5 Step Paid Search Health Check

5 quick steps you can take to check whether your paid search activity is set up for success.

paid search health check

Are the results from your paid search activity dwindling? Do you always feel like you’re not quite getting enough ROI or does it seem to be working amazingly and you’re happier than a clam at high tide.

Whichever of these scenarios applies to you there’s always something more you can be doing to squeeze out a bit more performance from your paid search activity, it’s rare to see an account that is always fully optimised.

Whether you’re running your paid search activity yourself or outsourcing to an agency these 5 steps should help you to kick-start constructive conversations with your external suppliers.

So lets pop the hood on our paid search accounts and dive into the detail and look at the 5 steps.

Step 1 – Tight Theming

Take a look at the structure of your account, in terms of campaign, ad group and keywords. Does the hierarchy follow a clear theme that is consistent throughout?

  • Example of a good hierarchy:
    • Campaign name: Running Shoes | generic
      • Ad Group 1: running shoes | low profile
        • Keywords for Ad Group 1: +low +profile +running +shoes, “low profile running shoes”
      • Ad Group 2: running shoes | cushioned
        • Keywords for Ad Group 2: +cushioned +running +shoes, “running shoes with cushioning”
      • Ad Group 3: running shoes | triathlon
        • Keywords for Ad Group 3: +triathlon +running +shoes, +shoes +triathlon

As you can see in the above example structure all of the keywords are grouped together based on the searcher intent, by doing this you can customise ad copy to really closely match what the person is looking for.

Step 2 – Use Search Query Reports to Understand Actual Search Behaviour

So you’ve packed your account with keywords and the clicks are starting to come in. Depending on the type of keyword matching that you’ve used your chosen keywords could match against a wide variety of search terms.

With keyword matching in mind it’s time to check what people are actually searching for and whether it’s what you intended to match against when you first did your keyword research.

To do this dive into the “Search Terms” report tucked under the keywords tab, see the snippet below for how to find this.

search term report
How to access the “search term report” area in AdWords, this area shows you the search terms actually entered by users that are triggering your ads

Here’s an example of how the search term report might look for a charity that’s bidding on donate related keywords:

Donate to charity example
Example output from the search term report, this particular Ad Group is a not for profit that is trying to attract people who are looking to donate to charity to their website

As you can see there are a lot of irrelevant search terms in there that are not going to drive donation revenue!

Step 3 – Use Negative Keywords to Fine Tune Targeting

Now you’ve seen the search terms that people are using you can start to stop your ads displaying for the searches where the intent behind the search isn’t going to help you to achieve your objectives. Example negative keywords for an ad group targeting donate related searches would include:

  • Hair
  • Clothes
  • Car
  • Eggs
  • Organ
  • Blood
  • Sperm
  • Etc.

As you can see this is basically a list of all the other items that people might be looking to “donate” other than money.

The idea is to keep refining your keyword match types and adding more negative keywords to each campaign/ad group as data builds up and as search behaviour evolves.

Negative keywords are a really powerful way of refining your targeting, you can also use them to make sure an ad group doesn’t trigger ads for a specific search term where a different ad group might contain a more relevant ad. For example a not for profit might have an ad group targeting “donate to charity” which has specific ad copy that refers to “Donate to Charity” you might want to add “donate to charity” as a negative keyword in the ad group that has a more general focus on donate keywords and ad copy that may not fully reflect the searchers intent.

Another strategy you can use to improve targeting of your ad groups is to use the insights from your search term report to improve ad group structure even further and introduce new phrase and exact match targeted ad groups to focus on the search terms where you know there’s a good amount of volume.

Step 4 – Exploit Ad Extensions

There are currently 11 different flavours of ad extensions to choose from in AdWords. Here are three that you should definitely be using and why:

  1. Sitelinks extensions

    These bad boys are really good for directing searchers to specific sections of your site. Here’s an example from Amnesty Australia (red arrows point to the site link extensions):

Site Link Extensions example
Example of Site Link Extensions displaying alongside an ad for Amnesty Australia
  • Callout extensions

    These sneaky little gems let you display a little bit more information about what Amnesty are all about, they’re really short but you can add multiple callouts, again they’re highlighted in the Amnesty Australia example below:

  • Callout extensions example
    Example of callout extensions in the Amnesty Australia ad
  • Price extensions

    These are a relatively new addition to the AdWords armoury, you need to select at least three price points to use in the ad (or three products). I’d recommend using a price for a monthly donation, one-off donation and potentially some of your gifting propositions. The price point for one-off donations could be made even more compelling by using some dollar handle examples. Here’s an example from the service industry showing how they look.

  • Example price extensions
    Example of price extensions for a women’s hair salon.


    Step 5 – Landing Page Optimisation

    Now you’ve given your AdWords account a bit of a turbo-charge it’s time to make sure you’re spending some time reviewing your landing pages. Here are two critical things you can do to make sure your landing pages are giving you maximum bang for your buck:

    1. Compare conversion rates

      Look at all of the landing pages you’re sending traffic to and compare the conversion rate for each page (this applies whether the objective is lead generation or direct sales). If a page is underperforming compared to the average start looking into why this might be.

    2. Theming

      Going back to step 1 in this article make sure your landing pages are tied tightly to the keywords in your Ad Groups. For example it’s no good sending people who are searching for “low profile running shoes” to your general running gear page that includes shorts, t-shirts etc., since it just doesn’t address their need closely enough.

    By taking on some of these steps yourself you can get closer to the detail and ensure that you’re driving your paid search partners to deliver the best results possible.