Quick Guide to the Layman’s 30-Minute SEM Audit

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The AdWords nerd-dom is just like any other on the web: it runs deep. I wanted to draw up a quick checklist of things to look for when you have limited time – a “layman’s 30-minute SEM audit,” if you will.

While this particular audit I’ve laid out below is pretty rudimentary if you’re an AdWords ninja, business owners who don’t focus on AdWords as part of their day-to-day hustle may find it helpful to have a rubric. Mind you, this is not a complete list of things to optimize; rather, it’s a laundry list of notes and best practices to ensure you’re keeping a clean house and taking advantage of relatively low-effort opportunities.

So here we go:

The bonehead questions

  • Where are your ads running?
    • Create separate campaigns for search & content
    • Check to see whether ads are running on “all devices” and be attentive about whether they’re enabled for mobile devices!

30 min seo aufit

    • How’s performance in the Google Search Partners network, compared to search and content performance? Is it worth keeping active?

30-min seo audit

  • How much ad testing has been done?
    • Have you tested 2-3 ads, picked the best one, then rinsed, lathered & repeated?
    • Here are some tips on writing tailored, effective ad copy
  • What’s your bidding strategy?
    • Have you tested Conversion Optimizer on the search or display network?
    • If you’re bidding manually, which settings have you enabled? The Auto CPC (“get maximum clicks for your budget”) setting is worthless, AdWords account reps have admitted to me.

The slightly more advanced questions

  • When are your ads converting?
    • Go to the Dimensions tab and look at “hour of day” – are conversion rates trending one way or another during specific hours? If so, consider day parting.
  • Are you tapping Google remarketing?
    • It’s easy: enable the Audiences tab and get pixel code. Place it on the page whose visitors you want to retarget. Be sure to set up a ‘custom combination’ to exclude converted visitors from the retargeting pool. This is CPC-based, so let ‘er rip!

30 min seo audit

  • Are your top keywords set up in single-keyword adgroups?
  • Do this: go to the “Keywords” tab and sort by conversions over the last 90 days. Then run your top 50, 100 or 500 terms (depending on how ambitious you are and how much time you have) through the wringer:
    • Is every single one an exact match keyword?
    • Is every single one part of its own adgroup with super relevant, tried & true ad copy?
    • Have you a/b tested landing pages for this keyword set?

If you answered “no” to any of those questions, stop reading blogs and go build out campaigns containing your highest-converting keywords where you bid on each one in exact match within its own adgroup. Few things in SEM will save you as much money right away as this strategy.

  • What % of your conversions are coming from exact match terms?
    • Unless it’s 80% or more, it can probably be higher. You need to create single-keyword adgroups using the method described in #3.
  • Are you bidding on your competitors’ brand names?
    • Type each of your 3 biggest competitors into Google and see what ads come up. If yours isn’t there, get on it. All’s fair in love and AdWords.
  • Is your account structure optimized for quality score?
    • Your best adgroups should not have a single keyword whose quality score below is 7. A few 6’s might be okay (that quality score is a bit rare anyway), but move any low-QS keywords to dedicated campaigns and troubleshoot using the ads diagnostic tool. You need to get your keywords to QS 7-10, or you’ll be paying too much.

At this stage, your 30 minutes have probably long been up. As you likely know, there’s a lot more you can do to get your AdWords exploits in tip-top shape – but we’ll explore those in a future post. Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions

Igor Belogolovsky

Igor Belogolovsky

Igor Belogolovsky is a digital marketer, armchair landing page philosopher, SEM tinkerer extraordinaire and cofounder of Clever Zebo: the San Francisco Bay Area’s online marketing... Read Full Bio
Igor Belogolovsky
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  • Vivek Parikh

    its really a good post for Adwords… I have one question here.. If i put 5 keywords in one adgroup & from them two keywords are paused & the QS of that 2 keywords are also low like 3 or 4 then is it will affect in negative term to the adgroup or not??

  • “Are you bidding on your competitors’ brand names?”

    I used to do that, but got a bit moral. What do others think?

    Funnily, I once got a call: “Our competitor is advertising on our brand, we’d like to start advertising like them as well”. I was running their competitors campaigns :-O

  • Igor

    @Tiggerito:disqus I don’t personally view it as a moral question, but some do. Some verticals bid on competitor terms much more aggressively than others.
    @1690633e6b7a1c31bf4f43b843b2db21:disqus the conventional wisdom is, yes, you should really keep your low-QS keywords in separate adgroups (and probably campaigns) than your tightly-managed, high-QS keywords.

    Thanks for reading, gents.

    • Vivek Parikh

      thanks for your prompt reply..

  • This is the kind of quick, manageable call to action that more business owners need to heed to keep their campaigns in good order. Your marketing efforts are like a garden: without regular attention, they’ll grow out of control, and your yield will be ruined.

  • Guest

    This is the first time I have read that single-keyword adgroups are better. What is the rationale for this? It would seem that closely related terms (plurals, slight variations) could exist in the same adgroup without detracting from relevance.

  • Guest

    This is the first time I have read that single-keyword adgroups are better. What is the rationale for this? It would seem that closely related terms (plurals, slight variations) could exist in the same adgroup without detracting from relevance.