Beneath the seemingly innocent surface of paid search, monstrous errors could be lurking. If your paid search efforts aren’t performing the way they could, should or did, gather ‘round to hear these true stories of disastrous decisions from our own case studies.

Part 1: How Meeting Our Numbers Was Killing Our Company

Part 2: Rise of the Scripts: How Reliance on Tools Nearly Slaughtered Our ROI

“For the night account is dark, and full of (t)errors…” – Melissandre, Game of Thrones

As we well know, there’s a lot going on in a paid search account: levels of structure, ad formats, ways to adjust bids, and potential extensions: geo-targeting, mobile, remarketing, shopping, and more. It can be a bit intimidating to get “under the hood” and see what’s really going on. But your team needs to do it, and they need to be smart about it. These are some of the major dangers they might face, and how you can help your team avoid… The Three Fatal Errors of a Paid Search Audit.

Fatal Error #1: Never Taking a Good Look Around

Image from The Forest, © Focus Features, 2016

How often, in horror movies, does a monster appear behind a character but the character is oblivious to it? The movie audience is often telling the character to look around, but that person keeps looking straight ahead, as if openly defying the audience and common sense.

If your team isn’t conducting regular audits – or, worse, hasn’t really conducted an audit before – they are behaving like that character. Paid search accounts aren’t inert objects; if you have any campaigns enabled, there’s definitely something happening in the account, and it definitely merits measuring.

Fix #1: Audit Regularly, Audit Quarterly

Of course, the obvious solution is to conduct audits on a regular basis. In addition to evaluating performance, regular audits let your team:

  • See long-term opportunities through month-over-month, year-over-year performance that can reveal subtle trends
  • Identify fast wins, changes that can be made in the account to produce immediate results
  • Find wasted spend, the keywords and/or ads with low lead volume and high cost per lead (CPL)

Request an executive summary of your team’s audits, and insist that it cover the three points listed above. That will give you a succinct view of the account covering past, present and future – the equivalent of looking around and seeing any potential monsters lurking about.

Fatal Error #2: Auditing What Doesn’t Matter

Some of the more unnerving audits and reports we’ve seen use “inside baseball” metrics such as cost per click (CPC), click-through rate (CTR), and ad position as determinants of success. Those metrics are prominently displayed in paid search dashboards, making it easy for an inexperienced team to focus on them.

However, as we’ve mentioned throughout this series, everything must be aligned with business goals, and those metrics simply don’t tell the full story. Even CPLs and conversion rates (CVRs) don’t necessarily track to revenue, so all metrics must be viewed through the proper lens when conducting an audit.

Fix #2: Find the Right Metrics and Focus on Them

All clicks, leads, and conversions are not created equal. To discern which aspects of your paid search are directly contributing to your company’s success, your team must look at metrics that affect the bottom line:

  • Cost per appointment
  • Cost per sale
  • Lead-to-revenue ratio

Of course, your team must have access to sales data showing results at all stages of the sales funnel. If they don’t, you’re the person with the power to get them that access.

Fatal Error #3: Stopping at the Click

Some audits assume that once an ad is clicked upon, whatever occurs next belongs to some foggy shadow world, utterly unknowable and shrouded in mystery. Of course, the real customer journey begins after the click, when the user begins interacting with your own site.

If the audits you’ve seen don’t consider the entire customer experience, you’re not getting the complete picture and can’t reasonably determine the scope or impact of paid search in your overall digital marketing. It can make you feel like those kids in The Blair Witch Project, stumbling around the woods without a map as darkness falls.

Fix #3: Evaluate the Complete Search Experience

How can you get out of the woods? Make sure the audits you receive include the comprehensive impact of search:

  • Multichannel data to see how paid search channels are (or aren’t) supporting each other
  • Cross-device assists: your customers might start with a quick search on their phone, conduct more research on their tablet, and finally make the purchase from their desktop. Each of those touchpoints is important and should be rolled up into your data
  • Click and impression assists: A conversion doesn’t spontaneously occur at the last stage of the funnel; chances are it’s been nudged along by higher-funnel keywords. Be sure your audit includes this data to give you a full view of your keyword ecosystem
  • Include your website, especially the landing pages: If paid search users click your ad but almost never convert, have you really gotten a good return on your advertising spend?

Every 360Partners client engagement includes a thorough paid search audit that evaluates 166 individual items among 15 categories, with summary evaluations for each category and the account as a whole. It takes a significant amount of time, and it’s not free, but it gives you a complete view of your paid search marketing so you have the information you need to make strategic decisions.

For a handy summary of how to avoid these fatal audit errors, please download the Paid Search Audit Horrors PDF.

We hope you’ve enjoyed a good scare with these paid search horror stories. Next month, we enter a new dimension in terror with… Display Advertising Horror Stories: It’s So Much Worse with Pictures!

Have a horror story of your own? We can help you through the nightmare. Contact Donna Lagow, Senior Account Manager, to learn more.

This post was authored by Senior Account Manager Donna Lagow. Donna has braved all these horror stories and more, and is such a big deal that Jay Z once performed just for her and her co-workers at Turner Broadcasting.