Google Ads can be a really great way to get your products and services in front of a lot of good prospects in a hurry. But it can also be incredibly frustrating, complicated, and confusing. And if you get it wrong or if you’re not paying attention to the right things, you can spend a lot of money without getting the results you need.

If you’re running Ads campaigns for your boss or for a client, it can drive you insane. Over the years I have seen fine people reduced to snivelling wrecks, lured down the numerous rabbit holes and circular logic traps of Google’s vast marketing empire. So when I’m working on Google Ads for a client, at least once a month I go back to basics: my Google Ads sanity checklist. In this article I’ll go through the list one item at a time.

In a spirit of generosity and in the interests of your mental health, I’m going to share it with you here:

1. What campaigns are running?

OK. Real basics here. Let’s make sure we are advertising the right things for the client. If enrolment has finished for the semester, let’s turn off that campaign. If we’re in a pandemic, let’s stop selling cruise ship tickets.

2. What is the budget? Is it being spent?

It’s all about the money with Google. You should know exactly how much money the client is comfortable spending each month. And you should try to hit that number. If you’re under, it means you’re not using all your resources. To use a cricket analogy, that’s like getting bowled out without facing all your overs. Get the spend away!

3. Are there well-defined goals?

You don’t want to be spending your client’s precious money without knowing if it’s actually working. Set up some basic goals in Google Analytics, like visits to the ‘contact us’ page, or the checkout page. Anything that can tell you that visitors are actually interested in your website.

4. Are conversions happening?

OK. You’ve got goals set up, but is anyone actually converting? If not, maybe there is a tracking problem. Or you could be attracting completely the wrong crowd to your website…

5. Are the ad clicks being recorded accurately in Analytics?

Google Analytics gives you a lot more insight and ability to spot trends than just using Google Ads’ reporting tools. But you need to make sure that Ads and Analytics are singing from the same sheet, i.e. linked up correctly. Incorrect tags or buggy Javascript can skew your numbers. Just make sure the numer of clicks in Ads matches visits in Analytics and you’re probably OK.

6. Are all the ads showing OK?

Google has a habit of turning off your ads without warning. Maybe you’ve breached someone’s copyright, or you’re making misleading medical claims. There are all sorts of reasons why your ads get binned. Just run your eye down all your ads and make sure they are all marked ‘Approved’. Except for the ones you have stopped yourself.

7. Are the ads reaching the right audience?

You don’t always want to show your ads to everyone in the world, or even in the whole of New Zealand. Do a quick check in ‘Locations’ of the cities and countries where people are clicking on your ads.


8. Are the CPCs OK? Not too expensive?

Cost-per-click (CPC) is a crucial number in Google Ads. This is how Google makes most of their revenue. CPC can get very high if you let Google loose with its ‘smart’ campaigns. A good rule of thumb is to try and keep CTR around $2. If it’s your own brand name, you shouldn’t pay more than about 20c.

9. Are the CTRs OK? i.e. more than 2% 

Clickthrough rate (CTR) is another crucial number. If it’s too low, Google won’t show your ads, because not enough people are clicking on them to make Google any decent money. Below 2% is disastrous and it means your keywords are too broad and you’re showing your ads to people who mostly have no interest in what you’re offering.

10. Is the bounce rate acceptable?

Bounce rate measures how many people visit just one page on your website and leave straight away. A high bounce rate usually shows that potential buyers are not engaged with your site. If bounce rate is above 70% for Google Ads, this might mean that you’re targeting the wrong people or your site is not very interesting.

11. Are there any errors or warnings?

This is an easy one. Google has a record of notifications for you. Just have a quick look through the errors or warnings and see if there is anything you should worry about. You don’t want your boss or your client seeing these before you do!

12. Are the quality scores OK?

Google Ads gives each of your keywords a quality score, depending on how relevant the ad and the landing page are. If this is low (5/10 or less) they won’t show your ad very much. You can increase your scores by making the ads and landing pages match up really closely with your search terms.

13. Are there some really dumb keywords blowing out the clicks?

If your CTR is really low, there’s a chance you’ve got at least one keyword that is too broad, or targeting the wrong people. Just bring up your keyword list, order by CTR over the last week or month, and find the one that’s blowing out. Either delete it or tighten it up with matching operators (square brackets, plus signs, etc.)

14. Are negative keyword lists loaded?

Negative keywords are extremely powerful at weeding out timewasters and dropkicks. We have built a number of big lists that filter out the usual suspects – bargain hunters and job seekers. Get this bit right and you’ll see your CTRs rise and your CPCs fall.

15. Are all ad extensions showing correctly?

Sometimes it’s hard to see if your ad extensions are working. When you do a Google search for your own ads, it can be hard to see them if you’re not number one. So just run a report on your extensions and see which ones have zero or hardly any impressions.

16. Are audiences set up in Google Analytics?

Remarketing is not for everybody. It can be a bit creepy to see ads following you around the web, but it doesn’t cost you anything to start building a remarketing audience in case you ever want to do it. Just go to Google Analytics admin menu -> Audiences and set up a basic audience of everyone who has visited your site. Maybe one day you’ll need it.

17. Are there typos or poorly written copy in the ads?

It’s really easy for mistakes to creep into your Google Ads. There is no excuse for it. Just copy and paste your ads into Word or Grammarly to make sure.

OK that list shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes (half an hour tops) and then you can get on with your life. Good luck!