How to Conduct a PPC Audit: The Compete Guide

The key to continually improving your Google Ads accounts is to regularly conduct paid search audits to find missing opportunities. We’d recommend once every few months, depending on the volume and complexity of your account.

Even with the best intentions, if you’ve been working on an account for any period of time the chances are it won’t be long before something slips through the cracks.

A PPC audit will allow you to do a deep dive into your account and determine which areas of your account need attention.

Google Ads audits generally work best when they are done by somebody who isn’t working on the account day-to-day.

So if you’ve got a large in-house team, ask one of your colleagues to review the account, or consider approaching an agency for an independent PPC account audit.

This article will outline how to do a quick 30 minute PPC audit that should pick up most common errors within a Google Ads account.

Attribution modeling

Getting the right attribution model is fundamental to PPC success, yet we still see advertisers using last click attribution models within their account.

There are 6 main attribution models that you can use. Amy has written about attribution modeling quite extensively so I will not go into it in detail.

Conversion tracking

Having clean data within Google Ads is essential to understanding what drives value, so as part of your PPC audit you should review the conversion tracking within the account.

This is also something which you will not get alerted to in the interface if it stops working for any reason, so does need to be checked on a semi-regular basis.

Here are the main errors that you should look for when conducting your audit:

  • Are the tags firing and on the right page? Watch out for conversion tags that are placed mistakenly on non-conversion pages (the contact page for example as opposed to the thank you page) and make sure conversions in Google Ads match the number that you have received.
  • Are calls being tracked? If you take calls, are you tracking calls into Google Ads? There should be all 3 call conversion actions set up to track calls from your site, call extensions, and from click to call on mobile.
  • Is offline tracking setup? If you have an offline sales team then you should be tracking conversions through into your CRM. As part of your PPC audit check that you have offline conversion tracking setup in Google Ads.
  • Are you using enhanced ecommerce tracking? If you’re a retailer then there’s a high chance that you will get a reasonable number of returns – especially in the fashion sector. Make sure that you’re using enhanced ecommerce tracking to track returns so you can accurately measure ROAS.
  • Are cookies set to 90 days? Unless you have a reason otherwise, set the cookie tracking window to 90 days and the view-through window to 30 days.

Account structure

Getting the account structure correct and named appropriately is an important part of any paid search audit.

Campaign structure

Generally speaking we would suggest that you split your campaigns into three buckets:

  • Brand campaigns. Used to protect your brand against competitors and contain keywords that are your brand name.
  • Generic campaigns. Generic campaigns contain all of your non-brand search terms.
  • Competitors campaigns. These campaigns will contain keywords that are the names of your competitors.

Campaigns should follow a logical structure. In an ecommerce account for example you will want to split your campaigns in a similar structure to your website, and in lead generation you may want to split it by service for example.

In our experience, you should always split campaigns by match type as it makes reporting more accurate, and allows you to set bids differently on higher intent, better quality keywords.

Ad group structure

As part of your account structure audit you will want to review your ad groups. We use the single keyword ad group (SKAG) format as it generally provides the best results. As the name suggests – this is where there is just a single keyword per ad group.

We have built a script that creates a list of all ad groups that have more than one keyword, this should help expedite your audit.

On very large scale account it may however be acceptable to build the account with a small number of keywords (1-3) per ad group, without negatively impacting Quality Score.

Naming conventions

Making sure there are clear naming conventions as part of your PPC audit is important. It is easy to let this slip over time, but as several people are likely to work on the account in its lifetime, having a clear naming convention can be a huge timesaver.

There are no set rules when it comes to naming conventions, but consistency and clarity is keen. Key attributes which would distinguish the content and give context to results need to be present within the campaign name – e.g. match type, brand vs generic, geo targeting etc.

Bidding

Reviewing your bidding is a fundamental part of any PPC account audit. How your bidding strategy is set up will depend on what your overall targets are.

You should look at your branded vs non-branded bidding separately.

Brand campaigns

In most cases the aim for your brand campaigns will be to have 100% impression share at position 1 so your competitors are less likely to steal your customers.

You can either achieve this by using manual bidding or using automated bidding to target 100% impression share.

Non-brand campaigns

In terms of non-branded traffic there are several different acceptable strategies.

As part of the PPC audit we would suggest checking that if you’re using manual CPC bidding, that there are a full set of ad extensions set up (location, device, age, gender, time of day, day of the week, audience etc).

If you’re using automated bidding such as tCPA or tROAS then make sure they align with your campaign goals, and that there is a reasonable amount of conversion volume coming through to allow Google’s machine learning to optimise appropriately.

Budget constraints

Checking for budget constraints is also important as these could hold opportunities for scaling your account and improving results.

We would suggest that you look at impression share, impression share lost to rank, and impression share lost to budget at both an account and individual campaign level.

