Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with fresh content, links, and research.
Original Publication Date: October 26, 2017
Advertising on Google is… complex.
First-time users that open up a Google Ads (formerly AdWords) account feel like they’re looking at the controls for a spaceship.
It’s understandable, then, that people miss things sometimes when they’re creating and operating a Google Ads campaign.
And it’s not just Google Ads 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 checklist system to keep an eye on everything. 🙂
Part of my role at KlientBoost is to review Google Ads 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 will cover all of the things that I look for in accounts I audit (on a higher level) and then some. 🙂
Before You Audit — Are Your Goals In Order?
Successful advertising campaigns begin with defined goals. You could be doing everything listed in this blog and still leave Google Ads conversions (and ROI) on the table.
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.
Review Performance Trends
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) either. Too many variables and changes can affect performance in that time frame. For example, adjustments to conversion tracking, business goals, or your website can significantly impact results.
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 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 so you can interpret data accurately and make informed changes.
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 during your Google Ads audit gives you greater control over your budget and settings. You can keep the budget of an experimental campaign low, for example, without impacting the budget of your core service campaign.
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 campaigns’ performance may also vary depending on the performance of different search terms and the local competition you find in those countries/regions.
Along with the theme of your campaigns, 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.
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 own the top position.
Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)
We’ve written extensively about the setup, structure, and benefits of SKAGs. If your account is not set up with our best practices for SKAGs, then you’re likely to have serious structural problems with your account 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. 🙂
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 no-no.
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.
Google Ads 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.
This is a no brainer, but we have to mention it anyway. Make sure you use proper spelling and grammar throughout your text and image ads.
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. (While we’re on the subject, please forgive any spelling or grammar issues in this blog post. )
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 might as well light your ad spend budget on fire.
Unfortunately, I see conversion tracking that is set up incorrectly or isn’t reporting on the right metrics quite often.
When you open the conversions page on Google Ads, you’ll see a list of action names like this:
First, look at the names (which obviously won’t be blurred out in your account view). The name 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 common mistake that I’ve seen in my Google Ads audits is that you’ll have a conversion pixel imported from Google Analytics as well as a Google Ads conversion pixel for the SAME ACTION. This will cause double counting if both are being included as 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. It lets you know if the conversion pixel is active, inactive, or unverified.
Count can be very important. If you’re an eCommerce shop or have an offer in which the same user can complete a conversion action multiple times, you’ll want to count every conversion.
Lead generation clients often only want to count a submission or phone call from the same user once, however, so clearly define the terms of your count with your client or agency ahead of time.
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, use Google Analytics or a similar omnichannel tracking system to decipher what impact Google Ads is having on your marketing apparatus.
That being said, for optimization during a Google Ads audit, you generally want that pixel to last as long as it can to get more conversion data into your system.
Ideally, you should only use your actual campaign goals or comparable metrics of value as “Conversions”. You can, however, add micro conversions for tracking purposes in this field, which will provide more accurate data from your conversion modeling.
With the exception of conversion actions, you want to track every time (eCommerce or multiple transactions). A high repeat rate is a red flag. This could be a user failing your sign-in process or submitting multiple sets of lead information. If you see a high repeat rate, you may need to dig deeper.
All Conv Value
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 Google Ads match 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 to balance campaigns 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 also 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. (And 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.
This is where remarketing campaigns become useful. Remarketing can keep your company top of mind by presenting ads for up to 540 days after you’ve dropped a cookie on their device.
We’ve written about lots of 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.
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 test 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 that can support different goals and sales funnels:
Google has a detailed breakdown of the different bidding strategies and how they function. If you want to leave your account on a bit more of an autopilot strategy, sometimes using an Automated Bid strategy can make sense.
At KlientBoost, we prefer 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%).
So our question is, “If we already know our ideal keywords, have bidding adjustments in place, and manage our average positions, why would we increase the bid when we would get the conversion anyway?”
Since we’re professionals who keep a close eye on our campaigns and accounts, we manage our keywords tightly. The Google algorithm will probably outperform us one day, but for now, we’re sticking with what works.
