How To Audit Your Google Ads Account
Google Ads is a great place to help your brand reach new users and grow your business, but with so many different ways to advertise and target users, it can be difficult to figure out how your ads are performing and where to begin optimizing your assets. Auditing your Google Ads account is a great way to evaluate performance and identify efficiencies that may help you to maximize your advertising budget.
There’s no bad time to conduct an audit of your Google Ads account, but it’s generally a good idea to do anytime you start working on a new account, update or change your brand, or redefine your marketing strategy. A complete Google Ads account audit will likely help you identify areas of wasted spend, identify opportunities for growth, improve your account management, and discover audience information that you can use across all marketing channels—not just Google Ads or other digital advertising channels.
- Review your account goals
- Review the structure of your account
- Ensure that conversion tracking is properly set up
- Review your campaign settings
- Review your ad groups
- Audit your keywords
- Audit your ads
- Review your landing pages
- Audit your audiences
- Address your optimization score and recommendations
Review your goals
The first step of any advertising audit is to make sure that you have stated goals. With Google Ads, your goals can range from maximizing brand impressions to hitting a target acquisition cost, from increasing time on site to maximizing your ROAS (return on ad spend), and many others in between.
In reviewing your goals, you want to determine whether Google Ads is providing value for your business, first and foremost. Then you can dive deeper on whether to change your campaign goals or the bid strategies of your campaigns.
We’ll walk you through doing that a little later in the post.
Questions to ask when reviewing your goals
- What are your company’s conversion goals? Are these reflected by your Google Ads conversions?
- Can you track performance beyond ad metrics?
- Have your goals changed since the last time you audited your Google Ads account?
Review the structure of your account
Every industry, account, and strategy is different, which is why it’s important that your Google Ads audit review the structure of your account and ensure that you’re setting yourself up for success.
In our experience, some of the most solid search marketing accounts are set up to mimic a company’s website, but you can also structure your Google Ads account around your business objectives, buyer personas, content areas, or products/services. When you’re considering the structure of your Google Ads account, what’s most important is:
- The campaigns represent different targeting methods (location, audience, time of day, budgets).
- Campaigns enable easy reporting for the ad groups and assets contained within them.
It’s important to have a strong handle on the structure of your account so that you can determine which types of campaigns make the most sense for your business, whether it’s display, video, or even an app download campaign.
Questions to ask when auditing the structure of your account
- What’s the best way to structure my account?
- Which ad types are most relevant to my goals? Which are most relevant to my audience?
- Which tactics should get a greater share of my budget?
Ensure that conversion tracking is properly set up
One of digital advertising’s primary benefits is the ability to track in your Google Ads account what ad types work best. By installing conversion tracking code on your site, you’ll not only gain access to a world of audience and performance data, you’ll also be able to better understand user behavior and track conversions.
Conversions are simply actions your audience takes, whether it’s viewing a certain percentage of a video, signing up for an email newsletter, or purchasing a subscription. By integrating Google Analytics with Google Ads, you can even set goals like time on site or number of page views per session.
When you determine which actions represent a conversion for your business, create those conversions in Google Ads. You’ll find all the tracking codes you need in the conversions section of your Google Ads account.
- Open the Conversions menu.
- Open the conversion you want to check (or click the blue plus sign to create a new conversion).
- Select whether to install the tracking code yourself, send the details to a developer, or use Google Tag Manager to install your tracking code.
While any of those options are sufficient, Raka recommends using Google Tag Manager (GTM) to serve your Google Ads tracking code. Tag Manager is a free Google tool that allows users to add code to their site without the help of a development team, and especially for Google products, it’s exceedingly simple to add that code in. The GTM preview tool also allows you to test code on your site before pushing the code live.
Raka strongly recommends integrating your Google Ads account with any other Google platforms you’re using, such as:
- YouTube (for running video ads)
- Google Merchant Center (shopping ads)
- Google Search Console (for comparing paid and organic search performance)
- Google Analytics
The last bullet point is especially important, because it makes both platforms more powerful. For example, you can view Google Analytics engagement data like bounce rate or time on site in Google Ads, and can use Google Ads segments in Google Analytics to better understand how your paid traffic behaves on your site. You’ll also be able to port over Google Analytics goals into Google Ads as conversions, if you choose to.
Questions to ask when auditing your conversion tracking
- What are my desired conversions? Do they require custom (i.e. event) tracking?
