Paid Search has exponentially expanded in complexity over the past decade or so. As a result of this, it’s really easy to miss new functionalities, and targeting capabilities offered to you, which would be a real shame. If you haven't seen our recommendations to drive the best performance in Google Ads in 2019, check it out. The key to unlocking an account's full potential lies in conducting an effective SEM Audit.

So, it’s very important to understand which settings to utilize, which boxes to check, and what to adjust - and how much - in order to maximize paid search performance, so that your ad account doesn't turn into a sprawling mess of ineffective bidding, expensively bad and irrelevant ad copy, with generic keywords.

That's where an SEM audit comes in.

An SEM audit is a deep and thorough dive into your ad account to determine areas that could use further attention and work to improve performance. (ie: ensure that your PPC management is on-point with your goals and objectives, whether your ad accounts utilize necessary settings and features for maximum efficiency, and ROAS, etc.)

Also, it help you take a look at your whole marketing campaign (yes, as a whole) from different angles, and find hidden opportunities, that you can utilize to milk more out of your resources.

Google Analytics Dashboard

Components of an SEM Audit.

  1. Overall account performance. (Average quality scores, etc.)
  2. Campaign performance and settings. (Day parting, location exclusion, mobile bidding, etc.)
  3. Campaign attributes. (Types, extensions, etc.)
  4. Campaign organization. (Budget allocation for higher-converting keywords)
  5. Ad group performance and settings.
  6. Ad group attributes. (Extensions, match types, negative keywords, etc.)
  7. Ad performance. (keyword usage, display URLs, symbol usage, etc.)
  8. Keyword performance. (Match type strategy, etc.)
  9. Search term opportunities. (Detail report and search console)
  10. Complete landing page audit.
  11. Automations that are currently in place.

….and much more….


While you can very well outsource this to an expert professional, a team, or even an agency, it's not something you can't do either. I mean, it's not rocket science.

Especially, if you're a small / medium business, a startup, or just running on a tight budget, you can use this guide to get the job done.

All you have to do is find answers to many questions, and make sure that you have a list of certain things going on.

Trust me. When you know what, where, and how to look, it's way easier to do it.

So, without further ado….

What questions should you find answers to?

1. What do you want out of your ad campaigns?

Do you have a purpose for each ad? What are your goals, objectives? Make sure they're S.M.A.R.T. goals.

2. Do you have your ad account organized, in a logical way?

It should be easy for you, or to the account manager to find something, keep track of things, and manage other actions, easily. If your account structure is chaotic, then the results as well as the management of that account will probably be chaotic.

3. Do you have conversion tracking properly set up?

If you don't, then all of your account data is useless, and your ad money is wasted. Watch out for double counting of conversions.

4. Who are you targeting?

Do you have their demographics defined clearly? Are they generic ones (ie: 18-35 people), or more specific with defined parameters (ie: 18-35 iPhone users, living in the west coast)? The less defined they are, the more you pay, and on top of that, your ROI will keep going down.

5. Where are your ads running?

Do those platforms match your goals and objectives? Most importantly, do they match the demographic(s) of your target audience. For example, if you're trying to sell to 40+ old people, you won't find much use in platforms like Instagram. But Facebook can be a good place.

6. How many ads do you have running?

Get a performance report for each of them, as well as a report of your spendings. Identify campaigns that are losing impressions share, due to budget restrictions.

7. How many A/B tests (or any other kind of testing) have you done with your ads?

Have you picked the best ones, and rinsed-and-repeated the process? This is how you weed out the ads with poor performance. You can either remove-and-forget them, or run them through a wringer, find out what's wrong with them, fix it, and retest it to check whether the problem has been solved. Separate the best ones into dedicated campaigns, and run them with the highest-converting keywords, highest-converting locations, etc. NEVER stop testing. Also, make sure to constantly test new ad copy.

8. When are your ads converting?

Are the conversion rates trending one way or another, during specific hours? If so, consider utilizing day parting, for increased efficiency.

9. Are you using Google remarkating?

If not, consider using this clever method to connect with your visitors who hasn't been converted yet, while they browse elsewhere on the internet.
If you're already using this, be sure to exclude converted visitors.
Whether you're using the Display Network or Search Network for remarketing (RLSA), you need to be thinking about your non-converting clicks, and you only have 540 days to convert them, after the cookie has been dropped.

