Why You Need to Perform an SEM Audit and How to Do It

Search engine marketing (SEM), or paid search, has leveled the playing field for businesses, allowing small players to compete with larger, well-known brands. Advertisers prefer SEM because it is easy to set up and manage, but mostly because it quickly builds traffic.

Because this advertising model heavily relies on search engines, the most popular platforms used by advertisers are Google AdWords and Yahoo! Bing Network. These platforms let you advertise within the sponsored listings of search engine results pages (SERPs) or in websites that partner with the search engine.  Pay-per-call has also been introduced to mobile search users, where the ad is charged by the number of clicks that resulted in a direct call from the user’s smartphone.

To remain competitive in the search market, PPC advertisers aggressively bid for better-qualified leads that drive better conversions. But maintaining high rankings with a limited budget is no easy feat.

A good look at your existing SEM strategy will allow you to enjoy the full benefits of this powerful advertising model. And performing an audit is a good place to start. An extensive review of your strategy ensures that all actionable steps are taken to improve the performance of your paid search activities.

Why Audit Your SEM Strategy?

An SEM audit is a nitty-gritty assessment of all your paid search accounts. Whether you’re an advertiser onboarding an existing PPC Denver account or reviewing an account you’ve been managing, it is a specialized skill worth developing.

Here are several reasons to do an audit:

  • You’re not hitting your conversion and sales targets
  • You want to get a jump on the competition
  • You want to boost your click-through rates in email marketing
  • You want to increase your social following
  • Your website traffic is decreasing or not improving
  • You want to optimize bounce rate on web pages
  • Your sales is lower than your PPC budget
  • You want to scale up your PPC game with a lesser budget
  • You want to review your account’s historical background
  • Your conversion count is suspiciously low, or suspiciously high despite low sales numbers
  • Your click count and conversion rates are identical

Any combination of these reasons will call for an extensive SEM audit. With this critical step in your paid search campaigns, you can realign your focus on marketing efforts that bring the most conversions and ROIs. And you can discover areas that warrant improvements or cancellation, saving you a great deal of time and money.

Preparing for an Audit

Whether you’re just doing a periodical audit or preparing for a strategy upgrade, it’s important to study the historical background of the account and brush up on the reason behind its structure. In doing so, it will be easier for you to navigate the account and cover everything in your audit. But to ease through this process, you should already have an idea what you’re going to search.

Setting criteria, priorities, and goals help streamline the course of your audit. Once you’ve decided on these areas, you will also need to set up a simple decision filter, which will guide you in organizing the steps or actions you’ll take with all your findings.

Key Performance Metrics

Three metrics matter the most in reviewing the performance of your paid search efforts. These are traffic, conversion, and ROI. Evaluating your campaigns under these metrics tell you which key areas in your overall strategy require improvements, giving you a solid foundation to achieve your goals.

  1. ROI-focused metrics: The whole point of paid search advertising is to turn leads into customers. Because paid advertising comes at a cost, it’s important to consider the return on investment. Keep in mind that to accurately measure the value of your PPC campaigns and know how to optimize them for better ROI, you must look beyond click-through-rates. Measure ROI on a per-lead basis, instead. To do so, you need to track specific leads in your CRM back to each campaign, every sale back to its source, and track which calls lead to sales. You can then calculate the revenue of every customer attributed to a PPC campaign. Using tools like call tracking platforms, CRM integration for lead generation, and dynamic revenue tracking for e-commerce will help you acquire these values from your account.
  2. Conversion-focused metrics: Conversions are better PPC metrics as they let you know how many people are signing up for the service and not just clicking on the ads. Tracking tools are also relatively easier to set up in Google AdWords and Yahoo/Bing accounts. Most tracking platforms allow you to monitor specific customer activity, including sign-ups, purchases, and other actions customers take on your website. Tracking your conversions let you know which campaigns are actually performing well.
  3. Traffic-focused metrics: The four basic components of traffic-focused metrics are the following:
  • Device segmentation
  • Impression share
  • Search impressions
  • Click-through rates

You will easily get these values using your paid search account. With Google Adwords, for example, you can get these items using the features available in the interface. After determining the key metrics to dive into, you may then proceed to auditing these key areas of your paid search account.

Key Audit Areas in SEM

Account structure: A rule of thumb when changing your SEM strategy or updating an account is to first dive into the account’s structure. If you’re having performance issues with your campaigns, what you’ll find during the audit should help you better organize your account and make the right adjustments.