- Have I integrated my Google Ads account with all other Google products that I’m using?
- Can I use Google Tag Manager for my conversion tracking?
Tools to use when auditing your Google Ads conversion tracking
- Google Ads can tell you whether it’s seeing the conversion tag on your site within 24 hours of the tag being added. Raka recommends using Google Tag Manager to install the code, then using GTM’s preview tool to confirm whether the tags are firing in real-time.
Review your campaign settings
Campaign settings are one of the areas where many Google advertisers can burn up their advertising budget without even knowing it. Because of Google’s myriad campaign setting options and the way that some settings are buried within the menu, it can be very easy to waste your budget because you either selected the wrong (or no) goal, or because your targeting and placement strategies are improperly aligned with your business goals. Let’s take a quick look at the most important settings:
- Campaign Goals – These are relatively straightforward. There are three options: sales, leads, and website traffic. Selecting any of these three goals will help Google’s AI to better optimize your campaign performance.
- Networks – Your ads are eligible to serve on four different networks. In order to make the most of your Google Ads budget, be sure to select only the networks that are relevant to your ads, and never ever serve search ads on the Google Display Network or Display Network Select.
- Google search
- Google Search Partners
- Google Display Network
- Display Network Select
- Location Targeting – These options seem straightforward, but there’s some gray area with these as well. By default, Google will serve ads to users who are in, or who show interest in your selected locations. The optimal location targeting setting for your business is most likely People in or regularly in your targeted locations, although if you’re in the travel industry, People searching for your targeted locations may be equally as valuable.
- Bidding Strategies – One of the most confusing parts about Google Ads can be bidding strategies. There are 11 of them, and some of them are very similar to others. If you’re unsure which is best for your business, we’ve detailed each of the Google Ads bidding strategies in this blog post, but some good rules of thumb are below:
- Drive conversions with one of Google’s four fully automated strategies: Target ROAS (tROAS), Target Acquisition Cost (tCPA), Enhanced Cost-per-click (eCPC) or Maximize Conversions.
- Drive traffic with either Maximize Clicks or Manual CPC. General disclaimer: Enhanced CPC still gives you the ability to manually control your costs per click, along with the benefit of AI-backed conversion optimization, so we’d almost always use eCPC over manual CPC.
- Increase your brand visibility or awareness with impression-focused bidding strategies: Target search page location, Target outranking share, Target cost per mille (tCPM), or Viewable cost per mille (vCPM).
- Budget – Your campaign budget is one of the most crucial settings of all, because it’s the amount that your ads will spend in a given day. Remember when setting your budget that:
- It should be relative to the performance of your campaign (meaning that a campaign generating 10% of conversions should not get 90% of your budget).
- Google may spend up to twice as much as your daily budget in a given day if demand is present.
Questions to ask when auditing your Google Ads campaign settings
- Do my campaigns have the proper campaign goal set?
- Does my bidding strategy support my campaign’s goal?
- Are my campaign budgets relative to their performance?
- Am I targeting users based on their locations, their interests, or both?
- Are my ads only set to serve in the networks where they’ll drive business results for my company?
Review your ad groups
While an improperly set up campaign can cost your company a lot of money, a poorly constructed ad group can cause you to miss out on a lot of opportunities you might otherwise earn. When auditing your Google Ads ad groups, you should focus on the following attributes:
- Keywords – Your search or shopping ad group should contain no more than 10-15 keywords, and those keywords should utilize the most relevant keyword match types for your audience and your goals. In particular, avoid an over-reliance on broad match keywords, which may cause you to spend your budget on queries unrelated to your business, and exact match keywords, which may cause you to miss out on less specific search traffic.
- Audience Targeting – Your display or video ad group should contain proper audience targeting, using either Google Ads’ audience options, a remarketing list of your existing audience or a lookalike audience list made up of website visitors or email subscribers.
- Ad Types – According to Google, your search ad group should contain at least one responsive search ad and three to five expanded text ads (if you’re using Google Ads’ dynamic search ads, then your ad group should contain only dynamic ads). Your display ad group should contain seven ad sizes and at least one responsive display ad.
According to Google, your search ad group should contain at least one responsive search ad and three to five expanded text ads
- Quality Score – The average quality score of your keywords should be at least a six (accounts with quality scores under six tend to see higher-than-average CPCs). If it isn’t, look at Landing Page Experience, Expected CTR and Ad Relevance to see if there are any low-hanging fruit opportunities to optimize your assets.
