The Ultimate Guide to Auditing and Improving Your PPC

The Ultimate Guide to Auditing and Improving Your PPC

It's essential to set up and regularly audit your Google Ads correctly to ensure the best returns. Read our ultimate guide to maximising the value of your PPC.

Written by Louis

15 min read

PPC or Google Ads can be one of, if not the best source of revenue for any ecommerce business, but it can also be costly. That is why it is key that your Google Ads account is set up correctly and regularly audited to ensure your ads are converting, and that you are distributing your budget in the best ways possible to increase your sales, and ultimately make more money.

When completing an audit on your PPC efforts, one of the first and most important things to do is to complete an overarching performance review on your Google ads by campaign type. A typical account might have the following campaigns:

  • Search
  • Shopping
  • Display
  • Smart (not a recommended campaign type)

And when reporting on each of these elements you will need to look at the following metrics:

  • Impressions
  • Clicks
  • Cost/Spend
  • Conversions (e.g. sales/leads etc.)
  • Revenue
  • Return On Ad Spend (ROAS)

As part of this guide, experts at ESC have devised an in-depth look at each element of PPC, from top level campaigns to keywords, looking at targeting, ROAS and more.

For more information, or for a better understanding of any of the key elements in the below, contact a member of the ESC team.

What is your Return On Ad Spend (ROAS)?

When discussing your PPC efforts, you may have come across the acronym ROAS or return on ad spend. ROAS helps us to determine if your paid media efforts on Google are returning at the level you would expect. For example, is your cost per acquisition less than your target? And your return on ad spend greater than your target? If the answer to either of these questions is no then we need to investigate ROAS. In order to establish what is or isn’t performing within any campaign type, you need to first look at ad group level results. Each ad group will likely contain multiple ads with similar targeting or purpose.

When investigating ROAS you need to first look at:

  • Which of my ad groups/ads, if any, are returning at the expected level or above?
  • Which ad groups/ads are underperforming?
  • Are any ad groups/ads spending significantly without any return?

The below guide isn’t designed to tell you exactly how to solve these problems as the solutions are often varied. But a good starting point is to identify what is performing well and what isn’t, at an ad group, ad, and keyword level. Once you understand this, you can shift more budget into what is performing and remove what isn’t until you can work on optimising poorer performing ads.

Account Structure and Creative Diversity

Your Google ad account structure may not seem like an important factor, however, your account structure is intrinsically linked with your ability to optimise and control your account in order to increase performance.

Google ad account structure is generally “Campaigns > Ad Group > Keywords + Ad”

What is a campaign?

If you think about your Google Ads account as a pyramid, campaigns sit at the top. As you move deeper into the account, the elements get more specific or detailed. Start by structuring your campaigns in a similar fashion to your website structure. You could structure the campaign level around your product categories and services but then augment this by considering seasonal products/ campaigns, specific offers, search intent or intent to convert or even giving high priority product categories their own campaign. At the campaign level, you can look to set budgets, audience targeting and various ad scheduling.

You should also consider splitting your campaigns by keyword match type so you can drill down into generic vs brand performance more easily and allow more scope to shift budget across campaigns based on where you are getting the best results.

What is an ad group?

Your ad groups are the second level in your account structure and therefore contain a little more detail. Your ad groups should be based around tight keyword themes that sit within the campaign targeting. Try to maintain around 10-15 keywords per ad group, divide the total number of keywords within a specific campaign to understand how many ad groups you think you should have. You should also consider the number of landing pages you are sending traffic to. As a general rule, each ad group should have a single landing page.

If you have a significant amount of data and want to narrow down your audience targeting, you can also do this at an ad group level as opposed to broader audience targeting at the campaign level.

What is an ad?

The final element of your account structure is the ads themselves. Ads are the text snippets which you and your audience will see on search engine results pages (SERPS). When someone searches for a keyword, one of your ads matching that keyword could appear, so ensure that it is relevant to the searcher.

As experts in PPC, when auditing accounts we often come up with the following results:

  • Too many keywords per ad group, meaning it is hard to identify and control poor performance at an ad-group or keyword level.

  • Too many ad-groups with two few keywords meaning that your efforts are spread too thinly by over-controlling the account.

The trick to improving your ads is to find a balance between one and two. Ensure that your ad groups are based on tight keyword themes and that the ads within those ad groups are heavily tailored to the themes they are targeting.

