Do you look at paid search and see nothing but a massive collection of settings and control options? Unless it’s your job to understand PPC, that’s certainly what it looks like at a glance. There’s a key, however, to unlocking much of the mystery, and it’s as simple as using a concept we call Reach, Relevance and Response.
In this guide, I’ll share how you can use this approach to tame the wild paid search beast and give you specific to-dos for an audit process that will result in better performance from your PPC budget.
Maintenance is a must.
PPC audits are essential for maintaining and optimizing your Bing Ads and Google Ads campaigns.
It doesn’t matter if you’re running your own campaigns or your campaign is being managed by an outside agency — it is worth your time to review your account at least twice a year (preferably quarterly), since you’ll always find something that can be improved.
There’s never a bad time to do an audit, but before you begin, take a minute to review recent changes in strategy and goals to ensure you don’t misinterpret the settings and metrics.
One note before you get started: When conducting your audit, set the date range to a minimum of three months. In some cases you may need to expand the period of time to pull meaningful data.
What you should look for in your PPC campaigns.
Breaking the code on what is actually happening within your campaigns can be daunting, but overlaying the reach, relevance and response concept can help you sort things out more quickly. Use it as you follow the roadmap below, and you’ll find yourself with a successful audit and a clear path to course corrections when you’re finished.
REACH: How ads get to their destination.
You have a lot of options in search platforms to control the delivery of your ads to your prospects which include, but are not limited to:
- Ad Scheduling
- Ad Budget
- Ad position and bid prices
- Audiences & Lists
- Campaign types
RELEVANCE: How ads are crafted to connect to the right audience.
Matching the intent of your prospect search is the key to the success of your paid ad campaigns. Keyword selection and the messages that support them flow through every component of prospect interaction, from the initial search term to the landing page.
Your campaigns will be judged for their relevance every second they are live in the auction and ranked accordingly. These efforts will be rewarded with lower click costs, higher quality scores and better results.
Your options to manage the relevance of your campaign include but are not limited to:
- Campaign structure
- Keyword choices & match types
- Negative keywords & lists
- Ad group segmentation
- Ad copy development
- Ad Type
- Landing pages
RESPONSE: How ads deliver ROI.
The goal in all paid search campaigns is to solicit an action from a prospect and create a conversion. This transaction can be as simple as an email signup or as valuable as major online purchase, In all cases, it is your responsibility to provide relevant compelling information, value and a strong call-to-action to drive this action.
Your options to manage and measure this aspect of the prospect journey included these controls, conversion types and metrics:
- Landing pages
- Conversion types
- Conversion tracking
- Call tracking from ads
- Call tracking from pages
- Tracking messages & chats
- Conversions & Conversion rates
- Cost-per-conversion, return-on-ad-spend (ROAS)
Where your PPC audit should begin.
Start with the date range and change history.
Select a specific date range to begin your account review of key performance metrics. Here you’ll have the option to compare data points for the current 30-day period, last month, the previous period and also to the previous year. This way you can spot current trend lines of your campaign activity and even have the ability to look back to last year’s performance for similar behavior. Once a change has been identified, look for the causes that may have made them. It could be something as simple as a daily spend adjustment or something more alarming like an error with a targeting change.
Google has a great feature that monitors account activity and any changes made to it over time. Properly managed accounts will have frequent periods of activity or optimization that are listed in chronological order. Here you can see when a change was made, what type of change it was and who made it. Make this the first place you visit when reviewing your account.
To observe account activity, select the set the date range to the last 30 option and choose the change history link on the left side of the navigation bar. Here you can see exactly what’s been going on in your account. Take care not to click or undo any recent changes to the campaigns.
Determine the right network settings:
These settings are needed for accurate data collection and performance metrics and are vital to cost-per-lead. It’s best practice to separate display campaigns from search campaigns to better manage those costs and behavior. The search partners option should be tested and measured at the cost-per-lead level to determine whether it is performing as well as your managed campaigns.
Adding either of these options will allow your ads to run on Google partner sites, which may or may not work for you. Your ad dollars should be focused on searches that occur directly on the Google platform for accurate data collection. If you’re interested in having ads appear on the Display Network, best practice is to set up a separate Display campaign.
