The 5 Biggest Mistakes I Find in Paid Search Audits and the Argument for a Third Party Auditor

The 5 Biggest Mistakes I Find in Paid Search Audits and the Argument for a Third Party Auditor

BY ATOMIC | JUN 17, 2020

By: Gayle Rogers, Founder of Atomic 

While paid search is one of the most powerful ways to connect with potential buyers for your product and service, a mismanaged account can waste a massive amount of your money – not just from negligence of the person running your campaigns, but from Google (which we’ll save that discussion for a later date.)

Most businesses hire an agency to run their paid search campaigns, rely on the agency to provide them with that service, and then trust them to be transparent with their paid search performance.

Unfortunately, this means most businesses don’t even know what level of paid search performance they’re really getting.

Is your agency providing you with poor, average, or exceptional paid search performance?

When you hire an agency to run your paid search campaigns, you’re going to get one of three levels of paid search performance.

Poor. Your paid search is ignored or mismanaged with negligent mistakes.

Average. The paid search team is just doing enough to be good.

Exceptional. A paid search professional is proactively making smart changes and testing in order to help your business grow. To that end, they truly understand your business, and just know, if someone doesn’t understand your business, they can waste a lot of time and money for you in an instant.

If you’re relying solely on the agency that you’re paying to run your paid search to tell you how your campaigns are performing, one of us might be naive.

Do you really think the agency is going to come to the next meeting and tell you, “We really screwed the pooch this month. We spent maybe five minutes on your account so don’t worry about paying our fee. Just keep your money.”

Yeah, that’s never going to happen.

If you don’t have a third party watching over your paid search account, you’re more than likely going to be in for disappointment, and here’s why. 

First, there’s just not that many people who’ve been managing paid search at scale or over a long enough period of time to be able to spot the range issues that tend to come up.

Secondly, many agencies either don’t charge enough for paid search management, or they get a little bit greedy and have one person managing too many accounts. What ends up happening is that they hired someone who doesn’t have the experience, nor the time, to go through every account and make the necessary adjustments. It happens all the time. 

The 5 Biggest Mistakes I Find in Paid Search Audits

Do I want you as a business owner to pay for exceptional paid search performance while you actually receive poor performance and marketing dollars go down the drain?

Absolutely not.

That’s why I’m going to show you some of the biggest mistakes I find that you or a third-party auditor need to look out for.

#1 Paid Search Mistake: Changes aren’t being made regularly within the account. 

The things I go to look for in terms of management are how often changes are being made within the account. I find a lot that people are just setting it up and leaving it and hoping for the best. That’s a big problem. There are a range of items that need to be managed on a constant basis.

#2 Paid Search Mistake: Geographies aren’t being excluded.

The next thing I look at is geography – so the cities or geographies the campaign is targeting, and moreover, the excluded geographies. If you leave it up to Google, Google’s going to take creative license. I just saw in an account where they had targeted roughly 50 zip codes to show ads in and when you look at clicks from user location, it showed 2-3x as many zip codes where searches came from.

If you’re not intent on excluding locations, then you’re going to wind up spending money in places where you’re not going to get the return you want. Simple as that.

#3 Paid Search Mistake: Keywords aren’t constantly being added to the negative keyword list. 

I see a lot of mismanagement in targeted keywords such as cross campaign keyword issues, but the biggest failure in every account is negative keywords. Really, if you’re not going in on a weekly basis and mining your search queries for both opportunities or keywords you need to be excluding in search, then you’re wasting money.

To that point, the match type, Exact Match, used to be “my ad will only show up if someone searches exactly ‘this,’” but Google is taking creative license for that and will even show ads for something that doesn’t exactly match an exact match keyword.

You have to be very, very diligent about keeping Google in check or it’ll waste a massive amount of your money. And just know, there’s no way to create a comprehensive negative keyword list once and never looking again. You’ve got to find a balance between keywords I want and keywords I don’t want. It’s a constant battle.

#4 Paid Search Mistake: Ad copy doesn’t match the search.

After that, I’ll go look at ads and extensions to see how the copy matches the search. Again, it’s easy to put a bunch of keywords in a campaign with one to three ads. But the reality of the situation is that you’re going to find that certain keywords will trigger an ad, but the ad doesn’t match the search. This then creates a bad landing page experience, a bad CTR and so on.

You have to get to a point where you’re isolating things in a way that you can really control them.

#5 Paid Search Mistake: Paid search, SEO and conversion optimization teams don’t work together. 

The paid search team thinks their job is to get a click. But what they really need to be asking themselves is “What does the client want?” The client wants conversions and sales! Right?

They really need to think about their job in terms of more than “I need to get a click.” They need to think about the landing page and the intent of the person who’s going to land on that page. Are they helping or hurting them?

There’s a lot more that goes into it than campaign structure.

Should You Hire a Third Party to Monitor Your Paid Search? Maybe.

Not everyone needs a third party to monitor their paid search campaigns, but if you’re spending more than $1,000 a month on paid search, you should strongly consider it.

But there are some other ways to determine the need for a third party:

How complex is your account and your product offering? That’s a big piece. If you’ve got a lot of inventory and a lot of products, you’re going to need someone to look at your paid search more often. On the other hand, if you have one service and one or two campaigns, you probably don’t need someone to look at it every single day.

How much paid search competition do you have? If you have a lot of competition, you’re going to want someone to look at it more often. Google Ads is a live auction which means it changes every second, every search. You constantly have to be looking at what’s going on. The person who’s the most attentive is going to be the winner.

How much are you spending? The more money you have coming through your paid search, the more you have to be ahead of it. And here’s a good guide as to how often you might need a third party paid search audit based on spend:

$1,000/month = Once a quarter

$5,000/month = Once every two months

$10,000/month = Once a month

$25,000+/month = Once a week

Typically, budget and campaign size will coincide with each other; the more budget, the more campaigns. Still, there’s no one right answer as to how often you need someone to review your paid search account but considering the criteria above is a good start to figuring that out.

Never Let Anyone Waste Your Hard Earned Marketing Dollars

Is it safe to say that most businesses are wasting a good bit of money in paid search? 


I’ve been doing paid search audits for years. Give me five minutes, and I can tell you where you’re wasting money, whether that’s from having someone with too little time or too little experience running your campaigns.

And we haven’t even gotten into trying to understand bot traffic and which IPs are real traffic. It’s a deep dark hole once you get in there.

The bottom line is that the key to managing a Google Ads campaign is control, and businesses need to be aware of the importance of making sure their agency is providing them with a certain level of service and performance. If you don’t have someone in there tweaking and testing, they’re going to waste your marketing dollars, and quite possibly, a lot of them.

There’s a lot that goes into exceptional paid search performance. It’s not just set it up, run some ads, and see what happens. If you want quality leads and well spent marketing dollars, sometimes it pays off to have an extra set of eyes.

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