Keyword Analysis: Keywords are the bread and butter of paid search advertising. Knowing which keywords you have and have not been bidding on is crucial. Always check for negative and duplicate keywords in each ad group you’re bidding on and try removing them or splitting your ad groups. These steps may lead to improve click-through rates, which will eventually impact your quality score and cost-per-click rates.

Settings Analysis: Paid search platforms offer a dizzying array of tools to help you optimize your campaigns for better overall performance. Using the settings in your account, you can practically improve every area of your campaign, including targeting search and display traffic, device bid modifiers, ad rotation, location/language targeting, ad delivery method, and several other items in the account settings and campaign structures. The way you modify these settings will have a huge impact on your account’s performance. Don’t let these small but crucial details slip past your watchful eye.

Quality Score: There are three important values to look for when determining your quality score: ad relevance, expected CTR, and landing page experience. Your quality score report should provide a detailed look at how much you pay for a click on your ad and how well it ranks on SERPs. The purpose of the report is to drive your focus toward improving your campaign’s performance.

For more information on how to get your performance data, check out this detailed guide from Karooya.com.

Note that these are just some of the main components of an account that you should dive into. You’ll also want to look into networks, audiences, and languages.

Other Critical Components

Landing Page Optimization: The goal of PPC is to drive traffic to a particular web page, whether it’s a homepage or an independent web page. The landing page contains everything about the marketing campaign, including the unique selling proposition, a hero shot, and a call to action (CTA). That is why landing page optimization is so important. This is the point in the PPC journey where you should put your best foot forward and entice visitors to take an action, otherwise, your campaign will get lost in a sea of ads. Grading your landing pages using a range of metrics lets you know which optimization techniques need upgrading.

The Digital Marketer offers a Landing Page Audit worksheet and 15-point checklist on how to review landing pages. It has a grading guide that helps you determine the quality of your landing pages.

Competitive Analysis: A PPC audit should go beyond optimizing your AdWords account. Assessing the competitive landscape is also a key task for advertisers. Getting the scoop on your competitor’s paid search and auction activities gives you an idea of their strategy. If you wish to succeed in a competitive ad group, your ads must stand out. Doing this analysis helps you find areas to improve on or better ways to craft your ads.

Ad Extensions:  Auditing your ad extensions in the Google interface is also essential to every business or vertical. Basically, ad extensions should have the most relevant information about the business or the product/service being advertised. For instance, if the business has a brick and mortar location, check if the location extension is running. Double-check if the call extensions are switched on according to the call center or office hours of the account you’re managing.

Top Tools to Automate a SEM Audit

There are a handful of great tools for performing audits on paid search campaigns, but two are popular in the industry for their ability to dig deep into a PPC account and discover specific areas for improvement.

  1. WorldStream’s Google AdWords Performance Grader

The WorldStream’s PPC Audit Tool is a free tool that lets you discover what’s wrong with your account, what you can do about it, and what you can expect if you follow the recommendations. It has an easy-to-use interface, as well. The tool, however, only focuses on eight key PPC metric areas. It also doesn’t touch on specific conversion data, which is quite important if you need to update your SEM strategy.

  1. Certified Knowledge’s Report Analyzer Tool

A premium PPC tool offered inside the Certified Knowledge community, the Report Analyzer Tool gives you deeper insights on several areas of your campaign that are making money and have loopholes or potential problem areas. While you can get valuable insights and large volumes of data using the tool, it only provides a glimpse of the overall health of your paid search campaigns.

These tools are extremely helpful, but you should only use them for quick diagnostics. The best tool for an in-depth analysis of a paid search account is still a management software or dedicated campaign managers. PPC teams have access to a range of robust platforms and resources to diagnose and troubleshoot problem areas and implement or recommend changes to your overall SEM strategy.

The more complex your campaign structures are, the more daunting and tedious auditing becomes. The goal is to cut through the noise, find holes to cover up, and determine if a strategy update is necessary.

Getting as many focused data as possible will ease the burden of making honest judgments and adjustments to your paid search campaigns. More importantly, your findings should help you advance your SEM strategy and scale up your performance against competitors.

Given how rapidly paid search advertising is improving, more and more businesses will realize its value in the digital marketing mix. And as search engine giants continue to refine their algorithms, the competition for the best ad placements will become steeper. Routine check-ups of your SEM strategy should top your list of priorities.

For better, more effective SEM strategy, we can help. Contact us today to know more about the PPC management services we provide.