PPC campaigns may be the golden goose of your digital marketing strategy — but without a PPC audit, how would you know?

Here, you’ll find:

  • What a PPC audit is
  • How audits can aid in your PPC marketing management
  • Experts tips for conducting paid search audits
  • How often you should audit your PPC program

There are plenty of moving parts that come with running successful paid search (also called pay-per-click or PPC) campaigns. 

Sometimes, it can feel like balancing spinning plates while trying to ride a unicycle, Cirque du Soleil-style. Add that to all the other tasks on your to-do list, and the set-it-and-forget-it strategy starts to look appealing.

But the truth is, the most effective PPC campaign you can run is one that you’re consistently analyzing, testing, and improving. That’s where an audit comes in. 

Here, Jordan Fultz, one of our expert SEM managers, breaks down the ins and outs of PPC audits — and why they’re worth your time.

person riding a unicycle in front of a sunset

Audits are one of the most effective ways to assess your PPC efforts. (Image: Unsplash)

What is a PPC audit?

A PPC audit is a detailed look into your PPC account to assess performance, strengths, weaknesses, and what could be tweaked for better results.

Whether your account is a rousing success or underperforming, PPC audits can benefit your marketing program. 

Why you should conduct a PPC audit

Think of all the campaign settings, keywords, ad groups, and components of your PPC campaigns. Each one demands your attention every quarter.

Yeah, we know it’s tedious.

But a PPC audit can be the eureka moment to find improvement opportunities you may have missed and scale your ad performance. This is particularly true if you’ve been working with the same account for a long time.

PPC audits help marketers:

  • Maximize ROI on PPC campaigns
  • Analyze conversion rates and other metrics
  • Assess ad performance for Google ad accounts
  • Correct settings mistakes costing companies higher ad spends
  • Collect data for marketing and performance reports
  • Decrease CPC (cost per click) and CPA (cost per acquisition)
  • Increase CTR (clickthrough rate)

While it may sound painstaking to analyze each element, it’s key to ensure your PPC is as high-performing as possible and you’re not wasting money. After all, what business wouldn’t want to cut ad spend, reach targeted audiences, and increase revenue?

Getting granular with settings is how you do it.

Pro tip: While quick wins will likely be found during these audits, the process as a whole is a long-term investment that should be honed and repeated for best results.

group of professionals discussing a ppc audit

During a PPC audit, it’s a good idea to go through every tab, view, and setting in your paid search accounts. (Image: Unsplash)

How to conduct a PPC audit in 10 steps

Your first step? Set aside a day or two for your PPC audit.

You have lots of ground to cover, so keep this checklist handy to make the process efficient and headache-free.

1. Double-check conversion tracking settings

Conversion tracking offers valuable insights about ad performance and customer actions after clicking an ad — purchases, email signups, phone calls, app downloads, and more. 

You could be crushing your PPC campaigns and wouldn’t know if you weren’t tracking conversions. That’s why the first step of any PPC audit is to confirm you’re tracking everything properly. 

But hang on, didn’t I already set this up when I opened the account? 

Probably, but it doesn’t hurt to double-check. 

If you didn’t install conversion settings or made errors throughout the process, you might not catch all your conversions. Look for these red flags in your conversion tracking settings: 

  • Notice any “unverified” or “inactive” statuses? Google’s Tag Assistant can help with debugging. 
  • Confused about uncharacteristically low conversions, or worse — none for an account? First, ensure each account has a conversion tracking code and link everything to Google Analytics. Otherwise, you may be tracking website conversions and phone calls but neglecting to track app downloads. Or any other similar combination. 
  • Do conversion figures feel super high or match your click rates? Perhaps you’ve forgotten to remove legacy tags that are causing double counts. Or, you’re tracking home page visits over order pages.

2. Assess PPC account structure 

Your account structure organizes your ads, campaigns, and keywords. We’ll dive deeper into keywords shortly, but let’s start with account structure, specifically naming conventions. 

