A Google Ads audit is an in-depth review of your Google Ads campaigns. The aim is to gather information to effectively optimize and enhance its performance. We created this 8-step guide to help you conduct a Google Ads audit like the pros.

Here, you’ll find:

  1. Check your goals and account structure
  2. Audit your account structure
  3. Examine your keywords
  4. Evaluate ad copy and creative elements
  5. Optimize your landing pages
  6. Fine-tune your conversion tracking
  7. Review bid strategies and budget allocation
  8. Conduct a competitive analysis

Bonus:

How well is your Google Ads campaign performing?

Without an audit, you will never know.

We spoke with HawkSEM’s CEO, Sam Yadegar, about how to perform a thorough Google Ads audit to optimize your campaign performance.

hawksem blog - google ads audit

Much like a content or overall PPC audit, a Google Ads audit reviews every aspect of your account. (Image: Unsplash)

How to conduct a Google Ads audit: Your 8-step audit checklist

Follow this step-by-step guide to conduct your next Google Ads audit.

1. Check your goals and account structure

You need to go into your audits with an action plan. That means making sure you have solid goals in terms of traffic and conversions so you can see how you’re currently measuring up. (Of course, your goals may change as your business grows.)

When setting your goals, be SMART about it—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Here are some questions to guide your goal-setting process:

  • What specific action do you want users to take? Are you looking for more website visits, product purchases, newsletter signups, or lead generation? The more specific you are, the better you can tailor your audit to identify areas of improvement.
  • How will you measure success? Whether it’s through conversion rates, click-through rates (CTR), quality score, or return on ad spend (ROAS), deciding on KPIs upfront will help you evaluate your campaign’s performance effectively. Yadegar says you should focus on these eight KPIs during your audit.
  • Are your goals achievable with your current budget and resources? It’s essential to set realistic goals that match your budgetary constraints and the competitive landscape of your industry.
  • How do your Google Ads goals align with your overall business objectives? Ensure that your advertising efforts support broader business goals, whether that’s brand awareness, market expansion, or customer retention.
  • What is your timeline? Setting a clear timeframe helps you manage expectations and measure outcomes effectively. Whether it’s a quarterly, bi-annual, or annual goal, a timeline keeps you on track.

Remember, your Google Ads campaign goals can vary significantly depending on your business model, digital marketing strategy, products or services, and target audience. A B2B software company might focus on lead generation, while an e-commerce brand might prioritize sales and ROAS.

2. Audit your account structure

A well-organized account structure is critical for the success of your Google Ads campaigns. It impacts everything from your quality score to ad relevance, influencing both performance and cost-effectiveness.

Evaluate campaigns and ad groups

Begin by checking your campaign settings and reviewing the structure of your campaigns and ad groups. Ask yourself:

  • Do your campaigns align with your marketing objectives? For instance, you should have separate campaigns for different product lines, services, or business goals (such as brand awareness vs. lead generation).
  • Are your ad groups tightly themed? Ad groups should be organized around a small set of closely related keywords. This specificity allows for more targeted ad copy and landing pages, ensuring that highly relevant ads are shown for specific keywords and that the quality score is high.
  • Is there overlap between ad groups or campaigns? Keyword overlap can lead to self-competition, driving up costs and diluting your performance data.

Keyword organization

Once you’ve assessed your campaigns and ad groups, take a look at your keyword strategy:

  • Are your keywords relevant to the ad group’s theme? Ensure that each keyword is directly related to the ad group’s focus to maintain high relevance across your ads.
  • Have you included both broad and specific keywords? A mix of broad, phrase, and exact-match keywords can help you balance reach and relevance.
  • Are negative keywords being used properly? Negative keywords prevent your ads from showing on irrelevant search queries, saving your budget for more qualified leads.
  • Are you using branded keywords? Branded keywords are where your paid search and search engine optimization (SEO) strategies come together.

Based on your review, take steps to refine your account structure:

  • Consolidate overlapping ad groups and campaigns.
  • Split large ad groups into smaller, more focused ones.
  • Regularly review and adjust your keyword lists. Add new relevant keywords and prune low-performing or irrelevant ones.
  • Implement a consistent naming convention. This helps you quickly identify the purpose of each campaign and ad group at a glance, making management and reporting easier.

3. Examine your keywords

Start by identifying your keywords’ performance metrics. Key metrics to consider include CTR, conversion rate, CPC, and Quality Score.

