How to Audit a Google Ads Account: The Ultimate PPC Audit Checklist 2021

Google Ads audit (also known as SEM Audit, or PPC Audit) is a thorough review of your PPC account, highlighting areas negatively affecting your PPC performance. Ideally, answering questions about what kind of results you could expect if you solved the issues.

A PPC account audit is the first step a PPC manager should take when working on a new Google Ads account. The audit results in a clear action plan for how to boost the results as fast as possible. It is recommended to audit PPC accounts regularly, at least once every 3-6 months, depending on account size, to make sure nothing has slipped the manager’s attention.

In this guide, we outline a definitive PPC audit template you may use if you want to audit your Google Ads account. Be aware, though, that manual in-depth PPC account analysis may take quite a while.

The good news is that we have automated this PPC checklist to help you out: you can access it for free and get the resulting PPC audit in PDF in a couple of minutes. You can run our free PPC audit tool here.

Free Google Ads Account Audit

If you prefer to get your hands dirty and learn step by step how to run a Google Ads audit, let’s get started!

A good Google Ads account audit typically consists of multiple parts: first, it’s crucial to check if everything is set up properly and nothing hampers your PPC success – and this is not only relevant to campaigns that have just been created, as things change very quickly in PPC. Next, as the ultimate goal of any audit is not just comparing against best practices but rather converting these findings in monetary value, we need to identify where the PPC budget is being wasted and where the opportunity lies to bring in more conversions or reduce current cost per acquisition.

We can split the Google Ads account audit into 2 parts:

Google Ads Account Structure Audit

This PPC audit section is a checklist where all the issues are listed with the largest potential impact on your Google Ads account health. You can simply go through the points one by one and make sure no mistakes are made in your Google Ads account settings and structure.

Account and Campaign Settings

  Conversion Tracking is enabled. Before everything else, check that conversion tracking is enabled in your PPC account and the conversions are being counted properly. By the way, here’s a great article on the most frequent Google Ads conversion tracking mistakes to help you out.

  Display and Search campaigns are separated. Make sure none of your campaigns are running both on Search and Display networks.

 Sensitive content excluded in Display campaigns. This is imperative to protect your brand image.

  Ad Rotation settings not hampering A/B testing. Check that your campaigns with manual CPC bidding don’t use ‘Rotate indefinitely’ settings and hence, your ads have equal chances of being shown letting you decide which of them works best.

  Mobile apps traffic excluded. Your precious budgets may be leaking to notorious mobile apps due to random clicks users make unintentionally when trying to interact with the app.

Ad Extensions

  At least 3 types of ad extensions are used in each campaign. At this point, it’s probably unnecessary to emphasize once again the importance of ad extensions and their impact on your Ad Rank. The most important, in our opinion, are Sitelinks, Callouts and Structured Snippets (and be aware, that Google Ads can create Automated extensions for you which you have no control over – you may want to opt out of them if you have your manually added ones up and running).

 The minimum required number of ad extensions is used. Typically, it’s recommended to have at least 4 Callout and 4 Sitelink extensions, and 2 Structured Snippets to run A/B testing and over time collect data about best-performing ones.

Keywords

  No conflicting negative keywords. You may lose valuable impressions if your negative keywords block some of your added keywords.

  Keyword match types are properly formatted. If you use match type symbols improperly (e.g., forget adding closing “ or ] symbol) your commands are not filtering incoming traffic in a way you expected.

  Traffic is not diluted by duplicate keywords. Your duplicate or similar keywords are competing against each other and as a result, it takes you much longer to collect stats and draw the right conclusions.

  All keywords are eligible to run. View if any keywords have been disapproved.

  Not too many keywords are used per ad group. If your ad groups have too many keywords per ad group (e.g., above 50) it may cause relevancy issues.

  All ad groups have active keywords. If you work with an account properly and constantly keep pausing/adding/moving around your keywords, at some point some of the ad groups may have no active keywords and hence, not participate in the auction.

