We won’t lie; it has happened to us, too: we’ve gotten so caught up in the day-to-day PPC optimizations that we missed the forest for the trees. Whether it’s to establish a baseline, to inform a plan of action, or simply because you’re curious about what’s actually going on in your account, a Google Ads account audit is a great way to step back and get a fresh look at campaign health and performance.
For us, it’s not a one-time project, but a recurring project that keeps us humble and our clients happy. It’s about being honest with ourselves so we can keep leading with our best foot forward. Without giving away the kitchen sink, read on for some insights into our process when it comes to Google Ads account audits.
Linking Google Analytics
Proper linking between a Google Ads account and its corresponding Google Analytics account is crucial to the health of a PPC campaign. Imagine the horror of letting someone build, launch, and run your campaign for months only to one day realize the results of your campaign haven’t been properly tracked. What a complete waste! Our best advice here is to check, then double check, then triple check, then do a post-launch check.
On top of the correct Google Analytics (GA) account, double check the correct view is linked. A client may have several views set up in their Google Analytics. For example, we usually create a “Test” view and a “Reporting” view, on top of the standard view, “All Web Site Data.”
Just to put the importance of quadruple-checking your linked accounts into perspective, we just discovered our reporting tool was connected to the wrong GA view for one of our clients. Luckily, metrics did not differ between views enough to cause a catastrophe, but this goes to show even we professionals have those checks in place for a reason!
Stay tuned for a future blog post discussing Google Analytics and attribution!
Campaign Structure & Settings
Now that we’ve confirmed proper linking, we take a look at campaign structure. Are the campaigns tightly themed? We like seeing campaigns (and their ad groups) organized by keywords, whether it’s level of intent, match type, or search query. In terms of match types, we’ve found that campaigns utilizing the whole range in their ad groups tend to perform best.
Another important part of campaign health is budget optimization. Are any campaigns limited by budget? If not, are they spending their full daily budgets? Budget is a delicate balance that is a learning process for any new campaign, which is why active management is a must.
While opting into the Google Search Partners network may seem like a nice, easy way to expand campaign reach, we also always want to make the best use of budget. In our experience, it’s more effective to opt out of this network and keep that money cycling through Google.
Here’s a quick inside look at what we most commonly discover at the ad group level: the biggest issue we come across is in the keyword targeting. We often find ad groups to have well above the best practice range of 15-25 keywords, spreading targeting and budget too thin. Additionally, a client may be missing out on new keyword opportunities that are easily discoverable in the Search Terms tab. More on keywords later!
Now that we have a good feel for overall campaign structure, let’s dig a little deeper into budget. We are in the business of budget optimization, ensuring our clients see results that match their monetary investment. Our first check is whether the budget is allocated to the highest area of opportunity, whether that’s an overall campaign, an ad group inside of a campaign, or drilled down to a single keyword.
The more granular you can get with a conversion opportunity analysis, the better data you’ll find to support decisions on how you can maximize budget. For example, you may discover a keyword is driving the majority of conversions in an ad group at a $10 cost per conversion, which is hardly a bad rate to pay for the acquisition of qualified, bottom-of-the-funnel leads.
However, the use of automated PPC bidding strategies does not allow for manual keyword bid adjustments, so beware of the way Google spends an account’s money. Their algorithms aren’t perfect, nor do they necessarily have the advertiser’s best interest in mind. That said, discovering the most effective bidding strategy often takes some testing to determine.
Here are a few other important areas we drill down to:
1. Location Targeting
Each campaign should be targeting only locations where the client is able to actually deliver their products or services. For example, local businesses shouldn’t be targeting the United States as a whole if they don’t have the infrastructure necessary to service the entire country.
Take it to the next level and check for the use of bid adjustments on areas that have historically converted at a high rate or at a low cost per conversion. On the other hand, are areas that have historically not performed well being excluded? The more refined the targeting, the more efficient the budget. Repeat this seven times, then extend this line of thinking into each part of the audit as you go, and you’ll feel like a star!
2. Ad Schedule
An Ad schedule is the days and times that ads in a given campaign will show. When you create a campaign, ads will show at all times on all days by default. Once a campaign runs for 90 days or so, or collects enough conversion data, you can create an ad schedule that trims non-performing timeslots, helping prevent wasted ad spend. For example, you may find that a campaign is generating hundreds of clicks on Wednesdays from noon to 5pm, but no conversions.
Ad schedule can also help you pinpoint peak conversion times, which can be further optimized by placing a bid adjustment on the day, time, or both day and time if you can get that refined. Whether or not a campaign is being optimized using this tactic can make a world of difference.
3. Device Targeting
Since now more than ever, the majority of online traffic is generated by mobile devices, it is absolutely necessary for all campaigns to be optimized for mobile users. This includes mobile page load speed. Besides that, we check whether bids on top-performing devices (whether it’s mobile, desktop, or tablet) are raised, and vice versa.
Let’s dive into the ad copy and structure a bit. There’s a ridiculous amount of competition on the search results page now that Google is getting smarter and better at answering a user’s search query. Some examples of competition that extend beyond other pay-per-click ads and organic listings include local packs and People Also Asked (PAA) boxes. Our checks when it comes to ads are focused at ensuring they have the best shot at being seen and winning clicks over to the landing page.
What we primarily look for is a healthy balance of keyword targeting and attention-grabbing, relevant messaging. The written copy should align a user’s search intent with the information contained on the ad’s landing page. Ads are basically a way to say, “Hey, we can help you solve your problem! Just click here!” However, this in no way has to be intrusive.
Our two most important checks are that, first, each ad needs to target at least one keyword in its ad group, and second, each ad must have a call-to-action (CTA). If the ad can call out the client’s unique value proposition, you get a cookie!
In terms of ad structure, are the different ad formats being used, or have they at least been tested in the past? There should be three to five ads in each ad group, leaving plenty of room for testing and optimizing different versions for click-through rate (CTR) and conversion rate.
Finally, we check to ensure each ad is directing to a relevant landing page. Again, how does this page look on mobile and how fast does the page load? These may seem like minor details, but they can make a huge difference to a user who doesn’t have the patience to wait five seconds for a page to load. You will absolutely miss out on potential customers if you can’t get this right.
The most obvious issues that we come across when we drill down to the keyword level include the number of keywords in an ad group, low search volume keywords, and costly keywords. These are typically the low-hanging fruits of a PPC keyword audit.
Next, we look at keyword bids (again, as long as the campaign isn’t using an automated bidding strategy). What is the average cost-per-click (CPC) the client is paying and does it make sense from both a cost per conversion standpoint and campaign budget standpoint?
Determine if the components of keyword quality score are being optimized, or if there could be improvements to ad copy and the landing page to help increase these scores. Are the search terms coming in relevant? Testing and optimizing match types is a great way to discover the best keywords for a particular level of search intent. Don’t be quick to dismiss the value of broad match terms until you’ve tested (and successfully eliminated) them.
Everything we look at when performing an account audit is aimed at reviewing conversion performance and whether or not each campaign is maximizing on conversions and budget. We start out high-level and drill down from campaign to ad group to keyword to get as granular as possible with the data.
Even though we look at the same elements from campaign to campaign, the issues and areas of opportunity we discover can vary greatly depending on a campaign’s goal, industry, and competitive space. As the digital advertising industry is ever-evolving, we’re constantly learning and adapting to best practices, too.