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SEO | Apr 19
Mara Calvello on March 16, 2021 (last modified on March 17, 2021) • 19 minute read
The perfect ad campaign doesn’t exist.
It doesn’t? How can you really know for sure how your ad is performing?
You can’t! Well, at least if you don’t take the time to run a PPC audit on your ads.
No matter what kind of ad you’re paying to run, it’s in your best interest to know if your hard-earned money is being spent wisely. You’ll want to know if your ad is making an impression (literally), if it’s getting clicks, and whether or not you’re targeting the right keywords.
So, let’s learn how to conduct a meaningful PPC audit. You’ll learn the following:
In its simplest terms, a PPC audit is an analysis of a PPC campaign or specific account with the aim to determine areas of optimization. Just like SEO audits, in the long run, the aim of a PPC audit is to identify improvements that will get you a better return on investment.
Things move fast in the world of paid search, so audits are important to ensure you’re up to date regarding any new features, policies, releases, or updates launched by Google.
Running a PPC audit will give you a better idea of what’s wrong in any of your PPC campaigns, what can be done to improve, and the results you can expect once these improvements are made.
When it comes to the frequency of running a PPC audit, there’s no hard and fast answer.
While the actual answer is more like, “it depends”, there’s never a bad time to audit your account because you never know what you may find that can help improve campaign performance. However, if you’ve noticed that the campaign is having performance issues, that should be a red flag that it’s time for an audit.
Chris Riley from USA Rx recommends running an audit every three months. Riley explains, “I perform PPC audits every three months so that I receive a workable amount of data but often enough that I can identify problems and make adjustments.”
After your specific PPC campaign has been running for some time, it’s a good idea to begin an ad campaign. Not sure to begin? Check out these 20 tips from the experts.
Interested in a specific tip? Jump ahead to:
Like anything in life, it’s always a good idea to make a plan before doing anything, including a PPC audit.
Not sure how to make a plan? Kyle Bachmann from LinkOceans elaborates by saying, “I think the one tip that you should take away from this post is that you really have to plan out your audit before you do it. This means writing down your goals, making an audit plan, and then deciding how you are going to measure progress. This step will save you a lot of time in the end.”
It’s a good idea to remember that PPC audits are not a “set it and forget it” kind of thing. In order to get the most out of your audits, you’ll need to run them on a regular basis.
Nick Drewe at Wethrift shares further, “My biggest tip for conducting a meaningful PPC audit is simple: don’t wait until there’s a problem. The data will be much more helpful to you if you make PPC audits a regular part of your business operations. I like to do them quarterly, making the comparisons clear-cut and easy to track year after year. An abundance of data in regular intervals will help you improve performance over time, being proactive instead of reactionary — always a better policy.”
As you run PPC audits, you’ll get the most out of them if you know which keywords are bringing in the most ROI.
To elaborate further on this tip is Eva Chavez at Tenant. “For a meaningful audit, there are plenty of key points within the campaign to monitor, but ultimately the number one factor is what keywords are producing a high return on investment (ROI). Whether that is brand awareness or actual purchases depends on the goals for the campaign. The goals should be established in analytics already. Next, you are going to want to look at the health and quality of the KW’s bringing in ROI and make sure of the following items:
Another take on this tip is from Joe Terrell at Drifted. Terrel explains, “Mind the keywords. I think it’s one of the key things in the audit to check the keywords and access their performance. It will help you to keep the focus on the ones that convert well, broadening the list adding some new ones, and see what keywords deliver poor performance. It will help you to improve the ad relevance and make the decision which keywords to exclude to optimize the PPC budget.”
*Editor’s note: Unsure how your keywords are performing? Analyze your campaigns, ad groups, keywords, and engagement metrics to improve your return on investment (ROI) with the free Google ads KPI dashboard template.
In order to avoid making some rookie mistakes or simple slip-ups, you’ll also want to keep an eye on the structure of your ads and the campaign.
