How to Conduct The Ultimate PPC Audit – Max Grid News Feed

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1.0: What is a PPC audit?

Conducting a PPC audit for a new client, or even an existing client, is essential to ensure you’re maximising efficiency across their ad accounts. It should be noted that whilst many of the below points can be translated to Bing, this checklist is primarily Google focussed.

For new clients, it can be an exciting process to discover opportunities to help with just that and for existing clients, the meticulous, small tweaks can make a positive difference when an account is mature.

This blog post will show you what you should be looking for when conducting a PPC audit and how to go about it.  

However, before you conduct a PPC audit, make sure you request access to important platforms.

  • Google Analytics: This will allow you to check whether their Google Analytics has been linked to their Google Ads account and if conversion goals have been set up correctly.
  • Conversion tracking: You’ll want to have a list of known conversion actions. Without knowing what conversions a client wants to track, you’re going into an audit blindfolded.
  • Google Ads ID number: Having a client’s Google Ads ID will allow you to sync their account with your MCC account.

Find out more information on getting access and checking settings for a PPC client.

Contents

2.0: What is a PPC audit checklist?

We like using checklists here at Distilled having created a technical SEO checklist and a Google Analytics checklist to great effect. We’ve found that following a checklist can offer the following benefits:

  • Comprehensive – Without a checklist, you’ll probably still discover issues when auditing an account. Using a checklist ensures you remember to check all the relevant boxes.
  • Productive – Working without a checklist takes more effort. At each stage, you have to decide what to do next. The checklist answers this question for you.
  • Communicable –  Rigorously defining your work with a checklist lets you delegate. Unfortunately, an intern can’t osmose your intuition!
Get the Google Analytics checklist.
Access for free.

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3.0: How to use the PPC audit checklist?

This checklist is available to the public. This master document is set to view only, to be able to use it you’ll first want to make a copy.

For each item on the list there are three response that can be given:

  • Pass means you have no concerns.
  • OK means the issues doesn’t seem relevant currently.
  • Fail means something appears to be wrong.

When you update an Issue, the grade for the Cause and Outcome will also be updated. If any Issue’s score is Fail, the Cause and Outcome will also Fail.

There are also breadcrumb trails for each point to help find the relevant location in the Google Ads interface.

4.0: Tracking

One of the first things you should check when auditing a PPC account is tracking implementation.

You’ll want to verify Google Ads tracking code is present on the site and review conversion actions to ensure they’re relevant.

It’s imperative you receive a list of known conversion goals before you start an audit. Knowing what they are will allow you to troubleshoot existing implementation.

Google has a pretty handy guide on troubleshooting tracking implementation.

5.0: Google Analytics linking

You’ll want to ensure that a PPC account is linked to Google Analytics. This will allow you to analyse customer activity on your website after an ad click or impression.

You can read about the insight you can gain from linking Google Analytics and Google Ads and read the instructions on how to link Google Analytics and Google Ads.

6.0: IP exclusions

Probably one of the quickest wins when conducting a PPC audit, you’ll want to check if an account is excluding internal IP addresses.

Excluding specific IP addresses, such as an organisations office, will prevent costly clicks and unwanted ad impressions from muddying data. If people want to view what ads look like in search results than the Ad Preview and Diagnosis Tool can be used.

To see existing IP exclusions:

  1. Navigate to account you’re auditing in the Google Ads interface.
  2. Click Settings on the left-hand side navigation menu.
  3. Click the campaign you’d like to exclude IP addresses from.
  4. Click additional settings and then IP exclusions.

7.0: Network settings

7.1: Search and display campaigns

You’ll want to navigate to the settings section of an account and check that campaigns are not targeting search and display traffic within one campaign.

Whilst a combined search and display campaign can work together if given the right strategic thought and  Google has tried to make the display element ‘smarter’, it’s still recommend that campaigns should be separated. Generally speaking, both mediums require individual approaches to better align with the goals of each channel.

