You’re probably here for one of two reasons. You have a Google Ad account (or a client’s account) that is
- A hot mess or
- Disorganized, lacking performance, and on it’s way to being a hot mess
If you don’t fall into one of those two categories, congrats—but you still probably have something in common with both: you want to make your Google Ads performance better.
Either way, Google Ads is extremely complicated. Whether it’s an account that’s new to you, or an account you started with, knowing where to look for areas of improvement in your PPC campaigns can be like knowing the right button to press on a 500-button control panel.
*Google Ads Audit has entered the chat*
This straightforward Google Ads audit guide will get you fully equipped with the steps you need to thoroughly evaluate your account, stem to stern, and find the best opportunities to level up.
Plus, we’ve also added some bonus areas to look at that’ll help you take your account audit to even new heights–so stick around a while, and you’ll reap the rewards.
- Google Ads Audit Step 1: Determine your goals
- Google Ads Audit Step 2: Review your performance trends
- Google Ads Audit Step 3: Check your account’s organization
- Google Ads Audit Step 4: Review the basics
- Google Ads Audit Step 5: Look at the metrics that matter
- Google Ads Audit Step 6: Glance at your vanity metrics
- Google Ads Audit Step 7: Dig into the actual ads
- [Bonus] Google Ads Audit Step 8: The juicy extras
- That’s a wrap; now get started
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Google Ads Audit Step 1: Determine your goals
Successful advertising campaigns begin with clearly defined goals. You could be doing everything listed in this blog and still leave Google Ads conversions (and ROI) on the table if your goals are nonexistent or jumbled.
So, before beginning a Google Ads audit, ask yourself: What’s the goal? Maybe you want to increase conversions, or maybe you want to reduce your CPA.
In either case, make sure you know what success looks like for your specific client or company. No one benefits from placing the same blanket goals over any circumstance, because each situation is different.
Additionally, and most importantly, don’t zero in on goals that don’t do anything for your business at the end of the day–e.g. a low CPC goal isn’t bringing you more sales, so why are you chasing it?
Google Ads Audit Step 2: Review your performance trends
Before diving into the technical details, you should understand your trend lines. How has performance changed, and over what time period?
For this, 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 significant conclusions from.
At the same time, don’t go for too long of a timeline (3+ months) either. Too many variables and changes can affect performance in that time frame.
I tend to stick with a time period of 30-60 days to look at fluctuations. Look at the journey your client or business’ specific goals have taken during that time, compared with where you are now.
Finding dips in performance that persist across even 30 days can give you a good vantage point to start investigating deeper into your account. Or, if you’ve been on a steady decline (or incline), you’ll be able to better identify when that started, and see if you can pin down a cause.
Google Ads Audit Step 3: Check your account’s organization
Now, on to the more technical details. The first thing I try to wrap my head around during a Google Ads audit is: How is this account organized?
All accounts should have some type of logical organization to them that makes it easier for you to allocate budget, and know what you’re doing.
If the account structure is chaotic, then the results and management of the account are probably chaotic as well.
Running a successful account requires segmentation and granularity. This is not only so you can interpret data accurately and make better-informed changes.
Campaigns should be granulated based on themes of the keywords inside, locations, services, or goals. If you try to put all of your ad groups and keywords into one or two campaigns, you can’t exercise enough control.
Remember: Your budgets are controlled at the campaign level. Often, how you segment your campaigns will be based on how you want to control your budget to benefit performance.
Here are a couple of examples of the importance of campaign segmentation:
- You can keep the budget of an experimental campaign low, without impacting the budget of your core service campaign
- You can move a group of well performing keywords into a new campaign and focus more budget on them to boost their success
- You can separate campaigns out by the services you provide, and allocate more budget to the services that are more important to you
Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)
We’ve written extensively about the setup, structure, and benefits of SKAGs. If your account isn’t set up with our best practices for SKAGs, then you’re likely to have serious structural problems as your campaigns grow.
