An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it won’t do anything for your AdWords account. The PPC equivalent of a mid-morning Pink Lady—daily bid adjustments, adding negatives, testing new ad copy—is an excellent habit to develop, but that alone isn’t enough to keep your account performing at a high level.
Monthly audits might sound like overkill (they aren’t), but taking a deep dive on a quarterly basis is both necessary and completely doable for even the most overworked SEM. To ensure a healthy account, here are the five questions you need to ask yourself (or your account manager) every quarter.
Question #1: “Is there something lurking in my account that’s killing my ROI?”
While bid adjustments and adding new keywords to your account are great ways to create and enhance opportunity, doing so with too much zeal can actually have a negative impact on performance. Eventually (quickly if you’re an obsessive tinkerer), you end up bidding on the same term in multiple ad groups. You add a negative keyword that puts the kibosh on a top performer. You throw your carefully crafted bidding strategy out of whack.
That’s why the first phase of your quarterly audit starts with cleaning. Not “dusting the blinds before grandma comes to visit” cleaning: more like the SEM equivalent of fumigation.
The 3 D’s of AdWords Account cleanup…
As you scour your search query report you’ll find two things: an abundance of trash and a few flecks of gold. Unfortunately, both may already be present in your account. Deduplicating is the process of identifying and purging duplicate keywords residing in different ad groups from your account. Using software like WordStream Advisor or AdWords Editor, you can find duplicates and subsequently delete them en masse. This in and of itself is valuable. But the real value here is in the opportunity to compare before hoisting the doppelgangers into the incinerator.
By pulling in key metrics for the quarter, you can view the relative performance of each iteration of your duplicate keywords. Don’t just pause or delete one member of a duplicate pair at random: instead, leave the top performer running (if it’s doing better than the rest of the ad group, consider moving everything else to a new home) and get rid of the underperformer(s).
Your customers are active at different times. They buy at different times, too. On a daily or weekly basis, this data probably isn’t reliable enough to base your bidding decisions on. Quarterly data sets, though, offer a level of insight that can be used to save money and optimize spend during historically successful times of day.
Like an earthy cabernet or Tom Brady, dayparting gets better with age: once you’ve put quarterly analyses into practice for a few years, you can conduct more detailed comparisons. This allows you to detect trends, affording you more control over how and where your budget is spent.
Dayparting in action
For example, let’s say for the last two years your wine of the month club, which makes the majority of its money from Black Friday to Christmas Eve, has performed well between 10pm and 3am for the first two weeks of February. Had you not kept a close eye on hour of day performance, you’d never have known to ratchet up your remarketing efforts to capitalize lonely valentines browsing your Bordeaux.
A word of caution, though. Don’t make scheduling changes at the campaign level. There’s no way every campaign in your account performs well during the same hours of the day; if you’re going to take the time to conduct in-depth analysis, take the time to maximize the advantage it gives you.
You’re reading this. I assume you’re already optimizing for mobile (at the very least you’re running mobile-specific ads in your top-performing and branded campaigns). That being said, it makes sense to split your campaigns out and take a look at performance by device.
To do so, click the “segment” button in the AdWords UI and scroll down to “Device.” After doing so, each campaign listed should have three segments beneath it: one for each device type. If you notice that on a specific network or in a particular campaign your metrics are misaligned (for better or worse), take action.
If cost per conversion doesn’t make sense on mobile, add a negative adjustment where necessary; conversely, if mobile is doing significantly better than desktop or tablet, consider breaking it out into its own campaign and see if you can improve performance even more (while simultaneously isolating and rectifying any issues on the other device types).
Most of the time, intent is different on mobile than it is on desktop. And with Google affording advertisers the ability to make bid adjustments on tablets now (in terms of audience/intent here, think on-the-go twentysomething or sticky-fingered toddler or tech-savvy dad in an overstuffed recliner between snaps on Sunday afternoon), there’s even more opportunity to tailor ad copy and dayparting to your desired audience.
Whatever you do… don’t make account-wide bid adjustments based on device. Not every keyword is going to perform the same way on all three device-types: start by targeting everything evenly and adjust once you’ve got at least a month’s worth of data (unless something’s performing heinously, in which case, nuke it early and troubleshoot later).
