AdWords is complex. First time users that open up an AdWords account feel like they’re looking at the controls for a spaceship. The hundreds of options and settings can be overwhelming. So, it’s understandable that sometimes people miss things when running an AdWords campaign.
It’s not just AdWords newbies that have this problem. Even veteran users can sometimes get too comfortable and miss a small detail if they aren’t keenly aware that they could be missing something.
At KlientBoost, we run even our new senior account managers through training programs and use a system of checklist to make sure we keep an eye on everything. 🙂
Part of my role at KlientBoost is to review AdWords accounts for potential clients and partners to show them all the ways they could be getting better performance out of their campaigns. I’ve seen all sorts of low hanging fruit opportunities, minor mistakes, and a few major mistakes…
This blog post is designed to cover all of the things that I review in accounts I audit (on a higher level) and then some. 🙂
So, without further ado…
Alignment of Goals
It all begins with goals. You could be doing everything listed in this blog and still not have an AdWords campaign that’s performing well. So, before beginning any audit, ask yourself: What’s the goal? Maybe you want to increase conversions or maybe you want to drop your CPA. In either case, make sure you know what success looks like for your brand/company, specifically.
Trends to Be Aware Of
Before diving into the technical details, you should understand your trend lines. How has performance changed and over what time period? You don’t want to look at a date range that’s too small (a few days or 2-3 weeks) since there won’t be enough data to really draw conclusions from. At the same time, don’t go for too long of a timeline (3+ months), since there are too many variables and changes to consider in that time frame. For example, if your conversion tracking, business goals, or website had a significant change.
The first thing I try to understand when looking at an account is how is it organized? All accounts should have some type of logical organization to it. If the account structure is chaotic then the results and management of the account are probably chaotic as well.
Running a successful campaign requires segmentation and granularity in order to be precise when making changes and interpreting data. Campaigns should be granulated based on theme, location, services, or goals. If you try to put all of your ad groups into one or two campaigns, you can’t exercise enough control.
Besides just giving your campaigns a logical hierarchy, segmenting your campaigns gives you greater control over your budget and settings. For example, you want to keep the budget of an experimental campaign low, but you want to make sure your core service campaign always has a budget.
Geographic campaigns are necessary if you want to be able to control settings such as language and schedule. If you have one campaign that’s targeting several countries, you can’t effectively control your bidding for the time zone of that country or potentially the different types of search terms and local competition your campaigns may experience in those countries/regions.
Along with the theme of your campaigns, make sure your campaigns are only targeting one network at once. If you’re running search campaigns with display added, you’re letting your search ads loose on the display network. Keep in mind traffic temperature can vary between the two networks.
Are you controlling your brand keywords? Not every company needs to use PPC for their branded terms–but if your competitors are bidding on your company name, you definitely need to be owning the top position.
Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)
We’ve written extensively about the SKAG structure. If your account is not set up with our best practices for SKAGs then you have a serious structural problem with your account. When we implement SKAGs for our clients, we see CTR go up, CPC go down, and CPA go down. Not to mention all of the benefits that come with more granular control of bidding, ads, negative keywords, and search terms. 🙂
Ads Per Ad Group
The goldilocks zone for the number of ads per ad group will depend on the campaign and goals–but if you only have one ad in your ad group you’re not testing anything (big no no). At the same time, if you have 4+ ads in an ad group, you may be splitting your traffic up to much. This means that you can’t quickly test your ideas/iterations.
AdWords Audit Basics
Now that we’ve covered the high level things you can see in an account at a glance, let’s talk about a few basic things that should be covered.
Spelling and Grammar
This is a no brainer. Make sure you use proper spelling and grammar for your text and image ads. Not only does a lack of proper spelling and grammar look unprofessional, it also shows a lack of detailed attention in the account. That being said, sometimes you can bend the rules a little bit when you’re trying to meet character length limits or make ads that are designed to get clicks. Also, please forgive any spelling or grammar issues in this blog post.
I can’t overstate the importance of conversion tracking. If you don’t have conversion tracking properly set up then nearly all of your account data is useless and you might as well light your ad spend budget on fire.
Unfortunately, I often see conversion tracking not setup correctly or not tracking the right metrics. When you open the conversions page on AdWords, you’ll see a list of conversion action names like this:
First look at the names (obviously these ones are blurred out). The naming should be a good descriptor of the conversion action.
Next, look at the source. This tells you where the conversion action is being sent from. A mistake I sometimes see is that you’ll have conversion pixel imported from Google Analytics as well as an AdWords conversion pixel for the SAME ACTION. This will cause double counting of conversions if both are being included in conversions. Obviously, if “Included in Conversions” is turned off, you don’t need to worry about this.
