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Search Engine Marketing (SEM), also known as paid search, has leveled the playing field for businesses, allowing small players to compete with larger, well-known brands. Advertisers have preferred SEM for years because the campaigns are easy to set up, manage, and often lead to quick growth in traffic. Due to this advertising model heavily relying on search engines, the most popular platforms are Google AdWords and Yahoo! Bing Network. These platforms allow you to advertise within the sponsored listings of search engine results pages (SERPs) and within the websites that partner with those search engines. 

Pay-Per-Call was also introduced to mobile search users in recent years; in these, advertisers are charged by the number of clicks that resulted in a direct call from users’ smartphones. In order to remain competitive in the search market, PPC advertisers aggressively bid for leads that are better-qualified and drive higher-quality conversions. However, maintaining high rankings with a limited budget is no easy feat.

By taking a good look at your existing SEM strategy, you’ll have the ability 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 you’ll have a plan of which actionable steps to take to improve the performance of your paid search activities.

Why Should You Audit Your SEM Strategy?

An SEM audit is a deep-dive assessment of your paid search accounts. Whether you’re an advertiser onboarding an existing PPC account or reviewing an account you’ve been managing, the ability to conduct a comprehensive audit is a specialized skill worth developing. Several reasons to perform an audit include:

  • You’re not hitting your conversion goals and sales targets
  • You want to get a jump on the competition
  • You want to boost your click-through rates in your email marketing
  • You have goals of increasing your brand awareness or social following
  • Your website traffic is decreasing or not improving
  • Your bounce rate is an area you want to optimize
  • Your sales are lower than your PPC budget
  • You have a smaller budget but want to scale your PPC 
  • You want to review your account’s historical background
  • Your conversion is suspiciously high or low despite low sales numbers
  • Your click count and conversion rates are identical

Any one or a combination of these reasons warrants an extensive SEM audit. By taking this critical step in your paid search campaigns, you can realign your focus on marketing efforts that bring the conversions and ROI you’re looking for. Additionally, you’ll discover areas that need improvements or cancellation, saving you time and money in the long run.

Preparing for an Audit

Whether you’re just doing a periodical audit or preparing to restructure your strategy, it’s important to study the historical background of the account and refresh yourself on the reason behind its particular structure. In doing so, it will be easier for you to navigate the account and cover everything in your audit. However, keep in mind that you should already have an idea of what to search. Setting criteria, priorities, and goals will help to streamline the course of your audit. Once you’ve decided on these areas, you’ll also need to set up a simple decision filter to guide you through organizing the steps or actions after gathering your findings.

Key Performance Metrics

When reviewing the performance of your paid search efforts, there are three metrics that matter most: traffic, conversion, and ROI. Evaluating your campaigns under these metrics tells you which key areas in your overall strategy require improvement, giving you the solid foundation you need to achieve your goals.

ROI Metrics

The whole point of paid search advertising is to turn leads into customers and because it comes with 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. Instead, measure ROI on a per-lead basis. 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. Then, you can calculate the revenue 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 find these values in your account.

Conversion Metrics

Conversion metrics are some of the best to evaluate as they let you know how many people are signing up for your service or taking your desired action and not just clicking on the ads. Tracking tools are also relatively easy 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 lets you know which campaigns are actually performing well.

Traffic 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 find these items using the features available in the interface. After determining the key metrics that make the most sense for you, then you may proceed with auditing these key areas of your paid search account.

Key Audit Areas in SEM

Account Structure

A good 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 necessary adjustments.

Keyword Analysis

Keywords are the bread and butter of paid search advertising. Knowing which keywords you are and are 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 an improvement in click-through rates, eventually impacting your quality score and cost-per-click rates.

Settings Analysis

Paid search platforms offer a dizzying array of tools to help optimize your campaigns for better overall performance. Using the settings in your account, you can improve practically every area of your campaign, including targeting search and display traffic, device bid modifiers, ad rotation, location/language targeting, ad delivery method, among several other items. The way you modify these settings will have a huge impact on your account’s performance, so 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 this 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 Karooya guide. 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 your homepage or an independent page. The applicable landing page should contain everything about the marketing campaign, including the unique selling proposition, a hero shot, and a call to action (CTA), making landing page optimization critical. 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 your attention.

The Digital Marketer offers a Landing Page Audit worksheet and 15-point checklist on how to review and 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 and 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 across every business or vertical. 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 and double-check if the call extensions are switched on according to the call center or office hours of the account you’re managing.

The more complex your campaign structures, the more daunting and tedious auditing becomes. The goal is to cut through the noise, find holes, 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 your performance against competitors.

Given how rapidly paid search advertising is improving, more and more businesses are realizing its value in the digital marketing mix. 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 moving forward. For a better, more effective SEM strategy, the team at RefractROI can help. Contact us today to know more about our PPC management services and to get started with your SEM audit today.

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