Do you have coherent, logical names for the following: 

  • Campaigns: Campaign names should adequately describe the campaign type, theme, location, and product or service. E.g., Search – Branded — Skin Cleanser — USA
  • Ad groups: We can’t stress enough the power of skimmable content. That’s vital for both published content and PPC ads. Categorize ad group names with a clear, relevant keyword. While we’re on the topic of ad groups, check how many ads fall into each one. If you only have one, it’s time to test some variations.
  • Campaign themes: Again, categorization is your friend. Separate campaigns by theme, including branded, generic, location, and match type.
  • Labels: These are great for further filtering, especially for e-commerce retailers or businesses with many products.

3. Review keywords & search terms

Every quarter, you should revisit your positive and negative keywords — and your PPC audit is a great time to do this. But the keywords themselves aren’t the only thing impacting CTRs and conversions. 

  • Keyword quality scores: Always aim for scores of six to 10 or higher. Low scores mean it’s probably a good time to update your keyword list. Ensure each ad group has directly related keywords to avoid generic ad copy. 
  • Primary keywords: Fit them into the display URL, paths, ad copy, and descriptions.  
  • Keyword Numbers: Aim for 5-10, but try not to exceed 10. 
  • Negative keywords: Being bunched into irrelevant search results can skyrocket your CPC. Use search term reports to inform your negative keyword list and flag anything unrelated to your products. Additionally, mix up keyword match types to reduce your chances of appearing in unwanted results. 
  • Longtail keywords: Don’t shy away from these behemoths. They might look long and surface as questions, but they are more personalized—great for generating more leads. 
  • Varied match types: Use a mix of phrase and exact match types to balance volume and relevance.

Additionally, PPC audits should involve a thorough search term review to determine where your traffic goes and if there are any trends or surprises. This can fill in gaps from keyword research. 

Then, using that data, you can decide if more negative keywords or account restructuring would optimize the account. (Keep in mind that Google tends to hide approximately 30% of search terms because Google doesn’t think they’re relevant.)

If you’re looking for tasks to offload to free up crucial time, consider partnering with experts hellbent on your success. 

HawkSEM is at the ready with SEM services like keyword research and optimization. Less stress, more visibility. Win-win!

4. Analyze ad copy

We’ve talked about PPC ad settings and analytics, but what about the meat of your ads? I’m talking about content.

Every PPC audit should include a detailed review of each ad’s content. Look out for: 

  • Keywords: Promote ad relevance by including keywords in your ad copy.
  • Logic, Spelling, and Grammar: Do your ads have outdated offers, times, or dates? If so, remove them, or update them to be evergreen. Include a quick spelling and grammar check as well. 
  • Images: Are you relying only on text ads? You might be excluding visual consumers, who respond better to images. This is especially vital for highly technical services that might be harder to convey through copy. Make sure each image meets size and pixel requirements for Google. 
  • CTA (call-to-action): CTAs persuade your audience to check out your products or services. Now’s the time to ensure every ad has one! Need inspiration to ensure your CTAs boost engagement? Check out Forbes’ roundup of the top CTAs in history!  
  • Google Ad Guidelines: Google has a long list of ad policies, including restricted content and technical requirements. Compare any low-performing ads with Google’s ad policies in your PPC audit

5. Optimize ad extensions

Notice any ads slinking away from your audience’s visibility? Extensions offer browsers more info about your product. Plus, they’re built-in (free) and don’t increase ad spend

Google offers automated extensions that you can review in one tab — remove or improve the ones with low performance. 

