Ace Your PPC Audit in under 25 Minutes? Yes 💪

Google Ads optimisation is a bit like going to the gym. You combine a routine with a target of continuous improvement, to realised those gains.

That means when you put rubbish in – you get rubbish out.

That’s why you need a solid ppc audit checklist, to bench yourself against.

Arnie says: get your ass to the spreadsheet

Come on, admit it…

When was the last time you cleared your schedule, put on some motivational music, stripped down to your socks…

…and audited your Google Ads account?

Don’t look at me like that, sitting at your desk in nothing but your under crackers is a revelation.

Either that, or remote working is getting the better of me.

Why do we do a PPC audit anyway?

  • 💪 continuous improvement is the name of the game
  • 🎯 fix missing features and missed opportunities
  • ⛳️ pinpoint your performance holes

Even with the best intentions, if you’ve been working on an account for any period of time the chances are something has slipped through the cracks. 

A well structured PPC audit will allow you to dive into your account and determine which areas of your account need attention.

Follow along…

Grab your free interactive PPC Audit checklist.

interactive PPC Audit checklist

You in?

Let’s get this audit underway with a quick 25 minute blast.

*it will take you a good 10 minutes to properly read this article.⚡️

PPC Audit Checklist

  1. Attribution model
  2. Conversion tracking
  3. Setting and reviewing targets
  4. Budget optimisation
  5. Account structure
  6. Bid strategy
  7. Keywords
  8. Ads
  9. Quality score
  10. Audiences

Don’t sweat it:

Sure, a Google Ads audits generally work best when they are done by somebody who isn’t working on the account day-to-day. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t step back and take a 100ft view of your own work.

With that in mind, you have two options. If you have a team member – pass this on. If you work on your own, don’t pass on this.

25 minutes, let’s go:

Your attribution model

Getting the right attribution model is fundamental to PPC success, or at least it was before browsers and blockers started to nuke cookies.

You can take my cookies, but you’ll never take my freedom!

Why do we care, attribution gives you a better picture of your traffic channel mix.

Side-note: I’m in the process of writing a deep-dive on attribution models.

Until that’s ready here are some quick rules to consider:

  • Last-click is the default in Google Ads – and thanks to cookie culling, on low traffic volume accounts it might serve you just fine.
  • Got a short buying cycle – think ’emergency plumber’ or ‘booking an appointment’? You’re probably safe with Last-click.
  • Does Google Ads make up most of your traffic or you have a very small organic footprint? First-click and Last-click are interchangeable.
  • Everything else? Consider Position-based for a balanced approach.
  • Got plenty of data (3,000+ clicks and 300+ conversions per month)? Then Data-driven is Google’s preference, and it just works.
  • Downside of data-driven, it’s entirely a blackbox setup (magic) and numbers will differ to Google Analytics.
  • If you import your goals from Analytics, make sure you compare apples with apples. Set your attribution models appropriately.
  • The safe bet is to setup both GAds conversion tag and a GA goal import – but set only 1 to count in your conversion columns. Doing this allows you to compare numbers.

That was a quick rule of thumb.

There are always situations and edge cases where you might prefer Linear, Time Decay or even a custom model.

Conversion tracking

It’s 2020, I really shouldn’t have to say this, but…

Having clean data within Google Ads is essential to understanding what drives value. And of course, what doesn’t.

As part of your PPC audit you should review the conversion tracking within the account. Even if you’re confident it’s right.

You will not get alerted to in the interface if it stops working for any reason, so a bi-monthly review of the numbers is a good habit to get in to.

A really simple approach:

Marketer: “Hello Mr Business, how many leads/sales/transactions did you get in the past 30-days?”

Business: “Here are the numbers.”

Marketer: “Great. Let me review Ads to make sure they tally, and are within 5% of the total. If not, we might have a tracking problem.”

See?

Easy.

No excuses!

But wait, thanks to adblockers and cooking culling, your numbers might read lower. If you’d asked me a few years back, I’d have told you to aim for >95% accuracy.

