Google Search Ads: The Definitive Account Audit for 2020

May 6, 2020
Jhana Ellard

It's Time To Run More Profitable Google Search Ads.

It's becoming easier and easier for people to open up the Google Ads interface and run advertising campaigns. 

With “machine learning,” “algorithms,” and the oh-so-easy-to-implement “smart campaigns” on the rise in Google, more and more people with almost no advertising experience are putting campaigns live to promote their business.

And that's amazing. You don't need a huge budget to run ads, you don't need to spend endless hours learning the technical jargon of the marketing world, and you don't have to learn how to navigate the increasingly user friendly Google Ads interface.

So, yes, it's easier to get a Google Ads campaign live. But to do it well, that's a whole different story.

Why is this important? Keep in mind, Google wants you to spend money on the platform. That is their main, #1, unambiguous incentive.

Their motive is not for you to run profitable advertising campaigns, they simply want you to easily hop into the platform, not have to think about their “algorithmic smart campaigns” and start pouring dollars into Google Ads.

But this is not the optimal way to run ads. Machine Learning may sound like a fancy buzz word, but you'd be amazed at the fact that to really, truly excel on the Google Ads platform, you need to get your hands dirty.

That's why I'm bringing you a massive, definitive, step-by-step guide to up your Ads game. This guide is not for the faint of heart.

Whether you're just getting started running ads, or you have some experience with the Google Ads platform and want to take it to the next level, there will be something of value to you in the guide below.

So sit back, open up your ads dashboard, and audit these 100+ items in your Google Ads account to help you increase efficiency and profitability for your business.

This post won't solve every single one of your Google Ads issues. If I tried to cover everything, this post would become a novel. That being said, there will be items in here that will make you a better advertiser.

1. The Account Structure: Campaigns - Ad Groups - Ads

Google Ad Account Structure Visual Representation In a graphical wayn
Google Ad Account Structure

Account organization is everything. This is the foundation with which you build everything else upon. Go through the following high level items as you audit.

a) Make sure each campaign has clear business goal in mind. Don't muddy the waters trying to accomplish too much within the same campaign.

b) Naming conventions are everything. This shouldn't be overlooked. Try to include as much relevant campaign information within the naming convention so you can identify what it's trying to accomplish with a glance. And, perhaps more importantly, make sure you standardize your naming conventions across campaigns.

c) Take a look at your website's sitemap. In some cases, this should provide you with a great guide of how to organize your campaigns. E-commerce stands to benefit the most here. Take a look at your product categories and sub categories and see how that maps on to your current campaign structure.

d) Do you have multiple campaigns that are overlapping with one another? Your campaigns should be completely siloed from one another. If you see two campaigns trying to accomplish the same thing, see if you can consolidate them.

e) Ask yourself, what are you measuring with your campaigns? If you don't have an answer to that question, this should be a great indicator that it's time for a restructure. Organize your campaigns so that when you look at your campaign metrics, you can draw meaningful conclusions from them.

2. Conversion Tracking is Absolutely Essential

If Google Ads Conversion Tracking isn't setup, I'd suggest pausing every single ad you have running before you run ads again.

You need to identify what you are trying to achieve with your Google Ads. Identify the valuable user actions on your website and start to measure them. These should be closely aligned with your overall business goals.

To do this, head over to the Tools & Settings > Conversions settings of your Google Ads account and start measuring the actual performance of your ads.

Conversion Tracking In Google Ads Menu Screenshot
Conversion Tracking In Google Ads

If you already have conversion tracking set up on your account:

  1. Audit the conversions. Are they still relevant to what you're trying to achieve? 
  2. Take a look at the attribution model you've chosen. Is this the best model for you to get the most valuable information from your ads? 
  3. Do your conversions have a value assigned to them where appropriate? If you're selling an e-commerce product, make sure you have your checkout value being captured. If you're doing lead gen, figure out an appropriate value per lead for your business and add it to your conversion. 

Audit the “include in conversions” section. You don't need this to be set to YES on every single conversion in the account. Keep only the most valuable conversions set to yes.

3. Delivery Settings. Spend Your Dollars Wisely.

Take a look at where your Google Search Ads are actually delivering ads. Go into your campaign settings section and take a look at the networks you're targeting. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that every dollar spent on the native Google Search Network is going to go further than anywhere else.

Delivery Network Setting Option For Google Ads Screenshot
Delivery Network Setting Option For Google Ads

a) Do you have the Display Network selected for your search campaigns? Turn it off. There are very, very few cases where this will be beneficial to you.

b) Do you have the Search Partner Network selected for your search campaigns? Turn it off. Again, your dollars will go further on Google's native search platform. If you have maxed out your volume with your ads and are looking to expand, absolutely turn this on, but if you're on a small-medium budget, spend it on Google. If you had both selected historically, take a look at your conversion rate and CPA on the partner network vs Google itself and let that data make the decision for you.

4. Your Location & Device Settings. Don't Skip Over This.

This is not something to skip over when looking at your Google Ads. Don't simply defer to the default section. Every single one of your campaign settings should have intention behind it. People will have radically different search experiences when interacting with your business. Make sure you seriously think about your device and location settings and how that affects the searcher.