Category doesn’t affect tracking and is more used for reporting and organization. Status is pretty self-explanatory–but it’s to let you know if the conversion pixel is even being used currently, inactive, or unverified.
Count can be very important. If you’re an ecommerce shop or the same user can complete a conversion action multiple times, you want to count every conversion. However, a lead gen client often only wants to count a submission or phone call from the same user once.
Conversion window can be tricky depending on the type of sales funnel you have. Put simply, the conversion window is how long a conversion can be attributed to a first click via PPC. When it comes to attribution modeling, you want to use Google Analytics or a similar omni-channel tracking system to decipher what impact AdWords has on your marketing apparatus. That being said, for optimizing an AdWords account, you generally want that pixel to last as long as it can to get more conversion data into your system.
Ideally you should only Include in “Conversions” your actual campaign goals or what is considered a valuable conversion for your business. That being said, you can add micro conversions for tracking purposes here and just not include them in your conversion modeling.
With the exception of conversion actions, you want to track every time (eCommere or multiple transactions). A high repeat rate is a red flag. This could be a user failing a sign on process or submitting multiple sets of lead information. If you see a high repeat rate, you may need to dig deeper.
Finally, the last thing I look for is the All Conv Value. For eComm, you want to double check that the actual dollars listed in AdWords matches what you’re seeing in Google Analytics or your eComm platform. A small amount of variation is normal (because of varying attributions)–but if the number is way off, you may need to dig deeper again. Occasionally, clients will set a specific value for a conversion action. This helps for balancing a campaign where certain conversion actions are “worth” more. This usually means you manage the account with more of a focus on ROAS as opposed to cost per conversion.
Hopefully, that gives you a good primer on conversion tracking. You can find out more about conversion tracking from Google. Sometimes, if you ask nicely, Google will even help you set this up.
Rarely, if ever, will you have a 100% conversion rate. So, it’s important to do your best to recapture those visitors that clicked, but never converted. This is where remarketing campaigns can keep your company top of mind for up to 540 days after you’ve dropped a cookie on their device. There are lots of advanced strategies for remarketing we’ve written about. Whether you are using the Display Network or Search Network for remarketing (RLSA), you need to be thinking about your non-converting clicks.
When using the Search Network, you want to maximize your CTR. One way to do this is to make sure that your ad is the biggest one with the most information/reasons for someone to click on it. That’s where ad extensions can help. You should try to use every ad extension that makes sense for your ad to use. You can read more about ad extensions here.
Google offers a few different bidding strategies:
Google has a breakdown of the different types of bidding strategies and what they do. If you’re trying to leave your account on a bit more of an autopilot strategy, sometimes using an Automated Bid strategy can make sense. KlientBoost prefers to use a Manual CPC strategy. Why you ask? Because Google will increase bids on your keywords if they think a conversion is more likely, with no bid limit (used to be 30%).
The question is: “If we already know our ideal keywords, have our bidding adjustments in place and manage our average positions, why would we want to increase the bid when we would get the conversion anyways?” Because we tightly manage our keywords and we like to be in control. But I’m sure one day, the Google algorithm will outperform us.
Let’s switch to targeting settings. It’s important to make sure your ads are showing up in the right places to the right people. The first thing to set is your location targeting.
Make sure your ads are targeting at the right countries, states, or cities. Rarely, if ever, should you have your campaigns targeted at all countries and territories. It’s better to structure your campaigns at a country or at least continent level for more granular control.
Be careful to keep an eye on the “location options” settings under advanced options that can target searchers that show interest in your targeting location. If you’re set for interest targeting, it means that you could have searchers from Albania or anywhere else in the world that types your keyword plus country or even searching for unrelated keywords in that country or area even though they aren’t physically there.
Keep in mind, you can also exclude particular areas.
This one should be pretty obvious, but you should use the language your target prospects speak. However, we’ve found that keeping your campaigns set to “All Languages,” will actually increase your impressions. This is because AdWords will use the browser language setting to determine which ads to show. So, if someone is searching for a word in English, but has the browser set to Spanish, your English only campaign will not appear.
When are your ads showing? If you have a business that primarily drives calls with their AdWords campaign, does it makes sense to run ads during off business hours? In general, I’d recommend trying to get conversions any way you can 24/7–but for some business, it will make sense to turn off ads during particular times.
You have to be smart with your money. You can decide what amount of money you want to spend on a per campaign basis. The first thing I look for is if any high performing campaigns are limited by budget. If you have a campaign that’s not performing well, I don’t recommend just turning down the budget, unless you’re trying to balance your budget portfolio. If a campaign is underperforming it needs work, wasting less money is arguably better than wasting more–but you should address the problem, not just lower the budget.
