Why Paid Search Audits are Important
Paid search audits are essential to the digital marketing process. The digital marketing world is constantly in flux. That’s why it’s crucial to regularly conduct an audit to ensure the best optimization strategies are in place and get the best possible return on investment.
Paid search advertising is more complex than many marketers would like to admit. Google Ads constantly posts new features, releases, policies, interface updates, discontinued features, and announcements. On top of that, many small changes don’t warrant a separate announcement, and that’s much change. This is why keeping up with Google Ads, Bing Ads, and other online ad networks is a full-time job.
An audit provides you with a 100-foot view of what you’re doing in your account. I like to think about it the same way Atul Gawande addresses checklists in his book The Checklist Manifesto. Millions rush to airports worldwide every day to entrust their lives to the hands of competent airlines. Surgeons prepare for surgeries every day. Both professions depend on checklists no matter how experienced, skilled or talented they are in their areas of expertise.
Paid search is not a life or death matter. However, unquestionable professionalism should create the standard for any profession.
Paid Search audits are essential because they help advertisers uncover inefficiencies with their paid search or PPC programs. This includes problems they may not even be aware of that could be wasting ad spend and lowering their ROI.
Here are a few scenarios where a paid search audit can close some gaps.
- Your ads are doing great, but now you’re not getting the same results as you once did a week, month, or year ago. What changed? What do you need to do differently?
- Your ads deliver excellent results, but you wonder if you could do even better. What opportunities are you missing?
- You’re just starting with PPC and struggling to get good results. What are you doing wrong?
- Your ads are driving traffic, but your costs spiral out of control.
Below are key components of the downloadable excel file, paid search audit checklist we have developed based on over a decade of managing PPC accounts. You can use this as a paid search audit template for all future account audits.
Conversion Tracking is one of the essential components of ALL digital marketing campaigns. Without conversion tracking, you have no way to measure progress towards your goals and objectives, analyze the performance effectiveness, efficiencies, and value of referring websites, channels, campaigns, ads, keywords, audiences, and other components of your digital marketing efforts that directly impact the success of your business.
Conversions should align with the digital property’s goals and overall business KPIs. Most websites and apps fall into four categories: lead generation, eCommerce, brand awareness, and SaaS websites. Google Ads aligns with these categories and broadly breaks down its conversions into leads and sales since paid search leans heavily toward direct response initiatives.
Overall account performance is based on how effective your account is at meeting your goals and how efficiently it is at meeting those goals. Without goals and objectives, performance is based on generic industry performance. Within the audit, we look at high-level performance indicators such as conversions, cost per conversion, return on ad spend, click-through rates, cost per click, highest converting campaigns, ads, keywords, and other components.
Google Ads is organized into a hierarchy of accounts, campaigns, and ad groups.
- Your unique email address, password, and billing information lie at the account level.
- The campaign level includes your budget, targeting, and other critical settings.
- Ads and keywords are housed within your ad groups.
Each campaign should be based on a broad theme.
More granular themes should categorize your ad groups. Each ad group should contain a keyword set that is as relevant as possible to your ad group. Having your keywords organized like this will also help improve the Quality Score of your keywords.
You’ll want your ad copy to be as closely related to your keywords as possible to generate high click-through rates and improve the ad relevance of your creative. When keywords are in tight clusters, your ad copy will reflect a highly relevant message to your audience and enhance the performance of your campaigns.
At the ad level, it’s a best practice to have at least 3-5 ads per ad group. You want to have enough ads to test different variations of your copy to see what resonates best with your target audience. Every ad consists of several components: The best components of ads to test are either Headline or the Description.
When running a test, every ad component should be the same except the one you are testing. With this, when generating test results, you’ll know exactly which component of your ad is responsible for a winning ad. A new variation can then be drafted and implemented into the rotation.
Paid search campaigns connect ads to users’ search queries. Search queries are the exact words typed into the search engine, whereas keywords are what marketers use to target consumers based on what they’re searching for. When setting up a paid search campaign, you can decide how closely you want to match search queries to your keywords.
Paid Search Ads
Effective ads and ad formats (ad extensions) that correlate with landing pages and keywords increase quality scores, CTRs, and ad rank, decreasing the amount needed to outbid competitors and decreasing overall cost per conversion.