Here’s how to approach this:

  • Review CTR and conversion rates: High CTRs indicate that your keywords are relevant to your audience, while high conversion rates suggest that the traffic driven by these keywords is valuable. Identify which keywords are driving the most valuable actions.
  • Evaluate Quality Scores: A high Quality Score means Google thinks your keyword is relevant to your ad and landing page. This often means lower costs and better ad positions.
  • Review CPC: Understand which keywords are cost-effective and which are draining your budget.
  • Dive into the search query report: It’s important to look beyond the keywords themselves to the queries they trigger. This will allow you to ensure the search intent is correct and that you’re reaching your target audience.

Ten or fewer relevant keywords per ad group is ideal. It’s also wise to leverage negative keywords. This will help better qualify your clicks, reduce irrelevance, and keep queries from triggering ads in multiple groups.

After all, your ad groups should complement, not compete with, each other. An effective way to measure this is by checking search term cross-pollination. Few queries should trigger multiple groups.

And don’t forget about match-type keywords as well. Too often, companies will stick to just running broad match keywords, which can result in high ad spend on unqualified queries.

Need more Google Ads guidance? We’d love to help.

4. Evaluate ad copy and creative elements

Your ads are the face of your PPC campaigns; they need to:

  • Capture attention
  • Communicate value
  • Encourage clicks
  • Stand out from the competition

Review ad copy for relevance and clarity

Your ad copy should clearly articulate the value proposition and be directly relevant to the keywords in each ad group. It should answer the user’s query or offer a solution to their problem.

Include a strong call-to-action (CTA). This should be compelling and direct, guiding users on what action you want them to take next. For example, learn more, sign up, get a quote, or make a purchase.

Test Creative Variations

  • A/B testing: Regularly test different headlines, descriptions, and display URLs to see what combinations perform best. Even small changes can significantly impact click-through and conversion rates. “[I like to test] offers, price points, call to action, emotional messaging vs. time sensitive, social proof,” says Yadegar.
  • Use ad extensions: Leverage ad extensions to provide additional information and ways for users to interact with your ad, such as site links, callouts, structured snippets, and call extensions.

5. Optimize your landing pages

6. Fine-tune your conversion tracking

7. Review bid strategies and budget allocation

8. Conduct a competitive analysis

Google Ads campaigns can be a serious ROI driver — if your program is optimized, that is. 

Here you’ll find:

  • How to audit your Google Ads
  • When you should conduct a paid search audit
  • PPC audit mistakes to avoid
  • Next steps after your Google Ads audit is complete

Letting your Google Ads campaign run on autopilot without much thought might be alright… for a little while

But think of your campaigns like a car: Without regular tune-ups and gas refills, you’re bound to end up on the side of the road, watching others (like your competitors) pass you by.

Too many businesses launch a digital ads program and then simply let it run without any changes, optimization, or even further testing. Your PPC ROI inevitably drops over time, but inertia can keep a campaign running long after its expiration date.

Google Ads campaigns are no exception. No matter how well your ads are set up in the first place, it’s vital to run a periodic Google Ads audit — along with a complete paid search audit across ad platforms. 

This can help you establish whether your account is still performing as it should be, and what changes could be made to improve it. A PPC audit can also help you spot mistakes that may be buried under iterative changes.

hawksem blog - google ads audit

Much like a content or overall PPC audit, a Google Ads audit reviews every aspect of your account. (Image: Unsplash)

When to conduct a Google Ads audit

If you’ve never conducted a Google Ads audit before, now is a great time to start! 

After the initial audit, performing a new one on a quarterly basis should be sufficient. 

On the other hand, resist the temptation to audit your ads program too often so you have time to gather a good amount of data. 

Pro tip: Stay up-to-date with the latest Google Ads updates. They often add useful features, capabilities, and analytics to make your ads and/or Google paid search audit more effective.  

4 steps to a Google Ads audit

Much like a content or overall PPC audit, a Google Ads audit reviews every aspect of your account. It’s a time when you assess the strength of your Google Ads program as a whole to ensure your efforts are cohesive and well-aligned, not working against one another.

Let’s break down the steps.

1. Check your goals and account structure

You need to go into your audits with an action plan. That means making sure you have solid goals in terms of traffic and conversions, so you can see how you’re currently measuring up. (Of course, your goals may change as your business grows.) 

Next, you want to check the structure of your account, ensuring that your campaigns and ad groups are organized correctly and that your reporting is accurate. 

Location settings and device targeting also need to be correctly configured.

2. Nail down your bid strategy

Make sure you’re using the right bid strategy, budget, and delivery methods. This part of the audit will show you if there are high-performing campaigns worth allocating more of your budget towards. 

