PPC Audit: How to Conduct a Paid Search Audit

Conducting thorough examinations of your paid search efforts is paramount for pinpointing opportunities to elevate campaign effectiveness, increase return on ad spend, and gain an edge over the competition.

A comprehensive PPC audit probes every facet of your account structure, audience targeting methods, ad messaging, post-click experiences, conversion tracking, and performance measurement practices. No single component is overlooked during this exhaustive analysis aimed at surfacing areas for optimization.

PPC Audit Definition

What is a PPC Audit?

A PPC audit is an exhaustive analysis and examination of every element of your paid search marketing campaigns. It leaves no stone unturned in scrutinizing account structure, targeting tactics, ad copy, landing pages, conversion funnels, and measurement practices.

By comprehensively auditing all aspects of your PPC efforts, you uncover a complete set of actionable insights to systematically improve campaign performance.

When to Conduct a PPC Audit?

There's no single prescribed timeframe for how often to conduct PPC audits, as it depends on factors like your monthly ad spend, number of active campaigns, objectives, and internal resources. However, most PPC professionals recommend:

  • For smaller advertisers, aim for quarterly PPC audits at minimum
  • For medium or larger advertisers, or those with very active accounts, bi-annual audits
  • For all advertisers, a comprehensive annual PPC audit should be performed

Here's an in-depth look at how to conduct an exhaustive audit:

How to Conduct a PPC Audit

Account Structure Review

The foundation of any high-performing PPC program is a thoughtfully structured and meticulously organized Google Ads account. During an audit, scrutinize the following elements:

  • Campaign settings evaluation (networks, locations, bid strategies, etc.)
  • Assessment of campaign build outs and their alignment with marketing objectives  
  • Analysis of ad group architecture and keyword grouping strategies
  • Consistency of ad extension implementations across campaigns
  • Use of campaign priorities, negative keyword conflict resolutions
  • Integration of automated extensions, assets, and complementary beta features
  • Cohesion between account structure and your sales funnel/conversion pathways

Search Query Analysis

Your keyword lists may seem comprehensive, but an audit provides insights into new areas for expansion and reigning in wasted spend:  

  • Mine search query data to identify top "money drain" queries to add as negatives
  • Uncover new relevant queries representing affordable impression growth areas
  • Assess match type performance and deployment for optimization opportunities
  • Leverage keyword data to remove underperformers and add high-potential terms

Ad Testing Insights

Split-testing ad copy is critical, but audit insights can supercharge your messaging:  

  • Evaluate CTRs across current ad variations to identify winners/losers
  • Monitor creative asset freshness against business updates and offerings (in conjunction with SEO monitoring)
  • Ensure thorough, ongoing testing of core value props, calls-to-action, extensions
  • Leverage automated rules and scripts to perpetually run messaging experiments
  • Assess how your ads stack up qualitatively against competitive SERP landscape

Landing Page & Conversion Funnel Analysis

Even stellar ad copy can't compensate for a poor post-click experience. Analyze each step of the conversion funnel:

  • Map keywords to specific landing page experiences to identify mismatches
  • Review page load times, mobile optimization, UX/UI friction
  • Calculate conversion rates through full-funnel paths and assess drop-offs  
  • Ensure conversion actions are properly tracked and attributed in analytics
  • Leverage session recording tools to identify hidden funnel stumbling blocks

Measurement Assessment

Finally, auditing ensures you're accurately tracking every valuable signal to elevate your competitive advantage:

  • Confirm conversion tracking accuracy across all campaigns and 3rd party integrations
  • Assess opportunities to ingest new audiences, lists, affinity data from CRMs, etc.  
  • Benchmark performance KPIs against category averages and top competitors
  • Leverage automated bidding controls, scripts to quickly act on measurement insights
  • Identify ways to enhance attribution modeling and online-to-offline tracking

Conducting a diligent PPC audit keeps your campaigns hyper-optimized and profitable. From restructuring and funnel revamps to messaging tests and bidding tactics, the insights gleaned are invaluable.

