160/365 - out of gas
Creative Commons License photo credit: B Rosen

We’ve reviewed plenty of paid search accounts, where the supposed PPC expert literally destroyed a business. We know it’s difficult for non PPC professionals to vet vendors, giving the ever shifting best-practices landscape.  It’s no wonder there’s an icky underbelly to the PPC vendor scene.  Things change very quickly so it’s hard for anyone but the most committed practitioners to keep up.

For wary CMOs and marketing managers wondering how to screen their AdWords account for obvious weaknesses, this post offers guerrilla protocol for a 30,000 foot PPC vendor gut check. Use it to check whether experts are cool or jacking you around.

We mean it to be easily understandable by marketing executives. Practice a bit and the self-audit will take 6 minutes or less.

Ok then, let’s have a look at whether your expert’s work throws up any obvious danger signals. Please take note: There are many ways to evaluate the success of failure of a PPC account. Items 1 and 2 in this audit are terrific as worst-alert screening tests. Item 3 is more advanced. The testing requires you log into your AdWords account and following the instructions below.

1-Review Account Change History (Test Difficulty: Very Simple)

It’s extremely easy to audit the activity of your PPC manager for a time period. In the AdWords REPORTING tab, select CHANGE HISTORY.

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Select the date range. Usually going back a month tells the story. Check the ALL box. We want to see everything our PPC management team has been up to.  We’ll also see  management moves called through the AdWords API. Click FILTER CHANGE HISTORY.

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Take note of your pay per click manager’s activity…or not.  Few substantial PPC accounts should go completely untouched for a month or even days.  It’s super easy to see what AdGroups your PPC expert regularly modifies and tasks commonly undertaken. Targeting, status, keyword, distribution CPC, budget and ad management are displayed.

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2-Check Keyword Quality Scores (Test Difficulty: Simple)

Google’s AdWords QualityScore (qScore) is made of several components, including the keyword’s relationship to the ad, landing page  and clickthrough ratio (CTR).  Measured on a scale of  1 (low) – 10 (high),  a poor score can affect your keyword’s actual cost per click (CPC),  how high the ad ranks or even whether the keyword is allowed in the PPC auction at all.  For the purpose of this quick audit, we’re going to skim all account keywords.

In the CAMPAIGNS tab click on ALL ONLINE CAMPAIGNS.

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Then click KEYWORDS

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Make sure the qScore is displayed in this view by clicking on the FILTERS AND VIEWS button.

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…and then CUSTOMIZE COLUMNS

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Check the QUAL. SCORE box.

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Toggle sorting qScores high to low or low to high by clicking on the column head.

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Then observe the general state of the keyword’s qScore. Remember that we’re looking at the whole campaign.

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Low qScores (1-4) are not good, however it’s even worse if the bad qSCORE is for valuable keywords that get the most impressions.  Having a bad qScore speaks to a systemic problem which could stem from a variety of issues in combination. PPC pros don’t accept low qScores and know how to fix them.

For a better idea how poor qScores could be affecting the whole campaign, sort the keywords by impressions (IMPR.). This sorts keywords by search frequency and therefore how many times a keywords triggered ads for the time period.

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In this case the keywords with the most impressions have qScores of 7, which is pretty good.  When keywords with lots of impressions have very low qScores, it’s a sign that things are out of control with the entire campaign.

3-Use Built in Trending Graph Options (Test Difficulty Scale: Moderate/Requires Discretion)

AdWords provides useful trending graph options which provides a cool 30,000 foot look at how things have progressed over time.  Select CAMPAIGN/ALL ONLINE CAMPAIGNS/CAMPAIGN TAB/CHANGE GRAPH OPTIONS.

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Select the TWO METRICS to select trends you wish to compare.  In this case we’ve chosen to compare impressions and clicks over time. Experiment with the options for serious insight regarding performance. This graph shows conversions plotted next to cost. (Change the date range in the upper right)

At a high level, find out how things are going.  Here we plot the affect ad position in Google has on conversion cost.

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To conclude, by checking out the change history, it’s easy to find out in about 2 minutes whether your PPC expert is full of hooey or working your account.  Spend another 2 minutes and gauge the qScore. Problems with quality score are an indicator of deeper problems. For armchair-trending (be careful, that’s what it is) spend a couple more free-forming the built in trending options. They can provide a lot of insight. We’re sure you PPC managers will appreciate how engaged a client you’ve become.

