How to Effectively Audit Your Paid Search Accounts

  |  December 28, 2012   |  Comments

Deliver maximum performance by reviewing your settings, account structure, ad copy, and extensions.

Let's face it - paid search is an incredibly complex ecosystem. Quality score, bids, ad copy, landing pages, targeting, and dozens of other settings, multiplied by hundreds of thousands of keywords and ads in an account, leave a lot of room for errors. Factor in the continual rollout of new features by Google AdWords and Bing Ads, and it's easy to wind up with un-optimized accounts.

In order to ensure that campaigns are delivering maximum performance, search marketers should regularly review all aspects of their paid search accounts. A paid search audit can help flag issues and identify opportunities for growth. A thorough audit is also a fantastic way to begin tweaking an account you just inherited.

There are a number of resources to help you audit your account. Many agencies offer audits as a one-off service, and there are also a number of free audit products. You also may want to bring in resources from within your company or agency. While it's usually less complicated to execute the audit yourself, employing a fresh set of eyes helps avoid blind spots and preconceived notions.

Campaign Settings

Begin by reviewing campaign-level settings. The easiest way is by downloading the account into AdWords Editor or Bing Ads Editor and looking at the campaigns tab. Right click on the header row, unhide all non-metric columns, sort each one at a time, and review.

Look for any settings that are different across campaigns. If a targeting setting such as network, device, or targeting method isn't the same as most campaigns, double-check that the setting is intentional. Your campaign names should reflect the intended targeting; verify that the settings reflect the names. See if there are any opportunities for improvement. For instance, have you split tablet and desktop into separate campaigns yet?

Then review other settings such as ad rotation, exact and phrase matching, and delivery method. Make sure that there is a reason for each campaign's settings, and that none are accidents.

Account Structure

Review the current campaign/ad group structure. As accounts grow over time, it's easy for structure to get messy - and messiness leads to inaccurate reporting and missed opportunities.

Make sure that your campaign/ad group naming convention is consistent and easy to understand. Ensure that this naming convention highlights brand/non-brand division, match-type split, device and geographic targeting, high/low-performance keywords, or any other segmentation.

Then look at the structure itself. Is your account granular enough? Google AdWords now allows advertisers to have up to 10,000 campaigns per account. Since targeting is set at the campaign level, that is an obvious split, but keep in mind that daily budgets are also set at the campaign level. Do you have your keywords segmented so that lower-value, ultra-competitive keywords are not stealing budget from high-performing keywords? Are any keywords in the wrong campaigns? Are seasonal campaigns labeled clearly - and activated/paused correctly?

Look for structure opportunities that were not obvious at launch. Split keywords that consistently outperform your goal into a separate campaign for easier management, better budget allocation, and quality score benefits. Pull underperforming keywords into their own campaign so that you can keep a close eye on them.

If your account structure has become messy, consider reorganizing. The time spent cleaning up a disorganized account is a great investment that will drive more performance and clearer insight.

Ad Copy

Download all ad copy in the account - live and paused. Then run spellcheck on all ad copy. It's amazing how many typos can slip by when you're writing thousands of ads. Make certain that all trademarks and product names are capitalized correctly.

Then look at how many ads are live in each ad group. You should always be testing at least two ads, but be on the lookout for ad groups with more than four active ads. Determine which are working, delete the rest, and plan a new test.

Confirm that all ads are current and do not reflect sales or holidays that occurred several months ago. Double-check your use of keyword insert - if you are not testing it, there is an opportunity! If you are testing it, make sure that none of the ad groups utilizing keyword insert have misspelled keywords. If you are not leveraging {Param2} and {Param3} in Bing Ads, that is another opportunity.

Ad Extensions

Check to see whether all campaigns have at least six sitelinks (two for mobile-targeted campaigns) - and then check to make sure that each sitelink is driving to a unique landing page. Google recently started enforcing its policy that each sitelink has to drive to a page with a distinct user experience. Also, set up sitelinks on Bing Ads. The feature was released very recently, and lots of advertisers have yet to take advantage of it!

Do not overlook other ad extensions like PLAs, location extensions, and social extensions. If you have not tested them, that is another opportunity.

There are many other points to consider, such as keyword gaps, landing pages, negatives, and more, but after auditing the above items you will have a good feel for how your account is doing.

Audit image on home page via Shutterstock.

This article was originally published in SES Magazine - Chicago in November 2012.


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Jeremy Hull

A recognized leader in the digital marketing space, Jeremy Hull keeps iProspect's bought media teams on the forefront of new technology and industry developments.

A passionate champion for digital advertisers, he strategically gains clients placement in many alpha and beta tests with search, display media, and tracking partners. The search engines rely on Hull's insightful analysis and feedback to improve developments like Google's Enhanced Campaigns and Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA). Hull provides paid search strategy for all iProspect teams in the United States, and also collaborates with iProspect offices around the globe. A regular speaker at tradeshows such as SES, SMX, and Advertising Week, he has also written articles for Search Engine Watch, ClickZ, Wired Innovation Insights, MediaPost, SES Magazine, the annual Internet Retailer Search Marketing Guide, and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal. In 2013 Hull was inducted into the ClickZ Digital Marketing Hall of Fame.

Over the past nine years, Hull has provided campaign analysis and strategic direction to iProspect clients including General Motors, adidas, Neiman Marcus, The Gap, Hilton Worldwide, Cole Haan, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Timberland, and many other leading brands. He was instrumental in taking Nike's successful domestic online marketing campaigns international with Nike EMEA. One would be hard-pressed to find an iProspect client that Hull has not worked with.

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