Written by Caroline Cox on May 5, 2020

In the competitive paid search landscape, “set it and forget it” just won’t cut it.

Here, you’ll find:

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

We know there are the moving parts that come with running successful paid search 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 best, most profitable PPC campaign you can run is one that you’re consistently analyzing, testing, and improving. That’s where a PPC audit comes in. Here, Jordan Fultz, one of our esteemed SEM managers, breaks down the ins and outs of PPC audits — and why they’re worth your time.

HawkSEM: PPC audits

It’s easy to let PPC audits fall to the back-burner when you’re juggling multiple projects, but they’re one of the most effective ways to assess your PPC efforts. (Image via 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, it’s worth conducting a PPC audit. 

It’s easy to let PPC audits fall to the back-burner when you’re juggling multiple projects. But they’re one of the most effective ways to find things in your paid search efforts you may have missed. This is particularly true if you’ve been working with the same account for a long period of time.

Why you should conduct a PPC audit

Multiple elements and settings go into a paid search campaign. That means they all deserve consideration and a closer look when you’re strategizing. It’s easy for subtle settings to function under the radar — even for experienced account managers. 

While it may sound painstaking to analyze each element, it’s key to ensuring your PPC is as high-performing as possible and you’re not wasting spend. After all, what business wouldn’t want to cut spend while increasing revenue? Getting granular with settings is how you do it. Questioning your PPC ad settings can help you consider how you can better aim your ads to searchers when it matters most. 

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.

What a PPC audit can tell you about your brand

An audit can quickly reveal whether your PPC efforts have been working together in tandem toward a common goal or are simply a mishmash of individual campaigns operating in silos. Audits will reveal how much work your business has put into crafting your overall paid search strategy. 

Audits can also reveal how well paid search ads are being deployed according to plan. Even well-designed strategies don’t always follow the planned steps to a T. Corrections may be needed for settings and processes. You might also discover that your paid search data doesn’t completely sync up with your sales data and assumptions, such as increased demand for historically underperforming products or services. 

Lately, COVID-19 has caused many shifts in supply and demand. Thus, weekly audits of search terms and product groups have been especially key. Let this time serve as a reminder that there will always be unpredictable market shifts. PPC audits allow you to see what’s changing so adaptations can be easily implemented.

HawkSEM: PPC audits

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

How to conduct a PPC audit

Audits begin with financial assessments that look at how well your PPC efforts are stacking up against your business goals. Once you have a snapshot, you can then dig into the settings and data to see what opportunities there might be moving forward. Every setting — from the account to the keyword — should be analyzed.

It’s a good idea to go through every tab, view, and setting in your paid search accounts, and to set up your columns so you can see relevant settings all at once.

For larger accounts, once your columns are set up in Google Ads, you can export the data to a spreadsheet to see how many campaigns are:

  • running with automated or manual bidding strategies
  • running with limited budgets
  • targeting different locations
  • and more

Google Ads’ Reports feature will be useful, especially when analyzing a shopping campaign’s product groups (particularly when using custom labels). You should also be analyzing ad copy and landing pages. E-commerce sites are particularly vulnerable to landing pages becoming forwarded or discontinued as products are added and sell out. These businesses in particular need to develop processes for auditing landing pages. 

Conversion actions should also be a primary concern during an audit. You can reference Google Analytics to see what kind of time lag is expected from ad click to conversion. New site visitors will likely behave differently from returning visitors, so you can start to get an idea of how audiences and interest segments will be useful for targeting, observation, or bid modification in Google Ads. Basically, everything should be questioned, tested, and recorded.

How often you should 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
  • the age of your PPC account
  • the size of your team
  • the rate at which things are changing for your business

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.

What steps you should take after your PPC audit

Once your PPC audit is complete, it’s time to dig into the results. Circle up with your team to discuss each finding. This is also the time to address any other questions, concerns, and ideas relating to your PPC initiatives. 

If you’ve performed your audit well, you’ll have plenty to review — even if your accounts have years of strategic iterating behind them. PPC audits aren’t just about looking for weaknesses in your strategy. They’re also a great opportunity to see where (and how) you can improve your PPC, and what parts are working well. 

HawkSEM: PPC audit

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

PPC audit advice from an SEM agency expert:

Make sure your conversion actions are set up properly so you know you’re not double-counting conversions. Look at every single conversion setting, then ask yourself (or your team) if it should be changed. 

Nobody feels good after spending months on PPC efforts just to realize optimizations have been made based on misleading data. No matter your business, it’s key to focus on increasing revenue with paid search. Lock in the best conversion goals for improving the bottom line. 

As a secondary benefit, you’ll be able to test and trust automated bid strategies that rely on conversion actions to optimize themselves. Make sure you set them up for success so you can free up your paid search team’s time with a strategy-driven account suited to automated bid strategies.

The takeaway

 Tunnel vision is a common ailment of paid search teams that are fighting in the proverbial trenches every day. Because of that, fresh eyes can help identify opportunities and threats. 

If your paid search team has writer’s block or is too busy to develop new strategies and ideas, consider bringing in other teams or outside consultants to audit accounts. It’s a time-consuming process, but it’s worth it — there’s always more that can be done or tested. 

But don’t let auditing give your paid search team the impression that they’re not trusted. Audits should be seen as positive, helpful exercises. They’re meant to serve as honest assessments of what’s being done and what can be improved.

Fun fact: At HawkSEM, PPC audits are one of our specialties — see what we mean by requesting a free 10-point PPC analysis today.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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