10 Steps for Conducting a Successful PPC Audit

Google AdWords PPC Audit
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Creating and deploying a brand new pay per click (PPC) campaign from scratch is probably the easiest way to get started working with a new SEM provider. Simply build it, test it, and optimize it.

On the other hand, the situation is completely different for those of us who have a history of PPC advertising and an existing account. While many providers will come in and say they have to scrap the history and start from scratch, that’s not your only option.

We tend to start out with a review and audit of prior performance and account structure. After all, there may be a few nuggets of wisdom to glean from history. Maybe some pieces worked and others did not.

Or maybe the whole account was a colossal failure. There’s plenty to learn from that situation too!

Having just finished up an audit for a partner’s client, this topic is fresh in my mind. So I thought I’d take you through the 10 key steps for performing a PPC Audit.

Use this as you deem fit. Maybe you want to DIY. Or maybe you are bringing in a new PPC agency, and want to know what to expect. Perhaps you are hiring a full time SEM professional and want to know what to have them address first. No matter how you want to use it, your time will be well spent understanding these steps.

Overall Account Structure

The first place to start is the overall structure of the PPC Account. Review the campaigns, ad groups, and keywords to determine if there is a logical hierarchy that is consistent across all of the campaigns.

Check to ensure that text-based campaigns and image or display-based campaigns are split out. Since expected click through rates and conversion rates are very different between the two different types of placements and ads, you do not want them blended into a single campaign. If you allow them in the same campaigns, your performance metrics will be all over the place.

Finally, review the splits between various campaigns to understand why different products, geographies or other variables are separated. Is it just a budget management issue? Is it because of tightly grouped topics that are focused on different audiences? Or does it seem like there is no rhyme and reason to how the campaigns are split out?

Unless there is a strategic reason to structure the account as you see it built out, you may be able to simplify the structure and save yourself (or your agency) a lot of management headache. Aim to simplify here – decide what is the most straightforward way to build out this account to ensure the appropriate targeting and budget spend across all topics and campaigns.

Conversion Tracking

Every good PPC campaign should have conversion tracking deployed from day one. I always recommend that you start with the AdWords standard tracking for websites. In fact, even if you use a premium solution for managing your PPC campaigns, it pays to include the provided tracking codes from the PPC platform you are using.

Other conversion tracking that I advocate include:

  1. Call tracking for businesses that get a lot of their leads via the phone
  2. Conversion tracking in Google Analytics (or whatever analytics package you use) to get a full view of performance when evaluating sitewide, cross-channel metrics

Whatever approach you choose for your own business and campaign, be sure you are tracking conversions. Without it, you are managing your PPC spend based on guesswork and website visitors.

So early in the PPC audit, I review conversion tracking to determine whether or not we have a good idea of what keywords, ad groups, and ads are driving real leads. It is a huge influence on how I approach the rest of the analysis as described below.

Keyword Performance

Once we complete the review of account structure and conversion tracking, we immediately turn our attention to keywords. Assuming we have a view into conversions, we start out by looking at which keywords are driving leads.

Following up on the lead review, we do a deep dive into other areas of keyword performance. For example, Quality Score, which measures the quality of the overall user experience, is something we take very seriously. We document how many keywords are low QS, which can lead to inflated bid prices and reduced impression share for those keywords.

We also take time to look at how expensive clicks and conversions are for each of the keywords. In some cases, a keyword that performs well with click and conversion rates will simply cost too much to continue targeting.

In the end, we summarize what percent of keywords across each campaign are performing the best, and which are of concern. In many cases, we will also recommend removing or replacing certain keywords, or even testing derivations of them that may cost less per click to pursue.

Keyword Match Types, including Negative Match

Separate from performance (but absolutely related), we do a thorough review of how the client is using match types to optimize targeting across their account.

Match types are very important to consider. We often find accounts that are over half targeted toward broad and modified broad match, and those are the biggest nets you can cast out. While they may drive good click through rates, they often fail to convert as well as phrase and exact match. Why? Because broader match types are more likely to result in lower quality or less qualified clicks. They could even lead to the wrong people clicking altogether, which will certainly deflate your conversion rate and increase cost / conversion metrics.

Finally, we review whether negative match keywords have been deployed or not. Since negative match keywords are important for further eliminating bad clicks, we believe every PPC account should have them deployed with the campaigns themselves. If you don’t know what negative match keywords to use, refer to our master list of negative match keywords as a great starting place.