You can read more on why you should separate your search and display campaigns.

7.1: Search partners

Search partners are a group of search-related websites and apps where Google ads can appear, such as the search engine Ask.

When creating a campaign, search partners are added by default, so you’ll want to investigate whether the search partner network should remain active based off performance data and budget.

To see whether search partner networks are active and evaluate performance:

  1. Navigate to account you’re auditing in the Google Ads interface.
  2. Click Campaigns on the left-hand side navigation menu
  3. Click Segment than Network (with search partners) and you’ll be able to download a report that includes search partner information.

Note: You can’t evaluate performance for specific search partners, but only as an aggregated view.

8.0: Account structure organisation

8.1: Campaign names

You’ll want to ensure that campaigns follow a logical naming convention, which will provide greater transparency, easier reporting and the ability for other people understand should you need to hand over.

You’ll want your campaign name to be descriptive of the campaign/theme type, your product/service and location (if applicable).

For example, if a search campaign is focussed on promoting jeans then your campaign name might look like this:

Search – Branded – Jeans – UK

If your campaign type is display then your campaign might look this:

Display – Branded – Jeans – UK

Or if you create campaigns by match type (more on this later) you’ll want to ensure this is reflected in the campaign name. A campaign name in this scenario may look like:

Search – Branded Exact – Jeans – UK

Tip: Unless you intend to completely overhaul an account, you can just edit the existing name of a campaign. Creating a new campaign will reset quality score, so historical quality score will not come into play.

8.2: Ad group names

Like campaign names, you’ll also want to ensure ad group names follow a logical naming structure. Scrolling through easily identifiable ad groups will make your life as a PPC marketer infinitely easier when undertaking the day to day responsibilities of a PPC account manager.

Quite simply, ensure the target keyword is clearly identifiable in the adgroup name. If your adgroup is targeting the search term “blue jeans”, then “blue jeans ” should be included in the name of the adgroup.

8.3: Labels

Similar to logical naming conventions, you may want to assign labels to campaigns and ad groups to help identify, sort and filter.

For example, you might group European locations under an EU label, but only have the country name in the campaign name. This can help with different kinds of segmentation.

8.4: Campaign theme

Each campaign should be split by a certain theme, such as branded and generic campaigns, match type and location. The required budget and expected potential results will be very different depending on the theme and goals of the campaign.

Below is a guide that highlights some useful campaign splits.

Branded keyword only campaign

Branded keyword only campaigns form the foundation of your PPC strategy and are necessary to:

  1. Build brand awareness.
  2. Drive efficient CPA’s.
  3. Prevent competitors from outranking you for branded terms.
  4. Strategically navigate users to parts of your site using extensions like sitelinks.

Non-branded keyword only campaign

Non-branded keyword only campaigns are a crucial means to grow your source of traffic, especially when branded only campaigns have stagnated. Non-branded keyword only campaigns are necessary to:

  1. Diversify the source of traffic to your site.
  2. Reach customers that may not have known about your brand.
  3. Build brand awareness.

Campaigns by match type

A great way to organise, control and manage an account is to create campaigns by match type. Doing this allows you to easily identify the performance of keywords, help manage a negative keyword list and gives you the opportunity to ring-fence budget.

For instance, generally speaking, exact match type keywords tend to convert better than phrase or broad match type keywords and if you have data to back this up, why wouldn’t you ring-fence budget for the best converting keywords?

Campaigns by match type When to create campaign themes
Exact match When you want to ring-fence budget for keywords that are highly relevant and have strong conversion.
Phrase match When you want to broaden your scope of search queries related to highly relevant keywords, but still want control.
Modified broad match When you want to discover potential keywords that convert, but still want an element of control.
Broad match When you launch a new campaign with flexible budget and are aiming to discover potential keywords that convert.

Learn more about match types.

Budget scenarios

Budget is limited:

  • Focus on highly relevant exact match keywords to reduce CPA’s
  • Allocate bigger budget towards best performing campaigns to drive efficient CPA’s
  • Focus on location-specific campaigns to improve relevance and increase the chance of conversion.

