This advanced guide covers what it takes to perform an audit in an advertising account. We are going to focus on Google Ads for demonstration purposes and briefly touch on Google Analytics. However, we wrote this guide to help you understand what you should be looking for and why it is important in any advertising account. We do not want to just focus on one platform; take what you learn here and apply it to Bing, Facebook, and other advertising platforms. Even if the names of features are different, the outcome and intent could be the same. If you don’t know where you are, then you cannot know if you are doing better than the past in-house person or advertising agency.
When taking over an advertising account, get an account audit done within the first 48 hours to benchmark performance. This guide covers the “what” and “why,” instead of the “how-to”, when running an account audit for your client or in-house brand.
Table Of Contents
What Is An Account Audit?
A paid media account audit is a way to review an account (or multiple accounts) for a brand and understand what is happening in the account: how it currently functions and also what the past history of the account is.
Why Might An Audit Happen?
There are a variety of reasons to do an audit
- You could be taking over an account from another agency or a brand has hired your agency to manage their account.
- You could also be doing a yearly audit on your own accounts to make sure everything is in order and you are not missing out on any opportunities.
- You are giving the account holder a second opinion on their account and they have hired you for this one-off task.
Why Do I Need An Audit?
The ideal audit should do two things:
- Uncover quick wins in your account that will help boost performance. This boost in performance could come in the form of a lower cost per acquisition, a cut in wasteful media spend, or an increase in conversions which could be more sales, signups, or revenue from your current customers.
- Uncover long-term opportunities that might not be utilized right now. These could be beta features, a/b testing your ads or landing page, and even making sure you are creating mobile content.
Who Should Do My Audit?
This guide is intended for someone who is not new to paid media but wants to make sure everything is working perfectly in their account. You could also be looking to brush up or grow your skills. If you are brand new to paid media and have never looked at an advertising account before, this guide could be overwhelming for you, and we’d recommend checking out some training on Google Ads to start.
Below is how we, at Take Some Risk, always review an account when we take over from another agency or are hired directly from the client. This guide also works if we are building an account from scratch across the main advertising platforms for a client. When we do an audit, we look at every campaign in an account and do not spot check.
How To Start An Audit
There are no right or wrong ways to start an account audit as long as you make sure all your bases are covered, and no opportunities are missed. A good rule of thumb is to start with the lowest-hanging fruit (aka quick wins) and work your way out towards the longer term opportunities that might present themselves in the account.
Even though Google makes both Google Ads and Google Analytics (and a host of other software), if you do not link your two accounts together they will not send data between them. You also might want to have video data from YouTube flowing into your Google Ads account to help with video campaigns and remarketing, which means you will need to link YouTube and Google Ads together, too. Making sure you have the data needed to make an informed decision is a key piece of being a successful marketer today.
Linking Google Analytics to Google Ads will make sure you have all the data you need. Unless you are sure a property view in Google Analytics will not need Google Ads data (including costs and clicks), make sure all properties are linked with your Google Ads account. Do this even if auto-tagging is turned on so you can then import goals from your Analytics account.
Google Search Console (formally Webmaster Tools)
Linking Search Console account with Google Ads, will show how ads and organic search listings perform (both alone and together). This will give a better idea of how you are doing across search overall, and will become important as opportunities around voice, image, and feature snippets become a normal part of our search experience.
If there isn’t access to your company’s Search Console account, talk with the person who does SEO or who manages the account to help link them together. If you don’t have a Search Console account, then look into setting one up.
If your company has a YouTube channel, then chances are there will be video marketing or remarketing from the Google Ads account. By linking a YouTube channel to an Google Ads account, you can access additional video view statistics, call-to-action (CTA) overlays, and remarketing and engagement statistics such as earned views.
You don’t have to link YouTube and Google Ads together, but it is highly recommended. Over the last few years, Google has streamlined and integrated YouTube and video marketing fully into Google Ads.