  • Lisa Williams

    Wow, great post Marty. Lots of valuable tips for understanding and becoming engaged in the PPC process.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Lisa Williams: Thanks, we’re glad you find it valuable.

  • Kunle Campbell

    Great post – I especially liked point 1 – Review Account Change History. It is a simple yet insightful exercise.

  • Greg Habermann

    Hi Marty – awesome post and a great checklist. I’ve done these things about a zillion times and didn’t even realize, it’s just become a routine. Hopefully your post will help others in their analysis. I have had a (past)client come to me with a screenshot of their Access tab (https://adwords.google.com/select/useraccess) that shows when the last login for each user was declaring that nothing had been done with his account. However, we’d been using a different login and pointing them to the Change History set everything straight. It’s surprising that people don’t check this more. 30 seconds can tell you a lot.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Greg Habermann: That’s right. These are among the basic things PPC pros do every day with every account as we skim for changes, etc…We teach our Associate PPC Account Managers this routine nearly first.

  • Brian Hancock

    Damn you Marty! Now that you let the cat out of the bag we all have to actually monitor/adjust client campaigns… ;) Nice article!

  • David

    Marty always simple points that anyone can do, also a great way to check what changes a client has “NOT” been making to the account…

  • John Mee

    that last graph with position in blue, doesn’t Google have it inverted with 0-3.5 counting up in blue so a lower value is actually an upper placement? If so the line trends around 1-2 in Aug. Sept. and July shows a lower placement in July with associated lower cost/conversion.

  • Mello

    Hey Marty, its a nice article.
    However, I don’t agree on the second point “2-Check Keyword Quality Scores” is a metric to evaluate your PPC expert.
    Note that, QS includes many thing such as keyword, ad copy, landing page relevancy, history, CPCs, landing page loading time, user search query.
    Among these though everything is setup properly and if the CPCs are less and the landing page is not good, then no PPC expert can get the good QS.

    CPCs will be less when client has restrictions on the budget. Most of the PPC experts cannot have their hands on the landing page design.

    Just my opinion.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Mello: Keyword, ad copy, landing page relevancy, history, CPCs, landing page loading time, user search query are main factors in CTR, therefore qScore, therefore CPC. If the client has restrictions on budget, sufficient to limit our ability to garner a decent result, we tell client to shut off those keywords. some spaces are just expensive. The landing page comment is cool. We are no longer willing to have no control or input on landing pages, when our performance is so tied to conversion on that page. Thanks for stopping by and pleased to meet you.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @John Mee: THANKS, you’re totally right. I appreciate you reading this so closely that you caught my little gaff. Thanks, I fixed the post. :) Stop by any time.

  • Nick

    great article – re: point #1, being able to review account change history is great, but what if you utilize bid management software? a majority of (if not all) bid changes can be attributed to software. obviously, we need to be able to dig a little deeper and make sure ppc’ers are doing the job that they are being paid to do. ad copy changes, the addition and branching out of keywords are some other great tasks that indicate an account that is being looked over daily. another major item that is to be considered is communication. push your people to communicate with their analysis daily – this is another surefire way to ensure you are getting your money’s worth…

  • webomg

    Marty my hats off to you bro the picture i love it had me and the staff rolling we do ppc and believe people don’t understand that it’s not a walk in the park

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Nick: Changes made via API tools also show in the Change Report. I agree with your view regarding communication. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Steven Walkder

    It’s so simple. Believe it or not, even though we buy lots of PPC from our AOR, we did not know about the change history. It’s going to suck to be our vendor with this type of information. Thanks Marty.

  • Samantha

    @Brian haha yep. though I find glee in adjusting campaigns and seeing those conversions creep up :D

  • Jesse Kanclerz

    I’d like to add to Mello’s point about being careful using Quality Score as yardstick for a PPC practioners competence. For B2C campaigns it’s desirable to have a higher QS. However, if you’re working with B2B clients this isn’t as useful a metric. Since many b2b keywords tend to be more expensive there’s a greater need to pre-qualify with ad copy to keep an acceptable CPL. As a result this often adversely affects CTR’s thereby reducing quality scores.

  • dan

    Luckily there are companies like you who can put it right again. I have also seen many accounts in a right state, some of which I’m not willing to take on as they are so messed up.