Is your agency managing your PPC account effectively? Here’s how to check…

How to audit your own PPC search account…

I started JRC Marketing for a number of reasons. First and foremost is that I love digital marketing, I get a real buzz out of taking a budget, using it and returning the client revenue that far exceeds the budget they gave me, and being able to prove it using data. One of the other major reasons for me starting this digital marketing agency, is that when working on the client side I was tired of seeing other agencies, making a living, being seemingly successful, whilst delivering very poor, underperforming campaigns to their clients, who unfortunately don’t realise, or know how to spot it is happening. Therefore, this post is intended for marketing managers and small business owners who have an agency running their campaign, to identify if that agency is running their campaign well. It’s also intended to help people who manage their own campaigns to work out true metrics for a “good campaign”.

Don’t worry, you don’t necessarily need to have any working PPC knowledge, you won’t be making any changes, you’ll be identifying if your campaign is in good shape or not. What you do need to have a basic knowledge of what PPC is and how it functions i.e an auction style format for adverts against a search query. You will also need to know that a PPC account is layered as such, Account > Campaign > Ad Group > Keywords/Ads.

Part 2 of this post, likely to go live early next week, will deal with some ways to improve campaign performance for people who read this blog who do manage their own campaigns.

Advisory notice: The following post is based on industry best practice, many PPC managers have their own ways of working and some will get results through using AdWords indifferently. This post isn’t to say that results aren’t possible on campaigns managed in other ways, this post is to identify typical mistakes and or factors in campaign management that are impeding the account running to its optimum potential.

Here are the key points we as a Google partner digital agency check as part of our free PPC audit, I will go through each point in this post.

 

  1. Account Structure – If the account is structured incorrectly, regardless of how good keywords or ad copy is, the account will be paying an above average price and getting below average results.
  2. Keyword Match Types/Negative Keywords
  3. Quality Score
  4. Ad Position & Cost Per Click Bids
  5. Click Through Rates

 

In very simplistic terms, when looking at campaign performance I tend to split the campaign into 2 groups, that work hand in hand to get results. These are “prospecting” and “grabbing attention”. The account structure, keywords chosen & keyword match types will determine how well you are prospecting your potential customers. In other words, are the people your trying to show your ad too based on your targeting criteria, the right people to be showing your ad too. If this is wrong, the whole campaign is wrong. Take being an e-commerce watch website and bidding to show your ad for bracelet related keywords.

The second is “grabbing attention”. Assume the agency got the prospecting right (which they should, they’re an agency) have they set up and optimised the account/campaign well enough to effectively grab attention. This is where ad copy, ad positions, ad click-through rate and keyword quality score come in. Whilst your prospecting may be spot on, if the “grabbing attention” metrics are not, then again the campaign will not be performing at its optimum. For true success, both of these “sections of metrics’ need to work together.

First of all, to be able to follow this post, you will need access to your PPC account, if your digital marketing agency set it up for you, then simply ask them to invite you to view the account via email. It’s your account, spending your budget, you have the right to have access, be wary of any agency that makes excuses as to why you can’t have access, they’re more than likely hiding a poor account.

1. PPC Account Structure

So, what does a good account structure look like? To understand this, let’s take a step back. You must first understand what google’s objectives are. To have a good PPC account, you need to align your objectives with theirs. Googles main objective is to give each user the most relevant website for their search query, giving that user the best experience. This means that relevancy is key, critical, crucial, I can’t say it enough. This will become apparent as we go through the other audit points. To be able to have a campaign that delivers relevancy, the campaign must be structured in a way that allows for it. A diagram of our structure is below, whilst this only shows two campaigns the idea is that the example shown is replicated per product, an example of this lies further below.

We typically have no more than 3 keywords per ad group. By forcing this practice upon ourselves we ensure that the ad copy for that ad group will always be very relevant to the 3 keywords within that ad group. This relevancy gives us a better quality score, but we will get on to that further in this post. You will also note in our diagram that our account structure splits out different match types, which leads me perfectly on to my next point.

Task – Check how your account is structured. Click on the account, then choose a campaign, the ad groups should then nest underneath that campaign, when you click an ad group it will show you the list of keywords for that ad group.