  Each search term matches only one ad group. If a search term triggers keywords from different ad groups, you have no control over which ad will show in each case.

  Well converting search terms are added as keywords. This allows you to create more relevant ad copy and select relevant landing pages answering specific search queries.

Negative Keywords

  All negative keywords are properly formatted. Flaws in negative keyword match types may result in not blocking out the unwanted search traffic.

  Negative keywords are managed effectively. If a lot of your campaigns are using the same set of negative keywords, it’s much better to add them as a negative keyword list to avoid redundancies and simplify the workflow.

  All your search campaigns use negative keywords. Unless it’s a very small campaign where you only use a couple of exact match type keywords (and actually, with Google changing how the match types work, even then), without adding negatives you will get search traffic that is not relevant to your keywords.

Landing pages

  All landing pages are accessible, including keyword-level Final URL and Sitelinks. Can you imagine a more frustrating way to waste PPC budgets than paying for a customer only arriving to see your 404 page and bounce away?

  Secure URL used in ads and keywords Final URLs. Not using https is a clear signal to many visitors you don’t protect your customer data (and by some browsers and antivirus software, they may even be blocked from opening).

Ads

  All ads within each ad group are unique. If you have duplicate ads in an ad group, you are depriving yourself of an opportunity to run A/B tests and find the most appealing copy resonating with your users.

  All ad groups have active ads. If you keep working on the account, you will inevitably pause some worse performing ads over time or have some ads disapproved, and eventually, you are likely to miss the moment when an ad group has no more active ads. That means you stop bringing in traffic for keywords in the ad group.

  All ad groups have at least 2 ads. As a rule of thumb, it’s recommended to have multiple ads to be able to test various messages and eventually find the winning proposition.

  All ad groups use the optimum number of ads. Although the best practice is considered to have 3 and more ads per ad group, we recommend sticking to 3, unless you have a huge volume of traffic, otherwise it’s going to take much longer to get reliable A/B test results.

  No outdated ad formats are used. You would be surprised how many accounts are still using Standard Ad Texts that were retired in 2017! This is just another missed opportunity to tell more about your company, as these ads only allow you to express the idea in 95 characters against 270 in Expanded Text Ads.

  All available space in ads is used. Check if all your ETAs are using Headline 3 – this is another way to increase CTR simply because you can convey more with extra 30 characters.

  All ad groups have a Responsive Search Ad. Given the recent Google announcement about deprecating ETAs, it’s about time you started testing RSAs.

  Ad groups with RSA have only 1 ad of this type. We have discovered that having 2 and more RSAs in a single ad group can hamper your results as it may take ages to define winning combinations. Just imagine how many options you are testing with 10 Headlines x 4 descriptions x 2 ads and the amount of traffic you need before you can make data-driven decisions!

  High-quality Responsive Search Ads are used. Clearly, if you are using any RSA, you want to aim to have at least an Average Ad Strength.

  All active ads are eligible to run. Keep an eye on ads that have been disapproved by Google to quickly fix the issues.

Performance and Insights

This Google Ads audit section speaks money – we can now assess how much budget was wasted on irrelevant configuration and how many additional conversions and revenue we can bring in.

How much money could have been saved?

Clearly, almost always defining a winning PPC strategy, including spotting best and worst keywords, landing pages, and placements, takes time. No one can say for sure if it works or not after 3 or 7 clicks or 50 impressions. However, there must be a threshold when we face the truth and accept it’s not working.

Based on the traffic volume, each advertiser may decide to have his own thresholds – e.g., if a keyword has produced 100 clicks and 0 conversions in the last 30 days (by the way, you may find useful this article to better understand the concept of statistical significance in PPC) then maybe the keyword needs to be paused.

Once you have your thresholds in mind, in the Google Ads interface drill into Keywords, Search Terms, Landing Pages, and Placement reports and find out where you are burning budgets.

What is the number 1 action to reduce the CPA?

