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An Easy PPC Audit Strategy: Four Simple yet Powerful Questions to Ask Your Agency

Updated: Feb 14

This article is for small business owners who want to their agency accountable, cut wasteful spending, and focus for profitability. Learn crucial PPC metrics and how to align your audience, ads, and landing pages for maximum conversions.


This is not your typical how to guide to conduct a Google Ads PPC audit; those are too technical and difficult to follow. This is about developing a curious and strategic mindset: an audit can be easy if you ask the right questions.


Google Reports an 8:1 ROI On Average - Learn to Audit your PPC Account to Get Results Like This

The ROI for Google PPC/SEM Ads is There

Google paid search advertising, also known as SEM (search engine marketing) or PPC (pay-per-click), can be the fastest and easiest way for small businesses to attract customers looking for their products and services.

 

According to Google, “we conservatively estimate that for every $1 a business spends on Google Ads, they receive $8 in profit through Google Search and Ads.”


Opportunity Lost Due to the “Set-it-and-forget-it” Approach

That’s an earth-shattering statistic!  However, almost every time I do an audit for a potential client, I see something drastically different:  A “set-it-and-forget-it” approach laden with wasted spend, void of a meaningful strategy. 

 

Don’t Blame the PPC Agency – Teach Yourself the Basics So You Can Drive Results

Small business owners get fleeced by PPC agencies all the time, but you shouldn’t blame the agencies managing your account.  You need to learn how to work with them.  Don’t be satisfied with that Google PPC report you get once a month and never look at.  It’s up to the small business owner or leader to take accountability, and to know enough to be dangerous (I can’t believe I just typed that - is it 2004?).  We’ll get you reviewing your Google paid advertising like an expert.

The key to winning in paid search is strategic thinking arounf your audience, the ad itself, and the landing page experience

Even with AI and all the flashy software that keeps popping up, the key to winning in paid search is strategic thinking around your audience, the ad itself, and the landing page experience.

 

You don’t need to be a technical wizard. You do need to spot and correct big mistakes, unearth new opportunities, and give your agency a kick in the butt when they need it. 


Four Simple but Powerful Questions to Ask Your SEM Agency

We start with these four business strategy questions. These questions will help you see the forest for the trees, and gain a greater perspective of how your account is setup and performing.

1.     Are we targeting my ideal customer with ads that match their search intent?

  • To supplement this question, ask:

    • What keywords are we getting the most conversions from?

    • What keywords are we spending the most budget on?

2.     Do I have my priority products and services (e.g., most profitable) featured in the ads? 

3.     Do the PPC ads link to a landing page that provides a good customer experience? 

  • Does the landing page relate to the intent of what the customer searched and get the potential customer to do something, like fill out a form or call me?

  • Think about how the following interconnect:

  1. The search terms a customer types in Google

  2. The words featured in the Ad copy

  3. The landing page copy and experience

If the keyword your customer typed is "Used Blue Honda Civic", the Ad Headline should feature "Used Honda Civic" and the landing page should also relate to "Used Honda Civics." If the search volume is there, you might consider getting more specific and having this customer flow include the word blue.

4.     What condition is my paid search account in on a scale form 1-10 (1 as abysmal, 10 being great)? 

  • This is the rating either you, or a non-biased third party should perform

  • Want help getting a grade for your PPC account? Book a PPC STRATEGY CALL

  • Use this determination to motivate the person managing the account to improve.  If you’re managing the account yourself, get ready for a self-flagellation (most likely)

Don’t underestimate the power of the simple questions above.  Answering these will get you in the top 90% of small business SEM accounts. 

Let’s go through some additional conversation points you can cover in your next paid search agency call.  Yes, you need to talk with your agency.

Technical Questions To Get Comfortable Asking in a PPC Audit

Asking the below will help you shape a well-rounded view of what’s working and what’s not working.  You can adjust the time period of the data as you see fit, but always ensure you are looking at apples-to-apples time comparisons.

  • How much budget have I spent in the last 3 months?

  • How many conversions have I gotten in the last 3 months?

    • If Google says you have 214 conversions over the last 3 months, but in reality your sales have not increased, you need to focus on the right conversion metrics that matter. Agencies love vanity metrics, and you need to defend again them obscuring reality.

  • You can replace conversions with any high-level metric, like number of products sold, number of customers acquired, leads, etc.

  • What was my cost per conversion in the last three months?

    • You can replace cost per conversion with metrics like CAC (cost to acquire a customer), CPC (cost per click), or Cost Per Lead (CPL)

    • Tip: If you know you CAC (cost to acquire a customer), see how far you can scale your PPC campaign before your CAC is prohibitively high

  • Ask your agency what your main KPIs are according to them - you'll want to align sharply on these

  • Do my campaigns (a campaign is a set of ad groups (and ads) that share a budget, location targeting, and other settings) and ad groups within them relate to my most important products and services?

    • The general idea here is to get at the proper account structure

  • Are any campaigns, ad groups, or ads, doing particularly well (e.g., have the lowest cost per conversion)?

  • You should have a strong sense of your best performing and worst performing ads

  • Why are some ads performing well?

    • Is it because there is high demand to capture, or because you wrote compelling headline copy?

  • Are other ads failing because the competition is too intense, or because your headline copy is confusing or weak?