Unfortunately, that might not be possible today, but you should still try to see >90% of your conversions.

Anything less than 80% should be a danger sign.

Seeing weird conversion numbers?

Let me help you fix that, here are a few pointers to checking your conversion tracking:

Have you tried to ‘convert’ yourself?

The simplest of checks. Did you go through the form or checkout on your desktop and mobile. Was it successful, did you see your goal completions in GA (Google Analytics)?

Are the tags firing and on the right page?

Use Tag Manager, it simplifies the installation and management process of conversion tracking. Once in place, it also allows you to make ‘no-code’ edits and updates.

Did you import your Google Analytics goals?

Setup both. A Google Ads conversion tag and import the equivalent GA goal(s). But only set 1 to count in your columns, otherwise you’ll double-count those conversions. Having both conversion methods allows you to quickly sanity check the numbers – and highlight any potential issues!

No Tag Manager?

Then you need to look 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 agrees with GA.

Are calls important?

If you take calls, are you tracking calls from 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 required?

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.

Most CRMs offer this functionality and support the setup of such data.

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. You won’t lose anything by doing this, it’s all to gain.

Targets – what does success look like?

You might have heard me say this before, it’s fundamental to any advertising.

What’s the agreed budget for the account and what’s the target conversion volume, cost per acquisition (CPA) or return on ad spend (ROAS)?

Budget.

Conversion.

That’s it.

These numbers anchor not only your audit, but your ongoing work in an account.

Budget Optimisation, is priceless

Of course I would say that, because BudgetCommander™ is a core feature of AdEvolver.

*clears throat*

Let’s be frank.

Google will spend your budget, even if it’s under-performing.

With AdEvolver, you get full budget automation and will never overspend again.

Sales pitch over… sorry (not sorry?).

For all but the smallest of accounts I would avoid shared budgets.

But even then, I’d use them sparingly.

Why? Shared budgets overspend, are very inconsistent and can saturate areas of the account whilst ignoring others.

Google will bias spend to areas it knows will spend. If you do any kind of discovery or testing – and you should – a shared budget will disrupt this.

Lack of control over your money isn’t optional.

Campaign budgets should not be static, as time progresses and performances shifts around the account, you need to adapt.

The more granular the account, the more budget shifts.

Budget balancing

In a quick audit the simplest thing you can do is:

  1. ensure your best performing campaign isn’t budget limited.
  2. move budget from weaker performers (such as high tCPA or low ROAS) to better campaigns.

Both these are especially true of smart bidding; a limited budget can hurt the machine learning.

campaigns limited by budget

Yes but Ed, I don’t have an unlimited budget!

That would suggest you can’t service or sell more, or you have a conversion issue. The former is hard to fix, I understand, but thankfully the latter is fixable.

Continue this audit to get closer to a fix.

Next, the hot potato subject of your account structure:

Account structure

This topic deserves it’s own post, and I’m working on it. It’s in the pile!

A full restructure is outside the scope of a PPC audit.

However, correcting basic mismanagement and naming issues is not.

Keep it simple.

For most advertisers, their Google Ads account should be split into three buckets:

  • Brand campaigns are used to protect your brand against competitors and contain keywords that are your brand name. Reviews, offers, complaints, customer support and contact information.
  • Top performers are you top 5-10% but often equate to >20% of spend.
  • Category campaigns are the bulk of your account should contain all of your non-brand search terms. This might be products or services.
  • (Optional) Discovery campaigns are ~5% of spend for top of funnel research.
  • Competitor campaigns contain keywords that are the names of your competitors. It’s likely you want to exclude terms such as ‘contact’ and ‘phone’, as you don’t want to be taking your competitor’s customer support calls.

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 should probably split by service.

For now, don’t stress about SKAGs, SPAGs, TAGs, AAGs and GTAs.

Not because they sound ridiculous…

Remember, we’re not here to restructure today. If your audit highlights the potential for change, note it down for later.

Ad Group structure.

Firstly, there are always exceptions to the rule so use a little common sense when applying these.