10. Are your top keywords set up in single-keyword adgroups?
  • Sort the keywords by conversions.
  • Run the top keywords through this questionnaire.
    a) Is every single one, an exact match keyword?
    b) Is every single one, a part of its own adgroup with relevant, tried-and-true ad copy?
    c) Have you A/B tested landing pages for this keyword set?
    If you answered ‘NO’ to any of these questions, go build campaigns that contains your highest-converting keywords, where you bid on in exact match within its own adgroup.
11. Are you using the ‘negative keywords’ feature?

Make sure to continuously research, identify, and exclude irrelevant search terms that are wasting your budget.

12. What percentage of your conversions are coming from exact match terms?
13. Are you bidding on your competitors’ brand names?

Type each of your top competitors into Google, and see what ads come up. If yours isn't there, get on it.

14. Is your account structure optimized for quality score?

Your adgroups shouldn't have a single keyword, that's lower than 7 in quality score. Move any low-QS keywords to dedicated campaigns and troubleshoot using the Ads Diagnostic tools. If your keywords aren't between 7-10 in QS, you'll be paying too much.

15. Are effective campaigns limited by set budgets, either set as shared budgets, or allocated directly to each campaign? 

Look how the budget is allocated between areas of the account with different levels of performance.

16. Are the appropriate campaign types set?

Select the appropriate campaign type, according to your goals and objectives. Remember. One goal / objective per campaign.

17. Are the location targeting options appropriate for your target audience?

Make sure your ads are targeting at the right countries. It's better to structure your campaigns at a country or continental level for more control.

18. Does the selection of extensions allocated across the account to support your goals and objectives?
19. What bidding strategy you use? Do you use one at all?

Google offers a few different bidding strategies. Here's their breakdown of these types, along with what they do.

  • Keyword matching options can generally be set to “include plurals, misspellings, and other close variations.
  • Check your landing pages frequently. Make sure that your ads aren't sending visitors into 404 pages, and your links aren't expired, etc.
  • Check if the landing page(s) are aligned with the themes of the sources that they're receiving traffic from.
  • Compare the conversions from different locations. If you're not getting any (or little) conversions from any locations, exclude them. It's not worth running your ad in there. Instead, double down on the places with most conversions. Perhaps, you might want to test them with your highest-converting keywords to see what happens.
  • If you're using any trends for your ads, see if the buzz of the trend has gone down, or if the trend has attracted any backlash. Also, if you decided to keep it, keep an eye on the conversion rate.
  • I can't stress this point enough. Run separate campaigns for different themes, locations, services, goals, and other variables. If you put all of your ad groups into one or a couple of campaigns, you won't be able to exercise enough control. It also gives you greater control over the budget. For example, you want to keep the budget of an experimental ad, low, while keeping the budget of your core service campaign, well supplied.
  • If your competitors are bidding on your company name (as I've advised you to do this before), you definitely need to use PPC for your branded terms. You need to own the top position within your brand.

Key performance indicator metrics that you need to pay attention to:

This metric is the ultimate truth that you have to stick to. If you have to choose a single metric to use for the rest of your life, it should be this. This basically means; What's your return on investment? How much money are you making, after putting money in? You have to work on tracking the performance of the PPC campaigns, and how they affect your bottom line. If something is off, then you have to act accordingly.

2. Conversion volume -
Make sure you know which conversion actions you're tracking. Then, look at the number of conversions you're getting on a daily / weekly / monthly basic, and which campaigns they're coming from as well. If you're not growing the number of conversions every month, then your campaign is stagnating. Find out what you can do to remove the ‘clog’ and keep things rolling.

3. Cost / conv -
This one is rather simple. If you cost per conversion is too high, then chances are, your campaign isn't sustainable. But, there are a lot of ways to reduce your CPC, starting with eliminating wasted spend, by running your campaigns through the above questionnaires.

Conclusion -

This article was intended to give you a more in-depth guide on ‘how you can perform an SEM audit’, so that you can get the best performance from your ad campaigns. Keep in mind to focus on the metrics, conversions, and settings that matter to your campaigns. If you need any help, book a strategy session with us.


Here's a few resources that you can check into for small business digital marketing, enterprise mobile app development companies, and best inbound marketing companies.

Additionally, here's why you should consider search engine marketing outsourcing or application development outsourcing.


How to choose an SEO Agency

Outsourcing SEO Services