And All the Things You Should Audit
originally posted: July 22, 2019
Google Ads is one of the most effective marketing platforms. Period. Ads are shown to people at the moment they are searching for the products and services you offer. And to top it off, results are highly trackable.
One thing that must be remembered is that paid search requires constant oversight. It needs care and feeding on a regular basis for it to perform at the highest level. Despite the fact that I said previously that the best thing you can sometimes do to a paid search campaign is nothing, that has to be an informed decision based on data that you review regularly.
The real threat to paid search campaigns is complacency. Simply peaking at data from time-to-time, but not really looking at anything. This is a real temptation the longer you work on a campaign. You get very familiar with it and it can be easy to overlook things you would catch otherwise.
At our agency, we combat the issue by doing something we call “stand ups.” It basically means that we ask a qualified coworker to audit the an account we are responsible for working on. All constructive feedback is offered for consideration in the form of a straight forward report.
Having a fresh set of eyes to go through a campaign can be revealing. Of course, that person may not have been present for the many conversations that take place with a client that lead to the campaign being run in a certain way. But, having an outside perspective is valuable in that a good audit can uncover some good nuggets that need to be considered. This ensures we are doing our due diligence on behalf of our clients, and they are always getting our best thinking.
Even if you do not work at an agency, but run your own paid search campaigns, having an audit can be incredibly helpful. If you don’t have a qualified outside person that can help you (more on that below), following our easy guide of the things you should look at can be helpful.
So, how to do we audit a paid search campaign? I’m going to spill the beans.
Why Do a Google Ads Audit?
Sometimes a client has been running their own paid search campaign and are looking to have an agency assume day-to-day management. In those cases, the client may ask for the agency to do a quick review in order to understand what the agency may do. The challenge is to be respectful to the client and the time they put in, while offering pragmatic feedback on what you would do with the campaign
A somewhat trickier situation is when a client is considering switching agencies, and they ask you to review the account. The audit is done in the same manner, but again, it’s vital to be respectful of the previous agency and their work. You don’t want to come across as someone that will put down someone else’s work, but also, you were not privy to the conversations that took place that lead up to the decisions that were made.
A good audit will help you understand the campaign you are dealing with, and provide you with clear direction on upcoming adjustments you need to make.
What We Look at While Doing a Paid Search Audit
We look at a lot of different things in our audits. I have not included every aspect, but here are some important things to look at:
- Wasted Spend
- Text Ad Performance
- Quality Score
- Click-Thru Rates
- Campaign Actions Taken
- Search Impression Share
- Mobile Performance
Wasted Campaign Spend
Wasted spend is a measure of primarily two things: use (or lack) of negative keywords and low quality score.
We look at the use of negative terms in a campaign. Is there a developed list of terms to help ensure the ads are not being displayed on non-valuable or off-brand keywords? We use this in conjunction with the search terms report to see the exact terms ads are being shown. If we see bad ad matches, we know we are experiencing wasted spend.
Low quality score also influences ad spend, and wasted budget. Advertisers with higher quality score pay a lower average cost per click than advertisers with lower quality scores. We discuss this below, but it is an influencer in wasted campaign spend.
Text Ad Performance
For this measure, we look at the numbers of ads in each AdGroup. Three ads are optimal as it allows for good rotation of ad creative for good messaging testing. We also look at the average ad position. We target an ad position of 1.4 or higher, meaning that a majority of the time the ad is shown in the number one position. We want it higher if possible, but that’s our benchmark.
After looking at those factors, we identify the best and worst performing ads on desktop and mobile in order to compare the difference between the stats. If there is a wide performance gap between the worst and best ads, it tells us we need to get busy replacing and updating ads.
Quality score is the overall measure of effectiveness from your keyword choice, to your ad copy to the landing page. The important thing to remember here is that QS is Google’s overall interpretation of that part of your campaign. And this number is used to determine your overall cost-per-click
Advertisers with higher quality score pay a lower average cost per click than advertisers with lower quality scores.
We look at the quality score of each AdGroup, ads, keywords, etc, to see which are higher and lower. Low quality scores influence wasted ad spend, discussed above.
Some keywords will likely always have a lower quality score. For example, if you are using a competitor’s name as part of a competitive / conquesting campaign, it’s likely they will always have a lower quality score. That’s expected, but it’s important to be aware which terms and ads have lower quality scores so you can make an evaluation.
Similar to quality score, we look at the ads and keywords with the best click-thru rates and the worst and compare the difference. It allows us to quickly evaluate if we want to continue to keep the worst performing terms in the campaign, or drop them, preserving the budget for the best performing terms and ads.
By looking at the ads with the lowest click-thru rates, we can evaluate the reasoning. Do they just not match the AdGroup? Were we trying a new messaging angle that just isn’t working? Some quick analysis allows us to replace those ads with some thoughtful direction.
Number of Campaign Actions
This one is a little tricky. We look at the number of actions taken on a campaign over the last 30 days. Campaign actions are things like adding a keyword, a negative, adjusting a bid, or any type of adjustment in a campaign.
The reason why this is tricky is because the quantity of actions does not necessarily indicate progress. In fact, we argued in the past that sometimes the best thing you can do for a Google Ads campaign is nothing.
But that is also why we said you need to look at these factors together. If you see issues in other areas, such as low ad performance, and wasted spend, and little to no campaign actions taken, then it indicates the campaign isn’t getting the care and feeding it needs.
This may be the one key area of the audit that reveals if that dreaded complacency has set in.
Search Impression Share
If there is one thing Google Ads is good at, it is producing lots of data to look at. One helpful metric in this is the search impression share. I wrote a longer article about the importance of Search Impression Share if you care to dig in deeper, but I’ll recap here.
The search impression share is usually expressed as a percentage, which reveals how often your ads were shown, compared to how often they were eligible to show.
Always check to see what your search impression share is for your AdGroups. If it is low, dig into why. It could be budgetary reasons, keyword choice, overly large geo-targeting, or a mixture of all the above.
If you search impression share is low, evaluate the reasons why. Should you decrease the geo-targeting, or narrow your keyword choices?
There are many ways to adjust your search impression share, which I outlined in more detail, but make sure you look at this factor as part of your audit.
While it fluctuates a bit industry-to-industry, it’s not uncommon for the majority of your site traffic to come from a mobile device. Look at your analytics to reveal how much of your traffic is from mobile.
Then compare your major data on desktop and mobile. How do the impressions, clicks and click-thru rate compare. Also, how do conversions compare, assuming you are tracking them. (I hope you are!)
If the majority of your traffic is from mobile, consider a device bid modifier to ensure better coverage on mobile devices.
And, if your mobile performance is not great, consider why. If your site is not mobile friendly, you may want to suppress mobile ads to avoid consumer frustration, while you get your site upgraded.
Wrap Up Audit Report
When we do an audit, we capture all our notes in an audit report, in our case, to be passed back to our coworkers to consider. It may spawn follow up conversations, and we find them to be very helpful. We externally audit every campaign three or four times a year. Basically, every quarter or so.
The report is invaluable as it captures the thoughtful feedback from the audit, and provides and easy to review document with enough detail to provide guidance.