Question #2. “Are my goals for the year still realistic?”
KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are the metrics by which you judge success in advertising. They will vary wildly based on your vertical and the channels you’re using.
Regardless of which performance indicators you gauge success by, assessing quarterly performance is essential in determining whether or not you’re on track. While daily and weekly check-ins keep you well informed, getting an idea of the macro trends in your account can prove to be invaluable when it comes to setting and adjusting goals.
To achieve this higher-level analysis ask yourself these two questions:
Did I achieve my goals last quarter?
There’s a secret to answering this question affirmatively: set realistic goals. Every business on the planet wants to maximize sales and/or leads while simultaneously minimizing costs. The fact of the matter is that doing so is incredibly difficult. This is why you should set yearly goals that are specific, malleable, and realistic.
Instead of casting a wide net, consider creating goals based on individual networks, campaigns, or your sales funnel. Understand that you cannot expect the same conversion volume from Gmail Ads as you do from Dynamic Remarketing. A branded search campaign might have low CPCs, but it’s not doing the same kind of legwork as your top of funnel search and display efforts.
Are high and low points accounted for?
In every industry there are seasonal highs and lows. These trends aren’t limited to paid search, and they’re inevitable. In most eCommerce accounts, business booms between the end of November and December 25th; for B2B, this same timeframe typically incites cobwebs.
That being said, each quarter there will be a slew of random days and weeks that have dramatic impacts on account performance: for better or worse. Plot your KPIs on graphs and delve deeper when you notice something erratic.
If there’s a snowstorm and half of your target demo is without power, I doubt they'll be converting on your site that day. Conversely, if Kim Kardashian tweets about your artisanal soap and site traffic increases twentyfold, there will probably be a spike in your data that won’t be evident in the years that follow. There’s also the chance that a piece of code breaks or your site crashes and you lose the ability to accurately track what’s happening.
Regardless of the reason behind sporadic changes in performance, make note so you don’t blow a gasket next year when it looks completely different.
OK: You’ve looked at the last quarter. You’ve adjusted for the apparent idiosyncrasies. Now it’s time to take a step back and reassess your goals for the remainder of the year. Use the wealth of data you’ve mined to make smart, actionable decisions aimed at achievable results. If it looks like you need to make drastic changes in order to get your account on track, the next two questions will stimulate your investigation into the new features Google has rolled out since last quarter, and guide your expansion onto more platforms.
Question #3. “Am I maximizing the value of ad extensions?”
Look, ad extensions are great. They allow you to get different kinds of valuable information in front of potential customers.
Take this Converse ad for example:
- It’s got Callout Extensions
- Structured Snippets
- And Sitelinks
Ad extensions convince potential customers to visit your site (ad extensions are proven to enhance CTR and Quality Score). Oh, and they allow your ads to squash unprepared or less attentive competitors, consuming more of the SERP’s valuable real estate. They should not, under any circumstance, be implemented with infomercial rotisserie-like apathy.
You see, not every ad extension is going to be suitable for every portion of your sales funnel. There may be instances where sitelink extensions outperform structured snippets, and others where an app extension or phone number makes the most sense. My point is this: nothing says you have to set ad extensions at the campaign level once and then pretend they don’t exist. But people do it all the time.
Take a look at this chart denoting the levels at which ad extensions can be implemented. What do you notice?
I know, I know. You’re thinking, “Allen, this chart is totally superfluous: there are X’s everywhere!”
I’d wager that the majority of AdWords accounts in existence actually using ad extensions are doing so at the account level. Don’t be like everybody else. Be better.
Each “X” represents an opportunity for you to convey a specific set of information to prospects based on the keywords they’re searching for. You’re already doing this with your ad copy, but why stop there?
The purpose of each campaign you’re running is different. The keywords you’re bidding on are different. Logic dictates that your ad extension should be different, too. If you’ve got a large account, making wholesale changes could be a massive undertaking: that’s why I’ve included it on this list.
The beginning of a quarter is the perfect time to swap out those nonspecific ad extensions you've been rolling out since you built out in favor of more effective replacements. Here’s the only thing you need to know in order to make them as pertinent (and enticing) as possible.
