It doesn't matter if you're in charge of your search engine marketing or you've delegated this task to an agency. Evaluating your paid search campaigns is a key factor for success.

And that's where an SEM audit comes in.

A deep dive into your existing SEM strategy to determine areas that could use further attention and work to improve performance. Which settings to utilize, which boxes to check, and what to adjust?

A look at your digital marketing campaign from a different angle.

In this guide, I'll show you how we perform SEM audits at Ernst Media. The step-by-step process we follow to unlock the full potential of every customer's paid search account.

It's a time-consuming task but not rocket science.

A successful SEM audit will help you identify relevant keywords, find hidden opportunities in search engines, and maximize your PPC budget.

Here is what my team and I check when conducting SEM audits.

The SEM Audit Components

  1. Overall account performance. (Average quality scores)
  2. Campaign performance and settings. (Dayparting, location exclusion, mobile bidding)
  3. Campaign attributes. (Types, extensions, bid strategy, etc.)
  4. Campaign organization. (Budget allocation for higher-converting keywords)
  5. Ad group performance and settings.
  6. Ad group attributes. (Extensions, match types, negative keywords, etc.)
  7. Ad performance. (keyword usage, display URLs, symbol usage, etc.)
  8. Keyword performance. (Match type strategy)
  9. Search term opportunities. (Detail report and Search Console)
  10. Complete landing page audit. (Design, branding, copywriting, UX, etc.)
  11. Automations that are currently in place. (Bid management, ad testing, etc.)

How to Do the SEM Performance Audit?

how to perform an sem audit

Now, I understand that if you're a startup, owner of a small/medium business, or just running on a tight budget, you want to do the SEM audit yourself.

To make it easier for you, I've prepared a list of questions you need to answer and actions you need to take. Trust me. When you know what, where, and how to look, you can get the job done.

So, without further ado…

What do you want out of your ad campaigns?

Do you have a purpose for each ad? What are your goals and objectives? Make sure they're S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Do you have your ad account organized in a logical way?

It should be easy for you or the account manager to find something, keep track of things, and manage other actions. If your ad account structure isn't well organized, then the results, as well as the management of that account, will be chaotic.

Do you have conversion tracking properly set up?

If you don't, then all of your account data is useless, and your ad money is wasted. Watch out for double-counting of conversions.

Who are you targeting?

Do you have their demographics defined clearly? Are they generic ones (e.g., 18-35 people), or more specific with defined parameters (e.g., 18-35 iPhone users living on the West Coast)? The less defined they are, the more you pay, and on top of that, your ROI will keep going down.

How many ads do you have running?

Get a performance report for each of them, as well as a report of your spending. Identify campaigns that are losing impressions share due to budget restrictions.

How many A/B tests have you done with your ads?

Have you picked the best ones and rinsed and repeated the process?

This is how you weed out poor-performing ads. You can either remove and forget them or run them through a wringer, find out what's wrong, and fix it. Then, retest to see if the problem has been solved.

Separate the best ones into dedicated campaigns and run them with the highest-converting keywords, highest-converting locations, and so on.

NEVER stop split-testing, and make a habit of frequently trying a different ad copy.

When are your ads converting?

Are the conversion rates trending one way or another during specific hours? If so, consider utilizing day parting for increased efficiency.

Are you using Google remarketing?

If not, consider using this clever method to connect with your visitors who haven't been converted yet while they browse elsewhere on the internet. If you're already using remarketing, be sure to exclude converted visitors.

By the way, here are some tips on how to boost your Google Ads strategy.

Whether you're using the Google Display Network or Search Network for remarketing (RLSA), remember to check your non-converting clicks on a regular basis. After the cookie has been dropped, you only have 540 days to convert them.

Are your top keywords set up in single-keyword ad groups?

Sort the keywords by conversions and then run the top keywords through this questionnaire.

  • Is every single one an exact match keyword?
  • Is every single one part of its own ad group with relevant ad copy?
  • Have you A/B tested landing pages for this keyword set?

