The Red Flags in an Adwords Audit

Red flags in a google adwords audit

There’s nothing like peeking into a new clients Adwords campaigns to see how they’ve been going without you since that point. It’s like lifting up a rock to see all the creepy crawlies scampering away trying to hide from the light.

bug gif

Except these guys, they can play for me all night long – image source


Time after time I always see some issues coming up again and again. They’re the red flags that tell me I can really help this client make a Sh** tonne of money in their business. It just takes the right doctor.

1. Account Structure

I like to start from the top and do a quick run through the account. I want to see how they have arranged their account, especially in relation to their website and services.

broken building gif

When someone has 1 Adgroup in their whole account – image source

Things I look out for here:

  • How many campaigns do they have and how have they separated them?
  • How have they organised their adgroups? Is it by product or service, by keyword, by search query, product category?
  • How many keywords do they have in each adgroup? Some clients have 150 keywords in an adgroup with just one ad being triggered by all of them. This is a big no-no and they are missing out on the most powerful aspect of Google Adwords; the ability to show targeted ads depending on the search query that a user uses.

2. Campaign Settings

This sets the stage for all your campaigns so a mishap here can trickle all the way down through your account.

Stuff to look out for:

Location Settings

What locations are you targeting? Are you a services business that can only serve people in your city? Then why are you showing ads to all of the US??

KeyPPC Tip: Make sure you check the box that says “people in my targeted location.” Google loves doing a sneaky here and allocating you to the first option. This means that someone with interest in your location – e.g. someone looking for hotels for travelling to your city – could see your ad, even if they are not in your country!

Google Adwords Campaign Location Settings

Ad scheduling

Are you a business that can only take calls during business hours? Then why are you showing your ads at 3am?? For many ads this won’t matter, your contact form will be collecting those delicious leads all night long, but for those that man the phones to make their sales, being awake is pretty important.

Check ad scheduling under Advanced settings to get this sorted.

Google Adwords Campaign Ad Scheduling Settings

Ad Rotation Settings

Here’s something that will mess with your beautiful ad data. If you’re testing different ads, you’re going to want to have good data to back up your analysis and the eventual decisions you make. You can leave this up to google and let them choose your ads or you can take back the reins and “rotate your ads indefinitely”. Here all ads in your campaign will be shown evenly, giving you more accurate data because you’re not comparing a CTR of 5% with 100 impressions against a CTR of 10% with 10 impressions. So go on, check that box, take back those reins. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Google Adwords Campaign Ad Rotation Settings

3. Search terms report

The Search Terms Report is like the giant magic mirror for your adwords account. If there’s some big bad evil secrets, they’re going to be hiding here. This is often where clients see their “bleeding neck”; the clear reason why they’re not making any money from their efforts.

You can view it within a campaign, adgroup or keyword. Let’s start with an overall campaign view.

To get there click the keywords tab and click “Search Terms”.

How to find the Google Adwords Search Terms Report

The Search Terms Report is important for an audit because:

  • You can see how the keyword match type strategy is functioning
  • You can see which search terms are being triggered by which ad groups
  • You can actually see what people are typing – this is crazy-useful

You can see what search terms your keywords are triggering. If you have not managed your account well, this report will show you a whole world of pain. You will see totally unrelated terms that have a very low chance of converting.

Here’s an example of the search terms report for a new client when I first opened up their account:

The Google Adwords Search Term Report

This account was for a Spanish language school in the city of Medellin in the country of Colombia.

The account was targeting people searching anywhere in the world. This is a very important fact to know because it means it is important that people indicate they are looking for the service in our location (which is why we looked at the campaign settings before getting into the search terms report).

Ok, I’ve colour coded the search terms in the image.

  • Red = Likely totally unrelated and extremely low chance of converting
  • Orange = Still low chance of converting but a bit more related
  • Green = the good terms, we can see from these that people are looking for our services.


Firstly, you can see that their campaigns were picking up some terribly search terms. “Sex island colombia”, “good girls resort colombia” and “colombian women”. I don’t want to even think about what the heck was going on there, but the client was paying for those clicks. It’s obvious that these clicks will be much harder to convert into new sales over a click from someone searching for “pish school medellin”. We want to avoid these terms by being careful with our keyword match types and by using negative keywords.


But then, let’s look at the orange terms. “Learn Spanish” seems like it would be great. But a term like this is extremely broad, particularly because they could be anywhere in the world. They might be looking for an online Spanish course, some video lessons, some tips for learning Spanish, or a school in their current location. There is a potential opportunity here to send them to a “softer” landing page with a blog article or a free e-book to nurture them into a sale. The main takeaway is that we can’t be assured that these searchers are ready to commit to flying to Medellin, Colombia to take physical Spanish lessons in a classroom with other students. Interestingly, we were getting clicks for “Spanish language schools spain”. These searchers were looking for a Spanish school and had a much higher buyer intent but we’d need to convince them to fly over to colombia instead.


The green ones. We can see from these that these searchers were looking for our service, a pish school, in our location. This gives the green light and we’d be best creating a new Adgroup for each of these, creating keywords to target that search term and create specific, targeted ads for those people.

Also to note, this business is particularly interesting, because they’re targeting english speakers that are looking for pish lessons, but will likely need to travel to colombia to receive them. All in all, their new campaigns have performed fabulously. Interestingly, we found that targeting travellers already in Colombia was nowhere near as effective as targeting those in their home countries that were already searching.

What to do with this information?

Fix the account structure. We knew this from our account walkthrough but you can see here that their keyword structure is super broad. They are capturing an extremely broad range of search terms in the one Adgroup and showing them a single ad. Here we would find the “green” terms, separate them into their own Adgroups.

Stop using Broad Match Keywords. Seriously, it’s fine for gathering data, but for your long-term strategy, unless you have an amazingly tight negative keyword strategy, you’ll be picking up all kinds of trash in your search terms report (no offence to “sex islands in colombia”). Stick to phrase match, exact match, and modified broad match. Paired with a negative keyword strategy, you can control your keyword strategy to make sure you’re only paying for clicks that will CONVERT.

Get your negative keyword strategy sorted. Stop bidding on unproductive keywords by thinking through your negative keyword strategy. It’s also important to use this on the adgroup level to stop adgroup search query crossover.

Check Your Search Term Report Regularly. These bad boy keywords will sneak up on you. Leave it for too long and you’ll get the shock that this client had when I showed them their report. Check it regularly to weed out those nasties before they take a hold of your budget, preventing you from spending your hard-earned cash on the clicks that actually do matter.

To finish…

This is just the beginning, but it should give you enough ammo to get into that rusty account and find your own bleeding neck. Quench the bleeding and you’re well on your way to making your Adwords account more efficient, generating more revenue for the same Adspend. So go, squash those bugs!

bear grills eating a grub

Get that grub – image source