Another thing to look out for is the delivery method. You can chose two options “accelerated” or “standard.”
If your goal is to get the maximum number of impressions, you should use accelerated. If you are trying to smooth out your budget over the day, you can pick standard to have AdWords automatically throttle your ads appearing.
This is an AdWords blog post, so I won’t go into details about all of the things you can do with Google Analytics–but linking your AdWords account to your analytics account is a must. Not only for the ability to do proper remarketing, but also to easily setup conversion tracking that will match your Analytics account. When you’re doing PPC across multiple channels, you need Analytics to understand your cross channel attributions. Here’s a post we wrote about Google Analytics with special guest DJ Khaled.
Negative keywords can be applied at the campaign and ad group level. You can also use lists to help maintain negative keywords across your account. Here’s fun gifographic we wrote to tell you lots more about negative keywords. I often look to see if there are opportunities to add negative keywords that could help campaigns.
Campaign URL Settings
By default, you can have AdWords include basic information about the URL they clicked on. This is called auto tagging and in the new interface, can be found under your account settings.
Auto tagging will help you track the GCLID of your visitors and give you keywords information and other details. If you want to get a lot more information from your URL parameters including custom parameters, you can add those at the campaign or account level.
At KlientBoost, we have a URL tracking template we use for all of our accounts to get as much data as we can in our URLs.
Here’s an example:
No, it’s not jibberish — our URLs actually look like this.
If you do an entire account audit without looking at the landing pages, you’re sending your traffic to, you’re missing half the equation of a successful campaign. This blog post is about auditing AdWords though, so I’ll direct you to our massive library of landing page best practices.
Metrics That Matter
Now that the basics are covered, let’s go a little deeper. Next, I want to talk about looking at the metrics that actually matter.
All of the metrics you can look up in AdWords are secondary to this one truth, this one guiding northern star metric. What’s your return on investment? How much money are you making after putting money in?
If the account you’re auditing is upside down then you may need to make major changes or just abandon Google PPC in it’s entirety. If the dollars are hard to track, you need to work on tracking the performance of your PPC campaigns and how they affect your bottom line. If you’re getting hundreds or thousands of conversions, but none of those are turning into actual sales/dollars then your PPC campaign is doomed. Sometimes, the way you achieve ROI is by increasing the volume of your conversions (scaling) or dropping your CPA (optimizing). What makes more sense for you business?
Be sure you know which conversion action you’re tracking. Then, take a look at how many conversions you’re getting on monthly/weekly/daily basis and from which campaigns they’re coming from. If you’re not growing your conversion volume every month then you’re stagnant. What can you change in your account in order to increase that volume? Impressions? Clicks? Conversion Rate? All of the above? 🙂
Cost / Conv
If your cost per conversion is too high then your AdWords campaign is not sustainable. There are lots of ways to reduce your cost per conversion. You can start by eliminating wasted spend. Look through your campaigns to understand which campaigns are dragging down your performance, and then drill in deeper to see what keywords should be paused or altered. Lower your max bids while increasing your quality score. Be sure to keep a close eye on your search terms to see what is really working.
If you cost per conversion is in a good spot then your focus should be more on expanding your conversion volume. You can start with expanding your keyword pool.
Deep Dive Metrics and Settings (Uhum, Vanity Metrics)
So, now we come to the deep dive portion of our post. Feel free to take a break if you’ve read this far and go get some coffee. 🙂
I refer to a lot of these metrics to follow as vanity metrics–because in general, there’s no “good” number. You need to keep your eyes on the metrics that matter (previously mentioned). That being said, you can still see where improvements are possible here:
For CTR, obviously, the more the merrier. When you’re judging the performance of ads, you should mostly just consider the relative CTR to other ads of the same type and what challenger you can create to increase your CTR. Another indicator that your CTR needs to be raised is by looking at your quality score factors. If your expected CTR is low, this could be improved.
CPC / Max Bid
Bids and CPC are mostly dependent on the keywords you are bidding on and will vary by industry. When trying to understand if your bids are in the right spot, it depends on a lot of factors:
1) What is your CPA?
2) Your average position?
If you deem your CPC is too high, here’s several ways to reduce it.
You don’t always have to be position 1. Sometimes, maintaining a position 2 or 3, can give you more conversions at a better CPA. For the most part, you need to follow the data on this. Obviously, if you’re below a position 4 then the amount of impressions you’re going to get will be very low.
Geographic Bid Adjustments
Setting a max bid then targeting a country, is not enough. You need to use geo bid modifiers in order to effectively compete for bids on a more granular level. You can do bidding adjustments at the state, city, zip code level, and more. You may find as you granulate your locations that certain cities or areas are responsible for most of your conversions while others are just wasting your spend.
