Google AdWords is one of the most complicated platforms in the marketing space. With countless tools, reports and ways to spend money, you can’t take anything lightly.
And when real dollars and your company’s bottom line are at stake, even small mistakes can add up to significant impacts. Potentially bankrupting your marketing budget in just days or weeks isn’t hard if you don’t keep up with your account.
But this won’t happen to you if you take good care of the health of your AdWords account by carrying out regular audits.
A good AdWords audit doesn’t just seek to find weak points or point out flaws. It helps you fine-tune your AdWords account to generate more revenue and profit with less money and way less time.
Here’s how to audit your AdWords account for better performance in just a few easy steps.
What is an AdWords Audit and Why Your Account Needs It?
AdWords account audits are a necessary evil to keep your account running smoothly for years to come.
If there is one cardinal sin of AdWords, it’s letting your account “be.” It’s leaving it untouched after setup and letting the cards fall where they may. That strategy is a foolproof way to ensure that your account is wasting money and becoming a pain to use.
AdWords account audits are merely running through your account or a client’s account to see how everything is structured and how it can be improved. Audits can uncover where ad spend is being wasted and if any new campaign ideas can be generated.
But that’s not all.
Audits are great for keeping your account setup clean and easy to navigate, ultimately helping you reduce the amount of time you spend on it daily. The better structure you have, the quicker it is to get the intended job done without pulling your hair out.
So, how do you know when your AdWords account needs an audit?
Here are a few good reasons to audit:
- You just landed a new client or took over their account and need to audit their current setup for flaws and new opportunities.
- Your current AdWords performance is sub-par: you want to improve it and make your time and money more effectively.
- You haven’t done one (ever) before or recently: routine audits should be a part of your strategy to continually improve performance.
Anyone can benefit from routine audits to their account.
Here’s a seven-step checklist to get your account running better than ever before.
AdWords Audit Item #1: Start with the Basics
One of the most critical elements of any successful AdWords account is conversion tracking.
Yet a recent study found that only 29% of AdWords accounts track conversions accurately. Meaning 71% of accounts don’t have their conversion tracking set up correctly or even at all.
This fundamental principle is key to success on AdWords. Otherwise, you have no idea if your efforts are working.
Without conversion tracking, it’s impossible to know if people are converting and at what cost. You are essentially wasting money and learning nothing in return.
You could be generating next to no conversions for your money, and you’d have no clue as to why it’s happening. Or worse, your conversion tracking could be wrong, showing over 100% conversion rates, leading you to believe your strategy is working even if it’s not:
Working with clients from multiple industries in PPC, I’ve seen conversion tracking tags placed on landing pages and homepages. Meaning every single time someone clicks on your ad, a conversion is recorded. But that’s clearly not a conversion.
And it’s not their fault. Most small businesses can’t afford to hire expensive web developers or site managers. And many don’t know how to place conversion tracking codes, let alone where to place them.
When conducting your next AdWords audit, follow these steps to placing your conversion tracking and testing that it works.
First, log in to your AdWords dashboard and locate the “Conversions” section:
Set up your new conversion tracking script based on your campaign goals:
For instance, is your goal to get people back to your website to buy something or fill out a form?
If so, you will want to set up conversion tracking on your website.
After creating your tag, you’ll need to add the tag to your website.
AdWords gives you three options:
If you don’t have a webmaster and don’t know how to install the tag yourself, you can use the Google Tag Manager which will automate the process for you.
The key here is where you place the conversion tracking code.
The difficulty that most have isn’t with placing the tag but placing it correctly.
If you are looking to have people buy a product or fill out a form on your website, the tracking script has to be placed on the page that people land on after they purchase or fill out a form, not the form or product page itself.
These pages are often referred to as “thank you” pages that are only accessible to people who have bought or filled out your forms. Meaning every time someone lands on that page, you know they converted.
Always place your codes on a thank you page to ensure proper tracking.
After completing your conversion tracking, check off the next two “basics” on your list:
- Linking Google Analytics
- Analyzing your current targeting setup
To link Google Analytics, head to “Linked accounts” in your toolbox:
From here, click “Details” and follow the linking process to connect your accounts:
Linking Google Analytics will transfer all of your AdWords data into GA, allowing you to run custom reports and compare your PPC data with organic, direct and referral traffic.