Location Setting In Google Ads Screenshot
Location Setting In Google Ads

Note the difference between:

a) “People in, or who show interest in, your targeted locations (recommended),” 

b) “People in or regularly in your targeted locations,” 

c) “People searching for your targeted locations.” 

Does the setting you have selected make sense? Do not simply defer to the default. If you are selling e-commerce and only ship to the United States, don't have the first option selected as you will be wasting money on ads to people outside of your shipping locations. 

Do the same thing with your location exclusion settings. Ask yourself if it's useful for you to advertise your e-commerce product to users in Alaska? Would this be a profitable endeavour to you given your shipping costs? 

Take a look at your Geographic Reports in Google Ads. Are you overspending on states with a poor conversion rate, underspending on your top performing geo? Is there a specific region within a specific state that you should add as an additional location and add a bid adjustment to?

Google Ads Geographic Report
Geographic Report

Ask yourself similar questions when it comes to the devices you're spending on.

If your site has an awful mobile experience, don't waste your ad dollars advertising to people on their phones who will bounce from your site immediately.

5. Ad Rotation Settings. You Don't Always Need To "Optimize"

This is more of a “take it or leave it” tip and not essential.

Personally, when starting a new campaign, I set the Ad Rotation Optimization Settings to OFF. This is because I want to A/B test my ad copy with equal sample sizes. When you select Google's optimization settings to ON, you will have vastly different sample sizes with your ads and thus have a very hard time measuring the effectiveness of each.

Remember, Google Ads does not know your overall business goals, it may be “optimizing” for something entirely irrelevant to your business. 

6. Ad Scheduling Settings. Ask Yourself "When?"

Ask yourself, “do I need to run ads at 3am in the morning?”

If you think this is vital, then absolutely, leave your ads on 24/7. But if you're running a lead gen campaign, schedule your ads for only when your sales team is in the office. 

Running a brick and mortar store? Would it be useful for you to line your ads up with your business hours?

There is not a “correct” schedule for your ads, simply ask yourself if what you have scheduled makes sense for your business.

7. Bidding Strategy. Difficult To Grasp, But Vital To Your Performance

There's an entire blog post that I really need to write about the differences across bidding settings. I don't have room in this post, but for the purposes of this audit, don't use Maximize Clicks! That's probably the best first step.

Remember, Google wants you to spend on as many clicks as possible. But you don't want that. You want high quality, relevant clicks.

Don't be afraid of manual bidding as it's generally the best strategy to start with (without Enhanced CPC).

If you have some conversion data, try and figure out a Target CPA and optimize for this.

This is a massively complex section, so if you're simply looking to improve your performance, move away from Maximize Clicks. 

8. Ad Extensions. The Easiest Way To Improve Your Entire Account

Adding additional extensions is one of the easiest, quickest ways to improve the overall results of your account.

You can increase the quality score of your ads, increase the amount of real estate you take up on the SERP, and as a result, increase your Clickthrough Rate.  And, even better, they come at no extra cost to you! 
Ad Extensions in google ads screenshot
Ad Extensions

More is more here. Give Google as many options as possible to show relevant messaging to the person searching. Keep in mind the different types of extensions and what they're used for. For more on extensions, view my video on The Anatomy of a Search Ad. 

Check all  of your extensions. If you only have sitelinks, use more! There are a ton of different options and you should leverage as many as possible.

Remember you can add extensions at the account, campaign, or ad group level. Keep that in mind when crafting your messaging. 

As a general rule, try to have:

a) At least 8 Sitelinks per campaign/ad group. You can link out to unintuitive pages as well like your site's FAQ or Shipping Policy. Any conceivably relevant spot on your site to send users should be on here. 

b) Callouts. Make sure you're highlighting your key offerings and selling points. It's always easy to call out your shipping policy, but try and go deeper than just that. 

c) Check out Structured Snippets. These are incredibly underused. Figure out which “type” fits your business and fill in all of your collections, service offerings, brands, etc.  

d) Use Price Extensions. This should be imprinted into your mind. It is not a bad thing to mention your price in your ad. This is the single best way to “qualify” your audience and to reduce the amount of “non-relevant traffic” clicking on your ads. Showing your prices helps you capture clicks only from people willing to pay your prices.

e) Try Offer Extensions. You should always highlight your offers. Remember, you are doing ADVERTISING! Keep in mind the scheduling features of offer extensions so that you can run them at specific times. 

f) Check Location Extensions. If it's relevant for you to do so. Let your searchers find you in the most efficient way possible.

g) Give Call Extensions a shot if closing deals on the phone is a key part of your business.

h) There are also Lead and App extensions which I didn't mention above, but ask yourself if they're relevant to your business and add them in. 

Ad Extensions Google Ads
Ad Extensions

9. Ad Group Structure. Maybe The Most Important Item On This List

This is the most vital part of your account structure and again, requires a lot more than this small blog section to master. 

