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How to Conduct a Complete AdWords Audit

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How to Conduct a Complete AdWords Audit

Is your AdWords account as effective as it could be?

Unless you’ve audited your AdWords account, you can’t know for sure.

What is an AdWords Account Audit?

An AdWords account audit is the process of evaluating the effectiveness of your AdWords accounts.

An audit can reveal painful hidden issues that need to be addressed. Once you’ve identified these issues, you can get to work improving the overall health and performance of your account.

While there are many automated tools and services that provide algorithmic-based audit results and grades for your account, they often lack the context of your marketing goals, focus audience, and unique desired outcomes of your PPC efforts.

The key to a good audit is to:

  1. Identify what you’re going to review and understand the importance of it.
  2. Review and document the status of each item in the audit.
  3. Make detailed notes and call out examples of items that need to be revisited or addressed in the post-audit action plan.

The audit itself isn’t the time to make account or campaign updates (unless you uncover something so critical that it must be addressed immediately).

It’s important to get into, through, and out of the audit process delivering a report and results that can be put into an action plan for one-time follow-up activities and processes for ongoing management adjustments.

The last thing you want to do is start an endless audit that has changing objectives throughout.

Why You Need an AdWords Account Audit

Whether you’re taking over an account from a client, another vendor, or as part of a new role in your company, knowing where things stand before investing significant time and money is critical.

There are also benefits to periodically auditing your finely-tuned campaigns, allowing time to take a step back and look at things that might be missed in day-to-day management.

Some benefits that can result from an AdWords audit include:

  1. Finding areas of spend waste.
  2. Identifying new opportunities to expand.
  3. Enhancing ongoing management processes.
  4. Gaining audience insights that can be applied to the account as well as other marketing channels.
  5. Validation of assumptions.

What follows is a step-by-process you can use when performing your own AdWords account audit. You will gain invaluable insights and uncover big opportunities where you can improve your accounts.

Focusing on these areas and asking these important questions when performing your own AdWords account audit will help ensure that you’re maximizing your PPC marketing ROI.

Step 1: Review Goals

Before diving into the AdWords account, the first step of the audit is reviewing business and account goals to ensure you understand what your focus and objectives are.

There can be multiple conversion goals. Understanding what they are and what performance outcomes you’re seeking will set the tone for your evaluation throughout the rest of the audit process.

Defining your goals and focus makes it easier to objectively audit the account.

Some questions to ask related to goals:

  • What are your conversion goals for the company?
  • What are the conversion goals in AdWords?
  • Have goals changed?
  • Can you track performance beyond AdWords (for leads, sales, or traffic)?
  • Has your target audience or set of personas changed?

When you’re clear on what you want your AdWords account to accomplish, you can dig into the actual components of the search network campaign.

Step 2: Review Account Structure

Having the right hierarchy can positively impact the amount of time required for managing campaigns and yield better data for decision making.

There are many ways you can structure your use of campaigns and ad groups, organizing around:

  • Logical business objectives.
  • Persona targets.
  • Product lines.
  • Service lines.
  • Subject matter.

While there’s not necessarily a “right” way to structure your account, you want to do so in a way that gives you as much control as possible on the more granular details of bid, budget, ad, and overall management.

The aspects of account structure to evaluate are:

  • Do the campaigns represent different campaign setting level segments (geo-targeting, dayparting, campaign level bids, campaign level budgets)?
  • Do the campaigns provide meaningful roll up reporting for the ad groups that fall within them?
  • Are the campaigns easy to compare to each other and to balance budgets across?

Step 3: Account & Campaign Settings

In most cases, you can quickly review your campaign settings and move on.

However, you may ultimately need to come back to these settings to make adjustments based on your review and decisions for changes in other areas of the audit.

Prior to making performance-based updates, here are specific items to review:

  • Is the geographic targeting appropriate and accurate? Do you see any countries or regions in the “locations” tab that you don’t want to target?
  • Is device targeting appropriate?
  • Are you sure you have the advanced location settings configured exactly as you want for your audience?
  • Are the bid strategy, budget, and ad delivery method as you desire?
  • Do you have the right dayparting in place?
  • Are you using dynamic search ads (and if so, are you aware of that and using them for the right reasons)?

Step 4: Ad Groups

At this stage, it’s important to remember that “ad groups = group of ads” rather than “ad groups = group of keywords.”