Google Ads Responsive search ads adapt to show more relevant messages to your customers by mixing and matching uploaded ad headlines and descriptions.
The more headlines and descriptions you enter, the more Google Ads can test and serve ad variations that match users’ search terms, improving your ad performance. The maximum amount of headlines you can create is 15, and the maximum number of descriptions is 4.
Dynamic Ads dynamically generate headlines and landing pages using content from your website. The advertiser gives the ads their descriptions. Dynamic Ads help fill in gaps between search queries that are being searched and keywords within your account.
You can’t know every available, relevant search for your products and services as an advertiser. 15% of searches on Google have never been used before. Therefore, Google Ads algorithms use dynamic ads to capture those relevant searches that do not correspond to keywords active within your account.
Ad Extensions are a vital factor Google’s algorithms use to determine if your ads are displayed and how those ads rank relative to competitor ads. They are one of the main components of Google Ad Rank.
They are additions to text ads that include additional information about your products and services, such as location details, links to pages on your website, and your phone number. Usage of ad extensions increases CTRs as they take up more “real estate” on the search results page. The most popular ad extensions are site link, callout, call, location, and structured snippet extensions.
Paid Search Keywords
Paid search campaigns are all about connecting listings to users’ search queries. Search queries are the words, questions, or phrases used to conduct searches in search engines, whereas marketers use keywords to target consumers based on what they’re searching for. When setting up a paid search campaign, you can decide how closely you want to match search queries to your keywords. Usually, this is accomplished by conducting thorough keyword research.
Paid Search Bids and CPCs
Your bid is the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for your ad to show. This is also known as your Max CPC Bid. When you set your bid, you’re telling Google Ads the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for a click on your ad. You often pay less and can change your bid at any time.
Quality Score is a diagnostic tool that identifies the relevancy of your ad with the keywords you are targeting. The higher the score, the more valuable your ad or landing page is to those being served your ads. Your quality score is then assigned based on the ads analysis of other advertisers using the same keyword during the last 90 days. Three factors determine your score.
- Expected click-through rate (CTR): The Expected click-through rate reflects the likelihood that a user will click on your ad.
- Ad relevance to the query: Your ad copy should directly correlate to the user’s search query.
- Landing page experience: You should provide a remarkable landing page experience by meeting users’ expectations once they click on your ads.
Search queries are the words, questions, or phrases users use to conduct searches, whereas marketers use keywords to target specific search queries. When setting up a campaign using keyword match types, you can decide how closely you want to match search queries to your keywords.
What keywords searchers are using and how their queries are structured are valuable to advertisers. Selecting relevant keywords will help you match your products and services with relevant customers. Consider keywords the backbone of a campaign. The three-match types are Broad, Phrase, and Exact.
- Broad: Broad match is the default keyword match type that reaches the widest possible audience. When using broad match, your ad can appear whenever a user’s search query includes any word in your keyword phrase, in any order, and synonyms of your keyword.
- Phrase: Phrase match keywords serve ads when the user’s search queries to match your keyword exactly as you entered it. However, there may be other words before or after your keyword phrase.
- Exact: Exact match is the most restrictive keyword of the match types. Exact match keywords match the user’s search query exactly, and sometimes a very restrictive set of plurals, synonyms, or other derivatives of your keyword.
Low Search Volume
Low search volume keywords are rarely searched for; therefore, your ads are unlikely to appear for those keywords. It would help if you paused Low search volume keywords within your ad groups as they are unlikely to result in clicks, conversions, or transactions.
It’s not necessary to pause these keywords. However, pausing them makes for a better experience navigating and managing your Google Ads account.
Number of Keywords
It is best practice to have at least 10 to 20 keywords per ad group, with a maximum of 30. SKAG (single keyword ad groups) strategies may apply to some terms. SKAGs can be extremely helpful when keywords are in hyper-competitive ad auctions or their average cost-per-click is extraneously high. In these circumstances, Quality Score can pay huge dividends to the amount you pay per click and pay per acquisition.
Impression Share and Budget
How much you can spend on Google’s (or Bing’s) search engine is directly related to your impression share. Your impression share metric is the number of impressions your ads have received on Google’s Search Network divided by the estimated number of impressions your ads were eligible to receive.