- Search Network
- Your text ads will appear on the search results pages of the search engines of your choosing. (read more: how “Search Network only” campaigns work)
- Display Network
- Compared to search, the display network is a huge platform that has the ability to reach over 90% of global internet users. Your text, video, audio, static and animated graphic ads will have appeared on websites, apps and social media with dedicated advertising spaces connected to the platform of your choice. (read more: about Google Display Network)
Often misunderstood or overlooked completely, this control can protect your budget from errant clicks outside of your target area and help concentrate your ad spend on those clicks that are more likely to convert.
For local pest control campaigns, you want to lock down and manage your target area in granular detail and target geo-specific areas that convert and exclude areas that don’t. Selecting these two options gives you greater control over which prospects will see your ads. Excluding specific areas that don’t convert will make your spend more effective and have the potential to double your conversion production.
Another way to control your bid costs and budget is by time. What time of day do you get the most conversions at the best CPA? Which days of the week perform better than others? Can you spot a repeating weekly trend? If you look at your predefined reports (formerly dimensions) screen, you can review breakdown by days of the week and hour of the day. Here you can see which times work best and now you have the option of completely turning off your ads or changing the bid adjustment to try to maximize your campaign performance.
To begin, you need to understand how your budget is being consumed and how much impression share you are buying.
For budget insights and estimating, use the keyword planner to explore how often your ads will show and the number of clicks you will receive. It’s important to understand that underfunded campaigns often lead to low impression share, clicks, conversions and a poor paid search experience. Knowing just how far your budget will take you will help you build more efficient and effective campaigns right from the start.
If you find that you have a limited budget, there are ways to extend it and make it more effective. These campaigns can be optimized by:
- Reducing the target area
- Excluding specific areas that consume but never convert
- Pausing keywords and match types that never convert
- Building strong negative keyword lists, and
- Lowering your bid prices
- Making additional scheduling adjustments and delivery options to further fine-tune and stretch your budget and show your ads more often
With the luxury of larger budgets, there are a variety of ways to maximize your opportunities. Campaign data may indicate that further campaign segmentation or day-parting has the potential to improve overall performance and impression share. This works well for heavily segmented, location-based and shared budget campaigns. To learn more about how well these strategies improved campaign performance check out our case study:
Ad position and bid strategy:
Are your ads being seen?
Depending on the device type, the answer may be no!
On the other hand, your ads may be seen in the number-one spot all the time and on all devices. The latter may come at a hefty price, though, and not deliver the results you are looking for. Check your click-through and conversion rate data for performance data. Lowering your bid price and position may improve all of your metrics and save you money in the process!
There are a number of ways to manage your position and bid prices through a manual, specific bid strategy, targeting the top of page or using automated processes. You’ll need to try these different approaches to see which works best for you. Once you understand which strategies work best, take advantage of rules or scripting to hold the bids and positions that are most effective for your campaigns.
At DAGMAR, we prefer to control these variables with a combination of manual processes and automation because full-automation can lead to excessive and untimely keyword bid increases. This leads to budget consumption issues, as well as higher click and CPA costs. Carefully crafted scripts and rules may be used in place of full-automation and achieve the same, if not better results, keeping your budgets intact.
Device bid adjustments:
Which device produces the most conversions? Mobile, desktop, or tablet?
With bid adjustments at the device level, it’s possible to shift the spend to the top producer. In some cases, you may find that you need to completely exclude tablet or desktop traffic. In other cases, you may want to create a campaign and target a specific device. If so, make adjustments to the landing page to maximize the conversion opportunities.
Understanding how often your ads will show (impressions) in the auction is important and your budget plays a big part in the search traffic equation. Under-funded campaigns will show your ad less often and slow down data collection and the optimization process. Adequately funded campaigns provide critical information sooner and allow you to make corrections and improve your quality score, click-through-rate (CTR) and conversion rate.
To make the most of your budget, you’ll need to use the keyword planner to calculate just how much impression share you will be able to control. You may need to adjust your target area, number of campaigns and keywords to achieve your desired impression share.