3 simple rules for Ad Groups:

  1. If it’s a top 5-10% keyword in terms of spend and/or conversions (usually go hand in hand), consider a SKAG. If everything is SKAG’ed, take a deep breath and consider a restructure…
  2. If it spends a lot of money or has high impressions, it should be in a very tight group of less than 5 keywords.
  3. You should avoid having more than 5-10 keywords in an Ad Group, unless it’s a very low spend/low priority for the account.

To repeat: unless you have a battle hardened, deeply automated way of managing SKAGs at scale (properly), then I’d caution against ‘full SKAG-ing’ any account.

Those rules are in order of priority too. Focus on the big spenders and work your way down.

Using the rules above, it’s stick or split time.

Create a Label and tag any Ad Group that needs splitting.

When splitting campaigns and Ad Groups, always preserve the original and only pause the bits you’re moving out.

If you’re working with mixed match type Ad Groups, try and preserve exact match keywords in the original group.

My experience is that exact match are more susceptible to performance change and disruption. Broads and modified are a little more hardy!

Your bidding strategy

Much like your budget, bidding is fundamental. How your bidding strategy is set up will depend on what your overall targets are.

Brand campaigns.

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

target impression share

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

Non-brand campaigns (aka, everything else).

Stuck on manual bidding? Make sure you’re actually getting a benefit from doing so. If you’ve some conversion data, you might be better off dipping your toe in smart bidding.

Perhaps try a lead gen campaign on tCPA or product campaigns on tROAS. Smart bidding has improved drastically over the past few years and you’ll now find it hard to justify sticking with manual.

If you’re absolutely sure manual bidding is the way to go, take a look at our automated manual bidding script.

Already a smart bidding adopter? Then your life is easier – ensure there’s a reasonable amount of conversion data coming through to allow Google’s machine learning to optimise appropriately.

Reasonable data? Average a conversion a day is probably as low as you’d want to go, but I have seen smart bidding work with less and even on brand new campaigns.

I wouldn’t have said that a few years back!

Setting smart bidding targets appropriately:

  • I wouldn’t use tCPA on campaigns that have revenue reporting
  • Don’t try and ‘cheap’ the system with unreasonably low tCPA
  • For CPA, ensure your campaign budget isn’t smaller than your target
  • To be safe only increase/decrease smart bidding targets by 5-10% and after at least one additional conversion has accrued.

Consider using a portfolio strategy on a smaller account where products/services are very similar and goals are aligned.

Try lifting tCPA targets on campaigns that are converting well, aren’t budget limited, but are struggling to hit >50% impression share.

Optionally: you can move on to maximise conversions for campaigns that have tCPA performance nailed, or even max’ clicks if you just want all that juicy volume.

Use maximise revenue on strong shopping campaigns that have proven their value, not before you’ve given tROAS a chance to perform.

Turn it Up to Eleven with maximise smart bidding strategies
Turn it up to 11! Wait, is that a doobey?

Pro-tip: don’t overly focus on individual keyword CPA and ROAS, instead make sure related campaigns and the account as a whole are hitting targets.

It can be all too easy getting transfixed on a few keywords that have driven a couple of conversions, but they’re not quite hitting your target.

If the account is winning overall – consider these outlier keywords and Ad Groups the support act.

Budget constraints. 

As mentioned earlier, checking for budget constraints is also important. These could choke opportunities for scaling your account and improving results. 

The budget explorer will shows you Google’s estimates for additional spend, but not conversions:

google ads budget explorer

You can also look at impression share, impression share lost to rank, and impression share lost to budget across campaigns.

You’ll quickly identify campaigns that meet your conversion goals, that could also do with looser purse strings.

Keywords (are still king)

A really simple check I like to make is this, view all your enabled keywords and filter by match type.

keyword match type filter

What does the balance look like? I’d be wary of accounts with higher broad spend than exact, also note phrase match performance.

What you might find is phrase match not working as well as both broad and exact. In these instances, you might consider pausing and moving them to either exact or broad modified.