“If I am auditing a brand new account, I start by evaluating the structure. In many cases, I see rookie mistakes such as stacking 100 keywords of all broad matches in an ad group by internal product or division structure, rather than topic. Or I’ll see people who have ad groups with a range of keywords that are loosely related, grouped by match type. In both of those instances, the quick win is to simply tighten up the ad groups and structure the campaign better,” shares Tommy Landry from Return On Now.
One aspect of your ad campaign that should never go forgotten is the settings. This is another portion of your PPC campaign that you want to avoid “setting and forgetting.”
Addys Guerra from Bright Productions explains how to inspect the settings by saying, “One tip for conducting a PPC audit is to check the settings first. If the settings are done correctly, the account is targeting the right location(s) of the client’s marketed product/service, the right campaign goals (clicks, impressions, or conversions), and the right business hours.
We check all our client campaigns’ settings monthly when we work on their account, to make sure we are maximizing all of Google Ads’ configurations to deliver results. There are times where we have changed some campaign bidding strategies for a month to compare differences in performance. This is super useful for A/B testing campaign settings over time. It’s important that every client campaign is correctly configured to the client’s end goal because the campaign settings can make or break a campaign.”
Arthur Iinuma from ISBX also reminds PPC users that forgetting to update settings can be a large oversight when conducting audits. “Setting your campaign settings is quick and easy but even a small oversight can have a devastating effect on your ad performance. Check you’re targeting the appropriate network (Search Network or Google Display Network). If you want to display on mobile make sure your bid modifiers are high enough to guarantee you visibility on mobile searches.
Wrapping this tip up with more advice to keep in mind is Dorota Lysienia at LiveCareer. “Many marketers make the mistake of creating settings for their first PPC campaign and keeping them intact for future ones. Determining campaign settings is one step but regularly checking if they’re still consistent with your client’s KPIs is essential, too. You might realize that your audience targeting is different for your new campaign, so it doesn’t make sense to keep your old settings in place. A good idea is to also look at your settings during a campaign to make sure you’re reaching your performance goals.
Revising your campaign settings during a PPC audit allows you to focus your efforts in the right direction and apply any key learnings from your previous campaigns into your PPC strategy.”
It’s also a good idea as you do your PPC audits to set a negative keyword.
Gilad Rom from Huan explains the ins and outs of a negative keyword by sharing, “Negative keywords ensure you avoid impressions and clicks from unqualified searchers. You can guess your negative keywords, but a better approach would be to go to your query reports to see what terms have been triggering your ads. Pinpoint terms that you don’t want your ads showing for and set them as negative keywords.”
There are a variety of tools that you can use at your disposal in order to do an effective PPC audit, one of which being the search term report.
Jacob Fitzpatrick from Fitz Designz shares further on this report. “Pay close attention to the Search Term report. This report shows you the exact search term that triggered your ad. This is a great place to identify areas you may be wasting your budget. If a search term is not relevant to your ad, then this is an indication you should add it to your negative keyword list.”
Next, consider checking on the format of your ads when you run your PPC audit.
“Determine the ad formats and the keywords targeted. Your category of ad formats is also an important component of PPC audit; see whether you use Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs), Promotion extensions, Ad extensions, Shopping campaigns, Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA), or Display remarketing campaigns,” explains Caroline Lee from CocoSign.
Your ads quality score should also be part of your PPC audit. This score, combined with your maximum bid, oftentimes determines where your ad is placed within the SERP.
“The best way to conduct a meaningful PPC audit is by checking and logging our quality score. Quality score is one of the most important aspects of our PPC campaign. Our quality score and maximum bid determine our ad’s placement. While conducting our PPC audit, we should pay attention to our quality score and improve our quality score which in turn improves our ad’s overall performance, shares Alina Clark from CocoDoc.
Something else to keep in mind is your ad’s impression shares. This means, how many impressions your ad has had on your relevant or target audience.
Shaun Elley at Blue Ox Digital elaborates further to say, “I always start with the impression share. Impression share can show you issues from a campaign level and help guide the rest of your audit. Are they losing impressions on the top converting campaign because Impression Share (loss to rank) is too high? Why is the ad rank so low are the bidding too low? Are the ads not relevant? Are keywords too broad and triggering on irrelevant queries. Impression share and where they are losing impressions is a great compass to guide the rest of your audit.”