Audiences, lists and RLSA (Remarketing List for Search Ads):
Within the platform, it is possible to manage and target audiences and demographics. In the early stages of campaign construction take the time to create audience lists based on traffic to your website pages and paid search landing pages. Segmenting your lists by paid and organic visitors allows you to develop remarketing messages at a later time and introduce new products or special offers.
These lists can also be applied to your search campaigns. This tactic is called RLSA (remarketing list for search ads) and provides additional bidding options to better target audience members. Using this tactic will give you the opportunity to improve relevance, click-through and conversion rates.
Google Ads is built for automation and using it helps lower click costs and improve production. For example, keeping up with bid prices according to the time of day can be a tricky thing because it changes day to day. With automation scripts, however, it’s possible to manage bid costs by the hour.
Take advantage of rule automation to better manage your campaigns or write your own scripts to maximize your ad exposure. If you aren’t using these approaches to campaign management, chances are that you are spending more at the cost-per-lead level or lower return-on-ad-spend.
Before selecting a single language for a new campaign, research the target area to better understand your target audiences. By selecting English as the only option you could be eliminating a large portion of bi-lingual prospects.
For example, if your business is located in a metro area with a population that speaks both Spanish and English interchangeably, their browser setting may be set to Spanish. By selecting English as the only target language for the campaign, this audience will not see your ads.
When you’ve determined that you could be missing important search traffic and would like to learn more about it, set up a test campaign and collect the data. This approach is relatively easy and will help you determine if a separate language campaign is needed to improve performance.
Paid search is all about relevance from keyword selection to the text used on the landing pages. Relevance is the key to great campaign construction because it also enables all of the optimization features that are built into the platform.
All campaign builds should have well-defined ad group and keyword segmentation that reflect your core services or products. These ad group should be optimized for only those services and items that align with your target cost-per-lead goals.
The keyword selection will define your ad group construction and should pass through the ad copy and on to the corresponding landing pages. Preparing your keyword sets and ad groups this way is a large factor in your quality score and ad rank. Doing this also defines the prospect journey and creates a better user experience, sets the level of expectation and increases your chance for conversions and sales.
Poor keyword grouping is easy to spot. Ideally, there should only be a handful of keywords in any one ad group. There are exceptions to this rule and if you do find an ad group that has a large number of keywords, take a closer look to make sure they all relate to one another. If they don’t, this is a good sign that they should be placed into new ad group.
Each one of your ad groups should have a corresponding landing page and contain your root keywords in the subhead and body copy for relevance with the user and Google.
In well-crafted campaigns, you will find that ad groups contain a limited set of keywords. This segmentation is what aligns the ad groups and messages to a search query and helps improve your quality score, lower click costs, improve click-through-rate (CTR) and conversion rates.
Try to limit the number of keywords per ad group to less than 20. Having more than that indicates that there is an opportunity to create a separate ad group and improve relevance. Pay close attention to keyword match types and the effect that they will have with the desired search query.
Keyword grouping, ad rank and quality score:
Poor keyword grouping is easy to spot. Ideally, there should only be a handful of keywords in any one ad group. There are exceptions to this rule and if you do find an ad group that has a large number of keywords take a closer look to make sure they all relate to one another. If they don’t, this is a good sign that they should be placed into new ad group.
Branded keywords and campaigns:
Well defined goals should be applied to these campaigns as they will be working in conjunction with your SEO efforts. These campaigns can be effective in generating a lot of visibility and traffic by putting your brand at the top of the page. This may be ideal for device-oriented or mobile-only campaigns. With limited screen sizes, your ads can appear in the top positions for maximum visibility. To manage these campaigns and search intent a strong negative keyword list will need to be used.
Campaign segmentation and focus:
During your audit you may find campaigns that have totally different structures and may focus on day parting, product or services, or finely tuned geo-specific locations. All of these approaches are correct and driven by goals that were defined long before the campaigns are constructed. Each one of these approaches will create opportunities to control the delivery of hyper-relevant ads and increase the opportunities for conversion. We’ve seen conversion rates as high as 50% with select campaigns and goals. READ THE CASE STUDY HERE.