Eligible impressions are estimated using targeting settings, approval statuses, quality, and other factors. Impression share metrics are available for campaigns, ad groups, product groups, and keywords. Impression share is an excellent way to understand whether your ads might reach more people if you increase your bids or budget.
- Search lost impression share rank: how often your ad didn’t show on the Search Network due to poor Ad Rank.
- Search lost impression share budget: estimates how often your ad didn’t show on the Search Network due to low budget.
Quality Score plays a significant role in what position ads appear in the search results and how much you will pay per click. Advertisers don’t see an ad’s actual Quality Score, but Google does show a Quality Score of 1 to 10 at the keyword level in Google Ads. By improving your keyword’s Quality Score, you will improve your cost-per-click (CPC) and may decrease average position, thereby making your campaigns more efficient.
Google’s Expected Click-Through Rate CTR
Google’s expected click-through rate predicts how often an ad will be clicked on when it’s shown. Google relies on click data from millions of people to help them decide which ads are best for each search query.
Ad Landing Page Experience
Highly relevant landing pages that help users find their desired information provide the best landing page experience. Your landing page should be easy to navigate, fast, and transparent about its purpose and how it intends to use personal information, if applicable.
Ad relevance is a barometer of how well an ad matches what the user is searching for and helps ensure that only relevant and valuable ads are shown to the user. It prevents businesses from simply paying their way into a search unrelated to their product or service.
Google Search Network
The Google Search Network consists of the Google search engine and search-related websites and apps. When you serve ads on the Google Search Network, your ads show near search results with terms related to your keywords. These placements include but aren’t limited to, Google search results, sites like Maps, Shopping, and Google Images.
Google Search Partners
Google’s Search Partners Network expands the reach of Google Search ads by serving ads on hundreds of non-Google websites, Google Video, and other sites. Your ads will usually appear on smaller search engines, website-specific search engine results pages, directory pages, and other non-Google pages related to a person’s search queries.
When you set up a campaign, Google serves ads on its search partner network by default. In many scenarios, ads served on the network do not perform as well as those on Google’s Search Network.
Google Display Network
Google’s Display Network consists of over 2 million websites worldwide and reaches over 90 percent of internet users.
Display ads are great for top-funnel objectives such as prospecting, brand awareness, and remarketing, bypassing the highly competitive search market. You will reach more people at lower prices when using display ads on the Google Display Network.
Google Ads recommends these changes based on your optimization score. The optimization score on your Google Ads Recommendations page estimates how well your Search campaigns are set to perform. The score runs from 0% to 100%. The higher your score, the more your account runs to its full potential.
Google Recommendations looks at your account’s performance history, campaign settings, and trends across Google to automatically generate recommendations that could improve campaign performance. The optimization score accompanying these recommendations measures how well your Search campaigns are set to perform. The score runs from 0% to 100%. The higher your score, the more your account runs to its full potential.
Google indexes websites “mobile first” when evaluating search engine ranking and landing page experiences. Your website must work well on mobile, so it’s imperative that you invest now to ensure that your website is mobile-friendly. Below are a few reasons why taking on a “mobile-first” development strategy is crucial to your digital marketing success.
- Mobile-friendly sites rank higher within search engine results pages.
- Mobile searches make up more than half of searches on Google.com.
- Visitors to your website are five times more likely to leave if your site isn’t mobile-friendly.
- 91% of users reported looking up information on their smartphones when they want to know about, find, do, or buy something.
- 82% of smartphone users surveyed consult their phones while in a store deciding which product to buy.
Google offers a slew of audience segments that can be across both its search and display networks.
Google’s Audience Segments
Google created Affinity audiences to help you reach people based on users’ specific interests and “affinities” as they browse the web. These audiences are helpful to you if you’re looking to raise brand awareness and drive consideration amongst affinity groups that have a strong interest in your products and services.
Detailed Demographics expand upon Google’s Ad’s demographic targeting of age, gender, and household income, allowing you to target people based on their education, marital and parental status, and home ownership.
Targeting people by life events allows you to reach users amid important life decisions and milestones. Some of these targeting options include but are not limited to retiring, moving, graduation, and business creation. Life events audiences are not available for video campaigns.