- Budget – Your ad group shouldn’t be spending an overwhelming share of its campaign budget—if it is, you may want to consider creating a new campaign to support it.
Questions to ask when auditing your Google Ads ad groups
- Does my ad group contain less than 15 active keywords?
- Are my keywords properly utilizing match types?
- Does my ad group contain at least one responsive search ad and at least three expanded text ads OR only dynamic search ads?
- What is the quality score of my ads?
- Is my ad group using a reasonable share of its campaign’s budget?
Reports to use when auditing your Google Ads ad groups
To determine the volume of active keywords, you’ll want to use the search keywords report in Google Ads. Similarly, you’ll want to use the ads report to determine the number of active ads. Both of these can be audited visually very quickly—you either have the proper amount of keywords/ads, or you don’t.
To determine the quality components of your ads, you’ll need to create a custom columns report that includes Quality Score, Expected CTR, Ad Relevance, and Landing Page Experience.
From here, some basic data manipulation or arithmetic may be necessary to determine whether your budget is being properly allocated to high-performing campaigns or ad groups. If you determine that your ad group is using too much budget, you may want to lower its Max CPC or implement some bid adjustments to keep spend under control.
Audit your keywords
Your keywords are one of the pillars of your Google Ads account—even more, they’re one of the pillars of any digital marketing effort. That’s why it’s essential that any Google Ads audit include a serious focus on your keywords, with an eye towards making sure that your keywords are deployed strategically, optimally, and efficiently. Taking a bigger picture approach to your keywords can be helpful too: don’t hesitate to use data from other Google tools like Search Console or Google Trends to source larger industry trends and capitalize on them wherever possible to increase your search market share.
Many of Google Ads bidding strategies allow your keyword bids to be automated, but it’s important that you maintain some control over your keyword bids by setting them manually where appropriate or using a maximum CPC limit to keep from overspending. Of course, if your keywords have high quality scores, overspending shouldn’t be a concern, as the higher your quality of keyword is, the lower your CPC will be. You can also control your keyword costs by utilizing the correct match types:
- Broad Match – these keywords should be used sparingly, as any individual word in a broad match keyword could trigger an ad to serve by itself. For example, your company might sell a healthcare billing software, but if you use the broad match keyword “healthcare billing software”, your ads could serve on searches ranging from “best healthcare plan for my company” to “productivity software” to even something like “what is Donald Trump’s healthcare plan”.
- Broad Match Modified (BMM) – Similar to broad match keywords, but they give the advertiser the option of designating particular keywords that must appear in the user’s search. In the example above, the keyword “healthcare +billing +software” would mean that any query would need to include “billing software” in some form in order to trigger an ad. Some examples of searches that could trigger an ad include “online billing software”, “billing software for small businesses”, or “EHS billing software”.
- Phrase Match – This are probably the most popular match type. This match type requires a phrase (or close variant) to be included in the search, but additional terms can be included as part of the query. In the example above, some searches that might trigger ads include “best healthcare billing software”, “healthcare billing software cheap” or “online billing tools for doctor’s offices”.
- Exact Match – These require the user query to mimic the search keyword very closely, but can include close variant or same meaning terms, such as “healthcare invoicing software”, “digital healthcare billing tools”, or “billing software for hospitals”. Exact match keywords are typically best as part of a decision campaign.
You should also spend some time looking at keywords that have high volumes of impressions or traffic but don’t have any conversions. Typically, these are the places where even well-optimized accounts can waste the most budget, so it’s important to determine early and often if the keywords that you’re spending a lot of money on are worth it. It may be that some of these keywords are good places to focus your organic search strategy, rather than committing a sizable portion of your search budget to them.
This doesn’t mean that you should immediately pause any keyword that has a high CPC or cost and no conversions—many keywords are useful at introducing new users to your brand, and these types of terms (competitor names, brand or product attributes) can be more competitive (i.e. expensive) and may result in leads or sales down the road, so evaluating high-cost keywords needs to be done with a reliable attribution model in place as well.
Use Google Ads’ reports to analyze keywords
It’s important not just to review the search keywords themselves, but to use Google Ads’ most powerful report: the search terms report (formerly search query report, or SQR). The search terms report (STR) is an exact reporting of the actual keywords that users are searching that are triggering your ads. When paired with Google Ads’ robust performance data, you can get a really strong understanding of what people are looking for when they find your brand in search, which can also help you adjust your ad copy and overall marketing messaging.
