Mike Ruins External PPC Audits

Mike_Ruins_Digital_MarketingPPC audits are good, right?  They give you information that clues you into how your account’s performing; leading to actions that will improve that performance.  Or so it seems.

Recently, a client sent a PPC audit from another agency (that was free) and said…

Take a look at what’s in here and implement anything you think would be helpful, and explain why you’re not implementing anything that’s recommended.

So, I thought that instead of only responding to the client, I’d respond to the world and ruin them for both advertisers and agencies/account managers :).

Let’s take a short journey together through the thought processes behind external PPC audits and why the different parties involved think they’re a good idea…and why they’re not.

What I mean by audit

TaxesNow when I say “audit,” I don’t mean an account manager proactively seeking out another set of eyes for review and discussion.  That can be a VERY GOOD thing.  No account or account manager is perfect.  They all miss things sometimes.  A broad match keyword slips in.  A negative keyword wasn’t added.  An ad group is somehow missing an ad.  It happens to the best of ’em.

At our agency, we call this “quality assurance.”  It can help to have another expert with which to discuss deeper overall strategy.  Why is the account structured this way?  Why are you focusing on these keywords and not those keywords?  Is there a reason you’re not doing remarketing yet?  These are all questions that may have perfectly good answers.  But they may not.

But here I’m talking about external audits that can’t and don’t get to ask these questions.  They just give general (sometimes automated) data and recommendation spews based upon “best practices,” which may or may not actually be the best practice for this particular account.  But they have no way of knowing that, and the advertiser that requested the audit (or got persuaded to allow someone to do it for them) typically doesn’t either.

So for this post, I’ll be using the term “audit” literally; as an inspection of an account by an outside source.

When an advertiser might think it’s a good idea, and why it’s not

From the advertiser side, external PPC audits can seem like a good idea for a few reasons…

  • To get data as to why the campaigns you built aren’t working and what will fix them
  • To evaluate if you should hire a particular agency/account manager
  • To evaluate if your current agency/account manager is doing their job
  • To see if you should acquire an account manager

But here’s why they’re not…

To find out why campaigns aren’t working and what will fix them

Typically, this is the in-house marketing department or SMB owner who thought they’d give PPC a try on their own.  It makes sense.  You want more traffic and conversions, and from what you’ve heard, it’s really easy to get some campaigns up and running.  But, the PPC platforms owe you an apology.  Something like this…




But that won’t be coming to your inbox or mailbox any time soon.

The problem is that once you’ve received the audit, now what?  If you didn’t know or have the time to figure out what was wrong with your account in the first place, what makes you think you’ll know how or have the time to fix them?

You’ll be left with a bunch of recommendations you have no idea how to implement.  And again, those recommendations are simply “best practices.”  Most of them will probably help if someone who knows how will implement them.  But without more details, it won’t necessarily be the case with ALL of them.

To evaluate if you should hire a particular agency/account manager

An audit is somewhere close to zero indication of the type of account management they’ll provide.  If you’re coming to them for the audit, there’s already a reason you’re choosing them to do it for you.  The audit isn’t likely to change much.  Most of the time, they’ll do a fairly nice job on the audit to get the sale.  But will they put the same effort and attention into the account after a few months?

Also, there’s so much more to account management.  There’s strategy, innovation, creativity, communication, organization, prioritization, time management, etc. etc.
Cookie-CutterAnd if the audit’s free or automated, you’ll likely receive something that’s cookie-cutter and laced with general “best practices” (as it should be because of time constraints) that, again, may or may not actually be the best options for your business.

Lastly, is the person doing the audit the same person who will be managing the account?  It may not be.  So any impression you receive about the agency’s competence to manage your account may not be realized with the actual person assigned to manage your account.

To evaluate if your current agency/account manager is doing their job

First, some questions…

  • Are they meeting your goals?
  • If not, have they identified why and laid out an action plan for improvement?
  • Are they providing good service; communicating results, identifying areas for improvement and explaining what they’re doing and why they’re doing it in a timely manner? (relative to your account’s size)
  • Are they actively communicating about opportunities for change, growth and improvement?

If the answer to these questions is either yes or no, you don’t need an audit.  You need to either be appreciative of the partnership (if yes), or consider finding a new agency/account manager (if no).

Also, and this one’s important…every auditor is going to be able to identify things that can be improved in an account.  If I audited the accounts of the agency you’re having audit your account, I’d be able to create a nice long document full of recommendations as well.  But that doesn’t mean those are the most important things that need to be done RIGHT NOW.  There’s a very good chance that the recommendations present in an audit are way down on the priority list, which is why they haven’t been done yet.

