What Makes Paid Search Programs Successful From Search To Conversion?

At a high level, I believe it is fair to say that it has a lot to do with the ability to bid on the right keywords, serve very specific ads tailored to each geo/language/device, and redirect to the most appropriate landing page for each geo/language/device.

It’s all about engineering a consistent conversion chain from search to conversion, which implies high resolution targeting.

In an ideal world, search marketers should break down their paid search accounts by user intent, geo, language, device, and more… as long as they see some kind of gain targeting wise.

That all makes sense so far, except that you might end up with several thousands of campaigns, duplicate ad copies and keywords across those campaigns, etc., and gradually lose control over your paid search program.

More specifically, you might run into a scalability issue, which raises the following question: where is the middle ground between high resolution targeting and manageability of your paid search effort?

In this article, I’ll review the main segmentation possibilities in paid search, then identify those that always make sense (=”Must-Have”), and those who might need more in-depth thinking before rolling them out across the board (=”Advanced”).

Segmenting Options: By Account, Campaign & Ad Group

Let’s start from the beginning. Search marketers have lots of segmenting options at their disposal; let’s start at the account level, down to the campaign and ad group level.

You might want to have multiple AdWords accounts if you need to:

  • Set up multiple billing settings (for different businesses for instance)
  • Manage user access by account
  • Build more than 10,000 campaigns (current AdWords limitation)
  • Isolate keywords with a poor (or strong) Quality Score, since the account history is one of the major Quality Score components.

If you don’t need any of these, then you just need one account.

Then, you might want to create separate campaigns if you need to:

  • Allocate separate daily budgets
  • Segment Search vs. GDN (Google Display Network)
  • Segment Desktop vs. Tablet vs. Mobiles
  • Segment by geo (state, city, zip code, it can get incredibly granular)
  • Segment by language (English vs. Spanish, etc…)
  • Exclude terms for certain campaigns only
  • Create sitelinks or any other type of ad extensions

Finally, the ad group level breakdown is really about relevancy and negative keyword management in AdWords, since they are no ad group-level targeting settings (while there are some in Bing Ads).

Must-Have Segmentation #1: Search vs. GDN

While some advertisers still set campaigns to target both the search and GDN networks, it’s been a couple of years since the whole industry has seemed clear about this – you definitely need to split your campaigns by search network vs. GDN.

There are multiple reasons for this:

  • GDN campaign structure is completely different, since you can not only bid on keywords, but also on, placements, audiences, topics.
  • GDN ad copies should be CTR-focused, since the historical CTR is an even more important Quality Score on the GDN.

Must-Have Segmentation #2: Brand vs. Non-Brand

For many reasons, you definitely want to isolate your branded keywords:

  • To maximize your impression share for your branded keywords (in practice, you want to make sure this campaign is never capped due to budget while maintaining high Quality Score and aggressive ranks at a low cost per click).
  • Set up branded site links.
  • You might want to exclude your branded terms from your non-branded campaigns to silo impressions and make sure you’re measuring brand vs. non-brand performance, as opposed to having everything mixed together in one place.

Advanced Segmentation #1: Device Targeting

For lots of advertisers, this is actually a must-have segmentation, since you most likely want to:

  • Allocate device-specific budgets
  • Measure clicks-to-call and other device-specific metrics
  • Set device-specific bidding strategies
  • Adjust your keyword list by device
  • Write specific ad copies by device (even by operating system or carrier)
  • Use device-specific landing pages.

However, if you are already managing 100 campaigns and need to update your ad copies on a regular basis (special offers, holiday season, etc.), perhaps you should not have 300 campaigns instead of 100 because of a scalability issue.

Will the gain in performance outweigh the loss in manageability?

There is no generic answer to that, and it all depends on the paid search platform that you’re using (for instance the ability to easily duplicate campaigns), although it is fair to say that one should take care of branded and the top revenue keywords first.

Advanced Segmentation #2: Geo Targeting

Similarly to the device segmentation, you might be tempted to build out a huge number of campaigns by geo, knowing that geos can be pretty much as granular as you want them to be: by country, state, city, latitude/longitude, zip code, etc.

It makes a ton of sense when wanting to:

  • Allocate geo-specific budgets
  • Set geo-specific bidding strategies
  • Adjust the keyword list by geo such as [keyword] + [city], etc…
  • Write geo-specific ad copies
  • Leverage location extensions if applicable

Again, if you already have 100 campaigns, do you really want to multiply this number by 50 to target each individual US state?

How manageable would 5,000 campaigns be vs. just 100? Same piece of advice here, one should align the effort with what it is worth.

More specifically, what you should really care about are just those couple of top revenue geos (whatever they are: states, cities, etc…) where you are seeing a significantly lower or greater ROAS (return on ad spend) – then you should definitely adjust your spend and strategy by geo for those guys in order to re-allocate your budget from low-performing geos to high-performing geos.

In short, you don’t really need to go through that process if your current ROAS by geo is the same nationwide.

Addressing The Scalability Issue

Beyond the above segmentation possibilities, there are many other ways to break down your paid search program (by language, Google and Search Partners vs. Google only, by time zone for more granular hourly bids and more…), and search marketers will always run into some kind of scalability issue at some point.

So far, I have mostly referred to scalability issues as maintenance/manageability issues, however there is another issue involved with building out high resolution paid search account: data dilution. This can get a serious issue and paralyze your bid decisions if you just don’t have enough data by geo, language or device.

In a nutshell, it is every search marketer’s role to draw the line between granularity and manageability. It depends on the resources available, the maturity of your program, and the platform you’re using.

A general piece of advice from my experience would be to always tier your account by whatever targeting settings you’re considering, and then get more granular just for your tier 1 campaigns (and maybe the tier 2 campaigns as well if reasonable).

To clarify, tier 1 campaigns are typically those accounting for 50% of the conversions/revenue.

As a result, a granular while manageable account structure could be:

The bottom line is that it might not be worth treating tier 2 and 3 campaigns like tier 1 campaigns.

No big surprise here, however, I believe it makes sense to keep this in mind when building out your account. That should help you scale up your account while keeping control over it.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is a Business Analyst in the Digital Marketing team at Adobe, providing advertisers and account management teams with data-driven and actionable insights on strategies to optimize their online marketing mix. One of his specialties is to develop tools and simulators for analysts to use, and executives to use for making business decisions.

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  • Larry Kim

    “where is the middle ground between high resolution targeting and manageability of your paid search effort?” It’s a good question. The benefit from more granular/targeted segmentation can be offset by an increase in account complexity (which in turn creates increased account management issues). Where’s the middle ground? I think it depends on your budget. If you’re spending millions of dollars / month on paid search, then you’d better be taking advantage of every possible segmentation option available. Where as if you’re just spending $500 / month, then a lot of this is overkill.

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    Great write-up, Benjamin. Finding this balance is really important. Much of it comes down to the incremental management cost versus the incremental benefit from the granularity.

  • Ophir Cohen

    Very good stuff. I think you missed an important architectural issue and that is the use of many accounts for really large scale activities. This added complexity (admin, budget, pixels etc) but enables you to deploy another segmentation tier for example one account for mobile one for desktop and the rest of the segmentation stays inside the accounts.


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