In terms of what should be contained within your ad groups, there are some guidelines around this. Best practice dictates that you should have at least three ads within each ad group that are heavily tailored to your keyword themes. Prior to 30th June 2022 there were two types of ads you could have within your ad groups:

  • Expanded Test Ads (ETA) - These contain three headlines (up to 30 characters each), two descriptions (up to 90 characters each), and a display URL.

  • Responsive Search Ads (RSA) - These let you create an ad that adapts to show more text, and more relevant messages, to your customers. You can enter multiple headlines and descriptions when creating a responsive search ad, and Google Ads will automatically test different combinations to learn which combinations perform best.

Since this date Google has removed all ETAs and replaced these with RSAs. RSAs identify best and worst-performing elements, giving you the opportunity to optimise more effectively on individual elements of the ads, starting by adjusting worst performing and seeing the results.

There is another ad type available to you, a Dynamic Search Ad (DSA), however, these should sit in a stand-alone campaign. These ads don’t use keywords. Google indexes your website and will try to match your ads based on the intent of the user. Headlines are taken from website content but you have some control over descriptions. If you have rapidly changing deals or content we wouldn’t always recommend using these. However, if you have a consistent catalogue, running these to ensure targeting across all products and services could be valuable.

You can also run search query reports to see if there are any high performing search terms you are not currently targeting through exact match campaigns. You should ensure you utilise the “Negative Ad Targets” for non-converting pages like about us/generic content, blogs, careers etc as well as ensuring you remove competitor or trademark terms, as you won’t want these appearing automatically in ads copy.

Your Keywords

Keywords are the basis of all Google ads, so making sure they are relevant and optimised is key. Each of your ad groups should have a variety of keywords using different match types, and also negative keywords detailing specific terms you don’t want to appear for. We recommend 10-15 keywords per ad group, so if you have more, these should be split out, and if you have significantly less, you may want to consider combining some ad groups.

What are the different keyword match types?

  • Exact Match - Exact match refers to searches that are an “exact match” to your keywords. Identified with [square brackets] exact match keywords should only pull up your ads if they are an exact match. There are some exceptions to this rule: Google may also serve your ad if it believes that the searcher has the same meaning as your term. For example if your exact match keyword is [Running Shoes] - your ad could be served for “Sneakers”. This is why it is essential to keep on top of your negative keywords to ensure your ads are being served to the relevant audience.

  • Phrase Match - Phrase match sits in the middle of both exact match and broad match, offering more versatility compared to exact match, but more control than broad match. Phrase match allows your ad to be served if someone searches the keywords in the correct order but with additional words either side of your phrase. For example if your phrase match keyword was “Coffee Cup” - your ad could be served for “blue spotted large coffee cup.” Again adding negative keywords here can prevent your ads from being served for irrelevant searches.

  • Broad Match - Broad match keywords are not recommended however you can still use them. This type of match will display your ads for any word found in your keyphrase. This means for example if you were to be targeting a key term of laundry detergent, then this could bring up searches such as “why is my laundry detergent orange” or other searches that aren’t really related to your product.

You will often find campaigns that mix and match types within each campaign. These should be segmented out so you can further optimise performance and ensure your budgets are in the right place.

It’s also worth noting that Google has phased out “Broad Match Modifier” keywords, so if you are utilising this match type in your account, you should consider replacing them with phrase or exact match equivalents to ensure they are acting exactly as you would like them to.

Finally, using your search query reports, take your high performing keywords/phrases from your phrase match campaigns and add them to an exact match campaign before adding them back into your phrase match campaigns as negatives so you are not bidding on the same keyword in two places.

How much of your revenue comes from branded terms?

We often see significant revenue coming from branded terms on accounts we audit. In many cases, bidding on your brand term is a good thing because other brands may be bidding on it to try to leverage your traffic. You want to ensure you are doing some reputation management and maintaining that traffic. However, if no one else is bidding on your brand you probably would have got that traffic and revenue without having to pay for it. If you rank position 1 organically for your brand, test turning this off and see if your revenue drops. If not, you saved some money. If revenue drops, you can turn the campaign back on and try to be as cautious as possible with spend levels.