Time isn’t unlimited.  A good account manager prioritizes activities and explains WHY those activities are the most important RIGHT NOW.  An audit can’t tell you if you’re current account manager is doing their job any more than answering the questions above can.

[Update: @SusanEDub made another great point post-publish.  She said “sometimes accounts are the way they are because of client interference, not agency ineptitude.”  You should consider that maybe your willingness or ability to allow your agency to implement certain recommendations is a factor in their ability to meet your goals.]

To see if you should acquire an account manager

If you’re motivated to ask because your account isn’t meeting its goals and you can’t identify the reasons why on your own, then the answer is yes.

When an agency might think it’s a good idea, and why it’s not

PresentFrom the agency/account manager side, external PPC audits can seem like a good idea for two main reasons I can think of…

  • To use as a sales tool
  • To help identify management issues

But here’s why they’re not…

To use as a sales tool

As an agency/account manager, you’re investing time in giving recommendations that may or may not be relevant, and may or may not be high priority.  In the case of the outside audit being forwarded to me by my client, the auditor gave away their time for free.  I simply responded with the reasons why most of the recommendations in the audit were not a priority and the details about how I was currently using the time we have to get them better results.  I’m pretty confident they’re not going anywhere.

I don’t how what percentage of the time these free audits get forwarded for someone else to implement (or are used in-house) rather than resulting in a sale, but my guess is it’s significant.  In my case, the client didn’t even read it.  They just forwarded it to us to use if appropriate.

If the audit is paid, of course you’ll take the work.  But even if you do profit, your recommendations may be worthless.

Again, let’s take the audit I was sent as an example.  The audit examined a three month period of data.  But in the middle of the three month period, a lot of things were changed that rendered many of the recommendations meaningless.

Or how about the fact that you may not know the ultimate strategies for everything?  Check out this dandy of a recommendation from the audit…




In this case, the auditor wasn’t aware that this recommendation is simply not true.  You CAN positively target brand keywords in another Shopping campaign.  They’re just not aware of how that can be done.

In the end, are these audits really accomplishing the goals of creating them?  Are they truly helpful and resulting in a net profit for both parties?

To help identify management issues

This should constantly be done with analysis and reporting anyway.  I’ve never had a situation where I couldn’t find issues that can be worked on with my accounts.  I’ve also really never had issues prioritizing them.  If you’re simply doing “best practice PPC” (just the basics) and reporting numbers, you’re doing yourself and your client a disservice.

Every report should have…

  • Current key metrics that are trended, segmented and benchmarked
  • Key insights
  • Bottom-line impact
  • Prioritized actions for moving forward

If they do, there’s no need for an outside audit.  You’ve got all you need already.

What to do instead

For advertisers

Instead of getting an external audit, get an account manager.  If you already have one, refer back to the list of questions above about meeting goals, communication, etc.

If you’re wondering about how to go about getting an account manager – how would you choose someone to redo your kitchen or be your financial advisor?  You’d do some research, probably get a referral, decide on reputation, etc. (Side note: Case studies is something to ruin in the future.)

For agencies/account managers

Instead of offering audits, demonstrate knowledge in visible ways (content, speaking, networking, etc.), get great results and service for your clients so that they’ll tell others about you.

Make sure to check out more posts in the Mike Ruins Digital Marketing series, where I challenge the status quo by tackling digital marketing topics that most practitioners have all wrong.

Mike Fleming

Mike Fleming is a Senior Client Manager for Point It, and has been managing PPC accounts of all kinds for over 6 years; with a strong emphasis in Analytics and Conversion Optimization. He’s a respected digital marketing blogger and speaker whose articles can be found on industry blogs like SEMRush.com and SearchEngineGuide.com. He also contributed to a published book called The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. Mike enjoys playing, writing and recording music, playing basketball and investing. He resides in Canton, Ohio with a girl who threw a snowball at him one day…then married him.

  • Mike, You make great points for large clients already receiving professional services. But as you pointed out, my audit offers for the DIY crowd which are manually and time-painstakingly performed actually end up helping quite a bit, It is often all that stands between them having a chance to get their money’s worth from PPC or getting a steady diet of bad traffic, so they appreciate it. The kissing cousin is the designer who pretended to be a PPC expert and has left a mess. Plenty of those so-called campaigns out there.

    August 25, 2016 at 3:57 pm

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