N.B – If your account looks nothing like the below, then alarm bells should be ringing. Poor accounts typically have very few ad groups, a large list of keywords per ad group and multiple different match types, all of the same keyword in the same ad group. Other stereotypes of poor campaigns are conflicting products, for example, if you sell multiple products online, each product should have its own ad group or even campaign if necessary. An example would be a jeweller having keywords for watches and necklaces in the same ad group, you will pay more per click, have lower ad positions and poor performance because your ad copy can only appeal to someone buying watches or someone buying necklaces. If your account looks anything like what I’m describing here, then contact us, we will take a look free of charge and offer advice.

PPC Account Structure

PPC Account Images

2. PPC Match Types & Negative Keywords

Task – In your account, click on a campaign, then click on an ad group (nested below the campaign and looks like the example above), in doing so, you should automatically be taken to the keywords in that ad group.

PPC match types are the different types of keywords you can bid on. This topic closely follows account structure, the best practice is for keyword match types to be separated by ad group or campaign. To help you get your head around match types see the below. You have the following options, Broad, Broad Match Modified, Phrase match, exact match. The table below demonstrates how they can be used.

Keyword Setup

Potential results

Broad Match

red womens hats

red womens hats

cheap womens hats

bad womens hats

womens scarfs

mens hats

Broad Match Modified (BMM)

.+red +womens +hats

red womens hats

red good quality womens hats

womens hats in red

red hats womens

Phrase match

“red womens hats”

red womens hats

cheap red womens hats

good red womens hats

bad red womens hats

red womens hats in northampton

red womens hats for sale online

Exact match

[red womens hats]

red womens hats

We use a mixture of broad match modified and exact match keywords, BMM keywords are your prospecting keywords, these allow you to find new keywords to target. We typically use BMM to find “hero” keywords, which are keywords that we see in search query reports (reports that show exactly what the user searched) that have proven conversions. We then take these hero keywords and give them their own ad group with exact match criteria. The rationale is that the hero keyword is a great performer, by segmenting it to its own ad group your enabling maximum relevancy and can bid slightly higher as you know this keyword will deliver leads/sales time after time. Some agencies use all 4 match types in one ad group, if you see this in your account, you should seriously question your agency. Doing so means your bidding against yourself. If you have the following keywords “restaurant epos system” [restaurant epos system] and +restaurant +epos +system in one ad group, when a searcher types in restaurant epos system, your entering 3 horses into the race, all bidding with the same pot of money against each other in the auction which is driving up your cost per click for no reason what so ever. Whilst Google has measures in place to mitigate this somewhat, by having conflicting match types in the same group you are missing out on being highly relevant and thus impeding your account performance.

Task – Take a look at your search query report, these are the keywords that are actually typed into google, ensure they match up to what you would expect to find in there. On the keywords tab of an ad group, click search terms. The image below shows where this sits. 

Exact match keywords are your most targetted, but exact match keywords typically have lower search volume so whilst it may be efficient and low cost, a pure exact match campaign is unlikely to deliver the volume you require. BMM adds volume but keeps that tight control to enable high-quality targeting. If your agency is utilising broad keywords without them being modified (note the + sign in front) then this is typically a trait of a poor agency. The likelihood is these broad keywords are haemorrhaging your budget, and money is being spent on these poor performing keywords over any keywords that actually perform well. That isn’t to say that Broad is always terrible, some agencies use broad well, however broad keywords require a large number of negative keywords for them to be effective, best practice in PPC today is to use BMM as you allow for a greater volume of closely relevant keywords without wasting budget by paying for clicks from keywords that are not relevant enough. If you do notice a large number of broad keywords, then check the negative keywords by clicking the negative keywords button as shown below, if there are very few keywords in there, then its fair to say the agency is wasting your budget and you should address this urgently.

check marketing agency

3. Quality Score

In terms of optimization, high-quality score (7/10 +) is the holy grail. Quality score is given to each keyword within your account and quality score impacts your ad’s position and how much you pay per click. Becuase it impacts on ad position it also impacts on CTR too, as higher ad positions naturally deliver higher click-through rates.