Bidding on branded terms is often used as a quick win for ad agencies managing your campaigns. The real wins should be coming from your generic keywords, not your branded terms. That being said, if you are bidding on brand terms for reputation or competition purposes, you should be looking to achieve a 95% impression share with an absolute top of page position for exact match brand terms. If you do not, you should look to add budget here before expanding other areas of your account as you shouldn’t be allowing other brands to take traffic for owned terms.

Impression Share

Impression share is the percentage of impressions you achieved for specific keywords based on the total number of impressions you were eligible for. You should ensure that you have a good impression share for high performing keywords - if not, you may be missing out on sales. If you have a lower impression share this could mean that you are not present when people are searching for high performance, intent-based keywords, and people will be seeing your competitors instead of you.

Review your goals on a campaign basis and drill down to the keyword level to see if an increased budget on specific campaigns could help you to be present more often and if that has an impact on your sales.

Ad Extensions

Once you understand if you have a good account structure with the relevant ads-groups and ads in place, you should also consider if you are using all of the tools Google makes available to extend the functions and impacts of the ads themselves.

There are a number of ad extensions that you should consider using - these are generally set at the campaign level, meaning they can be utilised against all eligible ads.

Check your account to make sure the following extensions are in place:

  • Sitelinks - These allow you to add more links to your website within your ad. These differ from the main destination URL allowing you to provide additional context, related product suggestions, contact forms and more. You should have at least 4 sitelinks per campaign. Each sitelink should have unique link text and description lines that are hyper-relevant to the campaign. If you have a large number of sitelinks in a campaign, performance should be evaluated and sitelinks with poor click-through rates should be removed to allow better-performing site links to appear more often.

  • Callout extensions - These provide more text space within an ad to highlight specific information that may show added value to your customers. This could be free shipping, price match or specific discounts or other services you may offer. As with sitelinks, Google recommends having at least 4 callouts per ad group while avoiding duplicates across your other extensions.

  • Structured Snippet Extensions - This is used to highlight specific aspects of your products or services. As a fashion brand, you may have a series of colours or with a confectionary brand, list out your various flavours or ingredients. You could set a broad, widely applicable structured snippet at the campaign level to cover all of your bases.

  • Location Extensions - These are linked with your “Google My Business” property and are set at the account level. Google will choose the most relevant location based on the searcher’s location and display this on relevant ads. Location extensions are more applicable to people with physical stores but can be used to show your headquarters as a single location. If you are targeting regional stores, ensuring you have location extensions related to regional targeting could add extra impact to your ads and give confidence to your customers. If you have enough footfall in your store, you may even be able to see store visit data directly within your Google Ads account, giving you another metric by which to measure success.

  • Price Extensions - For an ecommerce brand, price is always a hugely important factor for your customers and displaying this information directly on the search engine results page could help customers to qualify your brand much more quickly as well as reducing irrelevant click through if you reach a customer who may not be willing to pay. Google recommends 1 price extension per campaign, so check it’s there and approved.

  • Image Extensions - Adding a high impact image to an existing text ad can really make your brand stand out. Google gives you two options in this area; Dynamic or Standard. You can start by utilising dynamic image extensions but if this is already in place, you should analyze and take your top performing images and apply them as standard images. This will allow Google to continue to test dynamic images while prioritising your best-performing image.

Ad Scheduling

Ad scheduling is not relevant for everyone, but reviewing this aspect of your account can still be impactful. Generally speaking, you want to be present whenever someone is making an intent-based search, but if the data shows that you consistently don’t make sales between certain periods, choosing not to spend during those times gives you more budget to place in other time periods.

If you are using automated bid strategies, this should essentially be taken care of, but if you aren’t or are working to a particularly tight budget, try to keep your budget being spent when it is having the most impact.


Quality scores are an indicator of how good iGoogle thinks your ad is from a customer perspective. However, it does take into account multiple factors including the ad itself and the destination of your ad. In some situations, the ad itself may be fine, but Google might think that the destination or landing page for the ad is low quality or irrelevant, so will lower your quality score.

Look at the top level report for quality which will show you the percentage of keywords that have low, mid or high-quality scores. A low-quality score could impact how often your ad is shown or if it is shown at all, as well as potentially increasing the cost per click when bidding. Consider the percentage of spend that is going towards low-quality keywords, audit your ads and landing pages to ensure they are intrinsically linked and highly relevant to each other, as well as ensuring the keywords related to your ads are also matched correctly.

