Plenty of digital agencies out there offer free audits for PPC (Adwords), SEO, social media and other areas in digital marketing.
Add to the mix other options such as a number of free audit tools online and questions begin to arise -
Here we explore both approaches (paid vs free), provide a few tips on what to look out for and how to get the most value from your PPC strategy.
Free Vs Paid Audits: Understanding the Difference
What do you get for a paid audit?
Engaging with an Adwords certified professional or digital marketing agency for an audit should give you thorough results and recommendations or an action plan to improve your Adwords campaigns.
The agency or individual should spend reasonable time to really understand your business, your budget and your conversion goals. These steps are particularly important - subtle differences in the way keywords are targeted can be the difference between an effective campaign and burning a lot of money on poor quality visits to your site which may never convert into actual leads.
A manual audit will usually require you to grant at least 'view' access to your Adwords account. More detailed audits can typically include keyword / display research and competitor research.
What do you get for a free audit?
You Get What You Pay For
We're big proponents of this as a blanket rule when it comes to digital marketing - ultimately you get what you pay for - Adwords/PPC audits are no exception. Arm yourself with these words of caution along with an 'if it's too good to be true it probably is' mentality and trust your gut in these cases.
If still in doubt, you could consider a third party agency audit.
The Agency Side
Data is great (and readily available), but how your agency interprets the data is the real test.
Insight is what holds the real value and this is still a key component that can easily separate a seasoned PPC professional from many great online tools.
There are a number of these tools, some which agencies will use to provide a 'free audit' as mentioned above.
Be mindful that most tools will allow you to run your own test for free* and produce the exact same data.
*some have free trials or quota caps on the free version
Some of the more popular tools available:
Tip: Any of these tools online will show up some errors in a report - no website or campaign is 100% perfect.
What to Look Out For
With all of this in mind, here are a few things that we still come across quite often and consider as possible red flags - be warned.
Doing it Yourself
Adwords is a challenging beast when you first start out.
There are guides online which can point you in the right direction to give the PPC audit or management of your campaigns a red-hot go yourself, but be warned - mistakes can be costly.
DIY Vs Working with a Certified Professional
Often, Adwords professionals will have worked on hundreds or even thousands of PPC accounts. You don't get that sort of experience by reading a couple of guides online and hoping for the best.
The type of insight that a good certified Adwords Professional can gain in a couple of hours of an audit could be more than someone less skilled might do in several weeks (or months).
More recently, there is Google's 'Adwords Express' option. This is AI-based and essentially like setting the campaigns to autopilot. AI then attempts to do most of the hard work for you. Even with that, there is always a risk of wasting budget (which Google doesn't seem to usually mind so much :)
Here's more info on how it works: https://www.google.com.au/adwords/express/how-it-works/
Be mindful of the available options and what's involved.
Adwords is a great tool, but simple mistakes can add up. If not done correctly, Adwords can also be a great way to lose a lot of money.
'Getting more visible in Google' is firstly a case of changing old thinking away from 'ranking for keywords' and more towards maximising a 'Page 1 share of voice', or 'share of SERP'.
(Check out our recent blog post to better understand why this is becoming so important).
Just to be clear - we're not saying that keywords aren't an important part of an earned strategy...
But in the world of SEO, where even Google suggests that it can take at least 4-12 months to start seeing tangible results and the competition is increasing every day - starting with a focus to improve Share of SERP makes sense.
Improving visibility and Share of SERP can give small businesses (and large ones) 'quick wins' and more opportunities to be in front of your most relevant customers when it's most relevant.
What are The Benefits?
Take Up More of the Room
One on-the-front-foot way of thinking about Share of SERP is as this SMX presentation puts it:
Don't Miss Online Opportunities
Or for the risk-averse, it's also a case of getting the basics right so that your business isn't potentially leaving leads on the table - or even worse - throwing them away.
11 Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve
How can you work towards more 'share of SERP'?
In a number of ways - some of which you can implement easily and right away:
Note: we're assuming in this article that you've covered the basics such as submitting your site and XML sitemap to Google Search Console to ensure there are no errors and are now looking to take the next step to earn more visibility.
