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What Everybody Ought to Know About Auditing Pay-Per-Click Campaigns

In the first three parts of this series on SEM audits, we looked at mechanisms for cross-checking costs, sales, and your bidding system. This final installment will look more globally at whether your SEM Program is meeting your marketing objectives.

Are your objectives clearly delineated and sufficiently detailed?

  • Is your efficiency target focused on non-brand keyword performance, or is it a hybrid? You want to avoid hybrid targets as your search marketing manager has no control over the volume or quality of search on your brand name.
  • Are there some terms that you’re willing to lose money on for branding effect? Don’t be hoodwinked into believing that general terms drive sales on specific terms, they don’t. (See the "search funnel" is a myth.)
  • Does your target vary appropriately by product category and manufacturer brand? Most retailers have more margin in some areas than others. If your efficiency targets are tied to the actual margin dollars on the order you’re in good shape, but if you’re looking at a percentage of sales, make sure to consider margin differentials.
  • Do the targets factor in some spillover to the phones? Cookie breakage? Lifetime value? Each of these can impact the perceived effectiveness of your campaign.

Are you meeting the targets you’ve set?

  1. Gather Data
  • Keyword-level Costs and Sales. Your in-house search manager or SEM should be able to easily provide you with clicks, costs, orders and sales dollars by keyword phrase and engine for the last month or two. Don't be content with the "top 50" or "top 100" terms, you need to see everything.
  • Google, Yahoo, & MSN Term Lists. Have your in-house manager or SEM dump the current active terms with the creative (ad text), the destination urls, the current bids and the current position (average position over the last week, or day is fine). Again, this should be trivially easy to access.
  • Analyze the Data for each engine
    • Brand vs. Non-Brand. Sort the Keyword level Cost and Sales data alphabetically by keyword. What fraction of your sales are coming from your brand name and permutations (store name, storename.com, www.storename)? Is the aggregate performance on the competitive, non-brand terms within your efficiency targets?
    • High traffic terms. Sort the same spreadsheet by cost descending, so that the most expensive terms come to the top of the list. For the twenty to fifty most expensive terms pull back the current bid and position from the appropriate Term List sheet. Do the bids and positions make sense for these critical terms given the economic results you're seeing? Are there instances where you're bidding a lot on poor performers? Are there instances where you're bidding too little on great performers and you're not high on the page? Bidding on mid- to low- traffic terms is a complex statistical game; bidding on the high traffic terms isn't. Absent branding goals, these term’s performance should be pretty well in line with your targets.
    • Category-level performance. Delete the "brand phrases" from the performance data, as these phrases distort the real picture. Re-sort the list by product category. Do the results for each category make sense?
    • Manufacturer brand performance. Repeat the process categorizing by manufacturer brand. Are there opportunities for improvement? Do the numbers cause concern?
  • Term Lists. How thoroughly do the term lists cover your offerings? A decent rule of thumb holds that you should have ~5 to 10 keywords for every product you sell. Numbers aren't the ultimate measure, as it's easy to inflate a poor list by simply appending or pre-pending "shop for", "buy", "online", "on sale", etc. to each term. Creating a truly comprehensive list with permutations that actually help capture more traffic is hard work, but well worth the effort. Low traffic, detailed terms convert at a much higher rate than more general terms and are often less expensive.
  • Ad Copy. Is the ad copy compelling, accurate and specific enough to the product? It usually isn't cost effective to hand write copy for every single ad, but the templates used should be at least category specific. And, it may well be worthwhile to put extra attention into your top 50 to 100 most viewed ads.
  • Destination URLs. Grab a random selection of phrases and copy and paste the destination urls into your browser. Is that the page you would pick to land the user on? If not, find out why the landing page is what it is. Getting the landing pages wrong costs you sales, as many shoppers aren't patient enough to navigate more than is necessary.
  • It’s important to run these audits periodically. A broken program leaves money on the table, and without a fairly comprehensive look under the hood every 6 months or so, it’s impossible to know whether you’re getting your money’s worth.
    All posts in the PPC Audit series:
    1. PPC Cost Audit
    2. PPC paid search Sales Audit
    3. PPC paid search Bidding Audit
    4. PPC paid search Marketing Audit
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