Budget is large:

  • Focus on diversifying source of traffic by increasing non-branded campaign spend.
  • For new campaigns, utilise a variety of match types to drive conversions and discover keyword opportunities.
  • Invest in RLSA campaigns and audience targeting to maximise conversions.

8.5: Number of keywords in each adgroup

Google recommends that you should have no more than 20 keywords in each ad group. Having over 20 keywords in an adgroup can dilute your budget and for smaller PPC accounts, make it more difficult to form keyword insights, as the sample data will be spread across many keywords.

Each keyword will automatically match variations such as possible misspellings or plural versions.

The goal is to add relevant keywords to a specific themed adgroup. An adgroup containing more than 20 keywords may suggest an unfocused and inefficient spending approach.  

9.0: Keywords

9.1: Search Terms report

The Search Terms report is the holy grail when it comes to identifying keyword performance for an account.

To start drawing insights from the Search Terms report, you’ll want to download the raw data:

  1. Navigate to account you’re auditing in the Google Ads interface.
  2. Click keywords on the left-hand side navigation menu.
  3. Then click Search Terms on the top level navigation.
  4. Select a date range found towards the top right of the interface.
  5. Click Download.

Tip: Before you download raw keyword performance data, make sure you select a relevant time period that will provide enough historical data to make informed decisions (This can be customised by selecting a date range in the top right-hand corner of the interface).

The selected date range will vary depending on the sample size and maturity of the account, but generally speaking 6 months is adequate.    

After downloading the report, you should be looking to answer the following questions:

Can I identify new keyword opportunities?

You’ll want to identify keywords that are converting well, but aren’t added as exact match keywords. This will allow you to really tailor your ad copy to better resonate with searches.

You’ll simultaneously improve ad relevance, which will increase quality score, reduce bidding costs and likely increase click through rate. Additionally, you’ll be able to ring-fence budget around stronger converting keywords.

To identify the keyword opportunities in your downloaded report:

  1. Filter the match type column to only include broad and phrase match terms
  2. [Optional] Depending on the account structure and naming convention, you could also filter your campaign column to only include branded, or non-branded campaigns/ad groups.
  3. Sort the conversions column to display the highest converting keywords first

Your spreadsheet should look something like the below:

To fully evaluate opportunities, you’ll need to look at other metrics like impressions, CTR and conv.rate to get a better insight into the potential of each keyword. We can see from the screenshot that keyword 1 has a very high CTR and strong conversion rate. We can also see keyword 1 gets a relatively good number of impressions, all of which makes keyword 1 a prime candidate to become an exact match type term.

Can I identify keywords to add to the negative keyword list?

Conversely, you’ll be able to use the same report to identify poor performing keywords that should be added to the negative keyword list.

  1. Sort the impressions column to display the keywords that have generated the highest number of impressions first.

Your spreadsheet should look something like the below:

  1. To fully evaluate inefficient keywords, you’ll need to compare the number of impressions each keyword receives to its relative CTR, conversions, conv.rate, cost and cost / conversion metrics.
    • For instance, we can see that keyword 10 has a decent number of impressions and clicks, but 0 conversions. This could suggest that the keyword is not particularly relevant to the product on offer, which may make the keyword a candidate to add to the negative keyword list.
    • We can also see that despite keyword 8 converting once, it has the most expensive CPA at 47.5. For a client that is very conscious about keeping stringent CPA’s, keyword 8 could be a candidate to add to a negative keyword list.

9.2: Quality Score

Google defines Quality Score as “an estimate of the quality of your ads, keywords and landing pages”. Each keyword you bid for is given a score on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the worst score a keyword can be assigned and 10 being the best.

Quality Score is made up of three components:

  • Expected click through rate
  • Ad relevance
  • Landing page experience

Read more on what influences Quality Score.

Why Quality Score is important?

