Over the last few weeks, I have spent quite a bit of time auditing PPC accounts in order to identify opportunities and provide specific recommendations to help keep accounts moving towards their goals.

The biggest issue I face when starting an audit is where to begin and what direction to take. There are so many moving parts to a paid search account that it’s easy to get lost in the weeds and miss the big picture.

Today I’m going to share my methodology for auditing an account, identifying the key issues, and coming up with recommendations that lead to improved performance.

Pre Audit Preparation

Prior to beginning an audit, the first item I ascertain is the account goals. Understanding the goals of an account helps me determine what areas I need to focus on. If an account’s primary aim is to drive volume, I am examining key metrics such as conversion rate and conversion volume. On the contrary, if goals are more cost efficiency and profit focused, I key in on areas such as cost per click and quality scores.

In addition to understanding goals, I ask questions about business processes. For instance, is part of the lead generation or sales process based off of phone calls? If so, are these calls being tracked? Knowing this information can be helpful when judging performance and formulating recommendations.

Once I have answers to my questions, I’ll then pull some basic report data from the either Google’s interface or Bing’s report center to understand how the account is trending. Understanding trends provides me clues to what will be uncovered during the deep dive phase of the audit.

Conducting the Audit

After much trial and error, I have come up with an effective methodology for auditing an account. Below are the steps I follow when conducting the actual audit.

  • Campaign Settings – I begin the audit process by reviewing the campaign settings. At this point, the goal is to uncover whether settings have been enabled in a way that might negatively impact performance. Examples of incorrect settings may be campaigns opted into Search and Display at the same time, ads not set to ‘rotate indefinitely’, whether or not mobile bid modifiers have been implemented, and if geo targets have been properly set.

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  • Account Structure/Keywords – At this stage of the audit, I am looking for critical flaws in campaign structure. Some key questions I am trying to answer are:
  1. Does each campaign have a specific theme?
  1. Do the ad groups support the main theme of their respective campaigns?
  1. Do ad groups contain more than 20 keywords, or are the keyword themes varied and conflicting?
  • Bidding – Once I’ve gone through examining account structure and keywords, I pay close attention to bidding. I am trying to determine if keywords have unnecessarily high cost per clicks. From my experience, accounts suffering from high cost per acquisition are often overpaying for clicks. Make sure bidding strategy is examined closely.
  • Ad Copy – When examining ad copy, I am looking to see if ad tests are being conducted, if at least 2 ads are running per ad group, and if the messaging in each ad is unique from one another. If formal ad testing is not being done, the key here is to at least gain an understanding of what kind of copy is performing well and what isn’t.
  • Ad Extensions – When auditing ad extensions I specifically look to see if at least sitelinks are enabled. There may be business reasons why other extensions such as phone, review and location may not be running. If you have a multiple page site, sitelinks are crucial to driving higher click-thru-rate percentages and conversion rates.
  • Performance by Segment – Reviewing performance by ad position, device, and network is key to understanding total performance. Aggregate data in and of itself can tell only part of a story at best and at worst, skew results completely. I was recently conducting an audit on an account and found that performance on a series of campaigns was subpar. As I dove in further, it turned out that Google Search Partners were underperforming and the cause of poor performance. If looking solely at top line data, this variance would never have been uncovered. Below is an example of segment performance by network.

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Preparing Recommendations and Presenting Findings

Once the audit is completed, you should have a list that consists of all the issues that need to be corrected and the opportunities uncovered. The next step is to prepare a report for your client, or if doing a report for your own account, at least write up an action plan. Keep in mind the old saying ‘If it isn’t on paper, it doesn’t get done’!

At Hanapin we have a process whereby we list the key takeaways from an audit, followed by concrete recommendations of what can be done in order to fix the issues or seize the opportunities.

When presenting PPC audit findings to a client or your organization’s management, do it in a neutral, non-threatening sort of way. In many instances, the client or co-worker your presenting to has actually done the account work themselves and may be defensive or territorial regarding their work. The purpose is to make an account better, not pass blame or judgment on the way it was built or managed.


PPC audits are extremely enlightening. They offer the opportunity to uncover the deeper issues that might be holding performance back or the hidden opportunities that can drive performance forward. Auditing accounts other than your own offers the opportunity to learn how other people set up and manage their paid search programs.

I recommend auditing accounts once a quarter to determine if your paid search program is still on track. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn the strength’s and weaknesses driving your PPC program!