The STR can also help you identify keywords that users are searching for that aren’t related to your brand, services, or products. You can use these to create negative keyword lists. We recommend having a strong general negative keyword list that applies to all campaigns in your Google Ads account from the beginning—this list should exclude adult/profane terms, careers terms, social media channel names, any general business information like phone number, address, names of company leadership, and any other objectionable searches that users might conduct. Your negative keyword lists should constantly be evolving based on your analysis of your STRs.
Questions to ask when auditing your Google Ads keywords
- Are the keywords I’m bidding on the most relevant for my business? Are they also relevant for my audience?
- Am I managing my budget by managing individual keyword CPC bids wherever possible?
- Am I using the right keyword match types for my goals?
- Are my most expensive keywords converting well? If not, are they helping to fill my marketing funnel?
- Am I strategically employing negative keywords and negative keyword lists?
Reports to use when auditing your Google Ads keywords
The reports you’ll want to focus on when auditing your Google Ads keywords are the quality score report and the search terms report. You may also want to use Google Search Console, Google Trends, and/or Google’s Keyword Planner tool to source new keyword opportunities or to gauge whether your current keywords are the most valuable. For a deeper analysis, you may want to explore Google Ads’ competitive metrics so you can gain a greater understanding of how your keywords are helping you increase your market share and outperform your competition in search.
Audit your ads
If your keywords are the spine of your Google Ads campaign, your ads are the mouthpiece. They’re the way you get your message across to your audience, they’re how you compel them to click, and they may well be the reason you do or don’t win a particular user’s business. They’re important. And what you put into them needs to both represent your brand comprehensively while remaining in line with Google’s best practices for ads, which can be tricky especially with such limited ad copy inventory.
The first thing to do when auditing your ads is to ensure you have appropriate numbers of ads in an ad group. Gone are the days of the SKAG—single-keyword ad group—where advertisers could get away with having just one ad in an ad group. Now, Google recommends that advertisers have at least three expanded text ads and one responsive search ad within a search ad group, and at least seven ad sizes and one responsive display ad within display ad groups. Doing so isn’t just a best practice, it helps to ensure that Google’s able to serve the most relevant message to an individual searcher, which gives your brand better odds of converting that user into a customer.
Another way to ensure that your ads are as relevant as possible to your audience is by utilizing dynamic keyword insertion (DKI), which will automatically add the user’s exact search term to the headline of your ad (provided the search term fits the headline without exceeding character limits). It’s likely that Google will phase out DKI in time, as their dynamic search ads product becomes more and more popular, but it’s still something that can be taken advantage of in the short term.
Dynamic search ads are a great tool—especially as part of a remarketing approach—because they don’t require you to define a list of keywords. If you’re working with a remarketing audience of users that have visited your site in the past, setting up a dynamic search campaign with that audience as your target means that anytime those users are searching on concepts related to your brand, you may be eligible to serve them a lower-funnel message to help encourage them to convert.
If dynamic search ads are of interest to you, responsive display ads should also be high on your list. By simply providing Google with a logo, an image, some ad copy, and a landing page, Google can create optimized ads that can serve in search, display and even on YouTube to target users when they may be more likely to convert.
Of course, whether that conversion is a sale, email signup, or simply a view of a key website page, it’s paramount to the success of your ads that you have strong, compelling calls to action that make it clear what you’re looking for your audience to do. Ads without strong CTAs will see their quality score suffer, meaning that their costs will inflate over time and eventually you’ll run out of budget with hardly any results.
It’s possible that your campaign is merely an informational or awareness-focused one, and just increasing awareness of your brand in your users’ minds is enough. If that’s the case—and even if it isn’t—you’ll want to make sure that you’re utilizing ad extensions to the fullest possible extent. While ad extensions vary in nature from callout text to phone call extensions to reviews, these free ad units can help strengthen the impression your brand makes in search, can make it easier for your audience to contact you, and can leave a more lasting impression in the minds of your audience.
Questions to ask when auditing your Google Ads ads
- Am I using the recommended number of ad variants in my ad groups? Do my expanded text ads provide enough variation in copy to allow Google to serve the right ad to the right user at the right time?
- Am I making use of dynamic search ads or at least dynamic keyword insertion to serve the most relevant message to my audience?
