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Taking on a new PPC account can be daunting when you can see that there’s lots to be improved on. It’s great that you know you can make a difference and improve the account, but you might find yourself wondering where to start!
A PPC audit is a great way to start any PPC project, as it will help you clearly identify the areas that need improving, so you can prioritise them and work through them in manageable chunks.
If you’re at the early stages of selling PPC into your client, a basic audit could be the key to getting them on board as you can clearly show them the areas that you can improve for them and demonstrate the benefit that would have.
Avoid running an audit straight after you have made lots of changes to an account, as you may find you have skewed data. My advice is to perform an audit when you start a project, and then do it again a couple of months after you have been working on it. Also make sure that when you conduct the audit, you have selected a date range that provides significant enough data. I use at least the last three or four months, but be careful to consider seasonality too as this may skew your analysis.
A great place to start is with a free tool such as Wordstream’s AdWords Performance Grader, as it can offer insight and compare your account to other AdWords accounts with the same level of spend in your vertical, which is something that is completely unique.
The tool will give you an overview of your performance in terms of wasted spend (negative keywords), Quality Score, Impression Share, Click through Rate, Long Tail keywords, ad text, landing pages, mobile targeting and other best practices.
The benefit of using this tool as a starting point is that it provides all this data within the context of comparing your account to other accounts in the same vertical as you, with a similar ad spend. This means that if you are a small local book retailer, you won’t find your account compared with the likes of Waterstones, who are likely to have a much larger ad spend. You gain an indication of which areas you need to improve in the account, alongside what the industry average performance is.
Below I’ve used the tool to quickly identify the basic areas that may need improvement on an account running search campaigns, and then I’ve provided my own account audit checklist for each area, so that when you run your own site through this tool you can have some tips on how to improve them!
The Wasted Spend section of the WordStream AdWords PPC Grader Report uses the number of negative keywords added to your account in the last 90 days, to estimate how much money you could be saving by adding more negative keywords. This is a very handy figure to justify the time that has been spent on negative keywords.
In this example you can see that the account is well below the recommended level of negative keywords and it tells me that I’m falling behind similar advertisers. If you have a similar diagnosis as this account, try:
Keyword Match Types
Review your account for the keyword match types you are using. Try out both phrase and exact match keywords if they are suitable, and review their performance over time.
The ‘PPC Best Practices’ section of the WordStream report reminds advertisers to use modified broad match keywords, and they couldn’t be more right! If used correctly, Modified Broad Match keywords can really benefit your campaigns.
Use Modified Broad Match keywords instead of standard broad match to gain some more control over your keywords. This works particularly well for terms that people often miss-spell, such as holiday destinations.
Learn more about Modified Broad Match here.
Adding new keywords to the account should be done regularly, and not just at the start of a project.
Review the Search Query Report and add any terms that have converted at a suitable cost as keywords in their own ad groups.
The Long-Tail Keyword optimisation part of the WordStream report reports the percentage of longtail keywords in your account, and identifies the opportunity for adding more longtail terms, which can lower your CPC and often convert better.
Some tips for long-tail keyword optimisation are:
Keyword Matching Options
You can choose to allow Google to include plurals, spellings and close variants within your phrase and exact match keywords.
If you have modified broad match, or broad match keywords in your campaigns anyway, this probably isn’t necessary, but it may help you discover new terms that you aren’t yet bidding on when you review your keyword report.
If you have a very well structured account with separate ad groups for singulars and plurals keywords, I would recommend against this setting, as it may cause the singular ad group to show for the plural and visa-versa.
Keyword Performance Review
Keep an eye on the performance of all your keywords and make the following checks (but bear in mind some of the revenue and cost focused checks are more applicable to ecommerce websites)
Your account structure is a fundamental part of a PPC audit, as getting the structure right means you can target your ads and keywords to the most bespoke level.
Here are some things to check for:
The WordStream AdWords Performance Grader Tool has a section on Impression Share, which is closely linked to bidding and budgets:
Here you can see that this particular account is missing out on 33% of the impression share they could have, due to the budget.
Lost Impression Share due to Budget
In this instance, you might see a note next to some or all of your campaigns saying they are limited by budget in AdWords. When you click on the notification AdWords will tell you what they recommend increasing your budget to.
If you find that your ads stop running before the end of the day, or aren’t showing all the time, and you have identified that you are missing out on impression share due to budget, it is likely that Google are spreading out the frequency at which they let your keywords go to auction in order to spread out your daily budget. Increasing your budget in this instance will allow your ads to show more often when they are eligible.
Check if your ads are running out before the end of your schedule by visiting the Dimensions Tab, and selecting ‘View: Hour of day’. If there are no impressions in the later hours of the schedule you may find that you are running out of budget early:
Never increase your budget any more than you can afford, and consider your revenue and conversion value above Google’s budget recommendations.
If you can’t afford to increase your budget, try the following:
Lost Impression Share Due to Rank
If you are losing out on impression share due to rank, it means your ad rank isn’t strong enough to ensure you’re eligible to show as often as you could. It also means that you are paying more per click than you could be if you improve your ad rank.
You can learn more about ad rank here.
To improve your ad rank, try the following:
Google’s First Page Bid Estimates
Filter your keywords in the keywords tab, using the ‘status’ filter, to see if any of them are below Google’s first page bid estimate.