Ad Group Structure Google Ads
Ad Group Structure

I can't fit in every little detail of how to structure your ad groups effectively, but ask yourself these questions when auditing.

a) What am I measuring, specifically, with this ad group? What am I measuring within this ad group compared to my other ad groups? If you don't know the answer to this question, then that's your first step. Try and isolate a variable within an Ad Group whether it's a group of related keywords, a keyword match type, a location, a device, an audience, etc. The possibilities are endless, but MEASURE SOMETHING! 

b) Are my keywords thematically structured? Do I have only closely-related keywords in the same ad group? Or do I have a strange cluster of disparate, unrelated keywords within the same Ad Group. Think about your funnel, don't have “discovery/awareness” keywords in the same Ad Group as your bottom funnel keywords. 

c) Does the match type of your keywords make sense given your goals? Are you simply targeting a bunch of broad match keywords? Or have you been thoughtful as to the kinds of search queries you want to trigger your keywords? There is no “correct” here. The important thing is that you are intentional with your match types.

d) Do you have negative keywords? This is probably the single most important thing when optimizing your account. You don't want your ads to show on non-relevant queries. 

You should explore your Search Terms Report and make sure you're adding negative keywords en masse. At least 2-3 negative keywords for every keyword you have. Again, remember the importance of match types. 

Pro Tip: Also use the Auction Insights Report to see which competitors you're overlapping with. If you're overlapping with an actual, relevant competitor, great! If you're overlapping with companies that are not your direct competitors, add them as a negative keyword.  
Pro Tip: Use Negative Keywords Lists to save you a HUGE amount of time optimizing accounts.

e) Does the messaging in the ads associated with your ad group match the keywords you have in your ad group? This is an absolutely vital relationship to maintain (the Search Query - Keyword - Ad relationship). The messaging in your ad copy (and where you send people with your ad) should be tightly related to your keywords.

f) Does the # of keywords you're bidding on make sense in relation to your daily budget? If you are spending 5$ per day, don't add 100 keywords. Pick your best keywords and focus on them. There is no correct # here, but be mindful of not spreading yourself thin. 

Pro Tip:  Look at the current and historical Quality Score of your individual keywords to see if you're getting a good ranking, and if you're improving that ranking. The better your Quality Score, generally, the better your performance. 

As mentioned, this is only the beginning when it comes to having optimally-performing ad groups. But if you're going to spend your time auditing anything in a Google Ads account, spend it on your ad groups and keywords. 

9. Ad Copy. Remember, we are Advertisers! 

Copywriting is a beautiful thing when done well and can really move the needle on your ads. This is not something “secondary” to be considered with your ad campaigns. Diving into your ad copy is vital. 

Remember, at its very core, we as advertisers are putting creative messaging in front of people. The data/analytics/measurement/targeting/etc. is secondary to that. 
Ad Copy

Spending some serious time actually considering the messaging you have in your ads is time well spent. We're not going to be able to solve everything to do with your copywriting in this post, but here are some general tips.

a) Most people only read headlines. Make sure you get your message across in your Headline 1 and Headline 2. Your Headline 3 won't always show.

b) Can you get the core of your message across in your Description 1. Often, this will be the only description field that shows. 

c) You shouldn't leave a field blank or half-full. Don't use up 25 characters of a 90 character description. 

d) Keep in mind for the most part, you're using direct response copywriting. You are trying to drive user action! Sometimes this means sacrificing some creative language for something more short, simple, and punchy. 

e) Qualify! What do I mean by this? State what you want your user to do or what your product/service is about in the ad itself. It is not about trying to hide & entice people to come to your site. State your product price in your headline, state your specific call to action. This might run contrary to your intuition, but this is the way to go. 

f) Don't be afraid of writing about your “features.” Most copywriting is about “benefits” or highlighting transformations/solutions/etc. which play off desires. People who are searching for something specific already know their desired state. Show why your product or service has the best features to get them there vs your competitors. 

g) When A/B testing, only change one variable. This is so that when you do see differences in your data, it will be because of that one variable you change. If you change multiple, you won't know what caused the change in performance. 

h) Similar to what I mentioned in the ad group section, always be testing something.

i) It's not just about “keyword name dropping.” Sure, include your keyword(s), but then provide coherent and relevant messaging. Your user will get it.

j) Are you testing too many ads at a time? Don't spread yourself too thin. Isolate some variables and run these A/B tests over time. You don't need 10 live ads per ad group. 

10. Use Your Intuition. Concluding Our Audit.

If something doesn't feel or look right, trust your gut as an advertiser. Put yourself into the mind of a searcher, in fact, open up a new tab and try and interact with your own ad account through Search.

If you notice a serious disconnect between what you're doing as a searcher, vs what you're designing as an advertiser, you should focus your efforts on bridging the gap.

Ads strike a beautiful middle ground between data-driven analysis and creative decision making. Don't be a one trick pony; combine your technical prowess with your advertiser intuition and you'll find that you'll be thinking about advertising in a very different way.

I hope this was a useful guide to advertisers of all different skill levels. There's something for everyone in here.

But remember, this audit is only the beginning. It is not comprehensive. Use this as a launching pad to really skyrocket your Google Ads account performance.

Disagree with something I said? Realize that I've omitted a crucial part of an account audit? Let me know about it. Send me an email at or fill out the contact form on my website.

Until next time,