0. Don't Waste the Space You've Already Earned
Step '0' is to consider the very basics of on page optimisation and the bare minimum info Google displays in a search result:
Make sure these are well-written, free from typos, descriptive, relevant and ideally include a 'call to action' in your meta description. Most modern web content management systems should allow you access to these things either by default or with the help of a plugin.
In short - Don't waste the space you already have.
1. Google My Business
It might seem basic, but - ensure your Google My Business ('GMB') listing is optimised, completed, up to date and appears when you search for your business name .
I.e.: If you want people to be able to use the 'Call' and 'Navigate' options from the search results, you need to have the 'phone' and 'address' information filled out. Makes sense, right?
Get started at: https://business.google.com/
While you're there, try the brand new Google Posts feature in Google My Business to publish your events, products, and services directly to Google Search.
2. Add Structured Data
Implement and maximise your structured data (especially if you are a museum, movie theatre, musician or sports group).
Get noticed, potentially appear in the knowledge graph or even just to help your business stand out in the organic search results.
One example of structured data is starred reviews:
There are a number of ways to add structured data and countless articles online, so we won't go into detail here.
Some of the most common ways are:
3. Consistent NAP Details
Ensure your NAP details (Name, Address, Phone Number) are up to date and added to any high quality, relevant directory sites that rank for your search terms.
Consistency also helps Google and other search engines 'see' your different business listings as the same business. This strengthens your presence rather than diluting it.
Again, this one might seem obvious - but we see it all too often.
A quick word of warning:
If you have a large number of location listings to manage, or need some help claiming listings, you could consider a third party service like Yext or Moz Local to make things easier.
4. Get Creative
Check the search results for other creative avenues that appear alongside your search terms.
Think along other lines such as...
5. Look to The Community
Get active on Social Media
Participate on industry group sites and relevant online communities, aim for a citation or link.
Again, this one comes with a big 'take care' warning.
For example - Old spammy back linking techniques are high risk and mostly don't even work these days. In short - your guest post should of quality and provide value in it's own right or be highly relevant... not simply a reason to back link to your own site to 'get more links'.
Here's a video from Google's Matt Cutts which addresses the question of guest blogging (even back in 2012 it was getting into a grey area).
And here in a more recent 2017 video - Google's Marie Haynes discusses which type of links you can get that do/don't comply with Google's guidelines:
6. Buy it With Adwords
The phrase "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" comes to mind. But in reality, ads take up more space on SERPs than ever before... especially on mobile.
A few thoughts:
7. Match Content to User Intent
Don't become blinkered and optimise content for single keywords (or broad topics) - try to anticipate and solve user's needs.
In general - Write naturally, match content to the intent of the user who is searching for the page and provide a solution.
An example of keywords matched to user intent:
8. Give the Best Answer
Taking point 7 a step further...
Strive to create the very best answer to the question or solution to the problem that the user may be looking for with quality content – a great response that truly deserves to rank on page one organically.
As a bonus result, possibly earn a spot as a featured answer directly on the SERP:
9. Think Beyond Text on a Page
Google also displays info such as Videos, Images, News, Maps, Books, Products and Twitter feeds on the search results page.
Could your great answer from point 7-8 be better served as a how-to video, infographic or a PDF e-book?
10. Hijack The Knowledge Graph
Think of other ways to (respectfully) hijack the knowledge graph...
Perhaps build a glossary page or aim to achieve a '#0 ranking' in Google for answers
Here is a possible result:
11. Wear a White Hat. Don't Be That Guy...
Lastly (it needs to be said) - don't try to game or trick the search engines.
Most of those techniques have long been marked as black hat and if they aren't, it's probably not long before they end up on Google's radar.
Even if you're winning now with black hat, you might be one algorithm update away from getting a slap down and losing all of your hard work.
(12) What we haven't covered here ('other stuff')...
We'd call these separate topics in their own right and there is plenty of info online that covers these in detail:
We still see many small, medium (and some large) businesses missing the basics when it comes to visibility online, when it's more critical than ever to start from a solid foundation.
