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PPC Auditing: Everything You Need to Know

PPC audits are such an essential part of any successful ongoing campaign. When your PPC campaign is delivering results, it’s easy to put it on autopilot. But doing this for too long can be a mistake. There are always things to optimize and you may be just a few changes away from delivering an even higher ROI.

That’s why regular PPC auditing is essential. Doing so will show you what is going right (or wrong), allowing you to take steps to improve your account’s performance.

The tough part is knowing what to look for while performing an audit. This article will discuss everything we do when auditing the accounts we manage.

What Is a PPC Audit?

A PPC audit is a complete analysis of your PPC account. It aims to discover areas that you can improve to increase your PPC ROI. You’ll look at factors like targeting, bidding, technical setup, and even your ad content and funnel to ensure everything is working optimally.

When Should You Conduct a PPC Audit?

The obvious time to perform a PPC audit is when you take over a new account. Looking through the data will show you what is working and what needs to be improved.

But you should also perform regular audits on all the accounts you manage.

The exact period you choose depends on your needs and performance. At PPC Genius, we like to perform audits on our accounts every six months.

This is regardless of whether they are delivering.

Auditing high-performing accounts is just as important as auditing ones that are delivering less impressive results. However, you may want to increase the frequency of audits on poorly performing accounts.

We wouldn’t audit an account if we had recently made significant changes to it. That’s because you need to build up a library of data that shows how the changes affect account performance.

For example, if you’ve just built a new landing page it will take time to gather enough data to show how the change affects Ad Rank and conversion. It’s best to postpone your audit for a few months.

Why Conduct a PPC Audit?

Auditing your account is essential if you want to ensure you are getting the most value for your ad spend. If you don’t perform these checks, you won’t know if you’re spending your budget efficiently.

Here are some of the reasons to perform a PPC audit.

Prevent Waste

A good PPC strategy can hide underperforming elements. For example, you may be targeting keywords that aren’t delivering, or certain landing pages may not be converting as well as they could.

It’s hard to see which individual components are working and which aren’t without looking deeper into your campaign data. Exploring the individual elements of a campaign will help you spot where you are spending on things that aren’t performing.

Spot Technical Issues

Technical issues can cause havoc for your ad spend. If tracking isn’t set up correctly on one of your web properties, your data will be all wrong.

You’ll hopefully notice technical issues straight away on accounts you run, but you should always spend time correctly setting up new accounts.

Keep Up with a Changing Environment

The PPC landscape is ever-changing. Auditing your account will highlight any new opportunities you can take advantage of. For example, you may find new ad types or targeting options to help you deliver better results.

Review Your Goals

Performing an audit can help you reassess your goals and ensure your account is working to meet them.

Gaining a better understanding of how your Google ads are performing helps you set a better strategy for the future. Look at what is working and what isn’t to create a roadmap for going forward.

Who Should Perform a PPC Audit?

You can start by performing the audit yourself and seeing what you can find. If you’re skilled at PPC, happy with what you find, and your campaign is delivering results, then this may be enough.

If this isn’t the case, you may benefit from having a second pair of eyes look over your account.

The benefit of this is that third parties bring a fresh perspective. They aren’t tied to any particular strategy or tactic. They simply look at the data and make recommendations.

This third party could be a PPC account manager from another team. Or you could hire a freelancer or an agency to take a look for you.

PPC Audit Checklist: What to Look For

Here are the steps we take at PPC Genius when performing PPC audits on our accounts:

1. Choose Your Data

First you need to choose your data. Try to use at least three months’ worth, but the more you have access to the better.

The data from your PPC dashboard will show you how different ad groups are performing. But you should also download information from the other analytics platforms you have access to, such as Google Analytics.

Having access to multiple sources of data will help if you see results in your dashboard that don’t seem correct.

Suppose your PPC data shows that you generated a certain number of conversions. In that case, you can corroborate this against your actual sales or visits to the order confirmation page to check everything stacks up.

External PPC tools can provide further information about keywords and your competitors. This can help you spot improvements you won’t get from your data alone.

2. Ensure Conversion Tracking Is Working

Once you have your data, you can correctly set up your campaign’s technical elements.

If you aren’t tracking PPC conversions accurately it’s impossible to tell if your campaign is working.

