Happy New Years. It’s the time of year when people look back to reflect on what they did or did not do in the last 12 months and make resolutions for what they expect to do differently in the up-coming year. As you start the new year I’d recommend looking back – at your PPC accounts. No account is perfect and whether you have one hour or a full day, one of the most valuable things you can do is an audit of your Google Adwords and Microsoft Bing accounts. The purpose and end goal of the audit is to generate a list of opportunities and improvements that you can implement either right away or throughout the next few months.
What is an account audit?
An account audit is a deep dive into your account to look at the bigger picture by finding opportunities to improve performance. An audit can be comprehensive and weeks to complete or can be broken up into phases to audit specific sections of the account from campaign settings to keywords.
No account is perfect. (Gasp) During the course of the year many things happen from search engines rolling out new features or changing existing ones to new campaigns or products launching. Inevitably something gets missed: ads expire and no active ads are in an ad group, a new campaign is rolled out with the settings of a previously existing campaign, negative keywords conflict with a new ad group, etc. Even the most seasoned professionals can miss opportunities when they have been working on the same account for a long time, which is why I recommend regularly auditing your account. Take the time now to step out of your day to day activities of bid optimization and keyword research and develop a list of actionable items and start to improve the performance and health of your search accounts.
What should you audit?
Everything. (Gasp again.) Yes, you read that right. During the course of the year every single Google and Bing account that you manage should be audited. If you have limited time, and lets face it in SEM we could work 24/7, then start with the basics and work your way through your accounts.
If you haven’t done a Campaign Settings Audit in the last year, start there. Make sure that you have got the basics correct and then analyze your existing campaigns and ad groups to determine where to focus next.
When should you audit?
Regularly! If you are having performance issues on a specific account, it’s time to do a comprehensive audit to develop an action plan to get the performance to align with goals. I also recommend completing audits on specific elements of your account after the search engines release new features to make sure that you’re not missing opportunities.
I’m not recommending a comprehensive deep dive audit on a monthly basis, but most accounts should go through a comprehensive audit at least twice a year.
Also, as a general rule of thumb you don’t typically want to audit right after you’ve made a strategy change or updated your account because it could skew the performance information and you might make unnecessary changes.
Who should audit?
It really depends. You typically want a fresh set of eyes looking at the account so they can ask questions as to why things were done the way they were and make recommendations. The individual needs to have enough experience and knowledge about the search engine to make recommendations and to be able to challenge why things were implemented the way they were. That being said for audits digging into specific issues I’ve uncovered, I’ll complete the audit myself and then ask a colleague to review my results and recommendations to make sure I haven’t missed anything. I personally also like to use audits as training tools for individuals new to search. I’ll give them the comprehensive audit checklist and then have them work through the list on their own and then go over their results with a more senior member of the team to review what they found, ask questions, and learn the WHYs behind what we do.
If you are doing a comprehensive deep dive audit I don’t recommend having the individual managing the account perform the audit. You want the deep dive to challenge the current status quo and make sure that things haven’t been overlooked. It’s too easy to assume that of course you did everything correctly and skip through sections of an audit without critically looking at it. I’d also recommend that the individual performing the audit have as much if not more experience than the current individual managing the account.
Remember the point of the audit isn’t to point fingers and blame – it’s to improve the accounts and identify opportunities. Use audits as a learning tool and be opened minded that even the most experienced search professionals can make a mistake. Learn from whatever mistakes you have made in the accounts and move forward.
Check back in regularly as I’ll be updating the PointIt blog for a series surrounding account audits and the steps you can take to develop your PPC To-Do List for the beginning of 2015.