This will allow you to see how many potential impressions you’re missing out on due to having budget constraints within your account.

Keywords

There are four main things that we generally looking at when reviewing keywords as part of a PPC audit.

  • Is there any use of broad match keywords? This is a big problem as you have so little control over what broad matches.
  • Is 70-80% of traffic going through exact match keywords? With a well optimised account you will want to see the vast majority of traffic going through exact match – where you have the most control. You can use this Google Ads script to create a report by match type.
  • Is there full keyword coverage? There are two main things to check here. Firstly are there converted search queries that are not yet added as keywords? Secondly are there products or services on the website that don’t have keyword coverage yet? You can find these via gap analysis.
  • How do close match variants perform? Google has been slowly making close variant matching broader – giving you less control over what your ads show for. You should review your search terms report to see how close match variants perform against standard exact match. If they perform badly use this script that makes exact match exact again.

Ads

When it comes to the ad copy itself there are a number of best practices that you should look out for. A key best practice is split testing, as until you’ve tested split tested any copy you cannot say what messaging provides the best results. More on this below.

Here are a range of other best practices that you should appraise your ads against:

  • Are you using title case? Is the first letter of each word capitalised? If not, have you tested different cases (e.g. title vs proper)?
  • Are you using / testing responsive search ads? Responsive search ads appear for a slightly different inventory vs ETAs and so are worth investigating.
  • Is there a call to action in your ads?
  • Are you using the full character limit? Make sure there are no short ads.
  • Are ads tailored to the search term?
  • Is there a clear USP within the ad copy?

Split testing

The most important part of improving ad copy is split testing your ads. So as part of your PPC audit you should review your split testing strategy.

The two main things that I look for when reviewing split testing is that there is more than one ad per ad group and secondly checking that there is a way that you can measure when a test is statistically significant.In terms of split testing we would suggest checking that you are either using a split testing tool such as Adalysis or a Google Ads script such as this one that we wrote that creates a dashboard for you and sends an email once a test is complete.

Ad extensions

When it comes to ad extensions ensure that you have a full set of all the relevant extensions in place, including seller ratings which are frequently overlooked.

Also sense check the level that your extensions are being placed at. A well set up account will be granular and have extensions right down to campaign, and in some cases ad group, level.

Quality Score

Reviewing your Quality Score is important as it has a significant effect on your CPCs.

As a first step you should make sure that there is a process for recording your Quality Score daily. We would suggest implementing this Google Ads script that tracks Quality Score daily and graphs it out for you like the image below.

The graph will give you a snapshot like the one above that will give you an idea of your account’s health.

The table below shows the discounting that you would expect to see depending on your Quality Score.

As you can see, Google sees Quality Score 5 as par, and below this you will be charged more per click.

We would therefore suggest that a Quality Score below 5 is poor, 5 – 7 is good and and average of  7+ is excellent.

The script will also allow you to see a breakdown of the different Quality Score elements that make up the Quality Score algorithm (landing page experience, expected CTR and ad relevance) to allow you to spot problem trends across these specific areas.

Once you have this data you will want to filter your keywords by Quality Score and then create a list of keywords that have Quality Scores below 5 ordered by the highest number of impressions first. Addressing these first will be an easy win for your account and should drive a significant improvement in performance.

Audiences

Audiences are becoming increasingly more significant in Adwords and there are 6 main things that we would check for within your audience tab:

  • Are remarketing lists for search ads setup (RLSA) and do they have bid modifiers?
  • Is RLSA set up to push people down the sales cycle? Are there audiences created for each different step of the sales cycle? For example on an ecommerce account, do you have audiences for category viewers, product viewers, cart abandoners and existing customers? Do they have appropriate bid modifiers? E.g. category viewers are not that engaged so should have low bid modifiers and cart abandoners are red hot ready to buy so should have high bid modifiers.
  • Are in-market audience being used? Check to see if your account has relevant in-market audiences set up that are appropriate to your products or services.
  • Are you using similar to RLSA audiences? Similar to audiences can work well in Adwords as these target people similar to your RLSA on observation.
  • Are you using customer match audiences? Customer match is great for allowing you to target your ads at people who are in your CRM system or who you have met offline at a trade show for example. If you’ve spent more than $50k on paid search over the lifetime of your account then you can use these.
  • Is there a strategy around observation / target? With your audience you can either target audience or set them to observation. As part of your PPC audit go through and make sure that these are setup the way that you were expecting.

 

 

wesley parker
About wesley parker

Wesley is Founder and CEO at Clicteq. He currently manages a £6 Mil Adwords portfolio across a range of different sectors. He regulally features in leading search publications such as Econsultancy, Campaign Magazine and Search Engine Land. You can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Linkedin

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