4 Steps To The Perfect AdWords Audit

I recently participated in a few SEM tune-up clinics where we did live reviews of AdWords accounts. While I hope I provided a few interesting tidbits, I think the thing advertisers are looking for in these sessions is insight into the process that other practitioners go through when checking an account. So whether you’re doing […]

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ppc-featuredI recently participated in a few SEM tune-up clinics where we did live reviews of AdWords accounts. While I hope I provided a few interesting tidbits, I think the thing advertisers are looking for in these sessions is insight into the process that other practitioners go through when checking an account.

So whether you’re doing an account review because you’re checking your own performance or helping someone else figure out what opportunities exist, a checklist may help. Here’s mine, which consists of four main areas: feature usage, account structure, segmentation opportunities and trend analysis.

1. Are You Using All The Latest Features

AdWords changes incredibly quickly. With weekly changes to the AdWords website, the Editor, the API and now Scripts, it’s easy to miss out on a great new feature and fall behind your competitors.

One way to stay current is to subscribe to the Inside AdWords Blog to get official updates directly from Google. The fact that you’re reading this on Search Engine Land tells me you’re already paying attention, but let me just cover a few of the top features I think you should use.

Conversion Tracking

I can’t believe I still have to write this, but after my recent clinics, I saw there are still marketers who don’t track conversions.

Like I’ve said before: start tracking conversions if you don’t like flushing money down the toilet! Without conversion data, you’re flying blind and all you can do is guess what optimizations may be best.


Repeating your offer to users who’ve already expressed interest in what you sell is one of the most powerful ways to improve your close rate. Even if you’re not ready to start remarking today, it’s still a good idea to set up the tracking pixels now so you’ll already have a list ready to go when you want it.

Personally I’ve seen good results with setting higher bids for existing customers. Since they already know you, it’s easier to convince them to become a repeat customer, and trumping advertisers with a higher bid and a better rank helps ensure your current customers don’t stray to the competition.

Don’t overdo it, though, and limit for how long and how often users see your ads. If you overdo it, they may start to feel creeped out and get a negative view of your brand.

Ad Extensions

Taking just minutes to implement, ad extensions provide average CTR improvements of 6 to 20%, making them one of the biggest returns of investment on your time.

Since Google now factors the CTR boost from ad extensions into the way they rank ads, it’s even more important to make sure you’ve not only set up basic extensions, but also have taken the time to tweak them for your highest volume ad groups.


If you’re managing accounts consistently and sticking to a well thought-out process, there will almost certainly be things you can automate to free up your time to work on the strategic and creative elements of your campaigns.

Automations can be as simple as bid automation, and as sophisticated as custom AdWords Scripts that let you automate the secret sauce of your account management techniques.

2. Check Account Structure

shutterstock_161419331-building-structureThe most common mistake I see in small and new AdWords accounts is that they’re poorly structured. There are many reasons this happens, from inexperienced account managers to account managers stuck in a system that won’t give them the flexibility to set up AdWords in a logical way while conforming to their company’s reporting structures.

Here are a couple of common signs of poorly structured accounts:

Too Many Duplicate Keywords

Ultimately, we all want pretty tight control over AdWords, and when you have duplicate keywords, it’s hard to maintain that control.

For example, when you have a duplicate keyword, you may be focused on the one that has the highest cost. Then when you make a bid reduction to improve the CPA, it’s easy to overlook the duplicate keyword which will now start to get impressions because its ad rank all of a sudden got higher.

Too Few Or Too Many Ad Text Variations

You should always be testing new ad text elements to see what improves your conversions per impression (a combination of CTR and conversion rate).

Having no active tests is one mistake but having too many ad variations for the volume of impressions in the ad group is also a problem because it may take too long for your experiments to reach statistical significance. Two to three ad variations are typically the appropriate amount.

Now that you can have a mobile preferred ad, it’s worth testing these as well because what works best on desktops may not be the same as on mobile.

Too Many Keywords Per Ad Group

This is not a hard-and-fast rule but generally I believe that if you have more than 30 keywords in an ad group, it’s possible to split the ad group further.

