Is Your Paid Search Account Structure Optimal?

Most search advertisers are familiar with this organizational structure:

Account -> Campaign -> Ad Group -> Keyword

That’s the way paid search was logically set years ago and it made complete sense at the time. Targeting/budgeting at the campaign level with keywords grouped with creative at the ad group level is an easy way to work within the platforms. Even though the industry has matured, that structure has virtually remained unchanged.

Maybe it’s time to revisit this architecture and see if there’s room for improvement?

On some accounts I work on, this structure is counterproductive to our managing, bidding, and reporting needs. It actually holds us back from being able to quickly gain insight on various ways we need to analyze the data for optimization. So, as a workaround, we create an offline keyword table to build in our desired functionality. In this table, each keyword in the account has multiple columns of metadata, that when combined with our campaign data, lets us pivot through the information in a much more intuitive way. In essence, this helps us transcend the constraints of the campaign/ad groups structure and see the data the way we want to see it.

This lets us look at our campaigns through different lenses, such as “branded terms,” “general terms,” “product terms,” “promotional ad group,” “testing campaign,” “awareness” vs “direct response” and so on. We can even track each keyword in terms of manufacturer, profit point, color, size, geolocation term, etc. The business questions you can answer quickly are very valuable. “How are my HP keywords doing versus my Dell ones?” or “Are my local/city specific terms doing better than my DMA ones?”

Campaigns and ad groups are logical software segments, not logical business segments.

Organizing your campaigns in this way is especially helpful for tracking keywords from different product categories. Sure, you could split your “keyboards” and “mice” into separate campaigns or ad groups, but maybe computer accessories don’t necessarily deserve their own group due to their lack of importance on your computer retail site. All you need is one “computer accessories” ad group in terms of keeping your account at a manageable size. However, later on, by adding in this data for a pivot table, you can split the keywords out if you want to look at them separately.

Here’s an example of what this table looks like:
account structure

All you do is download your keyword level campaign data, perform a vlookup (instructions follow this article) and you’re good to go.

Richard Stokes, President/Founder of AdGooRoo, has some great advice in his book, Mastering Search Advertising: How the Top 3% of Search Advertisers Dominate Google AdWords One of his top tactics is to split keywords into “buy,” “inform,” or “browse” categories to target users with ad copy based on their intent (i.e. where they are in the buying cycle). That’s a very important thing to do to reach users in the most relevant way. It also puts into perspective the importance of each term based on your business objectives at the time. For example, if you’re in the high season of your business, you want to ensure your budget focused solely on buy and browse terms. Or, if you notice you’re not getting enough new unique visitors, you may shift to inform terms to prime your sales pipeline for more future business.

Sometimes it’s just not feasible to actually create enough campaigns or ad groups to handle all of these pairings. What if you have fifty product lines that need their own campaigns because of the geotargeting required? Splitting them all three ways now creates one hundred and fifty ad groups! Plus, now your branded terms are all over the place in each ad group and now you have zero visibility into those keywords. As well, how do you manage your promotions when they affect every keyword in your campaign?

From a technology perspective, Omniture SearchCenter does allow you to create “virtual groups” by tagging keywords, ad groups, and campaigns. This is very useful for monitoring new ad groups or watching your top spending terms from multiple campaigns. However, I’d like to see a tool that allows to add in multiple metadata fields as each level so it would be easy just to pull all of your “awareness terms” or see how your “branded terms” are doing without having to add them all into one campaign.

I’m not sure where this could go, but maybe a paid search platform could be developed taking a concept from Gmail—no folders, just labels. You just have a list of keywords which you could apply multiple ad creative and destination URLs at the keyword or label level and then be able to sort and search through swiftly. In fact, all of the settings such as match type, geotargeting, dayparting, etc could be handled at the keyword (or label) level. You could even quickly define related words for content targeting. Quality score is done at the keyword level so it shouldn’t be affected much.

What format limitations are you running into with your current paid search accounts?

Using Excel’s Vlookup function to organize your campaign

The Vlookup (vertical lookup) is a handy Excel feature that allows you to compare two tables and pull data from either. The requirement is that you have at least one column of shared data so that the two tables can have a point of reference. In my example above, I have one table with keywords and their metadata. In another, I have the keyword level campaign data from my paid search account. I want to “marry” these two tables so that I have the keyword metadata alongside my campaign data.