Generally, there are two ways to increase your campaigns ad position for a given search query. You either pay more (bid higher CPC) or become the best result for that search. You become the best result by showing google by way of optimisation that you are the most relevant advert and site for that person to go to for this search query. As google’s objectives are to serve the most relevant websites for any search query, they reward you being relevant with higher ad positions and lower cost per clicks. That’s right, if your quality score is higher, you could raise your ad position and actually save money in doing so. Not only that, the higher ad positions have higher click-through rates, so you’re driving more targeted traffic to your website, at a lower cost per click. As you can see, quality score is very important and its because we’re aiming for a good quality score that we must ensure that the account is structured correctly, allowing for close relevance between keywords and ad groups, coincidently what I mentioned in points 1 & 2.

Task – Take a look at your keyword quality score. In the account head to the keywords tab, you want to see all keywords for the campaign, so make sure you are not already in an ad group. Click the campaign name, then click keywords. Now click modify columns, under attributes ensure Quality score is clicked and moves over to the right. Whilst here, click “competitive metrics” and add “Search Impr. share” ,  “Search Exact match IS”  and “Search Lost IS (rank)”.

Quality Score Image

Now you have these columns active, scroll down and check the quality score of the keywords. If these are below 5 and your agency has not notified you about this then you should seek to work out why and ask them. Low-quality scores are costing you more money, your budget is being wasted when it needn’t be. Also, check the search lost is rank, the higher the percentage here, the more of a detrimental impact the poor quality scores are having on your account. This shows how often your ad is not shown for a keyword within your campaign because it is not deemed relevant enough due to a low QS.

Below is a diagram that shows which factors affect quality score, as you can see relevance is important. Note how 3 of the 5 factors are relating to relevance. The relevance of the keywords to ads, the relevance of keyword and ad to search query, and relevance of the keyword, ad and search query to the page you’re sending the traffic. If you want to do well in AdWords, you need to be relevant throughout campaign structure.

Some examples of campaign attributes that may lead to a poorer quality score are:

  • The keyword is not utilised in the ad copy for the ad group in which the keyword sits.
  • The landing page doesn’t contain the keyword and is irrelevant to the searcher’s query i.e sending traffic for “car radios” to Halfords home page instead of the “car radio” section on their website.
  • The CTR of the campaign has always been poor (note, this one is hard to solve, it’s a never-ending cycle, better QS and high bids give better ad position and higher CTR).

From the previous checks in this audit, if you do have poor QS you should be able to see the cause, it could be down to account structure and poor keyword choices not allowing for close enough relevance.If you spot this and your agency hasn’t notified you or mentioned it as an action point for improvement, then question why you are with them. If you find yourself in this position but are not sure what is wrong, you can contact us.

Quality Score

4. Ad Position & Cost Per Click Bids

Hopefully, by this point in your audit you should know if your campaign is working efficiently like a well-oiled machine, or alternatively seeping money like a leaky bucket. There are some further points to check but it is worth saying, if the campaign looks to have fallen short of best practice for audit points 1-3 then points 4 and 5 will be severely impacted as a result in any case, however, reviewing them will allow you to gather more information and more metrics to monitor improvement.

As discussed in QS (Quality Score) ad position is important, over 80% of searches end with the searcher clicking the top site link returned. This percentage trickles down to positions, for your account you really need to be in position 3 or above to achieve meaningful results. A good QS is one way to raise ad position, however paying the right price is also important. Imagine an auction, you vs your competitor, both of you have a QS of 8/10. However, your competitor is bidding £1.50 and your max CPC is £1.00. Your competitor will always win the auction and show in a higher ad position than you will. For this reason, even if you have a good QS you may still be appearing lower down. You could trump your competitor by working to a 10/10 QS in which case a £1 bid may still give you a higher position. The agency (or you if you do it yourself) should be monitoring ad position to ensure your advert is in front of as many eyes (targeted well-prospected eyes, of course) as possible, by being in positions 3 or above. If you notice your average ad position is not very high, then again, account optimisation is needed and you should push your agency to do this.

Task – Check average ad position. Click the campaign name, then click the ads tab. Modify columns and add “Average ad position”.