Quality Score is important as it has a significant impact on the effectiveness of your PPC campaigns. An ad with a high-quality score can:

  • Lower cost-per-click
  • Lower CPA
  • Higher impression visibility
  • Higher ad rankings

To see keyword Quality Score:

  1. Navigate to account you’re auditing in the Google Ads interface.
  2. Click Keywords on the left-hand side navigation menu.
  3. Once in the keyword interface make sure that Quality Score, Expected CTR, Ad Relevance, Landing Page Experience and other relevant metrics are selected as a column option before downloading a report.

Once you’ve downloaded the report, you’ll want to quickly identify the breakdown of Quality Score across an account.

What to look for when auditing Quality Score

Once you’ve done that, you can use the below template to help guide your insights.

Scenario Insights
Expected click through rate is “average” or “above average This indicates that there is no issue for the expected click through rate of the keyword being bid for.
Expected click through rate is “below average This indicates that an ad is not relevant to the keyword being bid for. It could also indicate that the keyword itself is not relevant.

To improve expected click through rate:

  1. Analyse ad text and see how you can improve the relevancy of your ad to entice clicks.
    1. Is the ad relevant to the keyword being bid for
    2. Is the target keyword in ad copy and the URL path
  2. Look at other opportunities to improve the CTR of an ad. Increasing CTR will help improve your expected click through rate.
    1. Are there ad extensions
    2. Is the first word of each letter capitalised
    3. Does the ad copy include a CTA
    4. Does the ad copy include a businesses key USP
    5. Are there spelling and grammar mistakes
  • Ad relevance  is “average” or “above average
This indicates that there is no issue with a keyword’s ad relevance when compared to all other keywords across Google Ads.
Ad relevance is “below average This indicates that your ad or keyword may not be specific enough or that your ad group may cover too many topics.

To improve ad relevance:

  1. Analyse ad text and see how you can improve the relevancy of your ad.
    1. Is the ad relevant to the keyword being bid for
    2. Is the target keyword in ad copy and the URL path
  2. Look at opportunities to tighten the topic relevance of an adgroup.
    1. Is the keyword relevant to the ad group
    2. Can you create new ad groups to better tailor ad copy messaging
Landing page experience  is “average” or “above average This indicates that there is no issue with the landing page
Landing page experience is “below average This indicates that the landing page experience can be improved.

Google has a comprehensive guide on improving landing page experience.  

10.0: Bid strategy

You’ll want to identify what bid strategy your client is utilising and whether it aligns with their goals.

For example, if the goal of the client is to maximise conversion, then they could adopt a maximise conversions bidding strategy.

Google have a handy guide on determining a bidding strategy and watch this useful video on automated bidding strategies.

To initially identify existing bid strategies:

  1. Navigate to account you’re auditing in the Google Ads interface.
  2. Click Campaigns on the left-hand side navigation menu.
  3. Click Settings and from there you will be able to download a report that includes a bid strategy type column.

11.0: Targeting

11.1 Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA)

RLSA campaigns are a great feature to re-target users that have previously visited your site.

You’ll want to identify whether your client is taking advantage of the RLSA’s:

  1. Navigate to account you’re auditing in the Google Ads interface.
  2. Click Campaigns on the left-hand side navigation menu.
  3. Click Audiences and from there you will be able to download a report that includes an audience column.

You’ll also want to identify whether your client has applied an observation or targeting approach and whether it matches their goals.

Tip: To qualify for RLSA campaigns:

  • Google Display Network: must have a minimum of 100 active visitors or users within the last 30 days.
  • Google Search Network: must have a minimum of 1,000 active visitors or users within the last 30 days.

11.2: Location targeting

You’ll need to check that each campaign is being targeted in the right location to eliminate unnecessary cost and artificially inflated CPAs. You can target locations by country, regions, cities and radius around a location.

Example: If an insurance provider only offers its products in the United Kingdom, then it wouldn’t make sense for ads to appear in any other country.

To see existing location targeting:

  1. Navigate to account you’re auditing in the Google Ads interface.
  2. Click Locations on the left-hand side navigation menu.
  3. Once in the Locations interface, you’ll be able to see and download a report for the target locations for each campaign.

11.3: Location exclusions

A business that doesn’t offer a service or product in a city or region within a larger area, may want to exclude ads from appearing in these areas.

Example: A national dentistry business that has numerous clinics in the United Kingdom, but not in the city of Luton, may want to exclude ads from appearing in Luton.

11.4: Location bid adjustment

You’ll want to identify whether certain locations require tailored bidding adjustments. This can be set at the campaign level.

Example: A wine merchant business that generates a significant percentage of their conversions from a particular city may want to increase bidding for that location to maximise the total number of conversions. Conversely, they may want to reduce bidding on poor performing locations.

To see existing location bid adjustments:

  1. Navigate to account you’re auditing in the Google Ads interface.
  2. Click Locations on the left-hand side navigation menu.
  3. Once in the Locations interface, you’ll be able to see and download a report for any existing location bid adjustments for each campaign.

11.5: Device targeting

Device targeting allows you create tailored display or video campaigns to target users on specific device types, operating systems, device models, ad inventory (spaces where publishers allow ads to run), as well as operators and wireless networks.

Example: A business that has just launched an app on IOS would want to target people will Apple phones.

11.6: Ad scheduling

You should identify what time of the week provides the best conversion during your audit.

By default, Google Ads campaigns are set to display “all day”; however, you’ll want to schedule ads to ensure ad exposure during the best performing time periods to maximise conversion.

Example: A Pizzeria located in the heart of central London gets the majority of people clicking on a call extension between 12-2pm Monday-Friday. They may want to set up an ad schedule so that:

  1. Ads only appear during 12-2pm Monday-Friday.
  2. Set ad schedule bid adjustments to help ads rank higher during 12-2pm

Note: *If you also opt to set bid adjustments for mobile devices or locations, all of your adjustments will be multiplied together to determine the resulting bid adjustment.

To identify best performance periods:

  1. Navigate to account you’re auditing in the Google Ads interface.
  2. Click Ad schedule on the left-hand side navigation menu and the interface will tell you whether there is existing ad schedules (The screenshot below shows there are no ad schedules set up).

  1. Click any of Ad Schedule, Day & Hour, and Hour to be taken to an interface where you can download the data for those time categories.

Learn how to create an ad schedule and set up an ad schedule bid adjustment.

12.0: Ad evaluation

12.1: Ad testing

Ad rotation

Within the advanced setting of the advanced tab, you’ll want to ensure an accounts ad rotation settings align with the goals of the PPC account. There are two ad rotation options:

Optimise

Optimise” is one of two ad rotation options, unless the account has implemented a smart bidding strategy, which prioritises conversions and defaults the ad rotation option to “optimise”.

The “optimise” setting will instruct Google to rotate ads and optimise for the most amount of clicks for each individual bid using signals like the search term, device, location, and more.

You’ll be able to evaluate what ads are performing best by looking at the core click through rate metric, alongside other relative metrics such as impressions and conversions, which will then allow you to build upon successful ads.

“Optimise” should be used if a priority of an account is to let Google test ad copy that best entices a click and there is no consistent testing process in place.

Rotate indefinitely

The rotate indefinitely setting delivers your ads more evenly into an ad auction, but does so for an indefinite amount of time and doesn’t optimise.

Rotate indefinitely can be used if the goal of the account to optimise for specific goals, as it gives more control than the “optimise” ad rotation setting. However, this setting will require advertisers to pay more attention to the performance of their ads, as poor performing ads may receive more screen time and negatively impact quality score than ads that use the “optimise” setting.

Tip: If you don’t have time to split test in detail (say you have a lot of ad groups where ads won’t easily get to significance) then use “optimise”. If you have high volume/value terms then rotate so you can take control.

If you are not maintaining a consistent testing process then use optimise rather than let poorer performers show regularly.