Did you answer ‘NO' to any of these questions? If that's the case, build campaigns that contain your highest-converting keywords and bid on an exact match within that ad group.

Are you using the ‘negative keywords' feature?

Continuously research, identify, and exclude irrelevant search terms to avoid wasting your budget.

Are you bidding on your competitors' brand names?

Type each of your top competitors into Google and see what ads come up. If yours isn't there, get on it.

Is your account structure optimized for quality score?

Your ad groups shouldn't have a single keyword with a quality score lower than 7. Move any low-QS keywords to dedicated campaigns and troubleshoot using the Ads Diagnostic tools. If your keywords aren't between 7 and 10 in QS, you'll be paying too much.

Are effective campaigns limited by set budgets?

Look at how the budget is allocated between areas of the account with different performance levels. Are you using shared budgets, or are they allocated directly to each campaign?

Are the appropriate campaign types set?

Select the appropriate campaign type according to your goals and objectives. Remember to use one goal/objective per campaign.

Do location targeting options match your target audience?

Make sure your ads target the right countries. For more control, it's better to structure your campaigns at a country or continental level.

Have you checked the selection of ad extensions?

Are ad extensions allocated across the account to support your goals and objectives? They must be relevant and boost the engagement of your ads.

What bidding strategy do you use? Do you use one at all?

Google offers a few different bidding strategy options. Here is their breakdown of these types, along with what they do. And here is my input:

  • Keyword matching options can generally be set to “include plurals, misspellings, and other close variations.
  • Frequently check each landing page. Make sure that your ads aren't sending visitors to 404 pages, and your links aren't expired, etc.
  • Check if the landing page(s) are aligned with the themes of the sources that they're receiving traffic from.
  • Compare the conversions from different locations. If you're not getting little or no conversions from a location, exclude it. Instead, double down on the places with the most conversions. You might want to test them with your highest-converting keywords to see what happens.
  • If you're using any trends for your ads, see if the buzz has gone down or if the trend has attracted any backlash. Also, if you decide to keep it, pay attention to the conversion rate.
  • If your competitors are bidding on your company name (as I've advised you to do this before), you definitely need to use PPC Google ads for your branded terms. Owning the top position within your brand is a must.

I can't stress this point enough.

Run separate campaigns for different themes, locations, services, goals, and other variables. If you put all of your ad groups into one or a couple of campaigns, you won't be able to exercise full control.

It also gives you greater control over the budget. For example, you should keep an experimental ad budget low while your core service campaign is well-supplied.

Key Performance Metrics

Finally, I'll share with you the KPIs we pay attention to when performing an SEM audit. Keeping a close eye on these 3 key metrics is very important for the optimization and success of your paid search strategy.

key performance metrics in search engine marketing audit


ROI is the ultimate truth that you have to stick to. If you have to choose a single metric to use for the rest of your life, it should be this. It tells you: What's your return on investment?

ROAS is also important as it shows each ad campaign's performance. You have to work on tracking the PPC campaigns and how they affect your bottom line. If something is off, then you have to act accordingly.

2. Conversion volume

Make sure you know which conversion actions you're tracking. Then, look at the number of conversions you're getting on a daily/weekly/monthly basis and which campaigns they're coming from.

If your campaign is not growing in conversions every month, it is stagnating. Find out what you can do to remove the ‘clog' and keep things rolling.

3. Cost Per Click or Conversion

These are rather simple. If your cost per click/conversion is too high, then chances are your campaign isn't sustainable. But there are many ways to reduce the cost. I'd suggest starting with eliminating wasted spend by running your campaigns through the above questionnaires.

My Final Words

I hope after reading this guide, you have a better understanding of how to perform an SEM audit. Give it a try, even if it still sounds complicated. You'll definitely find things that need to be optimized.

Answer the questions, take the actionable steps, and you'll get better results with your paid search campaigns in the future. I promise.

Need help with anything else related to your search engine marketing strategy? Let's discuss your business goals and what can be done to achieve those. Book a call with me.