You can also add manual tabs (and adjust automated tabs) to suit your ad goals. At a minimum, try to include three of these extensions: 

  • Sitelinks: These might include links to contact forms, sales landing pages, pricing pages, testimonials, and more. They should link to pages with the same domain as your ad. 
  • Snippets: Add a short and sweet description to give your audience a quick preview of your offerings.
  • Lead form: Itching for subscribers to your email list? Add a lead form extension! You might want to offer an incentive, like a free value-add or discount. Promotion extensions also work well. 
  • Callouts: Callouts are similar to CTAs and highlight pertinent product info. They usually come toward the end of a snippet. Just ensure they’re under the 25-character limit.
  • Locations: Eager for web searchers to visit your local brick-and-mortar? A location extension gives them the necessary information while appealing to convenience-focused customers in the neighborhood. 
  • Phone call extensions: What if searchers don’t click on your ad? Reel them in with a phone number. If they call, that’s a great conversion. Remember to enable call reporting to see if the extension works for you.
  • Images: A picture is essential for visual businesses, like clothing retailers, makeup manufacturers, artists, and other creative companies. 

All set with ad extensions? These are some ideas, but don’t feel obligated to add a bunch of extensions to every ad. Instead, use extensions to promote ad relevance, complement your business, and support your goals. 

For example, location extensions are great for showrooms and in-person purchases but don’t add value to an e-commerce store. Likewise, sitelinks extensions to your contact page might not be the best choice if you want to highlight a promotion on a sales landing page.

6. Audit sales landing pages

E-commerce store owners, we’re talking to you. How many sales landing pages do you have right now? Chances are, a product might be sold out, discontinued, and irrelevant to web searchers, which could lower your ad rank.

Ad Quality Scores have a separate tab to include landing page quality in your reports. Use it to improve visibility and pump up ad performance.

7. Review bid strategy

What’s your ultimate goal with Google Ads? Of course, conversions are a top priority for most, but you might be after more specific goals, like increased clickthrough rate or impressions.

Bid adjustments can tweak your strategy to better reach your bottom line.

Check out the following bid strategies and corresponding goals:

  • CPC Bidding: Web traffic and clicks
  • Smart bidding: Conversions and direct actions
  • CPV (cost per view) or CPM (cost per thousand impressions) bidding: Views and interactions with video ads; Product and brand consideration
  • vCPM (cost per thousand viewable impressions): Brand awareness

Content goals evolve with time, so your bidding strategies should reflect that. Check out Google’s guidelines for more bidding info.

8. Listen to ROI & ROAS

Your ad campaigns work for you, but how hard? ROI (return on investment) and ROAS (return on ad spend) calculations help you distinguish the money-makers from poor performers.

Ruler Analytics shares a quick, easy formula for ROI:

ROI = 100 ((Revenue – Expenses)/Expenses)

Expenses include ad spend, labor, tech costs, and everything else you spend related to your ads.

ROAS is slightly different but equally important. Short for “Return on Ad Spend,” ROAS narrows down individual ad performance and tells you how much revenue you make for every ad dollar.

Here’s how you calculate it:

ROAS = Ad spend revenue/Ad spend

Notice any less than savory numbers? Might be time to cut a campaign or improve it.

When you do, aim for:

  • 25-50% ROI
  • 2.87:1 ROAS

9. Inspect targeting settings

What’s the difference between hitting a bull’s eye on the target board and missing the board entirely? In the PPC world, not much. 

That’s why targeting settings are the final and arguably most important part of the PPC audit

A simple PPC error could mean your ad wins a game of hide and seek with your audience…yikes. 

Avoid this scenario (and hefty ad spend) by reviewing these targeting settings: 

  • Location targeting: Do you sell delicious, packaged cupcakes? Maybe you dream of a global audience, but you’ll waste thousands without converting high-interest leads. To avoid this loss, narrow in on local audiences by city or state (and state might be pushing it). Remember to download a geo report during every PPC account audit, which tells you where your audience is. Finally, up the ante with IP exclusions. For example, exclude IP addresses from Georgia (former Soviet republic) if you sell kids’ toys in Georgia, USA.
  • Device: Working with display and video campaigns? Streamline ads by device, making them visible on tablets, mobile devices, or any others that make sense for your campaign. 
  • Timing: Sometimes, ads perform better at certain times of the day. For example, alcohol delivery service ads might fare better after the liquor stores close. Use Google’s Ad Schedule to toggle date and time settings. 
  • Remarketing: Repeat site visitors are essential segments to track. Ad campaigns might target remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) more aggressively since the searchers demonstrate greater interest. 