Perhaps you’re spending too little on certain ads or using a bid strategy that made sense at an earlier point in your company’s growth. Make sure you have the right budget in terms of cost per click (CPC) and that you’re spending the right amount on each group.

Bid adjustments are also helpful. They help you target conditions under which your ads perform best. For example, if your audience is teens and their parents, then your ads are likely to perform better in the evenings when they aren’t at work or school. 

If your business only has locations in one geographic area, you can adjust your bids to show more ads to people in that location.  

Pro Tip: Confused about the types of bid strategies available? Google will make recommendations based on your campaign performance to guide you in the right direction. (As with everything else, though, be sure to monitor performance and avoid leaving the campaigns on autopilot.)

3. Examine your keywords

Ten or fewer relevant keywords per ad group is ideal. It’s also wise to make sure you’re leveraging negative keywords. This will help better qualify your clicks, reduce irrelevance, and will keep queries from triggering ads in multiple groups. 

After all, your ad groups should complement, not compete with, each other. An effective way to measure this is by checking search term cross-pollination. Few queries should trigger multiple groups.

And don’t forget about match-type keywords as well. Too often, companies will stick to just running broad match keywords, which can result in high ad spend on unqualified queries.

Need more Google Ads guidance? We’d love to help.

4. Dig into campaign and ad performance

Check for underperforming or low-quality ads to evaluate, change, or potentially remove. This is also the time to make sure there aren’t technical issues interfering with poor-performing ads. 

It’s a good idea to have two ad variations in each group for A/B testing and rotate frequently to avoid audience fatigue. 

Responsive search ads (RSAs) can help you identify ad elements that are served most often. This way,  you can determine which ones are seen the most. 

One way to figure out what strategy is working best is to compare the highest and lowest performing ads. Barring technical causes, see what differences in your creative, copy, keywords, or structure might be making them resonate less with your audience.

Also, ensure all calls to action (CTAs) are direct and relevant. You can experiment with different wording to see what gets your audience to click.

This stage is a good time to ask questions like:

  • What happens when somebody clicks on your ad? 
  • Is your landing page clear with a good headline and call to action? 
  • Do you have the right number of landing pages? 
  • Do your forms work and provide a “thank you” message? 
  • Does the conversion page properly track views? 
  • Are conversions tracking correctly?  
  • Do you have a solid mobile strategy? 

Pro tip: During your audit, make sure you’re not double-counting conversions. It happens more than you’d think.

hawksem: google ads audit article

Audits are an effective way to be confident that your ad campaign isn’t stagnant or lagging. (Image: Rawpixel)

What to avoid during a Google Ads audit

There are a few don’ts when it comes to any audit, most of which have to do with what happens once the audit is complete.

Audits aren’t a one-and-done project (if only!). While your first one will provide helpful insights, planning regular repeat audits will not only ensure you’re optimizing your program, but it’ll be easier once the first one is done.

Also, don’t feel like you need to fix things during the audit. Unless you uncover some kind of critical issue — such as somebody uploading the wrong set of keywords for an ad group — you don’t want to stop the audit until it’s complete. 

The finished report is likely to show you a more efficient way of doing so as different parts of your account and campaigns reference each other.

Pro tip: If you have high account or ad volume, audits can be more challenging. Google’s new disapproved ads auditor can help. It was released in early 2022 to help advertisers view disapproved ads across all accounts at once. The destination requirements policy changed a few months later to clarify the disapproval reasons and make necessary changes easier.

What to do after a Google Ads audit

After the Google audit is complete, you can go through the report and develop an action plan to address any issues that were uncovered. 

It can be helpful to create a doc of key takeaways and performance metrics, along with the strengths and weaknesses of your current Google Ads campaigns. 

From there, you can plan a virtual meeting (if you work with a team) to discuss the key points and determine what actions to take and when.

Obviously, crucial issues discovered during your PPC audit should be dealt with right away, so your action plan should include prioritization to ensure that you deal with things in an optimal manner. 

The takeaway

Leaving your Google Ads account to run on automation and algorithms can result in leaving money on the table. Periodic audits are an effective way to be confident that your ad campaign isn’t stagnant or lagging.  

Audits can help you move to the next level of marketing, keep your advertising strategy evolving with your needs and budget, and greatly improve your sales and conversions.

It takes time and effort, but it’s worth it to know your paid search ads are the best they can be. 

This article has been updated and was originally published in June 2020.

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Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.