12.2: Number of ads

For Google Ads, you’ll want to ensure that each adgroup is assigned a minimum of three ads. This will help you test and identify successful ad copy patterns.

12.3: Expanded text ads

Expanded text ads add more real estate to search results, which helps entice a click. Expanded text ads allow for:

  • A third headline
  • A second description
  • Use of up to 90 characters for each description

You’ll want to ensure each ad is taking advantage of the above three features.

If using the “optimise” ad rotation option, Google may well decide to exclude features of your ad copy, such as a second description line, as their machine learning algorithm look to optimise for the best performing ads.

12.4: Display URL & Paths

You’ll want to ensure each URL path in your ad copy contains a relevant keyword. The more relevant you make your ad, the more likely you are to entice a click. For instance, going back to our jeans example, if an ad group was targeting “blue jeans” our display URL ad copy might look like the below:

12.5: Final destination URL

The landing pages ads take users to should be relevant to the actual ad messaging. An irrelevant landing page will reduce the efficiency of your PPC campaigns.

12.6: Ad extensions

Ad extension types

Ad extensions are imperative to align with your conversion goals and increase click through rates by making your ad copy stand out. Ad extensions also directly impact Ad Rank, which is a value that’s used to determine your ad position.

When auditing an account for ad extensions, you’ll need to know the conversion goals of your client. For example, if a conversion goal of the business is to drive more calls, then you’ll want to ensure that the account uses call extensions.

Goal 1: Your client wants customers to contact them

Call extensions

Call extensions allow you to add a contact number to your ad and are imperative for brick and mortar businesses.

Call extensions can be very powerful on mobile devices, as users can directly call a business by clicking on a phone number.

Tip: Make sure your call extensions only appear during business operating hours. Every interaction on a call extension counts as a click, so you’ll be wasting money if no one can answer and you’ll lose customer trust in your brand.

If you are using call extensions make sure that call reporting has been turned on.

Message extensions

Message extensions allow you to add messaging that prompts a user to text a business when clicking on the extension.

Message extensions are useful if customers can interact with a business via text messaging, such as booking an appointment, or getting a quote.

Goal 2: Your client wants customers to convert on their website

Callout extensions

Callout extensions allow you to add additional call-to-action messaging that promote key USP’s of your offering such as “ free delivery”, or “25% off”. Compelling callout extensions will improve click through rates and drives conversion onsite.  

You can add up to four callout extensions for each add, but Google recommends you add at least two to help ensure they appear.

Tip: Google recommends that you create dedicated mobile optimised callout extensions. This will help ensure you can tailor your messaging to suit mobile devices. For example, some callout extensions visible on desktop will truncate on mobile.

Sitelink extensions

Sitelink extensions are useful if you want to funnel people to certain parts of your website. They should be relevant to the ad.

You must specify a minimum of two sitelinks for the extension to appear; however, you can add up to four sitelinks.

Structured snippet extensions

Structured snippet extensions allow you to highlight specific features of a product or service. Similar to call out extensions, structured snippets will appear beneath your text ad and could increase your CTR.

Google has a pretty comprehensive best practice guide on structured snippets.

Price extensions

Price extensions promote more information, such as pricing and add more real estate to your ads, which can lead to an increased CTR.

Learn more about using pricing extensions.

Goal 3: Your client wants customers to download their app

App extensions

App extensions allows advertisers to link directly to a mobile or tablet app from an ad

12.7: Disapproved ads

You’ll want to scroll through the ad interface and identify ads that have been disapproved and why.

13.0: What to do after the audit?

After you’ve completed the audit it will be important to make a priority list. When presenting your findings and recommendations, you’ll want to make sure you clearly communicate any potential performance downturns. Restructuring an account can initially cause panic, as performance history may no longer be taken into account, but with the right communication and strategic approach it will be a success.

This is a news feed, by author Joel Mesherghi, the original post can be found here How to Conduct The Ultimate PPC Audit.

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