Let’s switch to targeting settings. 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.
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. You can use that to target searchers who 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. Users could type in your keyword plus country, or even search for unrelated keywords in that country or area even though they aren’t physically there.
Keep in mind that you can also exclude particular areas.
This one should be pretty obvious, but you should use the language your target prospects speak.
We’ve found, however, that keeping your campaigns set to “All Languages,” will actually increase your impressions. This is because Google Ads will use the browser language setting to determine which ads to show. Therefore, if someone searches for a word in English but has their browser set to Spanish, your English-only campaign won’t appear.
When are your ads showing?
If you have a business that primarily drives calls with their Google Ads 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. For some businesses, however, it will make sense to turn off ads during particular times of the day or week.
You can decide what amount of money you want to spend on a per campaign basis, but you have to be smart with your money.
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 reduce the budget.
Another thing to look out for is the delivery method. You can choose 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 Google Ads automatically throttle your ads appearing.
This is a Google Ads audit blog post, so I won’t go into details about all of the things you can do with Google Analytics. I will say, however, that linking your Google Ads account to your analytics account is a must. Not just 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.
I often look to see if there are opportunities to add negative keywords that could help campaigns. Here’s a fun GIFographic we made to tell you lots more about negative keywords.
Campaign URL Settings
By default, you can have Google Ads include basic information about the URL they clicked on. This is called auto-tagging and, in the new interface, it 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 during your Google Ads audit.
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 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 massive library of landing page best practices.
Metrics That Matter In A Google Ads Audit
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.
All of the metrics you can look up in Google Ads 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, you may need to make major changes or just abandon Google PPC in its 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. And 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. (Sorry.)
Pulling your PPC efforts back into positive-ROI territory might require increasing the volume of your conversions (scaling) or reducing your CPA (optimizing). What makes more sense for your business?
Be sure you know which conversion action you’re tracking. Then, take a look at how many conversions you’re getting on a 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 to increase that volume? Impressions? Clicks? Conversion Rate? All of the above? 🙂
Cost Per Conversion
If your cost per conversion is too high, your Google Ads campaign is not sustainable. There are lots of ways, however, 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 to stretch and get coffee if you’ve read this far. 🙂
I refer to a lot of the metrics to follow as vanity metrics, because there’s no agreed-upon “good” number or goal to hit. You need to keep your eyes on the metrics that matter, as previously mentioned.
All that 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 challenges you can address 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:
- What is your CPA?
- Your average position?
Pro Tip: If you think your CPC is too high, here are some tools you can use to bring it down.
You don’t always have to be in the top position.. Sometimes, staying at 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 position 4, the number of impressions you’ll get will be very low.
Geographic Bid Adjustments
Setting a max bid and 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.
Bids are adjustable at the state, city, and zip code level, and can be combined with other “layers” of targeting. 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 make 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 impression share higher 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 superpower 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 what is probably the best blog post ever written about RLSA here. (Disclaimer: I wrote it.)
Your Google Ads Audit At The Ad Level
Let’s talk about auditing ads. This post will give you a few things to take a look at, but as we mentioned at the beginning, expertise in ads is a complex subject. (We’ll 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, just hover over the keyword status to see 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.
One simple thing to check, however, 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 Google Ads 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 sizes are:
If you’ve made it this far, bravo!
We’ve covered a lot of points to check during your Google Ads audit. 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.
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, however, this is a very interesting report to look at.
Display Automatic Placements
When you use any targeting other than placements, 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.
Automating your campaigns can be as simple as pre-programming bids and as sophisticated as custom Google Ads Scripts that fine-tune your secret sauce within the accounts you manage.
You can read more about some useful types of automation here.
Wrap Up on Your Google Ads 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 a Google Ads account.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, these accounts are complex and there are lots of moving parts. If you missed any of the points on this list, don’t worry.
Remember to focus on the metrics and settings that matter. Ultimately, 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.
In either case, if you’re looking for help with a Google Ads audit or PPC in general, be sure to fill out a proposal request. 🙂