Audience Targeting

There are two main types of audience targeting. These are; Observation and Target Only. However there is a third, Demographic Targeting which can also be used. Each type has its own purpose and can be used for different ads and in different circumstances.

  • Observation - for this approach a range of audience types can be applied at campaign or ad group level and you will begin to see data populate against your chosen audiences. This data can then be used to apply audience-level bid adjustments and/or to exclude low performing audience segments from seeing your ads.

  • Target Only - targeting can be restricted so only users in your chosen audience segments will be shown your ads. The setting to apply Target Only also sits at campaign or ad group level. You might choose this setting if you are targeting very broad keywords and want to reduce spending and only show ads to highly relevant users, or if you are planning to run Remarketing Lists For Search Ads (RLSA).

  • Demographic Targeting - this provides another layer to narrow down who you pay to show ads to. Data from other campaign types can be used to inform display and youtube campaign targeting. You can utilise data from Google ads or analytics to try to acquire customers from specific demographics or build brand awareness with a new audience you might want to target.

Location Targeting

Location targeting is set at campaign level. A consistent issue we see with location targeting, in general, is that it is always set too broadly. If you are targeting the UK for example, we often see people have selected “People in” or “have shown interest in” which means your ad could be delivered to anyone around the world if they have shown specific interest in the UK. You should set your location targeting to “People in or regularly in” which means you are much more likely to hit people in your location.

Display Ads

Display ads have historically been a way to drive cheap traffic to your site, but it can be of poor quality. We tend to use this tactic when we can connect display directly to a product catalogue and focus on product remarketing as opposed to pure traffic driving.

If you are using display to drive traffic, it is worth trying to establish how much of that traffic is ultimately converting and also reviewing metrics like bounce rate and time on site on analytics specifically from display campaigns.

Another option for display would be to promote and drive traffic to lead forms and drive data acquisition which could then ultimately be used in email marketing campaigns or to inform Google or Paid Social audiences.

Google Shopping

For ecommerce brands, Google shopping is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal, but it does work a little differently to the rest of your Google advertising. As opposed to bidding on keywords, your Google shopping is delivered by how relevant Google thinks your feed and landing page is to the searcher. That means when we optimise your Google shopping campaigns, we look to improve the quality of your feed, ensure all fields are populated and put in place a bidding strategy that gives you the best opportunity to be present for targeted products.

We also consistently see people using a single campaign for Google Shopping that contains all products. If you have a small product catalogue, this may not be a problem, but we recommend splitting your shopping campaigns down so you can optimise more effectively. You can split campaigns by; brands, stock level, seasonality, categories and anything else you can think of based on your own site structure and marketing objectives. This will allow you to divide budgets up by priority or performance and more closely see where performance needs to be improved.

Setting budgets at a campaign level is generally fine, but you can drill down further if you want more control.

Converting Spend

How much of your media spend is actually resulting in conversions? Not everything you do in any marketing channel is designed to drive conversions immediately, but with Google Ads, there should be a large focus on pushing intent-driven traffic to your site. By reviewing the percentage of spend that is actually converting, you may discover a budget that can be shifted.

In conjunction with this, you can also review the percentage of converting keywords. By culling non-converting keywords and focussing on high-performance areas, you should see more of your spend converting and the general quality score of your entire account improve.

Naming Conventions

This may seem a little boring, but if you ever get to the point where you want support on your account or if you want to easily get a top-level review for reporting purposes, naming conventions become really important. It’s also really important when you are thinking about scaling your account through internationalisation, or if you have a very segmented campaign structure targeting a lot of products/services rather than naming your campaigns randomly, create a solid structure. We use the following.

[campaign type] | [campaign theme] | [brand/generic] | [match type]

Make sure you consistently use a “|” or a “-” between each name so if you want to export data to excel, you can easily split columns up and interrogate the data.

Are you using Smart Campaigns?

Smart campaigns are generally designed for small businesses that are just starting out and don’t have specific knowledge of Google Ads. With the simplistic nature of the campaigns comes a whole host of restrictions that make it difficult to optimise. If you are using smart campaigns and want to scale and optimise more effectively, you should be considering some or all of the elements above or hiring a professional to support you in getting more control and better results from your advertising.

Want to speak to an expert in PPC and Google Ad optimisation? Get in touch with a member of our team today.

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