Ads per ad group:
Google recommends using up to four ads but this may not always be in your best interest. Ad rotation is important, but it’s equally important to monitor the conversion activity of each active ad. While testing ads is necessary, experimenting with different messages can be costly. Use care when introducing a new ad into an ad group. It’s possible to actually increase your conversion costs and lower overall conversion production in the absence of a good ad testing methodology.
Google will reward you when you take advantage of all the platform controls. Your ad footprint will also increase on the search results page with additional features and extensions. Note: Care must be used when populating these features so that the messages don’t repeat or create confusion and you may want to limit which you enable.
Site links provide additional click opportunities and should be relevant to the ads, ad group and campaign. You’ll need a minimum of two site links to appear on desktop and one site link to appear on mobile, and up to six links can appear for desktop ads at once.
Connect your Google Ads account to the matching Google My Business listing and show location information to people within the area. Your ads may also appear in Google Maps generating additional clicks and conversions. These rules also apply to Bing Ads.
Call out extensions:
This extension provides additional information in the ad space. Call out extension messages are benefit and added value statements such as “Over 30 years of experience” or “Family owned and operated.”
Structured snippet extensions:
This extension provides additional information in the ad space. Originally an automated extension, you now have more control of the text. These messages should highlight unique features such as “Free breakfast” or “Free wifi” or service categories like “gutter cleaning” and “roof repair.”
Providing a phone number in your ad gives you the opportunity for a one-click conversion and improves customer engagement. Care must be taken to ensure that the call will be answered in a timely manner and during regular business hours. Schedule these extensions to show at the appropriate times.
TACTICS AND INSIGHTS
Unless you’ve got a silver bullet that gets you a conversion rate of 100%, retargeting can help win back some of those non-converting clicks. It is possible to reach out to these non-converters with special incentives and offers and convert them into clients and customers. To do this, you will need to use the audience lists that were created when the campaign was set up. Depending on website and paid search traffic, your lists may be populated with enough members to begin serving ads. Apply these lists and similar audience using the search and display networks to deliver your ads.
Targeting inclusion and exclusion:
Closely review how your targeted areas are converting and contributing to your CPA and ROI. You may find that not all of your targeted areas perform equally. By excluding the areas that consume but never convert, you have the potential to double your conversion rate and cut your CPA in half.
Creating City ad groups and campaigns that are based on city names and regions will improve relevance significantly. Under-performing targeted campaigns without GEO/METRO modifiers may not only be salvaged—they could become your best performers across all metrics. READ THE CASE STUDY HERE.
Reviewing the search terms report during your audit will reveal keywords that may have been overlooked in keyword research. These new search terms may be added to existing ad groups or campaigns or provide new negative keywords to block unwanted clicks.
Match types must be selected and aligned to you campaign goals and budget. You may find that some keywords are just too expensive to run in your campaigns and understanding the intent of keywords is critical in your selection.
While exact and phrase match types may be the most appealing and cost-effective and easiest to control, you may also be missing traffic and conversion opportunities, especially in small markets and target areas. The use of broad and modified-broad terms requires strong negative keyword lists to manage errant clicks and control ad spend waste.
Negative keyword lists:
All well-managed Google Ads campaigns will carry a negative keyword list to help prevent unwanted clicks. There are two places you’ll want to check when looking for negative keywords lists. Account managers have options when adding and applying negative keywords. Negative keywords can be applied individually at the ad group level or applied as lists and shared across multiple campaigns in an account.
To view negative keywords as a list, select the tools icon at the top of the interface and select the negative keywords list link in the menu. Here you can review all of the available lists to apply to your campaigns.
To view negative keywords applied at the campaign and ad group level, select a campaign, keywords and negative keywords from the navigation. Here you will see the actual negative keywords attached to the lists and ad groups you are viewing.
If you see no negative keywords in either location then you have a problem. There are virtually no controls in place other than your match types to manage search queries and errant clicks. This is a costly oversight for large and small budgets alike.