Lastly, navigate to each individual campaign and click on the “Settings” tab:
In this section, analyze the current targeting measures for each campaign in relation to campaign goals:
Specifically, check your:
- Locations: be sure you are targeting the right locations
- Networks: are you using the right network for this campaign? Search? Display? Shopping?
- Schedule: is this a limited time campaign? If not, don’t utilize start and end dates.
- Device targeting: are you targeting mobile only? Desktop only? Select the proper devices for your campaign goals.
AdWords Audit #1 – Action Items:
- Check that conversions are tracking correctly on the right pages
- Link your Google Analytics account
- Check your settings for each campaign before going live
AdWords Audit Item #2: Check Your Ad Group Structure
Ad group structure is one of the easiest ways to simplify your account and make it much easier to use. Poorly constructed ad groups are difficult to navigate and update.
Ask yourself the following questions when assessing your ad groups:
- How many keywords do you currently have in each ad group?
- How similar are those keywords? Are they different products or services or locations?
- Can you refine your ad groups and split up keywords into different ad groups?
- Can you utilize single keyword ad groups?
Google’s guidelines on ad groups are as follows:
For successful account organization, be sure to create very specific ad groups. For example, if you sell gourmet food, create different ad groups for different foods you offer.”
If you currently have more than ten keywords in a single ad group, consider breaking them down into five or less.
Specificity is critical on AdWords and simplifying your ad groups can improve quality scores dramatically. According to a CXL study, their CTR jumped 28.1% with a quality score, raising from 5.56 to 7.95 using specific ad groups.
For instance, in an old campaign, we split each ad group into single keyword ad groups, making for easy account structure and specific ads that would improve CTR and conversion rates:
This simplified account structure tells you precisely what you get in each ad group without needing to click and view 10-20 different keywords.
Look for ways to reduce your ad group size. Create new ad groups and separate different keywords.
AdWords Audit #2 – Action Items:
- Limit ad groups to five or less related keywords
- Create SKAGs if you can for best performance
AdWords Audit Item #3: Check How Many Ads You Have In Each Ad Group
Ads are annoying to write. We’ve all been there: struggling to jam our content into tiny character limits. It’s not fun, and it can be time-consuming when you are running multiple campaigns with dozens of ad groups.
But writing ads is a huge portion of success or failure on AdWords.
It’s common for accounts to have just one ad. But according to Google, the standard for best performance is 3-5 per ad group.
When analyzing current ads for your ad groups, write at least three ads per ad group, following a formula that you can quickly scale and repeat for every single ad group:
AdWords Audit #3 – Action Items:
- □ 3-5 ads per ad group
- Ads focused on benefits with a clear CTA and keywords for relevancy
AdWords Audit Item #4: Reduce Wasted Ad Spend Through Negative Keywords
A recent study found that the average wasted ad spend on accounts with conversion tracking was 61%.
The average AdWords account wastes 76% of its budget on the wrong search terms.”
Even the accounts that are set up properly waste tons of money. The same study found that wasted ad spend increases your cost per conversion as well:
For every 10% increase in wasted ad spend, your cost-per-conversion increases by 44-72%.”
Most accounts are wasting tons of money on AdWords. Conversions could be 44-72% cheaper in most cases.
The best way to reduce wasted ad spend is using the negative keyword tool in your search terms report:
Scroll through your search terms report and find keywords that are showing up that you don’t want to pay for.
Often you will see competitors, “free,” or other terms that show up due to using broad match keywords in your campaigns. This can result in tons of junk that you are paying for that is likely never going to convert. You could be spending hundreds of bucks in clicks for terms that you don’t want.
Another great way to reduce wasted ad spend is by implementing click tracking programs or click-fraud software.
Why? Because 40% of internet traffic is bots, and unfortunately, that can often be used maliciously by other competitors.
This type of software can help you track specific IPs, device IDs, send you fraud alerts and more, allowing you to block them and reduce click spend that is sinking your budget.