In-market segments are segments created by Google based on signals of purchase intent. Using in-market segments is a powerful way to drive consideration among people actively researching the products or services you offer and whom Google has inferred are in-market to buy them, including those thinking of buying from other places. Some in-market segments include men’s apparel, childcare & education, and luxury vehicles.
Custom Segments (Formerly custom affinity & intent audiences)
Custom segments are audiences that allow marketers to target people online using relevant keywords, URLs, and apps used with Display, Discovery, Gmail, and Video campaigns. Creating custom segment audiences is the most lower funnel marketing tactic that Google offers outside of paid search. While custom segments are available for display and video campaigns, it is not available for use in search campaigns.
Your Data Segments
Remarketing is a great tool to connect with people who previously interacted with your website or app. Remarketing allows you to serve ads to previous site visitors as they browse online, increasing brand awareness and reminding those audiences to make a purchase.
Remarketing Lists for Search Ads
Google Ad’s Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) feature allows you to bid higher for users who conduct further searches after visiting your website or mobile app.
Google Ad’s Customer Match feature allows you to upload customer data into Google Ads and reach those customers and new audience segments across Google’s networks. With Customer Match, you can find your loyal customers, exclude your ads from them and expand your reach to a new audience that shares similar characteristics to your customers.
Similar Audiences helps you find new customers with similar behaviors and characteristics to your remarketing audience segments. Similar Audiences finds people similar to those on an original remarketing “seed” list. The people are similar in profile based on the seed list members’ recent browsing interests, search terms, and videos watched on YouTube.
Paid Search Landing Page
A solid landing page follows the below emotional states, moving the user closer to taking action.
- Grabs Attention: You capture your visitor’s attention with a highly relevant and “tasty” headline.
- Garner’s Interest: Through the use of the video, you gain the interest of your visitor.
- Peek Desire: Desire is created through features and benefits appealing to your visitor’s needs.
- Inspires Action: A strong call-to-action completes the story when your visitor has been convinced your solution meets their needs. It uses contrast and color and defines what you’ll get when you click the button. There is a little extra nudge in the copy beside the button.
The most prominent feature of a landing page is your headline. Your landing page’s headline is the first thing that people see. Your headline must describe what visitors will get from your company and reinforce why they’re there. Ideally, your headline is short, punchy, and clear about what you’re offering or the benefit. If you can, try to use Power Words, numbers, or positive and negative sentiment.
Supporting Headline or Sub-Headline
Your headline can only communicate so much if it’s digestible and compelling. The easiest way to keep your headline short and sweet is to add a sub-headline. The sub-headline or supporting headline supports the headline. It adds more explanation to the headline and brings people one step closer to converting.
Your offer is something of value that captures the visitor’s attention. Your offer is why the person visited your landing page. If you have the right offer for the right audience, it’s a no-brainer for them to convert. Usually, but not always, the offer is the benefit.
Features and Benefit
Your audience isn’t looking for your product or service; they’re looking for the best solution to their problem. If that solution lies within your product, you win. You can differentiate yourself by promising a benefit that aligns with your audience’s solution instead of highlighting features. A single prevailing benefit can be highlighted in your headline, whereas multiple benefits can be presented in a bulleted list.
Sometimes feature are necessary to present, especially with products. When introducing your features, it’s best to frame them to accentuate the benefit(s) they deliver. It’s good to remember that features describe what your product or service does, while benefits describe the value they provide. Features should assist in communicating benefits but not take the place of benefits.
The image and headline are usually the first things people see on your landing page. People’s eyes naturally gravitate towards images, so make sure it’s attention-grabbing, aligns with your benefit, and is memorable. Attempt to raise an emotional response.
Call To Action
A call to action (CTA) is prompt, typically in the form of a prominent hyperlink or button on a landing page, that instructs the user to take some specified action written as an action phrase, such as “Sign Up” or “Buy Now.”
The call to action is critical on your landing page, letting the user know what to do next. Without a prominent and concise call to action, the user may not know the following steps to take and will likely leave the site without taking the action you desire. Poorly created calls to action can add unnecessary friction in moving the user down your marketing funnel.