Google Ads audit: the complete checklist

Supermetrics | Feb 21, 2018
More from Google Ads

20-MINUTE READ · By Tina Arnoldi on February 21, 2018

It’s tough to stay current with Google’s changes while also responding to internal demands at your organization. Whether you recently inherited a poor performing account or are owning up to not having logged into Google Ads in a while, the below steps will guide you in auditing your account, while also noting why these steps are important.

Also, you will see how to use 3 free and easy-to-use Supermetrics Google Sheets reporting templates for the audit: high-level PPC report, historical quality score report and Google Ads & organic keyword performance templates. If you’ve never used Supermetrics templates for Google Sheets, just follow this simple guide.

Task 1: Find out why your company uses Google Ads

Rationale: If the response is “I don’t know”, pause your campaigns while you answer that question. The answer helps you know what to look for in the audit. For example, if it’s to reach prospects only in the United States, you’ll check for locations during your audit.

Task 2: Determine the budget and targeted locations for each campaign

Rationale: If the monthly budget is $3,000, divide that by 30 days for the average month and set a daily budget of $100. (I have some tips in a previous post on what to do with accounts that over- or under-spend their budget.)

Next check the location for the correct cities, states, or countries. Do you want to only reach people who are physically located in your target area or include people who are interested in that area? If my campaign is targeted to people who travel to the United States, then I want people who show interest in the US. If it’s for people who are only in my location, then I choose the middle option below.

Task 3: Compare your campaign structure to the navigation of your website

Rationale: When you’re new to Google Ads, this is a good way to identify if your campaign structure makes sense. (We’ll break this down again for ad groups). A retailer with a single campaign for clothes that sends traffic to the homepage will probably receive clicks for men’s shirts, women’s dresses, and children’s shorts. In that setup, the site visitor then has to click through the site to get to the relevant page. A better experience for shoppers is separate campaigns for men, women, and children. View the below clip for a short overview about account organization.

Task 4: View the number of ad groups for each campaign

Rationale: It also helps to look at your website to see if ad groups are well organized. If you are a retailer with a campaign for men, you should have multiple ad groups in that campaign – such as one ad group for shirts and another group for pants. It’s rare that only one ad group will be enough in a campaign.

Task 5: Review whether it’s clear what a searcher is asked to do after clicking on the ad

Rationale When I tell people to be critical, I don’t mean telling your writer that he or she did a lousy job! An ad can have a catchy message but not tell people what to do upon arriving on the site. Is the action to make a purchase, download a white paper, or fill out a form?

If you’re not clear on what to ask, here are examples of CTAs to get you started. Lunametrics has a cheat sheet on their website to help you think of good action verbs to use in ads and we have some general tips for improving your ad copy in an earlier post.

Task 6: Does the landing page match the ad copy?

Rationale: Let’s go back to the retailer example. If your ad is for women’s spring dresses, does it go right to the page with dresses? Or, does it go to the home page, the women’s clothing page, or the women’s page for year-round dresses.

I’ve had clients who want website visitors to “discover all they have to offer”. I get it. We’re proud of what we do and want people to see it all! But remember that we’re also lazy when it comes to the online world. Just like we do not want to wait for a page to load, we also do not want to click through multiple options to find what we need. Is there a message match? An ad for women’s spring dresses should go directly to the section of the website that shows women’s spring dresses.

Task 7: Note which keyword types are used

Rationale: Keyword types are broad, broad match modifier, phrase, exact, and negative. Broad keyword types have a wide reach which helps with a product or service that’s very niche or difficult to describe. But it can cost a lot of money and bring in irrelevant clicks. You’ll identify this in your account because they are words or phrases without a symbol around them as seen below.

AdWords keyword match types table
If you are in an account that has primarily broad match keywords, I recommend pausing them and using broad match modifier if the budget is not being spent to not be too broad. If your budget is being spent, use phrase match instead of broad because it is a tighter targeting method. To get an overview of how these words performed overtime, you can use the Google Ads Historical Quality Score Reporting Template. (To learn more about keyword types, visit WordStream, AdHawk, and Search Engine Watch.).

After you have checked the quality score of your keywords, it is highly recommended to track how individual keywords are performing organically and in PPC marketing campaigns. Google Ads & Organic Keyword Performance Template is an easy way to do it: just choose the campaign and the time range together with the question you are seeking an answer to (from the drop-down menu) to see the relevant keywords and metrics in the table below.

google ads and organic keyword performance spreadsheet

Task 8: Review trends for your key metrics

Rationale: If an account was active for a while and recently turned over to you, use the High Level PPC Report template for a snapshot of performance. I used it for an account that it was given to me and not managed for most of the year.

Once I ran the report, I selected clicks, cost, CPC, and impressions as seen below which shows it was not performing well. Now I have a baseline so I can compare performance in a couple months.

high-level ppc report google sheets
There’s more to an account audit then only these steps, but this will get you started. Once you understand the goals of the account, look at the budget and location to see if that matches the plan internally. This is the quickest step to save some money and the above template will give you an overview of performance.