Shopping campaigns have become a larger part of paid search over the last few years. They are not easy to run but they can become some of your most profitable campaigns.
The Merchant Center is where a product data feed lives to run Google Shopping campaigns. To launch a Shopping campaign, these two accounts have to be linked. You need to have “Administrative Access” to approve the request.
Once the accounts are linked together, the Merchant Centers’ product information is available in Google Ads for campaign creation. Plus, statistics and data related to clicks from your Google Ads campaign are shown in the linked Merchant Center account.
You can also read our Google Merchant Center account audit post to make sure your account is setup and working the way it should be. There are some great hidden gems you could be missing out on, if an audit has not been done on your Merchant Center.
Linking Merchant Center and Google Ads:
- The account owner for a Merchant Center account is the only one who can request to link the accounts. New account link requests will appear in your Google Ads account on your “Linked accounts” page.
- Either owner of the Google Ads and Merchant Center accounts can remove the link between them at any time. However, neither party can make changes to the others’ account.
- If you remove the account link, Shopping campaigns will stop serving ads since they do not have access to the data anymore. You also cannot create new campaigns in Google Ads based on product data from this Merchant Center account.
One Email Address To Rule Them All
A good rule of thumb when it comes to running Google Ads is to have a Merchant Center or Search Console account. They should all be under one email address whenever possible, using something like ads@YourCompany.com
Clients often have two or three different email addresses for different accounts, but when someone leaves and no one knows the password for the email or how to access the email account, everyone is locked out. Having a shared email address accessible by multiple people avoids this, and any subsequent loss of account access or historic data.
If there are two parts of an Google Ads account audit that gets overlooked, it is the Shared Library and Bulk Operations in Google Ads.
This is perhaps because not everyone uses these sections in Google Ads with every account they manage, or maybe they forget about it as it is tucked away in an unused part of Google Ads.
Either way, this is a section that can do the most damage to an Google Ads account. The Shared Library helps manage your remarketing lists, shared budgets and bid strategies for different campaigns, and protects your brand by making sure ads do not appear for searches or on sites you don’t want.
Does the client have remarketing lists setup? Remarketing lists can be built in Google Analytics, which is a bit more robust and gives access to all the data in Google Analytics. Both are great options;it is not an either/or option as you can set up both for your client. However, if your account does not have any audiences, then build your audiences in Google Analytics and then import them into your Google Ads account.
Making sure you have the main touch points on your site covered under Audiences is a good start. Some options include:
- Searchers who visit your product pages
- Searchers who visited your checkout but don’t purchase
- Searches who did purchase a product
- Search who visit a pricing page or other important pages on your site
Having people who have and have not converted on your site is even better. To take remarketing to the next level, dig into Google Analytics and look at what characteristics (device, location, customer journey, etc.) people share that convert and do not convert on your site. Using that data, you can build granular audiences that you can remarket, up-sell, and cross-sell to.
Are there any campaigns using shared budgets? If so, this could be limiting the potential of one or more campaigns.
The best use case for a shared budget is smaller spending campaigns that do not warrant their own budget, or a few general campaigns that need help to control their budget. A common practise is to not use a shared budget for campaigns that are your top performers for bringing in revenue, leads, or conversions. Are your shared budgets being used in the right way? If not, then look at removing this from your account.
Campaign Negative Keywords
Similar to negative keywords for your campaigns, Campaign Negative Keywords lists can be used to streamline the process and make sure the right negative keywords are being applied to the right campaigns. Check here that your negative keywords are not blocking any ads from showing across your account.
Campaign Placement Exclusions
Search campaigns have negative keywords. Display campaigns have placement exclusions lists. Similar to Campaign Negative Keywords lists, check that existing placement lists are not blocking any display ads from showing on sites you would want. However, there are a lot of low quality sites on Google’s Display Network so make sure ads don’t appear on them, or any other undesirable sites.
As a side note, YouTube does not fall under the Google Display Network. If there are any undesirable sites for your brand, add the YouTube channels for these specific sites to the Campaign Placement Exclusions lists.
