How a self auditing search engine marketing checklist can protect your business from external audits

Search audits have the potential to either help or ruin people’s work (and sometimes their careers) at the same time.

And honestly? This is good.

Robust SEM audits. External and internal reviews are essential to the direct and indirect value you add to your operation.


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Review types

First, let’s talk, Not widelyabout the most common types of audits:

  • New presentation review: These are straightforward – the goal is to find holes (usually at surface level) in existing efforts. Expect to do a lot of remote searching and hide your IP address. You will likely use third-party tools such as LikeWeb, Semrush, Adthena, and SpyFu to estimate competitor spending and determine their approach. No doubt about it, this is not fun. But the payoff can be actual dollars for new businesses.
  • ‘Under the Hood’ audit: This is done when you are promoting a new business and the brand is already above their current agency. The business gives you a certain degree of castle keys with access to Google Analytics, Google Ads and Microsoft accounts. This is fun. There will be few, if any, questions left unanswered. It’s also easier to win business and a great way to start a process in the gut when they’re already on a downturn.
  • Advisor audit: An excruciating pain, as Brand brought in a “consultant” who knew everything, questioned the finer things, forcing you to question best practices and decide if he really was the best in class.
  • Self review: This is a noble and shockingly useful self-examination scenario. This is having you check the gut of your business on a semi-regular basis (monthly, quarterly, annually, etc.)
  • Invited third party audit: Honestly, this is my favourite. Anyone who has been working on an account long enough suffers from “computation fatigue” and can’t see the forest behind the trees. Here you bring in a trusted third party (an outside process or someone at home who isn’t at work) to look into the business. Less pressure, more confidence, less “throwing hands”. This becomes more instructive for everyone than anything else.

Regardless of the type of audit, the end goal is the same: to find the brand a way to generate more profits, directly or indirectly – whether through additional revenue generation or cost-savings.

Do a great review

How do you audit a great search account? “Great” is a relative term in search audits.

It really comes down to your level of access. This will determine your next steps for the audit.

But it always starts with a useful QA checklist of settings that need to be reviewed – from simple things like GTM on location, GA on location, and whether geo-targeting is in place, to more advanced scenarios like: Does Bing aggregate Running Search Partners are their unique ads in rotation for the RLSA audience and ads are turned on/off during low sales periods of the day.

This Quality Assurance Checklist will have hundreds of checkpoints for your review. It is designed to help you successfully launch a new campaign. But an audit is basically a quality assurance checklist in reverse.

What makes audits so powerful?

Well, it is easier to explain the results than to explain its potential. All of these results are drawn from real audits:

  • Scenario 1: A credit reporting brand refused to allow the team to bid on the term “free credit report.” The audit found multiple keywords assigned to this term within SQLR, all with a higher CPC. They account for 73% of those keywords’ traffic. Each keyword’s Quality Score was 3. If the brand was actively displaying the term “free credit report,” with appropriate ad copy, the QS would approach 5. The estimated cost savings of making this change to the customer was $573,000 per fiscal quarter.
  • Scenario 2: One car wash brand was trying to figure out how to save money while increasing traffic to their sites. It has been documented that the average target consumer will drive a maximum of five miles to a car wash in their markets and will find a car wash only an hour before going. It was found that geo-targeting has a 10 mile radius of advertising, the ads run 24/7 and there are no direct local search campaigns. Roughly 30% of the advertising budget was spent on consumers in places that are too far away and/or not likely to come at the exact time of the day. Adjustments were made to both geography and day periods to reallocate funds to local campaigns.
  • Scenario 3: CPG Sports Nutrition was told by their agency that they were getting excellent performance on YouTube’s front-end metrics, and they were. However, the data was only at the surface level. The content that triggers the ads has been audited. Keep in mind that sports nutrition means people who wear tight clothes, sweat, and drink pre-workout protein shakes and powders. The content audit noted that the agency failed to set negative brand integrity standards. 40% of the spending for a year was spent on videos related to Cocomelon, BabyBus, and Super Simple Songs. In the end, the brand took legal action against the agency that runs YouTube based on the review. Claiming compensation for the improperly spent amount.
  • Scenario 4: One brand QSR was under review for a new agency and gave all of RFP’s competing operations an “under the hood” look. To the amazement of all the operations, it was observed that the brand was not using brand keywords with rather poor SEO. In addition, 10% of budget spending was used during breakfast hours, which is less than 3% of total revenue, while actually losing ad impressions due to budget. This result (having won the business) led to bids on brand terms (and the good old “SEM + SEO: 1 + 1 = 3” theory), resulting in a 10% increase in search engine marketing revenue + optimization search engines. Additionally, discontinuing search engine marketing during breakfast hours allowed the budget to be reallocated to later in the day during peak periods and reduced impression share loss due to budget.
  • Fifth scenario: This was a well-timed internal review, and honestly, it still sent cold chills down my spine. About 10 years ago, we had to lay off an employee, and he was very upset. On his way out, he created automated rules to raise manual bids by 100% 3 times a day, and raised the budget cap by 1,000% once a week. The most common thing was that it created a rule to automatically reactivate campaigns if they were paused every two hours. A review of the scheduled activity and rules revealed all of this and was conducted the day after he left. If you are wondering the answer is yes he has lost his power. We had to file a legal acknowledgment, and an unnamed search engine was notified by different legal teams to give activity based on an IP address.
  • Scenario 6: Honestly, this was the strangest audit of my career. In 2011, my team was understaffed, and we were running a well-known credit card company. This brand has promoted a self-created holiday to encourage holiday shopping in local stores rather than online shopping. It was decided to run an online video campaign with the brand. The targeting was wide open. We have a list of negative keywords. We asked the video platform to run it for us, and they stick with it. It was a very short run, five days total. We audited the oddly terrible performance after the race to find out why the performance was poor. The popular video platform used the negative keyword list (a list filled with a variety of terms that showcase the worst of human corruption) as a target list. This audit resulted in the reimbursement of $500,000 in media spending and 25% on top of that for pain and suffering.

I share all these scenarios so you don’t get scared, just to report.

Audits take place. Protect your business.

In the past five years, I have undergone four audits in my business. why? Because a consulting firm told the brand it was needed.

It’s nerve-wracking and worrisome, in part because every operation has a different view of the right way to approach work.

However, my team regularly performs internal audits, starting with the simplified QA document. So we were able to keep our job because “our house was just fine”.

It doesn’t take much to create a quality assurance document. It only requires you to create an Excel spreadsheet, with each setting in the user interface, and an hour of your time to review it regularly.

A review, especially one by an uninvited outsider, is never a welcome experience. But if you regularly review yourself and/or your team’s work, it won’t be a problem for you when an outsider does it.

Doing so will give you as much power as possible in the world of search marketing.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily those of the search engine. Staff authors are listed here.


New in search engine land

About the author

Jonathan Kagan entered the internet marketing industry in 2005 – he started in the world of search engine marketing. From there, it advances and expands into other sectors in the digital marketing world. Currently, he is the Vice President of Search and Bidable Media at 9Rooftops | Cogniscient Media. Prior to that, Jonathan ran search marketing teams for Mediacom, Forbes, and Digitas. Oversee enterprise searches for clients including American Express, Revlon, GlaxoSmithKline, Equifax, Mead Johnson and Abbvie. In addition, he also created and oversaw search marketing for Digitas Central America. You may have seen some of his presentations on mobile, programmatic, and multi-screen marketing at conferences such as Search Insider Summit, Digital Summit, ClickZ Live, Connect, and SMX.

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