Setting up a tracking code on your website is one of the most challenging technical parts of PPC advertising. It’s easy to go wrong when setting your account up, which can lead to issues.

Be sure to check the conversions of each campaign to keep an eye out for abnormalities.

Look for:

  • Campaigns with no conversions: This either means you aren’t tracking conversions, or no one is taking you up on your offer. While neither of these options is good, you can fix the former option by repairing your tracking.
  • Campaigns with suspiciously high conversion rates: The higher your conversion rate the better, but a rate that’s too high can suggest you have a tracking problem. Compare the number of conversions shown in your PPC dashboard with actual conversions (sales, email signups, etc.) to confirm whether the rate makes sense. If it doesn’t match, your PPC campaign may be tracking the wrong metrics. For example, it may be counting page visits as conversions rather than sales.
  • Identical click and conversion rates: If your click and conversion rates are exactly the same, you’ve probably set your campaign to track visits to your landing page rather than the confirmation page. You’ll need to adjust your tag. Either that or you’re an advertising genius.

Most account managers will realize if they are suffering from one of these issues far before it’s time to audit. But, if you’re taking over a new or neglected account, checking them is a must.

Remember that the data won’t always be 100% correct, resulting in abnormalities between actual conversions and tracked conversions.

For example, if a user is blocking cookies while browsing the web your dashboard may not track these sales. Consider this when lining up numbers.

3. Check Quality Score

A quick way to find out about potential problems is to check your campaign’s quality score. This metric estimates the quality of your ads, keywords, and landing pages. A high-quality score will help you get better positions and can lead to lower ad costs.

Quality score is judged from one to ten. You may be able to increase your rating by making your ads and pages more relevant. Be aware that quality score is just an overall estimate of your campaign and doesn’t directly affect your rank.

4. Check Your Ads

Your ads are central to your campaign. During PPC audits, take the time to look at each one to see which perform strongly and which could do better.

Look for ads with a low click-through rate or those that aren’t performing as well as they once were: these could be good candidates for a content refresh.

At PPC Genius, we pay special attention to factors like:

  • The ad copy: Is the ad copy readable, and does it make sense to the target audience?
  • Call-to-action: Does it convey a clear offer that appeals to the buyer?
  • Images: Are they relevant to the campaign? Would a video or a different type of image be better?

Once you have identified areas you think you could improve, a/b test different versions of Google ads to see if performance improves.

The below ad for link building company Linkbuilder went through several stages before settling on the final design.

5. Check Your Landing Pages

Your landing pages are critical to whether your campaign converts.

If you’re getting a high number of clicks but few conversions, the problem could be that your landing page isn’t effective.

Factors to check include:

  • Does the content on the landing page relate to the content on the ad?
  • Is the offer the same as the one mentioned in the ad copy?
  • Is the copy written in a way that appeals to your target audience?
  • Does the page load quickly and as expected?
  • Does it load properly on both mobile and desktop?

If you have some landing pages that perform better than others, check the high-performing ones to see what works. Apply these techniques to pages that aren’t doing as well.

Then it’s just a case of performing a/b tests to see if any of the factors improve conversion.

You can use tools like Unbounce or Optimizely to test out different versions of pages.

6. Does Your Targeting Make Sense?

The people you show your ad to is another factor that plays a massive part in a campaign’s success. Make sure your targeting settings make sense during your PPC audit.

Here are some metrics you can check:

  • Location: Are you targeting people in the right places? Not having location-based restrictions set up on each ad group can destroy your ROI if your business targets people in a specific area. Check your reports to ensure each area is performing as expected.
  • Keywords: Do all the keywords you’re hitting make sense? Add ones that don’t to your negative keywords list.
  • Contextual targeting: If you have contextual targeting set up for display ads, make sure the sites or topics you have chosen are performing.
  • Audiences: Check the audiences you have set up for each ad group are performing as expected. If specific audiences aren’t converting, consider changing your strategy.
  • New Options: Google Ads is always adding new targeting features you can experiment with. Two recent additions include custom intent audiences which lets you create audiences based on keywords, and new additions to the life events list which lets you target people when they show signs they are planning for an upcoming life event — for example, buying a house or getting married.

This article from Search Engine Journal is an excellent guide to the different targeting-related options that are available.

7. Device Performance

You need to make sure your campaigns are optimized for both mobile and desktop. Look at conversion rates on each type of device to see if there are any issues.

If there is a large discrepancy between two, it could be a sign you need to improve the user experience on the poorly performing device.

Google Analytics is a huge help here. Sort your traffic by device type to see if there are any potential issues. Look for low conversions on specific types of devices, OS, or browser.

If you find issues, take steps to optimize performance on each one.

For example, the browser highlighted below has a much lower conversion rate than other browsers. This suggests a problem that could be worth looking into.

8. Negative Keywords

Negative keywords are those that you don’t want to show ads to. The idea is that you add terms to this list that aren’t relevant or don’t result in conversions for a particular ad group.

During your audit, you can check both your existing negative keywords and whether there are any other keywords to add to the list.

For the former, just head to your negative keyword list and go through each one in Google Ads. Are there any terms on there that you think would be a good fit for your brand or product? This is a critical task if you are taking over an account from someone else.

For the latter, look at which terms your account is showing ads for to decide if there are any you think would be good to add to the list. Do this for each ad group.

Also, consider the match type of your keyword. If you set your keyword to “exact match” you may still be showing up for similar, equally irrelevant terms. Likewise, if you go for “broad match” you may be disqualifying profitable terms.

9. Check Your Bid Settings

Check your bid settings within your Google Ads account to ensure you have a suitable bid strategy for your campaign goals.

Google has created an excellent guide on how to do this for each ad group, but to summarize:

  • Use cost-per-click bidding if you want to drive traffic to your website.
  • Use cost-per-thousand viewable impressions if you want to increase awareness.
  • Use cost-per-view or cost-per-thousand to increase ad views.
  • Use cost-per-view if you want to run video ads.

If you want to focus on conversion, use Smart Bidding. This Google Ads feature uses machine learning to automatically optimize your campaign. It considers factors like the user’s device, location, language, and the time they are searching to help you show ads to the right people.

You can use Smart Bidding to optimize for:

  • Target Cost Per Action (CPA)
  • Target Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)
  • Maximum Conversions
  • Maximum Conversion Value
  • Enhanced Cost Per Click (ECPC)

10. Search Query Analysis

Next you should analyze your search queries in each ad group. The search queries tab will show you precisely what people are searching for when they click your ads.

You can use this information in several ways:

  • Refine your keyword list. If you notice irrelevant search terms in your ad groups, add these to your negatives list. Or change the match type to cut out a broader range of negative keywords.
  • Spot unexpected keywords that bring in a lot of users. You could tweak your campaign to optimize it for these search results — for example, by changing the landing page or the ad content.

At this stage, also consider checking your competitors. Tools like SpyFu and SEMRush provide an overview of your competitors’ PPC strategies, which allows you to see information like:

  • Which keywords competitors are bidding on that you aren’t. This can highlight new opportunities.
  • Keywords you are targeting that competitors aren’t. This can highlight potential wasted ad spend.

Below is the overview of Nike.com’s search strategy from SEMRush. It contains a ton of useful information for businesses that may want to bid on similar keywords.

Consider checking the search engine results pages to see what types of ads you are up against. Look for things like competitors changing their tactics, new companies entering the industry, or Google showing new types of ads for terms you target.

11. Retargeting

Properly setting up your remarketing is an excellent way to improve conversion. When doing a PPC audit, be sure to check your remarketing settings.

There are typically three groups you can track:

  • People who have converted.
  • People who have visited your site but not converted.
  • People who started to convert but didn’t complete the process.

If you haven’t set these audiences up, now is a good time to do so. If you already use these audiences, you can see how they perform and make changes where necessary.

Check out our guide on Facebook retargeting for more.

PPC Auditing Is an Essential Part of Managing Accounts

Performing a PPC Audit is a great way to stay on top of your PPC campaign and ensure you’re getting the most from your ad spend. Work through the above points when you take over a new account or haven’t checked one in a few months.

If you complete your audit and are still not seeing the results you need, consider hiring expert help.

My name’s George from BrandMatcher.io. I write about digital marketing services like link building, influencer outreach, digital PR and SEO.