Once you have enough data to support your decisions, you can clearly see the worst-performing segments that are devouring your budgets – e.g., tablet or mobile traffic, network settings (i.e., Google Search vs Search Partners traffic), audiences, and others. According to the amount of spend, these are typically the quick wins for your PPC accounts: reduce the bid or disable the relevant setting in Google Ads to make sure the losing segment has less or no exposure and your CPA will instantly decrease.

How much traffic is lost due to budget constraints?

When you have fixed all the major issues making you lose money, you are ready to scale. However, before you invest more dollars into your PPC campaigns, you want to calculate how many additional conversions you can expect, given that in many areas overall search volume is not endless.

The metric that will help you out is Search lost impression share (budget). This percentage means which portion of your potentially possible impressions you didn’t receive due to budget restrictions.

Now it’s math time – to translate the lost impression share to impressions you will need to find out the total available impressions volume (by dividing your received impressions by your total impressions with an overall Search impression share) and then calculate lost impressions due to budget. Then, as you know your CTR and Conversion Rate, you can translate the under-received impressions into Clicks and Conversions.

Useful tip: if you follow the same logic for each campaign with a limited budget, you can prioritize campaigns that should receive extra investments to maximize your potential profit.

Are your bids impeding conversions?

Along with losing impression share due to budget restrictions, your ads may not be triggered in all cases due to low Ad Rank. Ad Rank is, in layman’s terms, the evaluation of the relevancy and quality of your ads made by Google every time you take part in an auction. It consists of multiple factors, including your bids and Quality Score (and, by the way, ad extensions also play a role in defining Ad Ranks; so never, never ignore them in your ads – and by now you should have checked your ad extensions in the previous PPC audit checklist section).

As a wise marketer, you only want to increase bids if you see a very high probability of this leading to success, right? So, at this step, you need to filter out well-performing keywords with conversions and acceptable CPA and check if it makes sense to further increase impression share for these keywords by raising bids (because when your keywords are 100% of times at the very first position, eventually your CPA might be too high and not justify chasing for every single click). The metrics to look at are the three search impression share metrics (overall Search impression share, Search top impression share and Search absolute top impression share).

Now, to define how much you should increase the bids, you need to take into account other metrics such as Google estimates for the first page and top page bid on the one hand and Search Lost IS rank, on the other.

Useful tip: you can follow a similar logic to “punish” your worst keywords that are frittering away your budgets by reducing their bids.

Remember, though, that Ad Rank along with the bid, is heavily affected by the Quality Score. So, while raising bids will give you a quick advantage, in the long term you should look for cost-efficient ways of achieving the same results, and that’s where Quality Score analysis comes in.

How can you improve your Quality Score?

Quality Score directly correlates with a cost per click – typically, the lower your Quality Score, the higher price you will be forced to pay for a click.

Ideally, you would want most of your highest spending keywords to have a Quality Score of 7 and above as this is a surefire way to avoid paying inflated costs per click in an attempt to compensate for the low relevance.

If this is not the case, you need to find out which of the three Quality Score subfactors – Landing page quality, Expected CTR, and Ad Relevance – is dragging down the overall number, and to develop an action plan to solve the issue. For example, if your research shows your biggest problem is Ad Relevance, you may want to reorganize your campaigns into more tightly organized ad groups; whereas low Expected CTR may encourage you to run A/B tests for your ad copy. On a side note, if you are interested to learn more about Quality Score, download our free ebook.

To create such a report you would need to export your keyword data and manipulate the Quality Score components data with an Excel file to pinpoint the most problematic ad groups where to focus your efforts.

Now, if you have followed the PPC audit checklist, it’s just a question of compiling all your findings into a single document to present to your client or management.

If you are looking for a Google Ads Audit template, you can have a look at our automated PPC Tool Audit report to inspire you. By linking your Google Ads account you can see the PPC template explained step by step in this article in a few seconds. You can then export your PPC audit into a PDF document or share the link with findings with your team members, managers, or clients.

By the way, you may also find our free PPC reporting Google DataStudio templates useful- it’s another powerful tool to save you tons of time and make your life as a PPC manager easier. Grab your reports here…

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