Next, compare your existing campaign and ad group structure to your website to determine if it is well organized. If that looks good, notice if your ads have a clear action step and lead to the right landing page. Audit your keywords and consider pausing some of the more expensive ones – at least temporarily – if you have a limited budget and they do not bring a return as well as trying different match types.

Task 9: Use location extensions

Rationale: People still search locally even though implicit terms like nearby and closest in Google have declined. For searchers, local relevance is expected, but not always overtly requested. At least 60% of clicks on a location extension were for directions or more information about a location. Don’t miss out on an opportunity for your ad to stand out against local competitors who do not use location extensions. (Also make sure your Google My Business page is updated so you can connect it to Google Ads).

Task 10: Target audiences with observations

Rationale: There are multiple ways to reach target audiences with Google Adssuch as Similar Audiences, Google Analytics segments, and Smart Lists. For now, we’ll look at Observations since that does not impact the reach of an existing campaign.

Google Ads targeting
An Observation provides data about how different audiences engage with your campaign without impacting the existing targeting for it. (And if no one on your team knows about this feature, you’ll look like a rockstar for including this feature). I’ll walk you through it in the below example.

For previous visitors to the website in a specific account (All Users), I adjusted the bid up by 20%. Compare this to email marketing, where you contact people who already know you to share a new offering. It’s similar with ObservationsAll users are people have been to this site and I want to bring them back when they search on Google. I now have data about segments of site visitors that could potentially be used in a separate RLSA campaign down the road.

Google Ads observations

Task 11: Look for negative keywords

Rationale: Accounts that are not managed regularly are often missing negative keywords, which are the words you do not want to have trigger your ad. This can be very costly to an account if not monitored. As part of the audit, you won’t create a negative keyword list or add negative keywords. At this point, you are only checking for their use.

When you click on Keywords In the left column of Google Ads, you’ll see search keywords, negative keywords, and search terms on the right. Click on negative keywords.

Google Ads negative keywords
In that section, there should words that have been excluded from the account or added to a negative keyword list in the Shared Library.

Google Ads negative keyword lists
When an account does not have a negative keywords list or individual phrases added, I next look at the keywords to see how costly this might be. If my keyword match type is broad match for all the keywords in a campaign, I know there are probably a number of irrelevant searches that are costing a client money. (Logical Position has a thorough explanation of keyword match types.)

Task 12: Check for n-grams

Rationale: Huh? That was my response too when I first heard of them. Adalysis states that n-grams analyze the instances of a word or phrase across all query data. In Google Sheets, you can easily glance at the terms that triggered an ad so you can analyze word performance throughout your search queries. Much easier than a single instance at a time.

In the below account, you can see the word wiki is one of the terms used along with primary search terms (which have been grayed out since this is client data). When I hover over the word wiki (bottom left), I see searches where wiki was included and that one of the primary target keywords with the word wiki resulted in 39 conversions. The word wiki with other phrases in the account did not result in conversions so I may want to pause those words and focus on the phrase that does result in conversions.

Google Ads n-grams
I recognize you are auditing the account and perhaps not the person making changes. However, this is a valuable insight for you to share – especially since this feature is somewhat hidden. (You’ll find it in the Overview tab toward the bottom in the Searches section).

Task 13: Check the landing page experience

Rationale: It’s okay that you are not a developer. This step is not technical but an important metric for overall ad performance – and only takes a minute. Select Landing pages on the left side of Google Ads and see what the mobile experience is for the campaign. If the mobile-friendly click rate is low, you’ll want to note that in your audit write-up.

Task 14: Look for Google Ads rules

Rationale: Google Ads rules can be a big time saver and are set up in the Bulk Actions section of Google Ads.

Google Ads rules
I frequently use a rule to raise bids to first page CPC if they drop below the first page as seen in the below screenshot. This decreases the manual time spent optimizing an account. You can see other use cases for rules in a post I wrote for ASPE.

To recap, here’s a list of your tasks:

  1. Find out why your company uses Google Ads.
  2. Determine the budget and targeted locations for each ad.
  3. Compare your campaign structure to the navigation of your website.
  4. View the number of ad groups for each campaign.
  5. Review the ads with a critical eye.
  6. Make sure the landing page matches your ad copy.
  7. Note which keyword types are used.
  8. Review trends for your key metrics.
  9. Check for location extensions if the business is local.
  10. Add audiences as observations. (You will not impact the reach if you do observation rather than targeting).
  11. Note if negative keywords are used.
  12. See if n-grams stand out as good ones and if there are some to consider pausing.
  13. Look at the landing page data to see how it performs on mobile.
  14. If rules are not used, offer some suggestions for Google Ads rules.

About Tina Arnoldi

Tina Arnoldi is Analytics and AdWords Qualified and one of the few people in the United States recognized as a Google Developer Expert(GDE) for marketing. Her agency, 360 Internet Strategy, is also a Google Partner. You can learn more about her on LinkedIn

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