There’s a lot to consider when you start out on the road of paid search campaigns. How can you be sure you’re making the best decisions? Can you improve your ROI? What’s working? What’s not? If only there was a way of performing a health check – to identify problems and align budgets tightly with goals.

Enter the paid search audit. It’s time to interrogate your data. Before upping your game and flashing more cash, it’s wise to identify the good, address the bad and eradicate the ugly.

At 2C Digital Marketing, we regularly check our accounts to see how they can deliver better results. Taking the time to scrutinise and optimise your account can turn ‘average’ results into performance that exceeds expectations.

We’d like to share with you the key areas and questions that we ask ourselves when we perform a paid search audit.

The first task is to establish what you’d like the audit to achieve; the actions that you want to measure. Is it conversions – phone calls, contact forms, purchases or quotes? Perhaps your goal is brand awareness – impressions, clicks or subscription sign-ups. Remind yourself of your objectives and whether you’re meeting them.

Next up – crunch the data. There’s a lot of it, but don’t be put off. Break the job into small, focused tasks, and take your time. Begin with the basics and then root out the devils in the detail. You’ll find a few of the blighters in there!

The Basics

Tracking: This is mahoosive! Are conversions being tracked correctly? Are you sure that code is placed on the right button or page? Find out by performing a test run. Incorrect tracking is like Chinese whispers – what you see is so far from the real picture.

Campaigns: Does your account structure (taxonomy) mirror your website and your paid search objectives? Identify themes that reflect your campaign goal and stick to them. Get the taxonomy wrong and your data will be too, no matter how much of it you collect.

Budgets: Scrutinise your budgets to establish if they’re being managed effectively. It will be worth every second of your time. Are campaigns limited? Do the ad schedules, location and device bid adjustments need optimising? Are you focusing your budget on keywords with a high return on investment?

The Detail

Your campaign, ad groups and keywords should be themed around a business objective. Check your journey isn’t going off-piste.

Keywords: There’s no getting around it – you MUST constantly evaluate your keyword strategy. Use search query reports and analyse data in the keywords tab to review your bids, bidding strategy, position and conversion data. Check that keywords with high impressions or conversions also feature in high average positions (at a low cost-per-conversion). If you’re bidding on brand terms, consider whether competition is sufficient to warrant this. If you’re not bidding on brand terms, should you be?

In a nutshell, interrogate granular data at keyword level to determine if budget is being spent efficiently.

Negative Keywords: Prevent erroneous traffic and wasted clicks by striking the right balance with regularly adding and monitoring negative keywords. Check that all campaigns have a sufficient number of negatives in the correct match type and at the correct level. Data can be skewed, and budgets seriously dented when this is overlooked.

Locations: Are you bidding where you should be? Are your inclusion and exclusion settings correct? Are you bidding by location and overlaying device? Remember to layer – focus your budget and bid higher in profitable areas on profitable devices at profitable days of the weeks/ hours of the day.

Delivery Methods: An important one to check. Fine-tuning is often necessary, particularly if you see problems with under-spending budgets and low traffic. Review rotation too. You might want to rotate your ads to show the most clicked, or divide exposure to support A/B testing. Work out the tactic that best fits your goal.

Bidding: If you’re using multiple bidding strategies, make sure they reflect your campaign’s goal. To achieve ROI, trial the applicable strategy before you apply it to multiple like-minded campaigns. Analyse the granular data and when you’re happy it’s working, roll that master plan out.

A word of caution – there’s no winning formula when it comes to bidding. What works for one campaign may not work for another.

The Market: Love it or loathe it, you need to benchmark your efforts against your competitors’. The Auction Insight tool is great for this. It allows you to identify your AdWords competitors and measure how you stack up in key areas such as:

  • Impression Share Overlap Rate – how often another advertiser’s ad received an impression in the same auction that your ad also received an impression.
  • Positive Above Rate – how often another advertiser’s ad in the same auction is shown in a higher position than yours.
  • Top of Page Rate – how often your ad appeared at the top of the page.
  • Outranking Share – how often your ad ranked higher in the auction than another advertiser’s ad.

Ads: Ad evaluation should be constant. Depending on the type of campaign you’re running, things to consider include the ad type, messaging and imagery. Remember to theme each ad to the keyword behind it, and the landing page in front of it – this will also help to improve the Quality Score factor in your ad rank. A/B testing is crucial here, as is measuring Lost Impression Share – the estimated percentage of impressions that your ads didn’t receive due to a poor ad rank. You can improve (i.e. decrease) your share by increasing bids and quality score. Don’t forget to implement enough ads to gain meaningful insight into what works and what doesn’t. This is key to understanding what images and tone of voice your audience engages with.

Extensions: Extensions give the user fundamental information to prevent wasted clicks. There are many types of extension to choose from, so it’s important to check that you’re using them effectively. Here are a few examples to consider:

  • Location extensions – an obvious choice if you have multiple locations, but make sure your locations are set correctly. Check that the extension has been applied at the appropriate level – account, campaign or ad group.
  • Sitelink extensions – these increase your CTR by directing users to specific pages that relate to their search query. A few basic checks are needed here. Test that your links are working, and make sure linked pages are as UX-friendly and inviting as they could be.
  • Call extensions – a simple but effective extension type…if you’ve provided the right phone number! Seriously, it happens. Don’t forget to give mobile users the option to click-to-call, and make sure your answer machine is on. Missed calls equal missed opportunities.
  • Call out extensions – great for highlighting USPs, special offers or promotions. Each ad can have 2 – 6 callouts. Are you using yours effectively? Don’t forget you can change the text at any time so keep callouts relevant and review those that aren’t performing well.

Whichever extensions you’re using, be vigilant. Mistakes are common, especially with mobile usage.

Scripts: We’re a huge fan of scripts here at 2C Digital Marketing. They’re incredible tools for making all sorts of optimisation practices quicker and more efficient, such as:

  • Alerting you to crawl errors;
  • Identifying which ad was the ‘winner’ or ‘loser’ in A/B testing; and
  • Preventing your budgets from overspending.

As much as we find scripts useful, we’re mindful of how we use them. Leave everything to a machine and you’re asking for trouble – scripts can be unreliable, or at worst, break. Used in conjunction with manual techniques, however, and scripts can rock your world. All things in moderation, right?

What Next?

It’s time to take your accounts to the next level by turning intelligence into action. Take EVERYTHING you’ve discovered and work out what changes you need to make. Be sure to weave your tactics into your overall marketing strategy. Put everything into an action plan and voila, you have yourself a set of campaigns that will work harder for you.

Finally, book your next audit for 6 months’ time and do it all over again. Yay!

Before You Go…

Performing a paid search audit might seem daunting at first but being thorough and getting it right is worth the effort. Sometimes the smallest adjustment can pay the greatest dividends.

At 2C Digital Marketing we find it useful to begin an audit with a list of key questions. You guessed it, they’re all about nailing the good, the bad and the ugly! Try our checklist out for yourself and take your campaigns to the next level:

  • What are your paid search goals?
  • Does your account taxonomy and website mirror these goals?
  • Are your conversions being tracked correctly?
  • Are your campaigns targeting the correct audience?
  • Is your budget being spent efficiently?
  • How do you compare to your competitors?

If you would like more information about your paid search account, please contact info@2cdigitalmarketing.com or apply for a free audit today!