When we implement SKAGs for our clients, we see CTRs go up, CPCs go down, and CPAs go down. Not to mention all of the benefits that come with more granular control of bidding, ads, negative keywords, and search terms.
For example, by implementing a SKAG structure, our client Truckstop saw a 300% increase in conversions.
Another client of ours, Shipcalm, saw an even more impressive return from implementing SKAGs: A conversion increase of 500%.
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, for example, you can’t effectively control your bidding for the time zones within those countries.
Your performance may also vary depending on the difference in search terms and local competition you’ll find in different countries or regions.
Are all your location targets bundled together in one campaign? If you go to your “Locations” tab, do you see an obvious performance difference?
The bottom line: Make sure your campaigns are only targeting one network at once.
Running search campaigns with display added, for example, lets your search ads roam wildly across the Display Network.
During your Google Ads audit, keep in mind that user traffic temperature can vary significantly between the two networks. So advertising a more threatening offer to the search network may work well on high-intent terms, but the same can’t be said for the people seeing your ads across the display network (a low-intent network).
In addition, the display network tends to spend budget very rapidly, and I’ve often found that accounts with display added to their search campaigns:
- Spend their budget before the day is over
- Spend more than their allotted daily budget for the campaign
- Have a high likelihood that display spent the majority of their budget first, and barely any was spent on the search network
Doing something as quick as removing the display network from your search campaigns’ targeting could help you maximize your budget and results tenfold.
Ads per ad group
The Goldilocks zone for the number of ads per ad group will depend on your campaign and goals. But if you only have one ad in your ad group, you’re not testing anything, which is a big miss.
At the same time, if you have 4+ ads in an ad group, you may be splitting your traffic up too much. This means that you can’t quickly test and iterate on your ideas.
For a while, the recommended number of ads to an ad group has been 3. Since the introduction of responsive search ads (RSAs), the recommended combination of ads per ad group has been 2 expanded text ads (ETAs) and 1 responsive search ad (RSA).
However–ETAs are sunsetting starting in June 2022. We’ll be able to keep any expanded text ads we already have at that time, but we won’t be able to make new ones or edit the existing ones.
Our structure for ad testing moving forward will become 2-3 RSAs per ad group (and ad groups can’t exceed 3 RSAs at any time, so bear that in mind when testing).
That said, how is your ad count looking? If you’ve been running only one ad per ad group, or if you’ve got too many ads to count, it’s probably time to turn that around.
Google Ads Audit Step 4: Review the basics
Now that we’ve covered the high-level things you can see in an account at a glance, let’s talk about a handful of the biggest-hitting basic elements of an account that should always be covered.
Spelling and grammar
This is a no-brainer, but we have to mention it anyway. Make sure you’re using proper spelling and grammar throughout your text and image ads. The easiest way to scan for mistakes is to download your ads to a spreadsheet and either scan it manually or use a spelling and grammar checker like Grammarly.
Not only does a lack of proper spelling and grammar look unprofessional, but it also shows a lack of detailed attention to 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. (Just don’t get carried away, and make sure you’re following Google’s editorial rules.)
Are your conversions firing properly?
I can’t overstate the importance of conversion tracking.
If you don’t confirm that conversion tracking is set up properly during your Google Ads audit, nearly all of your account data is useless. You may as well light your ad spend budget on fire.
Unfortunately, I see conversion tracking that isn’t set up correctly more often than I see conversion tracking set up right. In fact, a study discovered that just 29% of Google Ads accounts have accurate conversion tracking.