Household Income Adjustments
Did you know that you can adjust your bids based on the household income of searchers in the United States? Say what you will about your personal financial data being sold on the Internet–but for us marketers, this is great. You can find the ability to do these adjustments in the Demographics tab of your campaign.
Ad Schedule Adjustments
Another way to control your bids is by time. What time of day do you get the most conversion at the best CPA? If you look at your predefined reports (formerly dimensions) screen and review breakdown by hour of the day, you can see which times work best. You have the option of completely turning off your ads or changing the bid adjustment to try and maximize your performance.
Device Bid Adjustments
Do you get more conversions on mobile, desktop, or tablet? With device bid adjustments, you can better control your bidding based on device. In some cases, you may find that you need to completely exclude mobile or desktop traffic. You can also create campaigns that are targeted for a specific device, if you need to better control the ads and landing pages that are seen per device.
Impression share isn’t a metric you should be aiming to improve, but it does give you insight into the amount of runway you have to increase the number of impressions you can get based on your current keyword targets. If you have an impressions share more than 80%, you aren’t going to get much more volume of impressions. Thus, you should focus more on CTR and conversion rate. If your impression share is less than 30% then you need to increase your average positions and get more traffic.
RLSA (Remarketing List for Search Ads)
I’ve saved the best for last here. RLSA is like a super power for the Search Network, it allows you to do bidding adjustments and exclusions based on your remarketing audiences AND Google’s similar audiences. If you aren’t using RLSA on your Search campaigns in at least a bid only mode, you’re missing an entire dimension of bidding control. You can read probably the best blog post written about RLSA here (Disclaimer: I wrote it).
Deep Dive Into Ads Auditing
Let’s talk about auditing ads. This post will give you a few things to take a look at, but expertise in ads in a deep subject. So, let’s try to not get lost. 😉
Anyone who has read our blog knows how we feel about quality scores. To summarize, you shouldn’t focus on quality score metrics over other more important metrics. If you want to understand what your quality score metric is on a particular keyword, you just need to hover over your status of the keyword to get a tooltip window like this:
We’ve written extensively about ad copy. So, since this blog is long enough, we don’t need to get into too much detail here. A simple things to check is if the ads are relevant to the keywords and search terms in the ad group. This is something where single keyword ad groups can go a long way to helping you raise your quality score. That being said, focus on your conversion rates and click through rates.
If you’re A/B testing your ads (spoiler alert, you should be) then you need to make sure you’re sending enough traffic to each variant of your ads. Make sure that your ad rotation setting in your campaigns is set to “Rotate Indefinitely” vs “Optimized”. When you choose the Optimized path, Google is going to decide a winner for you and stop sending traffic to your challenger ad. Let a human decide the results…for now.
If you’re running display campaigns, make sure you’re not limiting your available impressions by not having all the sizes required to fit banners of different dimensions. If you’re using AdWords responsive ad creator, it will cover a lot of sizes for you at once–but you’ll have better control of your design if you create the various sizes individually. Those size are:
If you’ve made it this far, bravo, we’ve covered a lot of points to check in your account. These next items are things you can review that may not be critical to the success of your campaign, but are good house cleaning nonetheless.
Account activity is basically a history of changes in the account, so you can get a feel for how much work is being done. If you’re directly managing the account, you probably don’t care about this information at all. If you’re auditing an agency or employee then this becomes a very interesting report to look at.
Display Automatic Placements
If you’re using any targeting other than placements then you need to control where your ads are being shown. When reviewing the automatic placements or “Where Ads Showed” screen, you can see how many clicks and impressions you’re getting from various sites and apps.
Pro Tip: Mobile gaming clicks are usually garbage and should be excluded.
Worried about competitors clicking on your ads? Worried about employees clicking on your ads? You can prevent this issue by using IP exclusions. Here’s a way you can find the IP address of your competitor domains.
Automations can be as simple as bid automation, and as sophisticated as custom AdWords Scripts that let you automate the secret sauce of your account management techniques. You can read more about some types of automation an account can use here.
Wrap Up on Your AdWords Audit
This article was intended to give you a pretty in-depth list of things you can check to assess the performances slash effectiveness of an AdWords account. If you missed any of the points on this list, don’t worry. Like I mentioned at the beginning, these account are complex and there are lots of moving parts.
Remember to focus on the metrics and settings that matter–because ultimately, if you’re doing everything on this list, but your campaigns are still not ROI positive, you may need to go back to the drawing board and rethink your PPC strategy. At the same time, if you’re not doing everything on this list, but are still ROI positive, you’re in good shape and just need to scale up and improve. In either case, if you’re looking for help, be sure to fill out a proposal request. 🙂