You might not necessarily have to pay this bid, and your ads may still show if your bid is below this recommendation.
If the estimate is much higher than you expected, it might indicate that you have a poor Quality Score as your Quality Score is taken into account within the estimate, as well as the current advertiser competition levels.
I’d recommend bidding above this estimate if you can afford to.
Bid Strategy Settings
If you have enough time to manually manage your bids, or if you use a third party bid management tool, you should select “I’ll manually set my bids for clicks”:
If you’d like to experiment with other bidding options, you can learn more about them here:
The Click through Rate (CTR) section of the WordStream report is great for getting an overview of your whole account CTR. In this example you can see that the account could expect 102 more clicks or one additional conversion per month, by improving the CTR to 3.94% from the current 2.28%.
Remember that CTR is affected by your average position and bids, as well as your keyword and ad relevance, so optimise your keywords and ads as well as bids to truly improve CTR.
The Text Ad Optimisation section of the Wordstream report quickly points out whether you have enough text ads per ad group, as well as which of your ads are the top and worst performer, so you can get some ideas for your future ad optimisation:
To optimise your ads to improve CTR, try the following:
Ad Delivery Settings
Select ‘Rotate Indefinitely’ to ensure each of your ads gains more equal opportunities to show, so that you can manually split test them:
I prefer manually split testing my ads to letting Google select top performers, as I believe Google determines those that are top performers based on too little data meaning they don’t give each ad a fair chance to perform and this might mean strong ads are retired too early on.
Location targeting should be audited on a campaign by campaign basis, making sure that location bid adjustments are in place to counter any low CTR locations at campaign level.
Review data in the Dimensions tab to see location performance, including user locations. You may find some user locations are irrelevant and can be excluded.
Don’t forget location settings in the campaign settings tab too:
Unless your business is the sort of business where someone might be searching for it from a different country, you should select ‘People in my target location’ so that Google only shows ads to those who are geographically within the location you are targeting.
If people might be searching for your business service from a location other than the location that you are targeting, select ‘People in, searching for or viewing pages about my target location’. For example if you are a South African car hire company offering car hire in South Africa, people in the UK might search for and buy your services for when they come on holiday to South Africa. In this instance you want people outside of South Africa to see your ads if they have a relevant search term that includes your location.
The Mobile Advertising section of the WordStream report outlines how much of your ad spend goes on mobile devices compared to desktop.
Mobile is increasingly important, so if your site works well on mobile and the user can easily complete a conversion with a smooth user experience on their mobile device, then you should try bidding on mobile devices within your PPC account with the following tips:
Conversion tracking is essential to know if your AdWords account is delivering users who are completing the aim of your website.
The Quality Score section of the AdWords Performance Grader report from WordStream gives you a nice quick insight into your impression weighted average Quality Score for the account. It also estimates how much money could be saved by improving Quality Score, which is very handy if you need to make a case for optimising for Quality Score.
When auditing your Quality Score, consider the following:
You can learn more about different Quality Score types and how to optimise them here.
Track your efforts at improving different levels of Quality Score using the following AdWords Scripts:
If you look at your account manually for Quality Score, rather than using scripts, always use a weighted impression Quality Score, so you can be sure to focus on the areas that will have the most impact. You can learn about impression weighted Quality Score here.
The Landing Page Optimisation section of the Wordstream report points out whether you have enough variety of landing pages within your account, compared to other advertisers within your monthly spend range. Having a wide variety of landing pages suggests that you have optimised your landing pages and they are going to the relevant product or service pages within your site, rather than just the Home page for example. It also indicates that you might be using bespoke PPC landing pages, which can help with your Quality Score and increase conversions.
To optimise your PPC landing pages, try the following:
This section of the post goes over some of the standard settings you can find in your campaign setting tab:
If you are running a standard search campaign, you should ensure your campaign is set to ‘Search Network Only’, with all features enabled.
This ensures your campaign is not opted into the Display Network, which has a naturally low CTR and would bring down the overall CTR of your campaign.
Within AdWords you can opt into Google Search Partners, which shows your ads on other websites that have search functions, such as directories.
This also includes Google Maps, so if you are a local business who would like ads to appear on Google Maps, opt into Search Partners.
In my experience, Search Partners perform differently depending on the vertical you are in, so my advice would be to test it for a couple of weeks and analyse your data to see if it converts well for you.
I have seen Search Partners produce lower CTRs in many instances, however it can also have lower CPCs which result in cheaper conversions.
Ensure your campaign is set to the language that your searchers will use. Google will then target your ads to users who are searching using this language, or have this language selected on their Google profile.
You can exclude up to 12 IP addresses per campaign.
Blocking competitors IP addresses is beneficial to reduce the likelihood of them seeing any new ad text ideas or offers in your ads, although it’s not fool proof and they may have more than one IP address.
So hopefully this post has given you some ideas on what to check for during a PPC audit. if you have any other suggestions or ideas that I haven’t included please leave them in the comments section below.
An image of a audit text message man via BigStock
Samantha Noble is well known within in the search industry, she even won the UK Search Personality 2016 at the UK Search Awards in November. This year, she continues to make an impact on the industry by judging not only one, but three, prestigious industry awards.