If you want to take some of the heavy lifting and guesswork out of managing campaigns, then bid strategies are for you. Most people would put bids and rules, which we will talk about a bit below, to do the work. Double check there are no bids running in the background to affect how you set up bids (bid modifiers) on your campaigns. This could wreak havoc on your account because bids could raise CPCs in the background without you knowing.
If the account has rules running, check out the attributes that are set for each rule. Having rules run in bulk options and also at the campaign level is counter productive; have one or the other, but not both.
Similar to automated rules, Scripts are found under Bulk Operations. Scripts allow a host of bulk operations on your account. You can make bids on keywords, pause & start ads, and pull sales data. Link Checker, a very useful script, makes sure none of your URLs are broken in your account.
My favourite Google Ads scripts are the following. Every client accounts gets them during audit phase and it makes the account better:
- Negative Keyword Conflict
- Limit Google Ads Over Delivery
- Link Checker or Larger-scale Link Checker
- Search Queries Using N-Grams
Go forth and automate where it makes sense.
The settings for each campaign is as individual as the campaign itself. A change in one setting can turn a profitable campaign into one leaking money (or vice versa).
Learning why certain settings were picked for an account or a set of campaigns will give a better understanding of what is going on in the account. The only goal that matters is the bottom line: Are we making money and are we profitable?
Are the right regions targeted? Or are we excluding regions we want to be targeting? If you follow the advice above about location targeting, then you will have solid data to make the case to modify bids at a province/state or city level.
Are bids increased or decreased on Mobile? Double check Google Analytics to see how conversions perform on mobile, tablet and computers. It is not always 100% cut and dry if people are switching devices while doing their research before buying.
Is day parting being used? Is there an opportunity to use it? You may need to create a custom report in Google Analytics that shows this. You could build this report to show transactions by day, day of the week, or even by month. The only limit is the data you have.
How does Google decide when to show your ad? Answering that question comes down to 3 factors:
- Your computer’s language setting. This setting is the major signal that Google uses to determine what Google Ads to show a searcher.
- The search term. If a computer is set to English but a user tends to type a lot of search terms in French because they are bilingual or family members prefer to communicate in French, there is a chance that user will start to see more French ads.
- Browser history. The more you surf online, the more Google understands what you are interested in and thus what ads they should show you. Much like point #2, if a user visits a lot of sites in French and yet the computer’s language setting set to English, they could potentially start to see French ads in the future.
These 3 factors are important to understand because someone may have their computer set to one language but conduct their searches in another.
All Settings Tab
Are we targeting Google Search or Search Partners? It is not an either/or situation, but we want to make sure we are not missing opportunities. Make sure Display is only set for a campaign that should have it. If that setting gets set by accident, it just racks up spend.
Depending on what locations (countries, regions, cities, or DMAs) are targeted, or even ones excluded with location negatives, make sure the “Target” and “Exclude” options are correct based on the following options:
- People in, searching for, or who show interest in my targeted location (recommended)
- People in my targeted location
- People searching for, or who show interest in my targeted location
- People in, searching for, or who show interest in my excluded location (recommended)
- People in my excluded location
Generally it is a safe bet to pick People in my targeted (or excluded) location but that is if you have a simple setup for your campaigns.
Generally when targeting the USA or Canada, it is best to break location targeting down by province/state and then have major cities like Toronto, New York and Chicago targeted in each campaign. Knowing how campaigns are performing at the state or city level means you can modify bids with confidence. In the last 6 years, Take Some Risk Inc has never just targeted Canada or USA when setting up a campaign.
By changing campaigns to target “All Languages” setting, you can get some increased visibility for ads without much effort.
Is it good to target expats in a country that search in English but have their language on their computer set to their home language/country? That’s an important question to ask. These tweaks have been made in accounts as large as $500,000/month with a result of an increase in performance.
