Quick and Dirty SEM Account Audit Basics

by Anthony Contoleon May 29th, 2014 

ppc-audit

Paid search and display can be a very powerful form of online marketing. It is an ideal medium for direct response advertising within search and when combined with an effective organic search visibility strategy, will more than pay for itself. Because of this utility, it is also a highly competitive market place, where other advertisers are likely to be trying to gain visibility for the same keywords you are after.

With this constant pressure on cost of traffic, the changing nature of the market and the constant changes to bidding options, targeting methods and ad types, it is important to ensure that the account doesn't turn into a sprawling mess of ineffective bidding and expensively bad irrelevant ad copy and keywords.

As a general rule, and reasonably large account should be audited at least once a quarter. Ideally account auditing should be an ongoing process undertaken along side promotional activity and account expansion. Depending on the keyword coverage and level of activity, this can be a daunting task, and can quickly turning into an overwhelming one without a structured strategic approach.

What are you trying to do?

Like any other marketing activity, it is important to remember why you are doing it, and what are the specific outcomes you are trying to achieve. At a high level, this is usually very straight forward, marketing, online or otherwise, is there to support the business. How this is reflected in your online marketing activities can vary, often in the same channel.

Well defined objectives, be it cost per lead, ROI based on transaction value or even reach or something more involved leveraging multichannel attribution, are an essential starting point. Assessing each section of the account against these criteria is an important part of an on going audit process, and is a good guide of how to structure priorities in a complete account review.

An important concept to keep in mind while running through an audit is to scale what you are spending on traffic to how likely a desired action is and how much it is valued. For this you need to decide how much a given conversion is worth and how likely the traffic you are likely to convert and together this should give you a CPC to aim for (Value of Conversions * Conversion Rate = Bid per click). Applying this simple model when assessing current campaigns

Campaigns and Ad Groups

Both Adwords and Bing accounts are structured around campaigns and ad groups. Budgets, targeting and other tools like ad extensions are all managed at this level. Some bidding management platforms can influence structure to a degree, but in general how these are used is more a result of what tools are available at which point within the account.

Another important use of campaigns and ad groups is managing themes. A theme is a collection of targeting tools, such as remarketing lists, keywords and placements and ads used to accomplish an online marketing task. Examples of this include brand term themes, specific products and product categories or even remarketing campaigns to those who have entered the businesses sales funnel.

One of the first things to do on assessing a new account is to look at it's structure, and how this supports the businesses over all strategic and specific tactical goals around conversion actions or other quantifiable outcomes.

Quick and Dirty Campaigns Check List

As a matter of course, when looking through an unfamiliar account or as a part of a major audit, campaign setting should be checked. These should also be reviewed after any significant account expansion or as a part of reviewing areas of the account with poor performance. Here are a few things worth checking within Google Adwords:

  • Are effective campaigns limited by set budgets, either set as shared budgets or allocated directly to each campaign?
  • Are the appropriate campaign types set? For example, it is rare that combining display and search within the one campaign is effective.
  • Are the location targeting options appropriate for your target audience? Do you want people in your target location or people searching for it as well?
    • If you are using different campaigns to target different locations, are these settings going to be a problem? See language as well.
  • Is the bidding strategy selected effective for the volume of leads and traffic generated by the campaign?
  • What Delivery Method is being used and is this aligned with the budget and targets?
    • Showing ads evenly can be effective when budget control is important while accelerated can be effective for campaigns able to perform well and where the budget is rarely met.
  • Is your visibility is constrained by the Ad rotation and frequency settings?
  • Keyword matching options can generally be set to "Include plurals, misspellings, and other close variants".

There are far fewer settings to check for ad groups, and these would generally be reviewed when assessing performance by device type.

Budgets and Matching performance to Costs

Budgets are important. They are one of the most fundamental parts of a paid search campaign, and something that needs to be looked at in an audit. A few things to look for is how the budget is allocated between areas of the account with differing levels of performance. Identifying campaigns that are losing impression share due to budget is a quick and easy win. Managing budget for more volatile, lower spending campaigns is slightly different again. In these cases shared budgets are probably a better choice as it allows for spend to be managed without losing traffic should a smaller, more volatile campaign perform better than expected. Assessing budgets as a part of an audit generally involves:

  • Identifying effective campaigns losing traffic due to constrained budget.
  • Effective use of shared budgets for typically lower spending and volatile camapigns.
  • Matching budget strategy to spend rate.

Extensions

Ad extensions are useful, at the very least that help you to cover more actual screen realestate on the search result pages and at their best they provide your prospect customers with even more reasons to interact with your brand. While there is a lot that can be looked at within this topic, for now just focus on a few fundaments:

  • Are sitelinks being used and have they been selected to match the theme of specific campaigns and ad groups?
  • Are location extensions in use and are these linked to the most appropriate Google+ Local account?
  • If click to call extensions are in use, are these using specific SEM numbers, Google call forwarding or another tracking method?
  • Does the selection of extensions allocationed across the account support your goals? Be they app, review, social, previous visit, consumer ratings, etc?

