. If you were taking a more general look into your account’s health, then the best idea is to attack the issue that is most affecting your revenue followed by whatever takes the least amount of time and work to fix. Keep in mind, there is a limit to the changes you should make in a given time. If you go wild you run the risk of shocking your performance history and making matters far, far worse. Just be careful, be attentive, and, above all else, be objective.
Have anything to add? Feel free to jump in....
I'm Spencer Wade - strategist, designer, manager of people and ideas. Platinum Top Contributor for Google Search, G+ & AdWords - TC Mentor too. I’m the founder of Lift Conversions, a Google Partner agency, located in Chicago. I’ve completed Google’s tests - Search, Display, Video, Analytics, & Mobile, and enjoy being a part of the forums. My agency is also an Official City Partner in the Get Your Business Online effort with Instant Verifier access to help immediately verify business listings.
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