KEY METRICS TO REVIEW
CTR is a clear indicator of ad relevance. If your keyword and ad messages are out of alignment, you will have a low click-through-rate. Check your search queries and match types for relevance for guidance on keyword and negative keyword management.
Another indicator of relevance is quality score. If your score is lower than 6, care should be used in examining the keyword set and look for opportunities to gather similar keywords into a new ad group.
Low search volume:
If your keyword set contains keywords that have this message in the status column, you’ll need to take a closer look. Using keywords like this can be a challenge because while they may get some impressions and clicks. they are bringing down the overall ad performance and ad rank. If these keywords don’t show any signs of life, pause or remove them.
Alignment of goals:
It all begins with goals. Before beginning any audit, ask yourself: What’s the goal of this campaign? Maybe you want to improve conversion production or cut your CPA in half. In either case, you’ll need to determine the success for each before you start.
Without conversion data, it’s impossible to determine accurate cost-per-lead or acquisition. Neglecting to set up conversion tracking or to configure it properly is a big mistake when setting up any PPC campaign.
Work with your SEO team to discuss your options when setting up shared conversion goals in Google Analytics or Google Ads for proper attribution. Is critical to the success of your campaigns that all of your conversions are tracked. All of your landing pages should have conversion devices such as contact forms and phone numbers. Make sure all of your website pages have the correct tracking scripts embedded in them.
Check the conversion goals in both Google Ads and Analytics and see which you have imported into Ads. It is possible to double up your conversion numbers if both are included.
This doesn’t affect tracking and is mostly used for reporting and organization. Status is pretty self-explanatory—it lets you know if the conversion pixel is even being used currently, inactive, or unverified.
This is important. In an e-commerce environment the same user can complete a conversion action multiple times and you will want to count all conversions. On the other hand, a lead generation client may only want to count a submission or phone call from the same user once.
Depending on the type of sales funnel you have, you want to set the window of time to capture as much relevant data and match the length of the sales cycle—meaning the conversion window is how long a conversion can be attributed to a first click via PPC. This time frame may be measured in days and up to months.
This return on investment/return on ad spend metric alone should be your guiding light on any PPC campaign.
You may have fantastic metrics all across the board but if you are not getting a solid return on your ad spend, you’ll need to use these funds on other marketing channels that do.
At DAGMAR we’ll tell you whether it’s working or not. We don’t want to waste your marketing budget.
You’ll need to monitor how many conversions you’re getting on a regular basis and which campaigns they’re coming from. If your conversion volume isn’t improving, what can you change in your account to increase that volume? A/B testing? Landing pages? Special offers?
In conjunction with ROI/ROAS, watch this metric closely. Carefully optimized campaigns are designed for conversion production and their construction plays a significant role in cost-per-conversion performance.
You will need to determine this value is as it relates to your business services or products. With products for instance, this is measurable and relatively easy to determine. With lead generation this can be difficult to establish and care must be used in declaring a target value.
For example, with unique B2B service scenarios a single lead with a high CPA can generate a million-dollar contract and be absorbed in the cost of doing business, while other service-oriented businesses need to apply a hard value to the cost of a single lead to protect their profit margins.
Creating your game plan
Now that you’ve walked through your account and created a list of things that need attention, it’s time to prioritize your list. Items that expose your budget to excessive waste and contribute to high cost-per-lead are first on the list. Then follow up with the general, less inflammatory items you’ve uncovered along the way to help curb waste in the short term. Sometimes this is all that’s needed to correct a campaign.
On the flip side, campaigns that require significant changes, especially those that involve keyword regrouping, creative messages and landing pages will require careful planning and execution. If you decide you can save the current campaigns, you will want to make these changes in a methodical and measurable manner. If the campaigns are just too far gone, it’s probably best to consider a complete overhaul and start fresh.
We’re here to help!
If you’ve read this far, you understand the potential that paid search has to efficiently deliver new, qualified leads that can change your business.
Auditing your PPC campaigns is a time-consuming prospect, but it can be a time-wasting task if you’re not well-versed in the new interface. The good news is that we can do all of the heavy lifting for you and it won’t cost you a dime for us to get in there and have a look around.
Just send us a quick message or give us a call at (904) 270-9778.