Agreeing with this tip is Adam Garcia from The Stock Dork. He adds on to say, “Clickthrough rate (CTR) is one of the important metrics for your PPC campaign. The CTR shows you stats how often people click on your ad and engage with it. If you want to have a high return on investment (ROI), not only a high impression is enough, but your audience needs to click on your ad. Therefore, monitoring your CTR helps you determine what your competitors are doing and how many clicks and engagement you are getting on your ads.”
*Editor’s note: Utilize the free Google Ads PPC Performance dashboard template to keep an eye on important metrics, like impressions, CTR, cost per click, and so much more.
Another helpful way you can troubleshoot your ad during your PPC audit is to utilize ad preview.
For this, Brett Ehlert at Triangle Pest Control shares, “Use the ad preview and diagnosis tool, especially for campaigns that have a low amount of impressions. It can be a great way to figure out if your ad might not be showing due to a negative keyword, a low-quality score, or even a limited budget. It’s easy to get stuck behind the data in the day-to-day but using this preview tool forces you to see more of the potential missed opportunities and how your ads appear in the wild.”
As you run your PPC audit, don’t forget to link the overall campaign to an analytics account. This will give you access to more data surrounding your ads, and a better audit overall.
Hamza Usmani from HomeTree adds to this tip to say, “Whether it’s phone calls or web leads, conversion sources should be trackable. You’ll get more complete data about your campaign by linking to an analytics account. This provides insight beyond clicks and conversions to help you get an idea of what searchers are doing on your site after they click your ads. Data gathered from web analytics can provide indicators of the quality of leads you are getting and help improve your campaign altogether.”
Another super helpful report to consider as you run your PPC audit is the geographical report. This report can provide you with tons of helpful information and help you determine if you’re spending your money in the best way possible.
Julien Raby from Coffee-Works adds, “Conduct a geographic report to see if there are any new areas where you can grow and where you can cut back on spending. If you’re investing a lot of money in places where conversions aren’t high, it may be time to pull out and reallocate your budget to a place where conversions are better. If your company has different locations, make sure you’re just targeting settings for one of them – if you do, you’ll be competing against yourself.”
Also running a geographical report is Brian Stewart at ProsperoWeb, LLC. “Spend time reviewing the portions of your targeted population. Examine your targeted consumer locations and remove those that your company cannot service. You can use this time to assess which locations are performing well and concentrate your efforts on those areas; you can also change your plan for under-performing locations or eliminate the worst-performing ones entirely,” explains Stewart.
Sam Edwards from PPC.co also recommends that you make changes to your ads depending on specific demographics.
“The next recommendation would be in regards to bid adjustments – many companies and agencies, I’ve found, do not make bid modifications to anything other than keyword bids. Many do not make bid adjustments to the demographics (age, gender, household income), location targeting, or devices. If you aren’t making modifications to these sections of your PPC campaigns, you could be wasting a lot of money on inefficiencies, causing the CPAs to be higher than necessary, and creating significant bloat/fat in the campaigns that need to be trimmed down,” shares Edwards.
A surefire way to avoid finding out you’ve wasted ad spend as you wrap up your audit? Not keeping track or any sort of record of the changes you make during the campaign.
Jerome Williams from JWorks Studios knows the importance of these details and shares, “Track every minor change to your ad content. Whether you just changed the arrangement of the words or tried out new keywords, comparing those changes – no matter how slight – in relation to your PPC results will give you an A/B picture of how well your efforts are being received by those who see them. To me, this ranks higher than your targeting settings because it does not show up in your report and it’s an explicit change that you make yourself; And if it has an impact (good or bad), you should definitely be mindful of it at all times.”
Also following this best practice is Quinn Dolan at Perfect Search Media. “Fundamentals are key. More often than not, we audit accounts that don’t follow best practices and, for this reason, are set up for failure. Things like campaign structure, conversion tracking, and campaign settings are absolutely crucial to an account’s success. Pay attention to these, or pay the price in wasted ad spend,” shares Dolan.