Landing Page Effectiveness

Landing pages play a key role in the success of your PPC campaign. First, they are the place where you can convert visitors to contacts and/or leads. If you get that right, it’s a matter of sending enough qualified and interested visitors to your website.

But there’s another issue – quality score. I mentioned how quality score is assigned to keywords, and the overall user experience for each keyword influences that score. The destination page (a.k.a. landing page) can greatly impact quality score at the keyword level.

While Google doesn’t really care much about whether or not you are able to convert visitors (keep in mind, they get paid when the click happens), they do care about sending clicks to relevant pages. User experience is a gauge of how relevant the landing page is to the keywords and ad texts you use to send those visitors to the destination page.

So you have two metrics – conversion rate and quality scores. An effective landing page will excel at both measurements, so we evalutae both areas during a PPC audit.

Ad Group Structure, Sizing, and Performance

Ad group structure is very important for performance, and can even factor into quality scores along with the landing page and keywords chosen.

First, a good ad group should be the right size. We start off by reviewing how many keywords are in each ad group (Google recommends 10-25 keywords in an ideally sized ad group). This is the first step in the audit.

Next, we turn our attention to overall performance by ad group. Standard metrics such as CTR, CPCs, and conversion rates and costs all play into this analysis.

Finally, we again review to ensure that the ad groups have been built into tight themes. Even if the ad groups are sized appropriately, we often find that loosely themed groups of keywords tend to have lower quality scores and poorer performance than optimized ad group structures.

Ad Performance

Ad texts or images are one of the key notes for driving clicks to your website. Good ads will drive higher CTRs, and will also help boost the quality scores for the keywords based on relevance and expected clicks moving forward.

So we spend time on performance, figuring out which are showing the results and which are not. We also evaluate whether good tests are being run, so Google can select the winner on your behalf. You would be surprised to find how often opportunities are lost just based on a lack of ad testing.

When possible, take the time to figure out why one ad is winning over another. Is it the headline? The call to action? The words used? You don’t have to know all of the answers, but at least come up with educated guesses at this stage. You’ll need that information for building out new challengers when you move from audit to restructuring of the account.

Settings and Targeting

A great campaign can fail to meet expectations based simply on a mismanagement of the settings and targeting in the campaign. It’s worth doing at least a cursory review of these areas during your PPC audit project.

For example, if you are seeing poor results, it could be possible that you are targeting customers who will never buy your product. Perhaps you are selling a product that is great for use in warm weather. Does it make any sense to show ads to customers in Maine during the dead of winter? Of course not!

As for settings, there are several areas you want to review during the audit:

  1. Does the account use the available ad extensions, as recommended by Google?
  2. How well optimized is the account for mobile / tablet vs. desktop platforms?
  3. What bid strategies and scheduling are deployed? Is it all set up properly?
  4. Does the account use ad rotation or delivery schedule settings? Should they be changed?
  5. Is the campaign / account targeting the right languages and locations?

These are a few examples that can be audited rather quickly. Take at least a few minutes to review the settings and targeting to ensure any performance challenges aren’t self-inflicted accidentally.

Budget Allocation

Clients will always want to have a good handle on the pace of spend in their PPC account. Sometimes, however, larger accounts might be set to overspend or underspend based on daily max budget settings.

You want to look at a couple of things – what the daily budget is in each campaign and overall, as well as how budget is distributed across campaigns and whether that distribution is optimized for pace of spend.

Be sure not to leave budget on the table if there are conversions to be had. And if the account is overspending target maximums, figure out what campaigns need that money the most so you can recommend re-allocation of funds accordingly.

Opportunity Assessment

The opportunity assessment is the culmination of all other analyses included in the PPC audit. Based on what you observed across the nine other audit areas, take time to recommend other ideas for how the account might be changed to drive improved results.

For example, does the account take advantage of remarketing or not? Remarketing can serve to increase conversions and recapture “bounces” from previous visits.

Be sure to leave time at the end to roll up all of your observations and summarize a “next steps” for the client to test. This is, for many customers, the most important piece of the entire PPC audit.

Summary

Before starting to make changes to your account, it pays to have a PPC audit completed on the existing campaign. Follow these 10 steps to be sure you are not missing anything important.

What else do you typically review during a PPC audit?

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As Founder and President of Return On Now, Tommy Landry provides the vision behind our SEO and SEM methodologies. With over 25 years of business experience and a deep understanding of modern internet marketing techniques, he spends his time providing hands-on consulting, insightful content, and engaging public speaking appearances to Online Marketers of all skill levels.

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