By using Vlookup, you can perform this task by sending the metadata of matching keywords to the campaign table. Since the keyword is the unique pivot point, Excel knows that these two tables can be linked. I’m not going to go through each step, I just wanted to expose this feature to those of you who haven’t used it yet. Here’s the official Microsoft Office article that walks you through the Vlookup function. Check it out and add it to your arsenal…it can be very handy.

Here’s a great YouTube clip that will make you an instant Vlookup champion:

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing Toolbox


About The Author: has been a search marketer since 2003 with a focus on SEM technology. As a media technologist fluent in the use of leading industry systems, Josh stays abreast of cutting edge digital marketing and measurement tools to maximize the effect of digital media on business goals. He has a deep passion to monitor the constantly evolving intersection between marketing and technology. You can follow him on Twitter at @mediatechguy.

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  • BennyBlum


    As you mentioned, the concept of KW level labels is offered by many of the players in the space, however, only eSearchVision offers the ability to utilize multiple labels per keyword.

    eSearchVision is a SEM software developer that offers agency services as well as software licensing. While we pride ourselves in our automated and rules based algorithms, our reporting/tracking capabilities are what set us apart from other providers. Several years ago, we recognized that in terms of account organization, what might be a best practice from a search marketing perspective isn’t necessarily what makes sense from a business perspective. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could have an ideally organized account – maintaining relevancy and quality score, but be able to present data to our clients in a format that made sense to their business?

    The first iteration of labels came in the form of internal parameters appended to URLs within our tracking code. This allowed us, at a basic level, to label KW sets but was limited to one unique view. In the past year we released an upgraded labeling system that we call Catalog Management. Each KW is assigned up to12 unique branches of the Catalog that can be completely customized and filled out with as many values as the advertiser requires. Not only does Catalog Management allow the advertiser to pivot their data in 12 additional ways (product catalog, detailed product catalog, promotions, branded, etc.) but we’ve also integrated our bid management to be set at a Catalog level. This means that you can define unique strategies (using any one of our automated algorithms (ROI/CoS/CPA, branded rank, customized rules, etc) and manage either the entire portfolio, or any subset thereof, to its own goal.

    Operationally, our product dashboard can be filtered, sorted, and pivoted enabling Catalog Management summaries to be populated quickly and easily. Dashboard summaries provide instant insight into an advertisers account as it pertains to the business, without the hassle of pivot tables and excel. Reporting (available in pdf, csv, or xls formats) can be pulled to mirror a customized view from the dashboard in one click.

    If you, or anyone reading this article is interested in learning more about eSearchVision, please do not hesitate to reach out to us (contact information provided below) and we are more than happy to demo our technology.


    Benny Blum
    Creative Director
    P: 415.814.1003

  • jrsturges

    Seems like this relates to computing in general to me. Traditional folder hierarchies are always falling short in storing and keeping track of bookmarks, documents, and just about anything else. Once you pass a critical mass of items it gets exponentially harder to remember just exactly which folder something is kept in. One time it might make sense to be kept here and another time it might make sense to be kept there. Or if you are trying to keep track of a lot of things in multiple directories it might not be immediately apparent where it belongs at all. Look at the various categories used in internet directories and yellow pages for an example of the challenges in sorting things in a directory structure. Humans can only recognize 5 items in an instant and beyond that we need to count or read or organize it somehow (Google keyword search anyone). It seems that a nice simple keyword tagging structure would work wonders in keeping track of items in traditional directories (standard folder structures) like the items on our hard drives. If we made it simple and fast and an integrated part of saving and retrieving items we would be able to find things through related terms that we determined when saving the item. This could become a very rich and integral part of storing digital elements as we go forward. Storing data is one thing but retrieving data is where the gold is. Finding ways to sort and filter and make all this terrific data useful is the key going forward. As we move into the age of the terabyte laptop drive we will all need some help at one time or another in finding our stuff! Hopefully we can design ways to address these fundamental issues.


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