Because conversion tracking can be a rough road, here are some tips to help you with yours:
- Use Google Tag Manager (GTM) for a more seamless conversion setup, all in one place
- If you’re already using GTM, you can use the Google Tag Assistant extension to check if your conversion event fires after you submit a test conversion on your site
- Or, check that your conversion event is firing one time when you submit a test conversion using GTM’s preview and debug mode (Tag assistant is a quick helper, but it sometimes misses important details that debug mode will catch, like the amount of times your tag fired)
- If all else fails, take another look at Google’s conversion tracking setup guide to see if you missed any steps, or use Google’s troubleshooting tool
If your last resort fails, too–don’t sweat it. Let the pros handle it for you. After all, setting up correct conversion tracking is one of many things we’re wizards at. 😉
Keywords and negative keywords
We’d all like to think that our keyword lists are exactly what our account needs, but sometimes even the keywords we think are relevant to our product are triggered by searches we wouldn’t expect.
In fact, 76% of an average Google Ads account’s budget goes to waste on the wrong search terms.
When you’re auditing, it’s a good idea to look into keywords that are getting clicks and spending money, but not converting. At the end of the day, if these keywords have been chewing through your budget but giving you nothing back for the last 30 days, they shouldn’t be on your roster.
Additionally, for lead generation businesses, it’s a good idea to look into the keywords that are converting, especially if lead quality has been an issue. Delve into your search terms report a bit and see which search terms are responsible for those conversions. Are those the kinds of searches you want leads coming through?
Finally, a solid list of negative keywords is a must in every account. No matter what, there will always be keywords we don’t want our ads showing for. There may be more of those if you’re targeting broad keywords.
If you don’t have a negative keyword list in the works, then it’s time to get started on that. Go through your search terms and add any terms that aren’t relevant to your negative keyword list.
If you do have a negative keyword list going, when’s the last time it was expanded upon? Combing through search terms for negatives is something that needs to be done regularly.
Rarely, if ever, will you have a 100% conversion rate. If you do, you probably aren’t reading this. So, it’s important to do your best to recapture those visitors that clicked but never converted. Otherwise, you’re creating a lot of lost opportunities for yourself.
This is where remarketing campaigns come into play. Remarketing can keep your company top of mind by showing ads to people who have previously visited your website.
We’ve written a lot about advanced strategies for remarketing for you to check out. Whether you’re using the Display Network or Search Network for remarketing (RLSA), you need to be thinking about your non-converting clicks.
Or, if you already have remarketing campaigns going, but they never seem to work in your favor, then check out our guide for fixing remarketing issues.
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 or reasons for someone to click on it. That’s where ad extensions can help.
Everything you see boxed and underlined in blue in the example above is an ad extension. Makes for a pretty beastly ad, right? And your extensions can make your ads even bigger than this one. All this to say that with extensions added to your toolbelt, your ads are estimated to see a CTR increase of 10-15%, according to Google.
Generally, you should test every ad extension that makes sense for your business to use.
Bids and bid strategy
Google offers a few different bidding strategies that can support different goals and sales funnels.
If you want to leave your account on more of an autopilot mode and have Google’s machine learning work toward your goals for you, using an automated or smart bidding strategy can make sense.
If you’re not already using smart bidding, it’s something we highly recommend testing out if you have enough historical data for those strategies to thrive.
If you’re currently using manual bidding, and your account doesn’t yet have enough conversion data for smart bidding to do well, then try moving to enhanced CPC (ECPC) first to drive more conversion volume.
And whether you’re using manual or ECPC, Google’s not automating your bids for you, which means you need to keep an eye on them. Look at your keyword bids–how many are below the estimated first-page bid? You’re not standing up to your competitors very well if the majority of your bids aren’t high enough to hit the first page.
Are you taking advantage of the many bid adjustment opportunities available to you throughout your account? And if not…then why the heck not?
Bid adjustments allow you to bump your bids up by percentages for certain factors like different devices, different audiences, different ad schedules, and so on.
Noticing your ads convert better on mobile? You can increase your bid on mobile devices only, and you can even decrease your bid on other devices.
Know that your ads perform better in California than Utah? Bump your bid adjustments up on California.
There are a lot more options for you to read up on in the article we linked above, so if your account’s completely barren of bid adjustments, or if bid adjustments haven’t been touched in a while, then get cracking.