- Do my ads have clear, compelling calls to action?
- Do I have all relevant and actionable ad extensions enabled for all of my Google Ads campaigns?
Reports to use when auditing your Google Ads ads
Of course, the main report you’ll want to use when reviewing your Google ads is the Ads report, but other reports that can be helpful include the Placements > Where Ads Showed report, which shows where your display ads are appearing and how they’re performing on those particular sites.
Audit your landing pages
Headlines and descriptions (or images, GIFs, videos or HTML5 ads) are important parts of your ads—they’re the front of house, the eye candy that’s supposed to capture your audience’s attention and demand their interest. But the final part of your ad is probably the most important one: the landing page.
Why is it the most important? It’s where the magic happens. You can have a pristine keyword list, limitless budget and the most captivating ad copy anyone’s ever seen, but if you put your audience on a landing page that lacks opportunities for action, takes a long time to load, or just doesn’t look good, you’ll lose them quickly.
That’s why it’s so important that your landing pages have relevant headlines, clear and compelling calls to action, and an obvious, intuitive conversion opportunity—or opportunities, if you’re so inclined. The copy on your landing page should very closely mimic the copy in your ads, and the creative (images, colors, CTAs) should do the same thing. Remember: marketing is about consistency. The more consistent your message is, the more likely it is to stick with your audience, and the more likely you’ll be to win their business (at least in the long run).
Your thank you page should also have call tracking set up on it. Not every user wants to convert by filling out a form, and not every shopper is ready to buy on their first visit to your landing page. Some users are going to want to talk to a human being, and you should be tracking those touches as conversions as well.
For the users who are ready to convert on site, don’t serve them an inline message when they do. Send them to a dedicated thank you page. You’re doing this if you’re a retailer, of course, because the order confirmation page is baked into every single ecommerce site out there. But if you’re a B2B or lead gen marketer, the thank you page is a huge part of your nurturing efforts. Not only is it easier to track leads from thank you pages versus inline messages, it’s also an opportunity for your business to serve your new leads relevant content and give them other opportunities to engage with your brand before just leaving your site.
Questions to ask when auditing your Google Ads landing pages
- Does my landing page have strong, relevant copy that’s tied closely to the ads pointing to the page?
- Does my landing page have clear, compelling CTAs and an obvious, intuitive conversion opportunity?
- Does my landing page have call tracking set up?
- Do users who complete a desired action on my landing page get sent to a dedicated thank you page?
- Is conversion tracking set up on those thank you pages?
Reports to use when auditing your Google Ads ads
Don’t just use the Google Ads landing pages report to evaluate the performance of your landing pages. Use Google’s Page Speed Insights to make sure the page loads quickly, and use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool to be certain that it looks as good on mobile devices as it does on desktop devices.
Audit your audiences
Google Ads has a treasure trove of audience data, ranging from performance by age, gender and income (want to combine all three? Go for it!), to device, time of day, location and more. While this information on its surface can be helpful for your marketing team to make sure they’re reaching the right users in the right places at the right times, Google also allows you to adjust your bids against any one of these audiences so that you’re not overspending against groups that aren’t converting and that your budget is maximized when conversion opportunities are greater.
Reports to use when auditing your Google Ads ads
Focus on the following reports when you’re looking for audience information and implementing bid adjustments:
- Demographics (age/gender/income)
- Ad schedule (day/hour)
Address Your Optimization Score and Recommendations
Google has made it easier recently for advertisers to optimize their campaigns on the fly with the campaign optimization score and recommendations tools. The campaign optimization score gives your campaigns a percentage rating that can be viewed in your default campaigns report and is based on a variety of factors such as targeting, keywords, ad volume, and more. By using Google Ads recommendations, advertisers can quickly choose to employ Google’s recommendations for optimizing their campaigns or can reject them should they feel that there’s not a strong case for making the update.
While the optimization score and recommendations should never take the place of a proper audit, they are helpful tools that enable advertisers to complete basic campaign optimizations in just a few minutes.
This may all seem like a lot but…
Google Ads is a powerful tool with infinite options, but that power means audits can get overwhelming fast, even for professionals. You can better manage a Google Ads account audit by breaking it down into smaller pieces, like focusing on goals or keywords or landing pages. Or hand it over to the pros. Agencies like Raka help clients win in Google Ads and avoid common pitfalls. However you choose to handle your audit, implementing your audit results will help you get the most out of your ads budget.