Landing pages

In any large account, there are generally a lot of lurking issues. One of the more frustrating ones to encounter are pages that no longer have product or no longer exist. This actually isn't a very easy thing to identify from within Adwords or Bing except when these pages might have recieved enough traffic that the drop in conversion rate is noticable significant. You can compare account landing pages against lists of current content and use Google Analytics to look for SEM traffic going to 404 pages or product pages tagged as expired via their title (if you don't already have something like this running with your site, do it. It is very useful).

Review landing page relevance to the themes they are receiving traffic from is also important, both to maximise conversions and to maintain a good quality score. Should the resources be avaialbe, landing page selection should also be done as a part of keyword assessment. When checking landing pages there are a number of basics to keep in mind:

  • Is the landing page relevant to the keywords and ads that bought the user to it?
  • Where appropriate will the landing page guide the user to the desire outcome?
  • Is the product, lead in or call to action from the ad featured on landing page?
  • using Google Analytics, are there and SEM landing pages with a greater than expected bounce rate?

Keywords and Search Queries

Keyword Expansion Strategy

Keyword Expansion Strategy

Generally campaigns are structured aroudn repeated groups of keywords, duplicated between different ad groups and campaigns differentiated by match types and geographic targeting. This structure gives the advertiser flexibility to adjust bidding and budget based on differences in performance by region. Splitting match types across different ad groups simplifies bidding strategy as well. This approach does require the use of exact and phrase match negatives to prevent the phrase and broad match keywords from directly competing with the same keywords targeted as exact and phrase. To achieve this:

  • Check for overlap between different match type versions of keywords.
  • Are there differences in performance by user location not currently addressed?

Another, potentially far more important aspect of keyword selection and management is maintain a robust and effective negative list. An important part of any audit, major or ongoing, is checking that these are there and are doing their job. Negative keywords can be applied to campaigns and ad groups, or added to shared lists that can be assigned to more than one campaign or ad group. In most cases, an account should have a pool of negative keywords applied across the account covering terms that no sane marketer wants their product to be associated with. Otherwise negative keyword selection is geared towards improving performance to improve Quality Score and and minimising irrelevant traffic. To asses how well this is implemented in the account you should start by:

  • Review search query reports by theme for irrelevant terms.
  • Identify commonly occurring words or short phrases and aggregating performance statistics to identify terms that should be added as negative terms.

Devices post Enhanced Campaigns

Ever since enhanced campaigns, our ability to manage bids between devices has been very limited. As a result, other than juggling preferred mobile copy, click to call extensions and mobile bid modifiers there is not a lot of scope for optimising towards specific device types. However it is still a few things that will need to be checked, such as:

  • Are click to call extensions being used and are they using either call forwarding or SEM specific numbers?
  • Where there is a difference in performance between smartphones and everything else, are mobile bid modifiers being used and are they effective?
  • For the ad group, is there a call to action that would be better suited to mobile than other devices, and if so, do the ads present reflect this?

Ad Schedules and day parting

Interestingly enough, your target market's likelyhood to perform the action you wish they would changes over the course of the day and by day of week. What makes this more interesting is that your competitors probably know this. A good place to start when devising or assessing a day parting strategy is your organic traffic. Relative changes in volume and conversion rate over the course of the day seen with this kind of traffic is a good place to start for deciding at what time of day you can afford to pay more for traffic.

Benchmarking relative change in paid search traffic and impressions by hour of day against organic traffic can also indicate periods of time where competition for higher positions might be higher. Checking for impact of competition and gather information for assessing and developing a day parting and day of week bidding strategy include:

  • Benchmark relative changes in performance over time against other comparable sources like organic traffic.
  • Identify specific periods of time where impression share lost due to rank, click through rate and reported average position change significantly.

User Location reports

Using user location reports to determine how to change bidding strategy by states and cities is very straight forward. Assess how to set bid levels to match expected performance based upon user location. Keep in mind that bid adjustments do interact.

What Next?

There are a number of other aspects of paid search activity that need to monitored as well that are not covered in this. These include the effectiveness of remarketing audiences (search (beta) and display), conversion tracking and business outcomes. These are only some of the other areas that should be reviewed for an active paid search account to ensure that it is supporting other online marketing channels and the businesses goals.

Anthony Contoleon

Anthony works as an SEM Manager in the tourism and travel industry. Most of his free time is lost to creating comics about the digital industry, writing blog posts and drinking coffee.

Contoleon.com

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