Why? Simplify your account structure which gives you and the machine learning some breathing room.

February 2021 update: BMM is dead-ish

Google is phasing out BMM and Phrase as we know them. They will be combined in a ‘newly revised’ Phrase match.

You can read the official announcement here – https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/10346549?visit_id=637481154405684232-785766913&rd=1

Some more specific checks to make:

Controversial opinion: are >50% of traffic and conversions going through exact match keywords?

We can argue this one until we’re blue in the face, but all things being equal (and optimal) I’d always favour exacts first. Then broad.

My order of preference is: Exact > Broad > DSA > BMM > Phrase.

Two exceptions being: a big account and any data gathering campaigns.

If your account is a big spender then you likely have no choice but to spread the impressions across match type.

High conversion volumes and smart bidding favour broad. So team up exact with broad in ad groups.

On a lower spend account you can use channel your ‘exactness’ as follows:

Getting full keyword coverage?

Once again focusing on larger campaigns and/or Ad Groups, so you can focus on gains over nuance – Jump to Keywords > Search Terms.

Add some filters on your Search Terms report:

Sort by impressions, highest to lowest, and look for opportunities to expand Ad Groups.

I’d avoid adding low impressions keywords, you’re just adding bloat to your account and creating more work for yourself.

Easy enough.

How do close match variants perform?

Another Google party piece, making exacts no longer exact.

Or even exact-ish.

Sometimes they can behave more like broad modified keywords.

Enter stage left: close variants.

Not funny.

google created close variants

Close variants give you less control over what your ads show for. They can both help and hinder your exact terms and there’s no rhyme or reason; sometimes they help, sometimes they are just shite.

It really does depend on the industry and you can’t take their performance for granted.

Once more, you should find yourself looking at your high spend exacts. Review their search term reports to see how close match variants perform.

If you spot bad performers across the account, use this script that makes exact match exact again (use with caution).

Good-to-know: if you do ‘auto’ exclude close variants using that script, I recommend you don’t negative your exacts against the broad modified version of the same keyword. Let that instead collect some ‘close’ terms for lower CPCs.

Not ideal, but better than nothing.

Text Ads

Ad copy, where art meets science.

This is too much to cover in a quick audit, right?

True enough, so let’s cover some basics to eye-ball in those key Ad Groups you’ve been looking at:

Are you testing title case?

Is the first letter of each word capitalised? If not, have you tested different cases (e.g. Title Case Text vs Sentence case text)?

Using numbers in your ads?

Changing text into numeric values makes your ad stand out. Especially if your competitors aren’t doing the same.

Testing responsive search ads?

Each Ad Group should have at least 1 ETA (extended text ad) and 1 RSA (responsive search ad). Use the responsive advert to test ideas and move the winning components to an ETA.

Is there a call to action in your ads?

Book, today, buy, now, get, call, sign-up etc. CTAs work, so use them where appropriate.

Are ads tailored to the search term?

Is there a clear message-match in the Ad Group between the keywords and the advert? If not, that could be an issue worth addressing with a tweaked advert.

Making the most of any trademarks™?

If you’ve got a registered mark or trademark, you should include the symbol within your ad copy. You’ll instil trust and attract clicks.

Is there a clear USP within the ad?

“We’ve been in business for 20 years!” is not a USP.

“We’re award winning!” is not important, sorry.

Neither of those make you unique.

What differentiates you? What does the customer want from you, your product or service? What objections might they have?

Now is the time to answer them… not sing your own praises.

You can get a more comprehensive view of ad copy here. This is the 23 Pillars of Ad Copy (my product).

The 23 Pillars of Ad Copy

In the ‘23 Pillars‘ I show you how to create better ads. I also show you how, with real-world before and after examples.

There’s a cheat sheet and ad creation template to help speed-up your ad creation process.

Next!

Split testing.

Split tests are overrated.’

You can’t split test Ads any more!

Let Google optimise it…

Use responsive ads and be done with it.

There’s a fair argument for each of those.

However, after 10 years of split testing and seeing incremental gains from doing so, I’d say it’s worth considering.