When you’re performing a Google Ads audit, it’s important to make sure your ads are showing up in the right places to the right people. This means digging into the nitty-gritty of your targeting setup.
You’ll want to make sure you look at:
Locations: Make sure you’re targeting the countries, states, or cities you should be for each campaign. Never target all countries and territories.
Location options: Look into your location options settings (under location targeting). If you only want to show ads to people within your targeting, make sure you’ve selected “people in or regularly in your targeted locations.”
Languages: Target the language your audience speaks (although we do recommend targeting all languages, because someone’s browser language settings may differ from the language they’re searching in).
Ad schedules: Check that your ads are showing at the right times of day and days of the week. Lead generation businesses may want ads to show 24/7, but businesses that rely on calls would want to avoid showing ads when no one’s around to answer phones.
Budgets: Check that the campaigns that are performing best are getting the lion’s share of your budget, and cut wasted spend on campaigns that are dragging. Rather than barely keeping the lights on in ill-performing campaigns, address their issues and try to mend performance, or shut the campaign down and try something else.
Campaign URL settings: Ensure auto-tagging is turned on so you can capture the GCLID of your visitors (which is useful in tracking leads across their lifecycle, if you’re in lead gen).
Additionally, use the tracking template or final url suffix settings to track more information about your clicks and their associated leads using UTM tags.
Here’s a sneak peak at the tracking template we use to collect information on clicks:
This tag is attached to the end of the URL when someone clicks, and the values in curly brackets are then populated with information about that click.
You can apply UTM tags at the account, campaign, ad group, or ad level. However, we recommend applying them at the account level, generally.
Landing pages in use: If you do an entire Google Ads 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 Google Ads though, so I’ll direct you to our complete guide to landing pages so you can learn everything from fundamentals to advanced techniques.
Analytics linking: Linking your Google Ads account to your Google Analytics account is a must, so make sure the two are linked.
Analytics provides you with a deeper analysis of the data coming from your Google Ads campaigns and allows you to see new metrics, like bounce rate, associated with your campaigns in Google Ads. When you’re doing PPC across multiple channels, you also need analytics to understand your cross-channel attributions.
Google Ads Audit Step 5: Look at the metrics that matter
Now that the basics are covered, let’s go a little deeper. Next, we’ll look at the metrics that actually matter in your campaigns. At least one of these should be your prime focus:
- Return on ad spend (ROAS)
- Conversion volume
- Cost per conversion (CPA)
ROAS is most useful for eCommerce businesses and helps determine how much profit you’re making relative to what you’ve spent on ads. If you’re making $8 for every $1 you spend on ads, then you have a ROAS of 8.
Not all businesses are focused on ROAS, but if your goal is to make more profit from less spend, then you need to be looking at this metric.
Check out your “conv. value/cost” metric in Google Ads. How’s it looking? If you’re at a ROAS of 1 or well below it, then you’ve got some work to do.
If you’re a lead gen business, but you’re still interested in how your return on investment looks as leads become sales down the pipeline, then you’ll need to set up offline conversion tracking to bring sale data and value back into Google Ads.
Conversion volume is important if you want to get the highest number of conversions you can for your budget, and the cost to do so is of less consequence to you.
How is your conversion volume trending over the last 30-60 days? Do you see a point of dropoff that you can investigate?
If your conversion volume has always struggled, are you targeting the right keywords? Is your money going to the right searches? And if you’re using manual CPC, have you tried ECPC yet?
CPA is important if you want to maximize your budget and spend less to acquire conversions. CPA is a calculated metric–it’s your ad spend divided by the number of conversions you’ve gotten. So, to improve your CPA, you need more conversions for the same or less spend.
If your CPA is high right now, you can usually find a few culprits with minimal looking. Which campaigns, ad groups, and keywords have the highest CPA? Which devices? Which locations?
We often find that devices have a big influence on the CPAs we see. So if desktop has an average CPA of $300, and mobile has an average CPA of $68, switch your focus to mobile and reduce spend on desktop.