This does leave opportunities on the table for those who can adjust their thinking and start considering the way the modern SERP works and looks - ultimately, maximising their share of SERP.
We hope this guide offers some practical, actionable steps to improve your business' visibility online and improve your share of SERP.
Get the Infographic
Google's ongoing commitment to education in digital marketing is significant and hard to miss. Their list of online courses and digital marketing training partnerships keeps growing all the time.
This list is expanding so rapidly that (in addition to our recent article 8 (Mostly) Free Digital Marketing Courses & Training Resources Online) we thought it was worthwhile to expand out on Google's online course offerings in one place.
The list is below.
Short Form Courses and Certifications
4. The Digital Garage (by Google)
5. Primer (by Google)
Longer Online Courses
6. Squared Online
We'll aim to keep this article updated as the list undoubtedly continues to grow. Feel free to message us or comment with any other Google Online Courses to add or if any of the information above changes.
Working in an industry like digital marketing, where the products are intangible and there's a knowledge gap so wide you could drive a bus through certainly has it's share of challenges.
These comics are a light-hearted look at what it might be like if Plumbers had to work like Digital Marketers.
We hope at least that it gives digital marketers out there a bit of a laugh (you are not alone!).
Client: Can you also fix my light switches while you're here?
Plumber: No, sorry. You need an Electrician for that, not a Plumber.
Client: Aren't they the same thing?
Client: Can you meet me for a coffee?
I want to pick your brain about plumbing for an hour. I'm not ready to pay you for your services, but hopefully the $4 coffee will serve as adequate compensation for your time.
Client: A stranger rang me out of the blue and said they can do my plumbing work for cheaper.
I appreciate your services for the last 4 years, but I'm thinking of going with them, even though I've never met them, don't really know who they are and have no evidence of the quality of their work.
I don't even know if they are a real plumber (or a real person), but they sounded good on the phone.
Client: Thank you for your advice about plumbing, but I think I'll ignore it.
I know you apprenticed for 4 years and have been working as a professional licensed plumber for 15 years, but I fixed a tap once back in 1996 and read a couple of articles online, so I feel that I have a complete grasp of all aspects of plumbing and can make a better call myself.
Client: Hey, I just saw a 3 hour online course on plumbing basics for $19.
Do you think that I can take the course, then start my own plumbing business full time?
Client: So, tell me... How does it all work?
Plumber: How does what work?
Client: This 'plumbing' thing... I've got a few minutes, can you explain it to me?
Client (calling in the middle of the night): The pipe under my sink has burst! water is everywhere!
It's 3am but I need you to fix this right now.
I'm not willing to pay you any extra and feel like this should be included as part of the job you did unblocking my toilet a year ago.
Client: I decided I don't need you to fix that broken shower tap after all.
I went out and bought a Jacuzzi. I think it solved the problem.
Actually... I'm not even sure if I need water really...
Job ad: "Plumber wanted. Must have 4+ years experience and also have a relevant degree as well as be a qualified electrician, carpenter, auto-mechanic, an accredited architect and have experience with bookkeeping. Dental experience would be a plus. Salary: AUD$40-49k depending on experience."
Disclaimer: This is intended as a humorous account of semi-fictional 'experiences' only. Any similarity with clients past or present is not intended and purely coincidental. 'Plumbing' was chosen as a random industry for illustrative purposes only. Some credit also due for the article we read many years ago that inspired this post.
(7 min read)
Taking a real example from our own website not long after launch we wanted to share a few tricks and techniques to stand out from your competitors in Google, no developer required!*
* Tips provided here can mostly be done by small or medium businesses through a combination of your website content management system ('CMS') if you have one, plugins and Google Tag Manager.
Disclaimer: This is a basic level introduction to search engine visibility and not an SEO guide - these are tips to improve visibility in SERPs (not rankings). Individual experiences may differ depending on your website and situation. Lastly - Nothing can be guaranteed with Google.
Step 0: Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools)
We're calling this one 'Step 0' because before moving to the other steps you should first:
Step 1: Google My Business
'Google My Business' is free. For almost all businesses, this is an essential place to start.
You can see below that we even had some difficulty ranking for our own business name initially (more on that later).