Google can spend 100% above a daily set budget. Make budgets take this into account, so that you don’t overspend beyond the budget you were given by the client or your boss.
Delivery Method (under budget)
There is now one option for how ads are going to be delivered each day:
This will optimize the delivery of your ads and try to spread your budget evenly over the course of the day.
Similar to many of the setting under this section of our guide, sometimes settings need to be tweaked to fit your unique situation.
If you are new to Google Ads and do not have a wealth of knowledge or tons of account history, then manual CPC bidding is a good place to start.
Are Google Analytics goals importing into Google Ads? This will not happen even if Google Ads and Google Analytics are linked. You will need to tell Google Ads to import your goals from Google Analytics. Once linked together, assisted click and impression and conversions should show within 24 – 48 hours (assuming conversions have occurred in GA).
If you ever make a change in your account and want to revert back, or to see what changes have been made in the past since the account has been made, the change history feature will be your go-to spot.
For most accounts, you can look back at the last 90 days to see what has happened to the account; longer views exist with a smaller account. Look for “Change History” under second left navigation in the Google Ads UI.
Search Query Report (SQR)
Depending on the size and media spend for your Google Ads account, run a Search Query Report (SQR) every 7 – 10 days. Run one within the first 48 hours of taking over a new account (or doing a one-off audit) to see what negative keywords are missing or see opportunities to add new keywords into the account. Compile a list and set aside for later review.
“Search Exact Match IS”
This is a good report to understand how many people are searching for an exact match brand term versus a variation on that term.
If the number is low (sub 70%), run a search query report (SQR; see above) for 30 – 90 days and see what comes back in the report. There is potential to add more negative keywords based on the results of an SQR.
How much share of voice are we capturing? The following 4 columns will show how you are performing compared to competitors: Search Impr. share, Search Lost IS (rank), Search Lost IS (budget), and Search.
Exact Match IS
For Brand, aim 90+% for “Search Impr. Share” as this is mean you are capturing the majority of impressions for your brand name. Anything less, and competitors are bidding on your brand terms and/or you are not spending enough money. The latter can be seen by what percents are in Search Lost IS (rank) & Search Lost IS (budget).
Google Analytics (GA)
Beyond the starter list below. We recently came out with an article covering a deeper Google Analytics audit. You want to make sure everything is working and connected correctly in Google Analytics before you launch any campaigns.
Google Analytics Tracking Code
Is it firing? Make sure the right UA ID is attached to the right account in Google Ads.
All Data View
Each client should have a raw Google Analytics View that has unfiltered data passing through. This will help with checking for errors with other GA Views for the client in the future.
Filtered Data View
This view will have filters attached to it. All future GA Views will be based off this one.
Views can be divided by country or subdomain (see sidebar) depending how a client structures their site. This will help with sifting through data and looking for trends.
Is this linked with GA under Property in the Admin Panel? This will help with passing data between Google Ads and GA.
Search Console (formally Webmaster Tools)
Is this linked to Google Ads? This will pass data back to GA for campaigns and also help with SEO efforts.
Is this setup? Set up a basic list to start building a database for future use. – e.g abandon cart, transaction complete, people who visit key pages on your site.
Domain VS Subdomain
When setting up a Google Analytics account for the first time or taking over an account from another agency or brand, it is important to remember Google Analytics only tracks URL after the forward slash (/) in a domain.
For example, if you have created your blog at blog.YourCompany.com, then Google Analytics won’t be monitoring that URL for traffic. To track that blog, you will need to add a filter in your Google Analytics account.
Google Tag Manager (GTM)
Try to get each client setup with Google Tag Manager (GTM). GTM lets you set up tracking code on your website once and then you never have to touch that code again.
This lets your team edit tags, pixels, and other pieces of software in your Google Tag Manager (GTM) container versus on the website. This means non-developers can easily add a new tracking pixel for an advertising platform or even remove one that is not going to be used again. It helps speed up changing tracking code(s) and ensures pixels are firing for each product being used.