And remember, all three of these metrics are also highly influenced by your offer. Does your offer align with the intent of your keywords? If not, you might be seeing lower ROAS, lower conversion volume, and higher CPAs.
Google Ads Audit Step 6: Glance at your vanity metrics
Now that we’ve gone through the main focus points, we can spend some time in the fine details.
We refer to a lot of the metrics below as vanity metrics because there’s no agreed-upon “good” number or goal to hit. You need to keep your eyes primarily on the metrics that matter from the previous section.
Typical vanity metrics to look at are:
- Click-Through-Rate (CTR)
- Cost-per-click (CPC)
- Impression share
- Quality score
Just because we’re not focusing on these metrics as our main goals doesn’t mean they don’t still affect our main goals.
For example, if we’ve got really low CTR, our conversion return will likely also suffer (less people clicking through usually means less opportunity for conversions).
We just never want to put vanity metrics first if it doesn’t make sense–because none of these 100% guarantees better conversion return.
Chasing an impression share goal of 70% won’t necessarily get you more conversions (which should be your main goal). But sometimes, having a very low impression share can hurt your conversions.
Looking at vanity metrics should be secondary, and should be an investigative route you take when looking at conversion goal decline.
For example, compare your impression share and conversion volume trends over the last 30-60 days. Do you notice a correlation–that is, do you see a time when your impression share declined or sheerly dropped, and conversion volume also followed suit?
This could show that, in order to improve your conversion volume decline, you need to work on bringing your impression share up.
Basically, you want to look for data that supports the need to work on vanity metrics. If your impression share is below 30%, but your conversion volume has never been better, then you don’t need to be looking at impression share improvements as much.
Conversion metrics come first, folks.
Google Ads Audit Step 7: Dig into the actual ads
Auditing ads can be a complex process, so we’ll try to boil it down into the most important points. Working with your ads more granularly will take more time and testing to find the best outcomes–so for now, let’s look at the big picture.
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.
One simple thing to check, however, is if your ads are relevant to the keywords in the ad group. This is where single keyword ad groups can go a long way to helping you raise your quality score, which can sometimes help with conversion rates. (That being said, make sure you’re not getting over-obsessed with quality score if it’s not helping your conversions.)
Additionally, there are any number of things that could affect your ads in a negative or positive way. This is why adopting a regular A/B split testing schedule really hones in on the elements of your ad that will help you the most. So, are you A/B testing?
Continually improving your ad copy game means you’re on top of what brings in the most conversions, so if you’re not doing it, you should be.
If you are A/B testing your ads, then you need to make sure you’re sending enough traffic to each variant of your ads.
Check if your ad rotation settings in your campaigns are set to “rotate indefinitely” or “optimize for the best performing ads.”
In the past, we preferred to set our campaigns to “rotate indefinitely,” to allow each variation of our ads equal show time while we waited for a winner to come out on top.
These days, many of us choose to go with “optimize for the best performing ads.” With this setting, Google will automatically show the ad that performs the best more often.
There’s some debate as to whether this actually prevents new ads from competing fairly enough because our existing ads already have the lion’s share of data to prove them a winner. But we’re actually reaching a point where it seems that Google’s AI does still properly rotate in and test new ads.
If you test in new ads using the optimize setting and you feel they’re not being given enough air time, switch to rotate indefinitely and see if your results for the new ads are any different.
I have done this a couple of times but noticed that even when I switched to “rotate indefinitely,” any new ad tests that were losing before continued to lose. So I do have faith in Google’s ability to determine the best performer, even when a new ad is introduced.
Expanded text ads (ETAs) and responsive search ads (RSAs)
First and most importantly, take a look at the kinds of search ads you have in your campaigns, and what the ratio of ad types looks like.
If you’ve got a very old account on your hands, you might still have Google’s standard text ads (officially retired in 2017) hanging out in there behind the scenes, and you’ll want to get rid of those at this point.