  • Should we bid more on high performing ads and less on low performers?   

  • A quick highlight for my two favorite questions to ask.  These two questions tie so much together...

My two favorite metrics to ask your agency about:  What percent of my search impressions are lost due to budget vs. ad rank?
  • What is my search lost IS (impression share) due to budget?

    • "Search lost impression share (budget)" estimates how often your ad didn't show on Google search sites due to low budget.

  • Agencies always want you to increase your budget and spend more, because it makes their job easier and gives them a scapegoat for low performance.  Now you can say, “What is the percentage of our impression share lost due to budget?”  If the percentage of impression share lost due to budget is low, like 20%, then it’s not a budget issue.

    • If you have a high percentage here, say 70% or above, you should consider increasing your budget.

  • What is my search lost IS (impressions share)  due to rank?

    • "Search lost impression share (rank)" estimates how often your ad didn't show on Google search sites due to poor Ad Rank.Ad Rank determines your ad position and whether your ad is able to show at all. It's calculated using your bid, ad and website quality, context of the search, Ad Rank Thresholds, and the expected impact of extensions and other ad formats.

    • If budget isn’t the problem, and you’re not showing up in top spots due to rank, then you need to do the following:

  • Review your ads to make sure they have strong headlines, descriptions, and other copy sections

  • Review the landing page each ad send traffic to. Will your potential customer see a landing page relevant to the ad, with compelling information that gets them to take the desired action you want, i.e., gets them to convert? Or is there a disconnect between the ad and the landing page?

Going Even Deeper

  • What search keywords (the keywords your potential customers type in Google) are driving the most conversions?

  • What is my bid type?

    • Main options are maximize clicks vs. maximize conversions.  Google is much better at maximizing conversions nowadays, so this should be the default as long you have enough data to feed the algorithm.

  • What should my max bid amount be?

    • How much you're willing to bid plays a major role in where you'll show up in Google. In order to determine a max bid, you need a solid sense of predicted ROI. Here's a max bid formula:

      • Max Bid = CLV (customer lifetime value) X conversion rate

      • Let's say you're Dollar Shave Club. Even though you sell cheap razors, you keep a customer for an average of 18 months buying blades, which equals $75 in gross revenue. Let's say $30 of that is profit. If you take the $30 in profit and multiply it by your conversion rate, let's use 5% for this example, your max bid would be $1,5 If you had double the conversion at 10%, you could bid $3.0 and still be profitable.

  • Another Critical Area to Optimize:  Negative Keywords

    • This is table stakes, and you need to  BE ON IT.  When you first set up your campaigns, you need to have your agency or person managing the Google account finding and marketing negative keywords daily.  Yes, daily

    • This is especially important if you are running broad match, with let’s Google algorithm choose very loose keywords related to the keywords you’ve provided in the account.

  • For Example, broad match keyword targeting for “luxury homes” may direct keyword traffic for “modular home under $20k” to your ads.  Is a $20k modular home a luxury home?  No.  So you need to make modular homes part of your negative keyword list.

  • In general, exact match or phrase match are better to start out with for keyword targeting.  However, Google’s algorithm does get better and better, so once you have your sea legs in search marketing, you can get bolder and try broad match, as long as you commit to reviewing keywords driving people to you ads, and adding negative keywords, every single day.

  • What are the conversion values for my expensive vs. cheaper products and services?

    • You can have a serious advantage in paid search if you tell Google what services are worth the most.  By embedding conversion value for you most profitable services, Google will priorities these conversions and work harder to get them for you.  Ask you agency how to assign different conversion values to each of your offerings.

  • It goes without saying that you need the right conversion tracking and goals set up with Google tag manager.   If you need help setting up conversion tracking, this is a specialty of ours – (book a conversion tracking call).  Google analytics is an important free tool to optimize your campaigns, but you can stick to your Google Ads account for now.  

  • A/B testing: Neil Patel has a nice and simple article on this here.  I recommend starting with test for headline and descriptions, and using a BOLD vs. LITERAL vs. CREATE CURIOSITY style approach.  If you using responsive search ads (RSAs), the tests happen automatically.  Just ask to see which deadlines and descriptions are top performers vs. the rest. 

Conclusion: Take Action and Review Your Google Ads Account Yourself or With Your Agency

If you ask the four simple strategic questions I shared, you’ll be in excellent shape to audit and optimize your Google PPC account.


Remember, a PPC audit isn't about convoluted technical jargon; it's about accountability from a small business leader's perspective. It's about forging a clear link between your business, the customer, the overall experience, and the outcomes you aim to achieve. Keep yourself grounded in reality by asking strategic questions to build a foundation. Ask deeper, more technical questions to pop the hood and make sure you're getting the most you can from your agency and Google campaigns.


Want help with your PPC audit from Strategy Kiln? Book a PPC STRATEGY CALL

 

 Adam Fischer is a marketer with 15 years of experience in brand management and digital marketing. Before founding Strategy Kiln, he led marketing teams at Fortune 500 companies like CVS Health and unicorn start-ups like IntelyCare . His B.S. in philosophy from Northeastern University helps him ask questions that get to the heart of business issues. His M.B.A. in marketing from the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU helps him thinking strategically about driving brands and growth.

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