Relevant ad extensions are based on intent
When you’re working at the campaign or ad group level, the best way to avoid recycling your old account-wide ad extensions is to consider searcher intent.
Let’s pretend you run an online coding school. At the top of the funnel, where you’re bidding on keywords like “learn to code” or “online coding school,” your ad extensions should reflect the intent (exploratory initial research) of the prospects making the search queries. This would look something like:
- Structured Snippets: State your course offerings
- Sitelink Extensions: Link to informational pages
- Callout Extensions: Boast about your competitive advantages
Conversely, when it comes to mid- and lower-funnel campaigns, your ad extensions should offer additional opportunities for qualified searchers to convert.
- Call Extensions: By avoiding call extensions on top of funnel ads, you filter out non-converters, increasing the value of phone calls from paid search.
- Sitelink Extensions: Link to high-converting landing pages
Bear in mind that Google is constantly testing. If you only want specific types of ad extensions to appear for a given ad group or campaign, don’t have active extensions for each available type. And whatever you do, make sure you don’t have account-wide ad extensions running.
The bottom line: if you’re going to take the time to build out granular ad groups and write ad copy that converts, why not spend an extra five minutes crafting highly specific ad extensions, too?
Question #4. “What new features have been introduced? How can I use them to improve account performance?”
Things change often in AdWords (if you want to see just how much, check out our incredible interactive timeline of AdWords History, courtesy of Dan Shewan). Sometimes Google kicks down the door and dresses new features in neon signage. Other updates are released to little fanfare. Regardless of the publicity, the perpetual string of AdWords updates can make it difficult to keep track of which new features are released (and more importantly, which ones could work for your account).
Now, I don’t assume every small business owner advertising on AdWords is voraciously combing through our blog over morning coffee every day. But setting aside time to review changes at least once a quarter is important. Google’s running list of new AdWords features is an excellent place to start.
To illustrate the sorts of changes that are rolled out, let’s take a look at July 2016:
To some, the July 2016 cohort of AdWords changes may as well be written in hieroglyphs. But there’s one thing that sticks out as important to even the greenest advertisers: Expanded Text Ads. The feature doubles the amount of characters you can utilize in your ad copy. Its potential impact on your account is obvious.
Most of the features announced that month—cross-device conversions, for example—are less obviously helpful. Others could be incredibly useful depending on your vertical and the device-preference of your target demographic. I’m looking at you, price extensions.
By staying up to date on the latest AdWords features and asking yourself “How could this improve my account performance?” you can find new opportunities to maximize your return. If Google’s going to keep adding cool new features, put yourself in position take full advantage.
Question #5. “Is expanding to a new platform right for me?”
We just took a look at how you did meeting your goals for the quarter and adjusted them accordingly. We dove into how to find out which shiny new toys Google has provided. Now let’s consider whether or not expanding your digital presence could bolster performance.
Perfect for: Advertising? Seriously, squad. If you’re looking to acquire more leads without watching your wallet self-immolate, try lead ads. Bold, interactive creative more your scene? Canvas ads.
Perfect for: Reaching a different subset of the general population through search while paying slightly less per click than you would on AdWords. Oh, and cool social extensions.
Wait another quarter if: You’re still far from optimized on AdWords. That being said, it can’t hurt to duplicate your branded campaigns today!
Perfect for: Mobile performance but not much else.
Wait another quarter if: Their prices don’t drop soon.
Perfect for: [crickets]
Wait another quarter if: You think LinkedIn’s recent-ish acquisition bodes well for the platform’s advertising future.
Still unsure of where to start? Fret not: our AdWords Performance Grader is the perfect jumping off point for you to gather all the account data you could possibly need. It’s a super easy and FREE way to benchmark your current performance so you can check your progress next quarter.
Armed with this information and your quarterly audit, you’ll have everything you need to create actionable optimization goals and make next quarter your most profitable yet!
About the author
Allen Finn is a content marketing specialist and the reigning fantasy football champion at WordStream. He enjoys couth menswear, dank eats, and the dulcet tones of the Wu-Tang Clan. If you know what's good for you, you'll follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.