AdWords Audit #4 – Action Items:
- Use the negative keywords tool to filter out bad keywords that don’t convert
- Check back every week and repeat the process
- Implement click fraud software to prevent disasters
AdWords Audit Item #5: Assess Ad Extension Relevancy
Most people see ad extensions and throw 5-6 on, hoping for massive conversion increases and CTR boosts. Google even confirms that ad extensions can improve the average CTR of any given ad by 10-15%.
They even call them a “highly impactful way to improve CTR.” While it’s true that they can improve your CTR, just adding them doesn’t do anything.
For instance, if you can’t have an employee answering a phone all day, don’t use a phone call ad extension. You’d just be paying for calls that go unanswered.
Most people go wrong with ad extensions because they promise so much value. This often leads to the abuse or overuse of ad extensions in the hopes of huge CTR increases.
Always use relevant extensions to your goal or matched to your call to action. Relevancy is key. If you want phone calls, use call extensions. If you want website traffic, use sitelink extensions, and so on.
For instance, look at this example below:
The entire CTA and value of the ad are directed at driving phone calls, yet there are no call extensions or phone numbers!!!
AdWords Audit #5 – Action Items:
- Limit ad extensions to 1-3 types per ad: too many will distract from the primary value of your ad.
- Assess your current ad extension usage for each campaign.
AdWords Audit Item #6: Do You Have Unique Landing Pages For Each Campaign?
Quality scores are a significant factor in AdWords account success. And audits are a great way to uncover potential ways that your quality score can improve.
One of the most common denominators for low-quality scores is landing pages.
Being a top factor of quality scores, specific and unique landing pages can make a big difference in your success:
Each ad group should have its own dedicated landing page, and you should never direct users to a generic home page.
For example, if you are running an ad group on “silver women’s necklaces,” you should direct that click to a landing page of all of your silver necklaces for women. It shouldn’t be directed to your e-commerce homepage or generic shop links.
Give the searcher what they expect, and you will dramatically increase conversions. This is message match, a fundamental aspect of any successful campaign.
Message match has the power to improve conversions by 200%+.
Message match is carrying over the same information that you promise from ads to the landing page. When I search for women’s necklaces, I should see ads that include my keyword search:
This tells me that these sellers have what I want. So I click, rightfully expecting a page of women’s necklaces, right? Right.
Instead of directing me to their homepage or “Jewelry,” they sent me directly to the necklace section.
That’s message match in a nutshell.
Plus, unique landing pages will provide you with access to AdWords’ new landing page report:
Here you can gauge the performance of each page and see where improvements can be made.
AdWords Audit #6 – Action Items:
- Analyze the final URL of every ad to direct users to the proper location:
- Create unique landing pages for different ad groups and different keywords
- Use message match to improve conversions
AdWords Audit Item #7: Are You Generating New Ideas With Search Terms?
As you probably have noticed, most of these audit steps are focused on fixing common issues that can sink your account and drain your budget.
But this last step is focused on uncovering potential big wins for your account and improving it even more.
The search terms report is a hidden gold mine on AdWords.It shows you all of the keyword searches that your ad’s display. And more often than not, you will find dozens of keywords that you aren’t even bidding on. Meaning you are already driving sales from them without even having specific ads targeting those particular search terms.
Just imagine the increases in CTR and conversions you would get by optimizing them to the fullest like the rest of your ad groups!
Plus, it eliminates the need for long hours of keyword research on terms that you’ve never bid on. That means less risk and less time spent searching.
Search terms are proven terms that you’ve already converted people on, leaving the guesswork out of it.
Locate your search terms report under the “Keywords” section of your dashboard:
Here you can filter and sort the data by metrics like conversions, CTR, and clicks.
These will show you popular search terms that you are getting traffic and conversions for.
You will likely notice terms that you are already bidding on, but you should also notice ones that you aren’t, giving you new campaign ideas on which to capitalize.
AdWords Audit #7 – Action Items:
- Use the search terms report to find new campaign ideas
- Filter by conversion metrics
- Comb through the report every week to scout new terms
AdWords audits are a great way to improve the performance of your account and reduce costs.
Whether you are taking over an account from a new client or looking to improve your own, audits are a critical step in determining what needs to be improved.
Utilize this seven-step audit to make changes to your account quickly.
Repeat the audit process every few weeks or every month to reap the biggest rewards.
Audits are boring and can seem tedious, but they produce big wins in the long run.