Most ad campaigns are run with particular goals in mind. But how tangible and realistic are the goals you’re setting?
Kevin from Vine Street Digital makes a good point by saying, “A truly great PPC audit goes beyond just listing metrics. It should also come with context and lead to further insights.
Audits should always be based on the clients’ goals. Not broad things like ‘increase awareness’ or ‘make more sales, but clear, measurable things such as ‘keep the cost per conversion under $50,’ ‘achieve x number of leads per dollar amount spent’ or ‘a ROAs above 200’. From this, a good PPC report will show you if those goals were achieved in the reporting time frame.
There’s no doubt you’ll see some core metrics like clicks, impressions, CTR, average position, impression share, and so on. That’s all very nice, but these metrics and numbers need to be given context. It’s good to have the report explain why things are the way they are. If your CTR went down, what does that mean? Why might it have gone down? Was it necessarily a bad thing?
The numbers you see are a reflection of how well your lead funnel is set up, how refined your audience or keywords are, the effectiveness of your messaging, and the optimization of your website. If you understand your metrics more than just ‘it went up’ or ‘it went down’, then you can truly assess your business, who you need to reach, and how best to reach them.”
When it comes to the right PPC campaign, you want to make sure your money is money well spent. How do you know for sure? A PPC audit can give you a little more insight
“I always ensure I closely observe the cost of bidding on any PPC campaign. I work to determine which keywords are excessively expensive in terms of cost per click. When I’m optimizing any PPC campaign I often find that accounts will be over-spending on the acquisition because the bid price on certain keywords is far too high. Making sure that I create an effective bidding strategy for the campaign is one of the most important factors when carrying out a PPC audit,” explained Connor Hewson from Assured Marketing.
Another great way to get the most out of your PPC audits is to not only track how your ads are performing, but how your competitor’s ads are performing, too.
Jonathan Aufray at Growth Hackers recommends analyzing your competitors. “For a meaningful PPC audit, you don’t just want to analyze your own ads’ performance. It’s important to always track what your competitors are doing. What keywords are they ranking for? What ad copies are they using? Which countries are they targeting? Those are simple questions you need to answer when conducting a PPC audit. By knowing what your competitors do, you can get inspired by them in order to improve your campaigns,” shares Aufray.
As you run your PCC audits, don’t pigeonhole yourself into only examining one date range. From data surrounding long weekends to entire seasons, you want to be sure you’re getting a complete picture of how your ad is performing.
Csilla Borsos at Creatopy recommends, “ There are certain metrics that are crucial to every account (such as CTR, to monitor how relevant your ad is and how your target audience perceives them), but the KPIs may differ from business to business. However, one important aspect that I keep in mind regardless of the account type is the date range. When interpreting data, you should look at both a shorter and a longer range. If I’m interested in how the campaigns performed this month (for example, if I made a recent change and want to see how it affected the performance), I analyze this month’s data first, but overall, for the big picture and the long-term goals, it’s essential to check the metrics for longer periods as well, to identify statistically relevant patterns and trends. Also, let’s not forget that seasonality is another factor that we should consider before drawing conclusions; viewing your data by monthly breakdown is, again, pivotal.”
At the end of the day, how you run your ad campaign, as well as your PPC audit, is up to you. A lot of it will depend on your budget and the industry your organization is in, so remember to follow your own rules.
Jeroen Minks at Vazooky Digital recommends not blindly follow the recommendations in Google Ads. “I understand that Google Ads newbies are automatically drawn to the standard recommendations as they think that ‘Google knows best’. However, if you dig in a bit deeper you will understand that a lot of these recommendations will not be applicable to every account. You can read them, but always make your own decision whether you should implement them or not,” explains Minks.
When you know how to successfully complete a PPC audit, you can be sure the money you’re putting forth towards your PPC campaign isn’t being wasted. There are a lot of elements to consider, so there’s never been a better time to roll up your sleeves and get started.
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