PPC Audit Checklist

Here is a checklist from Ian Dincuff, PBJ Marketing's very own Sr. Paid Media Manager, for you to reference when conducting your next PPC assessment:

1. Keyword Search Review

A. Search Term Audit
  • Add negative keywords to stop unrelated searches.
  • Include additional long-tail search terms.
B. Identify Non-performing Keywords
  • High CPC compared to account average.
  • High cost per conversion compared to account average.
  • Keywords with status warnings (low search volume, below first page bid, low quality score).
C. Review Match Types
  • Evaluate for potential phrase or exact match additions.
D. Auction Insights Report
  • Check for new competitors.
  • Identify increased competitor spend.
E .Keyword Status
  • Look for 'below first page bid estimate' warnings.
  • Identify 'rarely shown due to low quality score' warnings.
  • Check for 'low search volume' warnings.

2. Ad Review

A. Ads by Ad Group
  • Identify ads with:
    • Low conversion rates.
    • Low quality scores.
    • Low CTR.
  • Improve ad strength to achieve a Good or Excellent score.
B. Ad Copy Split Testing
  • Test headlines and descriptions to identify best performers.
C. Landing Page Review
  • Assess landing page performance for conversion rates.
  • Ensure all landing pages have working URLs.
  • Confirm no disapproved ads due to 404 errors or slow page load times.
D. Ad Copy Warnings
  • Check for limited approvals.
  • Resolve any disapproved ads.

Ad Extensions

  • Review and optimize:
    • Sitelinks.
    • Callouts.
    • Structured snippets.
    • Call extensions.
    • Lead form extensions.
    • Location extensions.
    • Affiliate location extensions.
    • Price extensions.
    • Promotion extensions.
  • Review and optimize image extensions.
3. Quality Score
  • Identify and improve low quality score keywords.
  • Identify and improve low quality score ads.
  • Adjust ad copy to enhance keyword targeting.
  • Update landing pages to enhance keyword targeting.
  • Review Google Analytics for bounce rates and session times.
4. Bid Optimization - Audience & Demographic Targeting
  • Optimize bids by:
    • Hour of the day.
    • Day of the week.
    • Age demographics.
    • Gender demographics.
    • Income demographics.
    • Location.
  • Review and add new potential audiences.
5. Conversion Action Checks
  • Verify all conversion actions are working correctly.
  • Review call extension report if tracking phone calls.
6. Location Targeting
  • Exclude non-targeted location searches.
  • Review location-based bid optimizations.
7. Campaign Goal Settings
  • Ensure current campaign goal is appropriate.
  • For CPA Goal: ensure it is lower than actual performance.
  • If conversions have stalled, consider a different goal.
8. Quality Control
  • Conduct budget pacing checks.
  • Review payment and account budgets.
9. Recommendations Tab
  • Evaluate system-generated recommendations.
  • Decide on implementation or rejection.
10. Policy Manager
  • Ensure account complies with Google's policies.

Benefits of a PPC Audit

While intensive, thorough audits of your paid media campaigns yield substantial upsides that more than justify the effort:

Maximized Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) and Profitability

  • Identify and eliminate wasted ad spend on irrelevant queries
  • Optimize low-performing keywords, ad copy, bids to improve returns
  • Uncover conversion rate bottlenecks in landing pages/funnels (focus on CRO strategy)
  • Reallocate budgets towards top-performing areas maximizing revenue

Sustained Competitive Edge

  • Expose visibility gaps where competitors are outperforming you
  • Highlight new PPC automations, data integrations, etc. to leverage
  • Ensure campaigns evolve with changing business priorities/roadmaps
  • Benchmark performance against industry averages and closest rivals

Elevated Brand Presence

  • Uncover new relevant keywords to increase comprehensive visibility
  • Refine targeting tactics for more prominent ad placements
  • Test/optimize ad messaging for higher click-through rates
  • Build SERP dominance by aligning presence with high-intent audiences