What makes split testing ads unreliable? Loose keyword groups and mixed match type Ad Groups.

This skew is compounded by device, location and audience bids…

I’d still wager that if you failed to do any split testing vs doing some, then your performance would suffer.

If you’re using match type and tightly themed ad groups, you’re even more likely to see the benefits!

All said and done, how do you actually monitor your winning and losing adverts?

You can use the AdEvolver Ad Test or a script.

AdEvolver ad tester results

Or, this script by my friend Wes that will create a sheet and sends an email once a test is complete.

Easy ad extensions.

I’ve written previously about callouts, sitelinks, structured snippets and more.

But this is a 20 minute audit (we’re nearly done) and you can read those detailed articles later, for now it’s quick fire…

Make sure you have:

  • At least 6 account level callouts
  • At least 4 account level sitelinks
  • At least 3 account level structured snippets
  • 1 account level call extension (if you want calls)
  • No out of date promotion extensions running

These will ensure all your campaigns get extensions and you’ve left no holes.

Where required, circle back around and make sure your highest spending campaigns also have some more tailored extensions.

Do we care about Quality Score?

Yeh we do – reviewing your Quality Score is still important.

The above audit actions – ad group structure, keywords, ads, extensions etc – will likely have a positive impact of your score.

The way you analyse keyword quality score in an audit is different to how you’d analyse during your conversion optimisation routines.

You don’t want to analyse all components of Quality Score. Instead, focus on ad relevance and low scores for your high spend and high impression keywords.

  • ad relevance
  • expected CTR
  • landing page experience

Ad relevance measures how closely your keyword matches the message in your ads.

Low scores? That’s anything under 7.

A Quality Score of 1 is a problem keyword. Fix it, move it or delete it.

The exception being a competitor term that’s working. For obvious reasons, it’s quite hard to raise quality scores on competing brand terms.

Pro-tip: if a high spend, high impression or high converting keyword is less than 7, work on fixing that before other QS issues.

Label it to make life easier in the future. You can either tackle it now, or circle back around to it.

You can also use the “Predefined reports (Dimensions)” tab to monitor keyword labels.

Addressing these first will be an easy win for your account and should drive an improvement in performance.

Audiences; stick or twist?

Audiences feed the machine and Google will often recommend you add a number of top level lists, such as website visitors.

All Smart Bidding strategies use audience signals to improve your performance.

You can find related In-market and Affinity audiences to add in your Audience Insights.

However, that’s outside the scope of an audit.

For now, the main things I’d check for in your audience tab:

Are remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) setup?

You can add these audiences automatically thanks to this script.

Additional RLSA set up to move people down the sales cycle?

Are there audiences created for each different step of the sales cycle?

For example on an ecommerce account:

  • Converters (recent and longer periods)
  • Basket abandoners
  • Visited >1 page
  • Visit duration >2 mins
  • Basket values for low, medium and high spend

On a lead gen account:

  • 1 day
  • 7 days
  • 7-30 days
  • 30-90 days
  • 90-180 days
  • Visited >1 page
  • Visit duration >2 mins

Do audiences have bid modifiers?

Remember to add appropriate bid modifiers based on recent performance.

Bid adjustments work differently when you’ve applied a conversion-based automated bid strategy and the campaign or ad group contains multiple lists with overlapping users.

Your bid adjustments will prioritise the audience list to which an impression, click, will be attributed.

Are you using similar audiences?

Similar to audiences can work well as these target people similar to your RLSA on observation. Add them, monitor and tweak bid adjustments to suit.

Observation or targeting?

Targeting narrows the reach of your ads to only show to the specific audience.

Make sure any audiences set to target are there on purpose, otherwise you’ll be limiting your impressions to just that audience.

Stretch it off champ, you’re done!

Or at least… you could be if you had followed along with the interactive 40-point PPC Audit checklist.

free download PPC Audit checklist

She’s a beauty!

I tried to keep this quick and concise (not being ironic, there’s always more), what did I miss?