PPC Audit Guide

Preface

This advanced guide covers what it takes to perform an audit in an advertising account. It focuses on Google Ads for demonstration purposes and briefly touch on Google Analytics. 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. You can take what you learn here and apply it to Bing, Facebook, and most other advertising platforms. Even if the names of features are different, the outcome and intent should be the same. If you don’t know where your accounts sit, then you cannot know if you are doing better than the past in-house person or advertising agency.

When taking over an advertising account, do an account audit 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

Introduction
Google Ads
Merchant Center
Shared Library
Bulk Operations
Campaign Settings
Tools
Reports
Google Analytics
Google Tag Manager

Introduction

What Is An Account Audit?

A paid media account audit is a way to review an account (or multiple accounts) for a brand. It allows you to understand what is happening in the account, which is to say how it currently functions and also what the past history of the account is.

When Should You Perform an Audit?

There are a situations when an audit should be done:

  1. When taking over an account from another agency or a brand has hired your agency to manage their account.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 increase in performance could come in the form of a lower cost per acquisition, a cut in wasteful media spend, or an increase in conversions. For reference, conversions 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, or even making sure you are creating mobile content.

Who Should Do My Audit?

This guide is intended for those who are not new to paid media but want to ensure everything works perfectly in their accounts. 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 whether 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 a client’s main advertising platforms. When we do an audit, we look at every campaign in an account and do not spot check.

How To Start An Audit

There is no right or wrong way 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. This 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.

Google Analytics

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 to 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 (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. It will also become important as opportunities around voice, image, and feature snippets become a normal part of our search experience.

If you lack access to your company’s Search Console account, be sure to talk with the person who does SEO or manages the account to link them together. If you don’t have a Search Console account, then look into setting one up.

YouTube

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 a 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.

Merchant Center

Shopping campaigns have become a larger part of paid search over the last few years. They may not be easy to run but they can become some of your most profitable campaigns.

The Merchant Center is where a product data feed lives, allowing it to run Google Shopping campaigns. To launch a Shopping campaign, these two accounts have to be linked, and “Administrative Access” is required to approve the request.

Once the accounts are linked together, the Merchant Centers’ product information is available in Google Ads for campaign creation. Additionally, 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 properly. 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:

  1. The account owner for a Merchant Center account is the only person who can request to link the accounts. New account link requests will appear in your Google Ads account on your “Linked accounts” page.
  2. 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 other’s account.
  3. If you remove the account link, Shopping campaigns will stop serving ads since they no longer have access to the required data. You also cannot create new campaigns in Google Ads based on product data from this Merchant Center account.

Pro Tip

One Email Address To Rule Them All

When running Google Ads, a good rule of thumb 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. The problem being that should someone leaves, if no one else knows the password for the email account, everyone is locked out. Having a shared email address accessible by multiple people circumvents this, and any subsequent loss of account access or historic data. 

Shared Library

Two parts of a Google Ads account audit that often get overlooked are 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. Maybe they forget about it as it is tucked away in an unused part of Google Ads. Either way, it is often neglected.

That being said, this is a section that can do the most damage to a 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.

Audiences

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 and 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:

  1. Searchers who visited your product pages
  2. Those who visited your checkout but don’t purchase
  3. People who actually purchased a product
  4. Searchers 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.) converters share with non-convert on your site. Using that data, you can build granular audiences that you can remarket, up-sell, and cross-sell to.

Shared Budgets

Are there any campaigns using shared budgets? If so, this could be limiting the potential of one or more campaigns.

The best case for a shared budget are smaller spending campaigns that do not warrant their own budget, or a few general campaigns that need help to control their budget. A common practice is to avoid 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 them 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 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 deesired sites. That being said, 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 unwated places).

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.

Bid Strategies

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 leave 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.

Bulk Operations

Automated Rules

If the account has rules running, check out the attributes that are set for each rule. Having rules run in bulk options and at the campaign level is counter productive; have one or the other, but not both.

Scripts

Similar to automated rules, Scripts are found under Bulk Operations. Scripts allow for a host of bulk operations on your account. You can make bids on keywords, pause & start ads, and pull sales data. For instance, Link Checker, a very useful script, makes sure none of your URLs are broken in your account.

Pro Tip

Every one of our client accounts gets the following scripts during audit phase and it makes the account better:

  1. Negative Keyword Conflict
  2. Limit Google Ads Over Delivery
  3. Link Checker or Larger-scale Link Checker
  4. Search Queries Using N-Grams

Go forth and automate! But only where it makes sense.

Campaign Settings

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?

Location

Are the right regions being targeted? 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.

Devices

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.

Ad Schedule

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.

Pro Tip

How does Google decide when to show your ad? Answering that question comes down to 3 factors:

  1. Your computer’s language setting. This setting is the major signal that Google uses to determine what Google Ads to show a searcher.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Network

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.

Locations

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:

Location Options

  • People withinin, searching for, or who show interest in my targeted location (recommended)
  • Those in my targeted location
  • Individusals searching for, or who show interest in my targeted location

Exclude Options

  • 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.

Languages

By changing campaigns to target “All Languages”, 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.

Budget

Google can spend 100% above a set daily budget. Make budgets take this into account, so that you don’t overspend beyond the budget you were given by the client or boss.

Delivery Method (under budget)

There is now one option for how ads are going to be delivered each day:

Standard

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.

Bidding

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.

Tools

Conversion Funnel

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, impression and conversions should become available within 24 – 48 hours (assuming conversions have occurred in GA).

Change History

If you ever make a change in your account and want to turn back the clock, or 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 in the account. For smaller accounts, longer views also exist. Look for “Change History” under second left navigation in the Google Ads UI.

Reports

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. It is important to run one within the first 48 hours of taking over a new account (or doing a one-off audit), as well. You will want to see what negative keywords are missing or locate 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.

Impression Share

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 the 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.

Google Ads

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.

Remarketing List

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.

Pro Tip

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.

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