Remember, the main purpose of an ad group is to say which ad texts show for which keywords. By having tighter ad groups you’ll be able to write more relevant ad texts, thereby boosting your CTR, your Quality Score and your ad rank.

Not Enough Keyword Match Types

The newest keyword match type, modified broad match, is not really a match type but a variant of broad match. By adding a ‘+’ in front of any of the words in the keyword that should not be altered, you’re better targeting your ads.

For example, while the keyword [hawaiian vacation rentals] could trigger your ad to show when someone searches for [hawaiian hotels], something your company doesn’t offer, the keyword [+hawaiian vacation +rentals] ensures your ad will only show if the words [hawaiian], [rentals], and either [vacations] or some variation of [vacations] appears in the query.

Even when not using a broad match modifier, what I look for in an account is that it’s at least using some combination of exact and phrase match in addition to broad match keywords that are used to populate data into the search terms report.

3. Segmentation

shutterstock_165132266-segments-dividingBig data is all the rage these days, and AdWords certainly provides advertisers with tons of data to play with. The trick is to look at your data at a granular enough level to get actionable insights without going so deep that the amount of data becomes too sparse to act on.

There are a few obvious segmentations that should be used. Take a look at the account to see if it’s using any of these segmentations, and if not, whether the reports indicate this could help provide stronger results.

Geo Bid Modifiers

In the past, it used to be sufficient to break out campaigns by language and perhaps country. But now, it’s common to look at the geo segmentation reports in AdWords to see if there are states or even big cities where the results deviate from the averages.

When that’s the case, you can either apply a geo bid modifier or split the region out into a separate campaign with keywords, ads and landing pages tailored to what users in that region care about.

Search Queries

AdWords is really about managing queries rather than just keywords. Keywords are what you use to target ads, but search terms (aka search queries) are what tell you what the users are really typing in.

When you find queries that have enough volume to produce their own conversions, it’s a good idea to add these to your ad groups where you’ll be able to place separate bids and write better ads. A well managed account will have plenty of the labels ‘added’ and ‘excluded’ in the search terms report for the top volume keywords.


Now that tablets are automatically getting the same ads you’ve created for desktops, it’s easy to waste a lot of money getting clicks from tablets that won’t convert.

In addition to checking the performance on the different devices using the device segmentation report, also take a look at the main landing pages on different devices to ensure they make sense on each device. A bad mobile or tablet CPA is often caused by landing pages that don’t work well for these devices. Look for the use of mobile ValueTrack parameters like {ifmobile:} in the destination URLs.


Even now that Google has launched Search Network With Display Select to improve results from the display network, sophisticated advertisers will most likely want to stick with the old best practice of splitting their display and search campaigns.

I don’t see this too frequently anymore, but campaigns that target search and display together are usually a red flag during an audit.

4. Trends

rkg q2 2013 overall ppc trends

Graph courtesy of RKG

Finally, advertisers don’t just want good results, they want results that are constantly improving to make costs lower or increase conversions or better yet, both. During an audit, this means you have to look at historical progress against KPIs to ensure they are trending the right way, and if they aren’t, to figure out when and where they went wrong.

Google has made this easier with date range comparisons, but comparing the progress of different segments like mobile, branded keywords or search queries can still be cumbersome. It’s well worth doing, though, to get more actionable insights from your data.

In Summary

Auditing AdWords accounts helps you prioritize actions for accounts you’re inheriting and keeps you honest when evaluating your own performance for the accounts you manage.

For me, a typical audit checklist includes checking all the latest features are being used, that the account is well structured, that actions are taken for any segments where there is enough data and that the KPIs are monitored over time.

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About the author

Frederick Vallaeys
Frederick (“Fred”) Vallaeys was one of the first 500 employees at Google where he spent 10 years building Google Ads and teaching advertisers how to get the most out of it as the first Google AdWords Evangelist. Today he is the Cofounder and CEO of Optmyzr, a PPC management SaaS company focused on making search, shopping, and display ads easier to manage with rules, scripts, reports, audits, and more. He is a frequent guest speaker at events where he inspires organizations to be more innovative and use AI and Automation Layering to become better marketers. His latest book, Unlevel the Playing Field, follows his best-seller, Digital Marketing in an AI World.

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