A Google search of 'mach digital' returned over 14 million results. Position 1 was initially held by the Facebook page of an unrelated printing company.
The red box on the right is where our Google business listing should have been.
Hey presto! Almost immediately after verification our business map listing started to appear:
*Note that appearing in the map/business results is different to appearing in the main/organic results of Google.
This is a common confusion point. This article explains the difference in more detail.
Step 2: Social Media
Next mission - push down that competitor's Facebook page.
We were having some issues initially verifying our business Facebook page. Since we're primarily a web-based business and don't have a phone number publicly listed, Facebook wouldn't allow us to verify the page by this phone method. We would tackle that later. Note: Facebook states in it's page settings "Verified Pages show up higher in search results."
Google+? What? You're crazy! We're hearing some people say.
For anyone who's generally lost faith in Google+ and doubting it has any effect on web results, check out Mike Blumenthal's excellent local SEO video here.
Step 3: Structured Data
As a bit of extra housekeeping, we added structured data to our page, at this stage focusing on our business details, reviews and social media pages.
There are a number of guides online for adding structured data to your site, so we won't cover it in detail here.
As a quick mention, here are some ways to go about it:
1. Via Google Tag Manager using the JSON-LD method.
This one may not be best in all cases, but it is particularly good if you already have GTM code installed on your side and/or don't want to hassle a developer every time you need something implemented.
In the case of some CMS' like Weebly where things are a bit 'locked down' at times, using GTM can also be good as a workaround to add schema to blog posts etc.
2. If your site is on Wordpress -
3. Or you can try Google's Structured Data Highlighter within Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) to apply structured data to page elements without any coding needed.
The social media structured data is to tell search engines that the social pages are the same business/entity as the website.
The social media 'sameAs' data looks like this when implemented (partial code shown only):
"sameAs" : [
Step 3.5: Reviews / Ratings Data
Working towards positive Google (and other online) reviews is important for any business online. Users rely on social proof more than ever before making a purchase decision.
Being mostly white labelled, we found that we had a number of positive reviews from other sources but couldn't directly display these online or ask our clients to post these in Google. Note: The method below is NOT a substitute or replacement for getting real, authenticated user reviews, but it can help as a start.
The code for products looks a bit like this when implemented (partial code shown only).
"@type" : "Product",
"name" : "Digital Marketing Consulting",
"image" : "http://www.machdigital.com.au/uploads/9/8/2/3/98239458/icon-fix-digital-skills-gap-1_orig.png",
"description" : "Fix your digital skills gaps - Digital Marketing Help on Demand - Training, Strategy, Consulting",
"@type" : "aggregateRating",
"ratingValue" : "4.7",
"reviewCount" : "13"
In the space of only a couple of weeks, there was quite a dramatic change:
After a bit of time we also noticed our LinkedIn page appearing in search results.
Our Next Action/s
Getting that Facebook page verified and showing about the competitor
At the time of writing, we're still fighting to get our Facebook business page verified.
Once we do, we'll post further updates.
Since it's almost impossible to get much organic visibility in Facebook these days unless you have at least a few people following you, along with micro-boosting, we ran a small Facebook paid ads campaign to increase likes and thereby reach and engagement of our Facebook posts.
It's also perfectly fine to invite a few friends and colleagues to like your business page.
This campaign resulted in around 60 page followers in 5 days for a spend of around $100. We're now getting some good engagement with our posts which is starting to work as another channel.
Once you've created some valuable content on your site, hopefully you will start to see some of this get amplified and shared via social media, which all helps.
Other Things You Could Do
The list goes on.
Most steps from here on will depend on your own business goals, the type of business you run, your industry and a number of other factors.
If you're at this stage and wondering how to get started or take it to the next step, check out our free 35 point digital marketing checklist we hope this gives you a start.
Or, check out more detailed tips and strategy around gaining more 'Share of SERP' here.
As a final note: When Googling your business name like this (or other keywords), results can vary based on a number of factors such as user location. Also, if you're logged in to Google, preferences and web history can affect search results if this is not turned off, so for better accuracy and less skewed data ideally: