PPC platforms such as Google and Facebook Ads are two of the most popular traffic channels for businesses looking to drive targeted traffic to their websites.
It makes total sense, given the rising costs, decreased click-through rates, and insane competitiveness of organic search. Not to mention the fact that the giants of the internet are trying to keep more and more traffic to themselves.
Fact is, it's amazing how PPC campaigns can literally build the foundation of a business for years to come (think email lists and customer retention).
However, there’s a problem in the PPC world that not many people seem to be talking about.
With so much free content available on managing and optimizing PPC campaigns, it’s very easy for someone to read a few blog posts and think they’re an expert in the area.
One of the many signs that PPC campaigns aren’t being managed effectively is that 76% of PPC budgets are being wasted.
I’ve seen some companies burning money at such a rapid rate that they're better off pausing the campaigns and using that budget to throw a party for their sales department.
At least that could lead to higher employee engagement – so you’d get some return on your budget.
The sad fact is that most companies don’t even know when they're wasting their ad spend, let alone how to fix the holes in their campaigns.
Today I’m going to show you how properly auditing your campaigns can lead to 10x-ing your results.
The following framework is something I’ve used to consistently turn losing or mediocre PPC campaigns into the foundational pieces of an organization's marketing/sales efforts.
I've also used this to achieve massive scale in my own affiliate campaigns.
Like many processes that achieve fantastic results, it’s not overly difficult.
It just requires hard work and attention to detail, which pretty much goes against human nature these days.
The problem with most agency-conducted PPC audits is that they function as lazy, uninspired sales tools. This is especially true for free PPC audits.
The "free PPC audit" strategy to get prospective clients into a sales funnel is rampant.
The goal is to take a quick look at your campaign and find just enough wrong with it to successfully sell you on their ongoing management services.
See for yourself by searching “PPC audit” and pay attention to who’s advertising - and what many are offering.
There are agencies that pay for the opportunity to offer prospects these “free audits” – some of which spend $20,000+ per month for that right.
Think they’re really spending all that money just to give away the farm with no strings attached?
Don't think so.
A 4-Dimensional (4D) PPC Audit is a framework I've used to consistently produce large improvements in PPC campaigns.
Here's the thing:
There isn't anything particularly new contained within this framework. It's simply an approach to auditing PPC campaigns and the environmental factors that affect them.
However, I know that 99% of PPC practitioners reading this will never carry out their own 4D PPC Audit. That's because it takes a lot of time and effort to do right.
The real ROI wins are reserved for the organizations who consistently do things that their competitors won't.
As you'd expect, there are 4 dimensions in a 4D PPC Audit.
Let's get started.
There are two levels in the first dimension:
Let’s use an SEM campaign as an example. Here are some things you would be reviewing:
As it’s assumed the person auditing your account is a professional, we don’t need to spend time talking about the nuts and bolts of everything that needs to be reviewed here.
It’s worth noting that the elements reviewed will change based on the ad platform and campaign type. This means it's crucial for a campaign auditor to be well-versed with the platform being reviewed.
This is where we examine the entire path to conversion.
In other words, time to put on your CRO (conversion rate optimization) hat.
It starts with your PPC landing pages (you are using dedicated landing pages, right?) and ends with some sort of post-conversion page/action.
The goal here is to identify conversion blockages and come up with tangible ways to fix them.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
How do we first identify conversion blockages?
Unless you’re a conversion expert with tons of experience under your belt, I’d recommend you stay away from heuristic analysis.
It’s way too easy to read some blog posts and rely on best practices you hear about.
Overconfidence bias is everywhere, people. Watch out for it!
The fact of the matter is there aren’t best practices when it comes to split testing. Everything works…until it doesn’t.
What works for you is based on your business, industry, audience, region and other factors.
So how do we identify points of improvement in the sales funnel, then?
Not just what you may be looking at in Google Analytics (though this is a great place to start), but you also need to be looking at your qualitative data sources as well.
Here are some sources for qualitative data that can be gold for your campaign’s conversion funnel:
Back to Google Analytics, here are some specific reports that can provide the information you’re looking for (keep in mind these only scratch the surface):
Landing Pages: Once you segment this report for your campaign traffic, you’ll be able to see what is and isn’t performing fairly easily. Pay close attention to landing pages with a lot of traffic and high bounce rates.
Top Exit Pages: This report can explicitly show you where the leaks in your conversion funnel are. These pages can also be great opportunities to add on-site polls or surveys with exit intent triggers.
If you're REALLY on point, these may even lead to some high-ROAS opportunities for retargeting campaigns.
Hint: Cart abandonment style campaigns aren't just meant for e-commerce.
The entire point of this process is to get to know exactly where your funnel is under-performing and formulate informed hypotheses that can be used for split testing.
Before we move on to the second dimension, let’s cover something else that’s very important:
Your analytics setup.
Do you have conversion tracking set up?
Are you one thousand percent sure that your set up is accurate?
What secondary or tertiary actions can you also be tracking for optimization purposes?
If your KPI numbers are low (can happen in verticals with very long sales cycles), you can likely find other online actions which can be used to optimize campaigns.
This is a delicate process (the wrong metrics can really throw things out of whack) and should be done with the help of someone who knows the heartbeat of an organization's analytics and ROI generating actions.
Bottom line: I’ve seen everything from inflated reporting to broken cross domain tracking that was thought to be working. If your analytics foundation isn’t rock solid, the data you may be using to optimize your campaigns won't be reliable.
The average auditor with the best of intentions usually stops here. I mean, when you really take a look at the activities we covered in the first dimension – and really chewed down to the bone on them – it’s a lot of work.
But you aren’t average. And this isn’t your average PPC audit.
There’s a school of thought in the business world that states you should not focus on what your competitors are doing – like, at all.
This is actually supported by some very bright minds (much brighter than mine).
But here’s the thing: If you’re running PPC campaigns and ignoring what your competitors are doing, you’re losing. Period.
Unless you’re already the top performer in your industry, there is a lot you can learn from your competitors.
Even if you are the top dog in your industry, I can confidently say that there are at least two things that your next closest competitor is doing better than you – and studying them is how you make further improvements and stay the top dog.
Don’t succumb to hubris.
Take the time. Use the tools. Do your due diligence.
So where exactly do you go to analyze your competitor campaigns?
It really comes down to what PPC platform you’re auditing, but here are some tools you can use to see what’s going on in the wild:
The above tools can allow you to identify your competitors, their ads, landing pages, how long they’ve been running on specific keywords/placements, and more.
This data is hugely important, especially if you’ve got competitors outspending you.
You can use this activity to map out their entire PPC conversion funnels.
From there, you may want to see what sort of technologies they may be using (with something like BuiltWith).
What are they doing better than you? Worse?
Do they offer products/services at much lower prices than you? You could pull some hard-hitting insights by going through the order process and uncovering their post-conversion experience (many funnels are loss leaders on the front end but make up for this via upsells or kick-ass retention programs).
These insights alone can throw some fuel over the fire in terms of planning split tests for your ads and funnel.
Everything you’ve done up to this point has really been reactive. You were looking at previous data and executions.
And that’s great.
But it’s the processes surrounding your PPC campaigns which ensure continuous improvement.
Frankly, most companies don’t have many (read: any) established processes or optimization methodologies for their campaigns.
This can be harmful to results when you’re dealing with many hands in the cookie jar or employee turnover.
You’re only as good as your processes.
Let’s cover two main areas where strong processes should be established:
What are you optimizing on a daily/weekly/monthly basis?
Are you making optimizations when you’ve got enough data, or before?
Keep in mind there’s such a thing called “over-optimization”.
If you’re a seasoned media buyer, you know the line that needs to be walked between keeping your campaigns on point and over-optimizing.
Optimization cadence will also change with budgets and seasonality (i.e. how rapidly you’re obtaining data).
If you’re one of the few that does have fleshed out processes around campaign management, give yourself a pat on the back.
…but it doesn’t mean you get a pass.
You should be auditing your processes to ensure they aren't broken. Following a broken process is like following no process at all (or worse – because you’re confident in your optimizations when you shouldn’t be).
You should also have some structure and processes surrounding the optimization of your conversion funnel. As with your PPC specific processes, some of these will rely on how much data you’re getting.
You should always have an arsenal of split tests waiting in the wings.
Always. Be. Testing. (Intelligently).
In fact, having a high test velocity can give you a competitive advantage in your space, since few companies seem to be making it a priority.
Your processes can be as simple or as complex as you like.
This likely depends on your current level of sophistication in the areas of split testing and conversion rate optimization in general.
I find most companies simply need something to get started. You don’t need to go 0 to 100 overnight.
Alright, we’re almost at the finish line. Just need to hop into one more dimension.
At this point, we’ve been operating in the weeds. Whether it's our campaigns, our competitors, or getting aligned on processes for sustainable improvement.
This all involves close attention to detail on very specific parts of your campaigns and competitive environment.
Now it’s time to jump in an airplane and see how things look at 10,000 feet.
Because the truth is your PPC campaigns are only a part of your digital ecosystem.
An organization’s digital ecosystem is everything that has to do with its online presence. This includes:
It’s important that you have context of your organization's digital ecosystem when auditing your PPC campaign. Your company’s other digital activities could be working for or against what’s going on in the campaigns that you’re auditing.
An obvious example here is the interaction between SEO and SEM campaigns.
I’ve had clients that have purposefully stayed away from bidding on keywords just because they ranked first organically.
Hint: If you know you’ve got a ridiculously profitable sub-set of keywords/topics in organic search, you’ll pull in some great results by simply increasing your share of search for those same keywords/topics.
A less obvious example of how PPC campaigns are affected by the larger ecosystem: Your organization’s reputation is being torched online.
This can have a very real impact on your PPC campaigns, even if they’re being run by a world-class PPC expert.
Some more questions you should be asking in the fourth dimension:
Let’s say your organization uses last click attribution.
If you’re auditing display campaigns where cost per conversion isn’t all that hot, it may not necessarily mean the campaigns are flat out failing.
They could be a top contributor in your assisted conversions report – meaning users coming from your display campaigns are converting on the site later – via another traffic channel.
Firstly, well done if you made it this far.
Here’s your reward: You know how to conduct 4D PPC Audits!
Listen, the time is over where we can maximize our PPC campaigns by simply auditing what's happening within the ad platform.
We can’t ignore the environment that PPC campaigns operate in or bury our heads in the sand instead of proactively trying to improve the onsite conversion experience.
If you follow this framework, you won’t just clean up your campaigns, but you’ll also have:
Depending on how large your budgets and campaigns are, I would recommend conducting 4D PPC Audits at least once a year. This could be once per quarter if the organization's campaigns are running on a massive scale.
4D PPC Audits aren’t just going to lead to marginal improvements. They are how you 5-10X your results.
That’s not an exaggeration. This framework has helped me do just that on multiple occasions.
Have questions or comments? Get at me here.
Good luck :)
Shawn is a perpetual student of the game. Whether it's testing new campaign types or hunting down higher conversion rates for his clients, he's constantly on the prowl for an edge.
Want to work with him or talk shop? Fire him a message here.