Ad Position & Cost per Click Bids

Budget

Whilst discussing cost per click bids and the auction style it’s only right I discuss the budget. Another audit trail to look for is to check how often your ads are served, you may remember in point 3 we added 3 columns to the keywords tab. Search impression share, Search exact match and search lost is rank. We’ve already discussed search lost is rank, but search impression share is important when calculating bids. Search impression share tells you how many times your ad is shown out of all the times it could possibly be shown, a low search impression share is usually the result of budget exhaustion. Imagine you have a £30 per day budget and the average cost per click is £10. By 10am that day you may have had 3 clicks from 30 searches. So a 10% CTR, but you have exhausted all your budget already. From 10am onwards there are another 800 people searching using keywords in your campaign. Your ads aren’t showing any of these searches because you have no money for that day to bid. Your search impression share would be very low because out of a total of 830 possible impressions, you only showed for 30. This would be a key indicator for improvement, either allocating more budget, or if this was not possible the agency (or you) should have identified the issue and used past conversion data to find the time of day most likely to convert, so you can only show your ads during this time to increase the chances of success and cut wasted spend and early budget exhaustion on times of day and resulting clicks with a lower chance of conversion. If you spot this and your agency hasn’t notified you or asked for more budget, then question why you are with them…

5. Click Through Rate

The click-through rate is the number of people who clicked your ad divided by the total number of people who saw your ad (impressions). Going back to my earlier point in the very first paragraph, the click-through rate and ad position really ask the question “Am I grabbing my audiences attention well enough?”.  A high click-through rate can help you narrow down the campaign size to focus on only a few very targeted and high rewarding keywords. Analysing click-through rate enables you to understand and monitor the performance and impact of two metrics,  ad copy performance and ad position. Both go hand in hand, because of quality score. The more relevant the ad to the keywords in the ad group the higher the ad position, providing other QS factors are in good standing (i.e good bid, good LP, good account history etc). If this is the case then there should always be an A/B test running with ad copy variation to squeeze continuous incremental CTR performance improvements out of the campaigns, again providing efficiency. These A/B tests will ensure the best performing ad copy is always in use. If the CTR is low then this is a warning flag that other factors may need to be fixed, these factors could be but are not limited to the following.

  • The max CPC may need to rise in order to get a higher ad position and higher CTR
  • Ad copy rotation may need to change to optimize for clicks instead of evenly
  • Further A/B testing may need to be done on all ad groups to ensure the best ad copy most likely to get a click is running at all times.

Click through rate is something that with good account structure, good keyword choice and good optimisation for good QS should naturally flow, with a little help from A/B testing. Again if your CTR looks low, its likely due to an overall poor performing account which stems from other factors which form part of this audit falling short.

Conclusion

These 5 auditing points should give you enough of an indication as to whether your pay per click campaign is being managed effectively and efficiently. As I said at the beginning of this post this is not an exact science but what I have talked through here is best practice. There may well be people reading this who work for agencies frustrated that I’m encouraging you to delve into PPC accounts and assess performance. You have a right to know whats going on in your account, if your agency is running your account well, they will have no problem with you doing your own audit from time to time. If your agency shows frustration then it’s likely because they are scared of you conducting the audit and finding weak performance areas.

Remember, even if there is a reason/excuse for something negative you find when following this audit, the agency should still be keeping you up to date and informing you along the way. Let’s say a low search impression share, the rationale could be as simple as there isn’t enough budget, but shouldn’t the agency be letting you know that your account could perform better and generate more leads/sales if you were to allow for a budget increase.

Hopefully, and I sincerely mean this, as a  marketing manager completing this audit you will find that your agency is running your account well and there are less than a few niggles which you have identified. However, if you find that every area of this audit list is showing weak performance then you really should look to move your business elsewhere. I understand you may be tempted to prompt the agency and ask them to fix all the issues, however, do you really want to be working with an agency that was happy for the campaign to run in such poor shape before you informed them you knew about it?

In my next blog post, I’ll be discussing factors that sit outside of the PPC account but can impede or improve PPC performance, mainly conversion optimized landing pages, which also improve quality score within the account.

Whilst I have you, if you liked this post, then be sure to check out another recent post, “5 Questions you should ask your digital agency every meeting for incremental improvement”