As we mentioned earlier, expanded text ads (ETAs) are also being retired in June 2022. We’ve only got a little more time left with those beauties, so now we want to focus on the importance of testing responsive search ads (RSAs).
Have you started using RSAs yet? If not, there’s no time to waste.
Many of us here at Klientboost have had difficulty getting RSAs to outperform ETAs, so we’ve spent our time since the ETA retirement announcement testing out ways to get RSA performance up to speed. You should be, too.
One method we’ve found is to “pin” headlines and descriptions so that they’ll only show in certain positions. This gives us similar control to ETAs and keeps Google from combining our headlines and descriptions in ways that don’t make sense (it happens more often than you’d like to believe).
In a test we did for one of our clients between a pinned RSA and an unpinned RSA, we were able to achieve 53.67% higher ROAS and 33.09% lower CPA on the pinned RSA.
Goes to show what a little testing and preparation with your ads can do.
Responsive display ads (RDAs) or uploaded display ads
When we talk about ads, it’s common for our minds to go straight to search ads. But if you’re running display, too, don’t forget your display ads.
Are you using uploaded display ads? If so, have you accounted for all possible ad sizes that Google will allow you to upload? If you haven’t, then you could be missing out on some valuable ad placements.
Generally, we recommend that if you’re not using responsive display ads (RDAs) yet, then you should be.
Using only a few sizes of assets and ad text that you provide separately, Google creates RDAs for you that fit natively across a wider variety of placements, giving your ads as much exposure as possible.
The best part is that you don’t have to manually put in all the effort to make a bunch of image sizes yourself.
Switching to RDAs can be a huge opportunity for improving your display campaigns, and it’s easily spotted with a quick audit.
Any Youtube campaigns you might be running will have ads that could use an extra look, too.
Because Youtube ads tend to target a top of funnel audience that’s less likely to convert, we won’t spend too much time here. But that doesn’t mean your Youtube ads shouldn’t be scrutinized.
Is your video ad up-to-par with best practices? Have you tried different types and lengths of ads yet to see what works best for your top of funnel audience? A few things to keep in mind when auditing any Youtube campaigns you’ve got.
[Bonus] Google Ads Audit Step 8: The juicy extras
We’ve covered a lot of major points to check during your Google Ads audit, and all of those should be your primary focuses.
These next items are things you can review that may not be critical to the success of your campaign, but they’re good for overall account hygiene.
Plus, there might even be some items on this list that you’d never thought about before, so knowing them will make you all the wiser.
Change history is basically a log of activity 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. But if you’re auditing an agency or employee, this can be a very…shall we say, illuminating report to look at.
When you use any audience targeting other than placements, you might need to control where your ads are being shown.
When reviewing your display placements under the “Where Ads Showed” screen, you can see how many clicks and impressions you’re getting from various sites and apps. Some of these might not be ones you want to show ads on, and if that’s the case, you can exclude them.
There are tons of websites and apps your ad might show on, so it’s important not to get carried away with reviewing your placements, or get too granular. Focus on placements that receive a lot of clicks but no conversions when deciding what should be removed.
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.
Automating your campaigns can be as simple as automated rules, and as sophisticated as custom Google Ads scripts. Both will fine-tune your secret sauce within the accounts you manage and help you stay on top of performance changes or small optimizations without more manual work.
You can read more about some useful types of automation here.
That’s a wrap; now get started
This article was intended to give you a pretty in-depth list of things you can check to assess the performance and effectiveness of a Google Ads account, from the basics to the nitty-gritty.
As I mentioned at the beginning, these accounts are complex and there are lots of moving parts. A couple of passes through your audit checklist might be required to catch everything.
Ultimately, remember to focus on the metrics and settings that matter. If you’re doing everything on this list but your campaigns aren’t producing an ROI, 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 can use this information to scale up and improve.
Now, once your Google Ads audit is taken care of, and you have an idea of your areas of concern, it’s time to level up your account management skills once more by reading our next article on account optimization.