Top 5 Tips for Cleaning Up SEM Accounts

By Kimberly Honoré in Media Strategy on July 6th, 2016

PPC audit checklist

As a Top-25 independent search agency, we manage tens of millions of dollars of paid search for our clients.  And we are big believers in semi-annual audits, independent of standard day-to-day optimizations.  Our favorite approach is to utilize the skills of a team member to audit an account he/she does NOT work on regularly.  This brings a fresh set of expert eyes and the clarity of objectivity.  

PPC is so complex that even the most successful, best-organized accounts can benefit from looking at the  techniques being used by other brands, even those in different industries.  This is one of the key benefits to using a PPC agency—the cross-learning and training—not to mention staying fresh on the latest techniques and betas available.

So, what are the best practices for auditing?  Here are our five favorite tips!

1. Get rid of the clutter (deadweight).

We often cast a wide net whenever we launch a new account.  This means we take the time to build out every iteration of a term we can think of (as long as it makes sense).  Both short tail and long tail terms are created, along with common misspellings, synonyms, and explanatory keywords (i.e. build out red shoes in addition to just shoes).  This method should help you drive in incremental conversions at an efficient rate (once you figure out which terms convert), but in all actuality, 2-3 months in, you are likely going to have a lot of deadweight on your hands. 

Deadweight terms are terms that you built out and no one ever searches them.  They just sit in your account, eating up space, dragging down the Quality Score of the other keywords they share an ad group with and cause your reports to take twice as long to generate.  Once you identify deadweight – cut those terms out.  This is your first step to a leaner, more manageable account. 

2. Cut down on sneaky spend accruals (spoilage).

Let’s face it, it’s easy to pinpoint a term that’s spending a considerable amount of your budget, but not converting. However, those sneaky terms that spend less than $1 a day and don’t convert can wreak havoc on your account as well.  That’s because those dollars add up, and when you have hundreds (or thousands) of keywords that spend less than $1 a day, every day–over time, you’re talking about a significant amount of money.  You don’t necessarily need to remove these keywords all together, but you should at least be pulling back on them

3. Listen to what the data is telling you.

Make sure you are regularly looking within the confines of your account.  Do you have any disapproved ads?  Are any terms below the first page search bid? Are any negatives blocking terms you actually bid on from serving?  What ads garner a ton of impressions yet have a low CTR?  Is there a Lander with high click volume, but a low conversion rate?  These are all easy indications of where your focus should be aimed in terms of improving the overall performance of an account—and it’s all evident in the data!

4. Analyze impression share.

Impression share is one of the most insightful metrics you can look into for your account.  This is due to the fact that it gives you a clear indication into why a keyword may not be performing.  Impression share will let you know if you are missing out on impressions due to a depleted budget, or due to your bidding strategy or account layout. 

If it’s tied to lost impression share due to budget, simply increase your budget caps or implement day parting to reserve funds for the highest converting hours of day.  If it’s tied to Lost Impression Share Due to Rank, then you need to work to improve relevancy (via your ad group structure, ad copy and landers), as well as consider increasing your bids.

5. Make sure you're taking advantage of extensions.

When we audit accounts we’re about to onboard, one of the first things we look for is whether they are taking advantage of all the available ad extensions. In addition to being factored into the Quality Score, Extensions also help ads stand out more in the SERP, as they increase the real estate of the ad and push competitors’ ads further down on the page, often resulting in higher CTRs.  Extensions to look for are: enhanced sitelinks, callout extensions, call extensions, location extensions and structured snippets.


All in all – we’ve never seen extensions have a negative effect on an account, so if you aren’t taking advantage of all of the ones that make sense for your brand, you should be able to confidently hypothesize that your results will improve if you start implementing extensions.

These 5 “to-dos” can make a big difference to the overall health and efficiency of your account; leaving you with money on the table to put towards your most efficient, top converting keywords (if they aren’t already maxed out).  And you can use that savings to test into new initiatives and channels!

Want a fresh set of eyes to audit your SEM account?

Contact our experts today!