10. Check for outdated scripts or rules

Sometimes, accounts have old scripts or rules running that can undermine current projects. 

To check for outdated scripts:

  • Login to Google Ads
  • On the top of the menu, click on “Tools & Settings” (the wrench icon in top right)
  • Under “Bulk Actions” you can find “Scripts” and “Rules”

Take a look through and consider what rules should be retried — and what new ones might be worth a shot.

PPC Audit Checklist

Ready to hunker down and audit your heart out? Great! Here’s your go-to PPC audit quick list.

Conversion Tracking Settings

  • ▢ Resolve Unverified or Inactive statuses with Tag Assistant
  • ▢ Link PPC data to Google Analytics
  • ▢ Ensure each account has a conversion tracking code
  • ▢ Track website conversions, phone calls, app downloads, and any other actions
  • ▢ Remove legacy tags
  • ▢ Track order confirmations over home page visits

Account Structure

  • ▢ Update keyword list
  • ▢ Ensure ad groups have directly related keywords
  • ▢ Add primary keywords to display URL and paths, as well as ad copy
  • ▢ Ensure 15-20 keywords per ad group, but don’t exceed 20
  • ▢ Review query reports to find potential negative keywords
  • ▢ Mix up keyword match types
  • ▢ Add longtail keywords

Ad Content

  • ▢ Ensure each ad has an ad extension (ideally three)
  • ▢ Review automated ad extensions and remove low-performing ones
  • ▢ Ensure sitelinks match ad page domain
  • ▢ Ensure callouts are under 25 characters
  • ▢ Add location extensions when relevant for local audiences
  • ▢ Enable call reporting for phone call extensions
  • ▢ Add image extensions
  • ▢ Align ad extensions with business goals and situation

Sales Landing Pages

  • ▢ Review geo reports
  • ▢ Add IP exclusions
  • ▢ Optimize locations for relevant audiences
  • ▢ Add device targets where relevant (display and video campaigns)
  • ▢ Add time settings where relevant with Google Ad Schedule
  • ▢ Use remarketing campaigns for repeat visitors

Scripts and Rules

    How often should you conduct a PPC audit?

    Generally speaking, planning for a quarterly PPC audit is a good place to start. But your specific frequency will depend on a few factors — namely:

    • Your business needs
    • Your PPC account’s age
    • The size of your team
    • Fundamental changes or updates to Google Ads

    Once you go through the process a few times and get a feel for what you want out of your audits, you can then develop your own schedule that meets your needs. After a few quarterly audits, you may find your business needs them more or less frequently.

    At HawkSEM, we use ConversionIQ to audit client campaigns. This platform syncs all digital marketing data into one dashboard, so we can measure campaign performance, the customer journey, and make informed optimization decisions. 

    person using a rock climbing wall indoors

    Nobody feels good after spending months on PPC efforts just to realize optimizations have been made based on misleading data. (Image: Unsplash)

    Pro tip: If you decide to partner with an agency for your PPC, they’ll likely want to conduct an audit. If it’s not a good time for changes to be made (such as during peak season), you may want to consider partnering at a time when you won’t be sweating each change.

    The takeaway 

    PPC campaigns thrive with awareness… and die with complacency. A PPC audit is the refresh your ad campaign needs to awaken with fresh eyes on your audience.

    Don’t get us wrong, PPC audits are tedious and time-consuming. But every digital marketer needs them for visible, audience-grabbing ad campaigns.

    PPC account audits are immense learning experiences for every marketer, and you’ll glean invaluable insights that’ll help you optimize your ads to be more targeted and efficient.

    But if you just can’t squeeze in the time? Put us in, coach. We’re here to help with PPC management — just say the word.

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

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Christina Lyon

Christina Lyon

Christina Lyon is an entrepreneur and writer from sunny SoCal. She leads Lyon Content, a tight-knit team of bold creatives, and crafts engaging written content that helps brands sparkle and scale.