Sometimes we get those two concepts confused. We think too much about keywords and groupings before we think about the intent of the searcher and the destination we’re sending them to.

You could have the best-organized groups of keywords that AdWords has ever seen, but have them perform miserably if your ads and landing pages are an afterthought.

Your focus must be on ads, landing pages, quality scores, and ultimately the potential for performance for getting users to convert.

The aspects of ad groups to consider in the audit are:

  • Do my ad groups have approximately 10 keywords or less?
  • Do the ad groups align with each other and complement rather than compete?
  • Are the ad group level max CPCs set at an optimal level?
  • Are my best ad groups receiving enough of the budget?

Step 5: Keywords

We can get lost in keywords, match types, search queries, negative matching, and a lot of detail at a granular level.

It’s important to identify patterns and trends during the audit process. While doing so, resist the temptation to start making updates. Now isn’t the time to start implementing or to run off and yell at the person who managed the account before you did.

When you look at keywords, do so within each relevant campaign to stay focused on the specific subject matter of the campaign and drill down into ad groups. By applying the goals identified in the first step of the audit process, you can evaluate the specific intent and performance of keywords.

If you have a very large campaign, it’s best to look at samples to find patterns and issues rather than try to judge each keyword individually. A lot of sorting and sampling is important to identify performance and optimization issues.

Aspects of keywords to audit:

  • Are negative keywords in use?
  • Does the search query report show any keywords that are off topic for the subject matter and conversion goals?
  • Are there terms that have zero conversions yet have high impressions, clicks, and/or spend?
  • Are there keywords that have low-quality scores?
  • Are there keywords that have a status of “no” for showing right now? If so, are there negative match or other conflicts when you want them to be running?
  • Are the keyword specific max CPCs set at an optimal level?
  • Are there any terms that are out of line with expected or desired CPC, CTR, conversion, or conversion rate targets?

Step 6: Ads

Ads often are left to run unchecked in many accounts or are over tested.

One way to effectively test ads is to set the ad rotation to force even rotation indefinitely and ensure that each ad group has two ad versions — an “A” and a “B” version. At set intervals, you can then judge the winner and rotate in a new “B” version to test.

Even if you rely on Google’s algorithm in determining the ratio to serve ads and use dynamic tools, it is dangerous to leave things on autopilot. The audit can expose these issues.

Audit ads including:

  • Two ad variations in each ad group.
  • Use of dynamic keyword insertion and performance against a static headline.
  • Use of calls to action in ad headlines and effectiveness.
  • Are there ads with mid- to low-quality scores?

Step 7: Landing Pages

Landing pages are external to AdWords, but have a direct impact on the performance of the campaign and influence the metrics you see throughout AdWords. It would be an oversight to not analyze landing pages even if they don’t show up on your radar when evaluating ad quality scores.

Carrying consistent wording and terminology through to the landing pages, having clear calls to action, and positive user experiences are all key to ensuring optimal conversion rates (and raising your quality score to lower your costs).

When looking at your landing pages, consider the following:

  • Is there a good headline and clear call to action on the page?
  • Do the forms work?
  • Is there a dedicated call tracking number?
  • Does the form submit to a thank you message or page that contains the conversion tracking code?
  • Are the quality scores of ads linking to each respective landing page mid to high?
  • Does it make sense to add more landing pages or condense into less based on performance of ads and pages?

Final Step: Reporting & the Action Plan

As you work through the audit steps and spend time looking at the details compared to performance expectations and goals, you’ll need to document your notes.

It’s likely that your audit is going to be shared with others internally or externally. So organize your audit into a document or template format will help you both craft your action plan and share insights with others.

Your real work begins after you’ve documented each item, the status of it, and any issues to address. Now the production list and action plan can come together, get scheduled, and be put into motion.

Whether you’re going to prioritize and tackle all of the areas identified for improvement, expansion, or optimization in a single round or work it into longer ongoing efforts, you have the power of knowledge versus simply sticking with the status quo or assuming that the work done by those before you was ideal.

Regardless of your situation, you’re in a position poised for gains in your account that will impact your bottom line.

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Corey Morris

Corey Morris

Vice President of Marketing at Voltage

Corey Morris serves as the Vice President of Marketing for Voltage. With a dozen years of experience in the digital ... [Read full bio]

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