Why Account Structure Matters For Every AdWords Account

This week, I had planned to write an article entitled, “The Five AdWords Features You Should Be Using Daily But Probably Aren’t.” The post was going to expose some of the hidden, advanced features available in AdWords that were often overlooked by even the most senior AdWords pros.


Don’t miss the forest for… well, you know.

That was the plan… until I did an audit of a big AdWords account. You see, as I looked through this $10M+ annual spend account, I was pleasantly surprised to see many of the advanced features I was going to advocate for in the article were being used — but horrified to see that most of this great functionality was being nullified by terrible account structure setup.

Functionality Gone Awry

First, this particular account had a very comprehensive keyword list — over the last two months, the account had gotten clicks on more than 240,000 queries!

The problem, however, was that many of these “unique” queries were actually the same query, served over and over again in different ad groups and different match types. Indeed, I counted 90 separate queries that each showed up more than ten times throughout the account and five queries that showed up more than 40 times each.

The next problem was matching keywords to queries. The account was heavily brand-focused — 97% of the revenue in the account came from brand terms. And yet, I found numerous instances where a brand keyword was getting matched to a non-brand query and a non-brand keyword was getting matched to a brand query.

Lastly, the account had lots and lots of ad groups, but all the ad groups had anywhere from 25 to 100 keywords in each one; and frequently, these keywords were a mishmash of different match types, product keywords, brand keywords, and generic keywords.

All of this poor structure destroyed the significant work the SEM team was putting into the account working on granular site extensions, keyword-level tracking URLs, and device-specific bidding. It was a case of an SEM team missing the forest for the trees.

The Solution: Return To Account Structure Basics!

The solution to getting this account back on the right track wasn’t more advanced functionality but rather a return to the basics — in this case, a serious account structure redesign.

For example, any time an account has the same query showing up dozens of times throughout different ad groups, the SEM team should go in and evaluate the data and decide to put that query in one ad group and negative match it from the rest of the account.

There is but one optimal ad text, landing page and bid per query. That doesn’t mean you can’t test out different ad text and landing pages for your queries, but when a query shows up all over your account, you are not testing — you are letting Google match you on random queries with disparate ad text and landing pages.

Imagine that your keyword is [blue widget] — your ad text should mention [blue widget], and your landing page should take consumers to a blue widget landing page. Having this query matched against [widgets] in one ad group, [acme widget company] (your brand keyword) in another, and [blue items] in a third will lead to sub-optimal performance — period.

Having your brand terms matched on non-brand queries and vice-versa leads to the same problem. Brand keywords are special — they indicate an incredibly high level of consumer intent. Brand keywords don’t need to do a hard sell on your unique differentiators like a non-brand keyword does;  in many instances, they are navigational terms designed to just get someone to the right page to purchase something.

So, having a brand term like [acme widgets] get matched on a query like [best blue widget] is a big problem, simply because your ad text and landing page assume that the user is already familiar with your product.

Good account structure will ensure that your brand terms will never show up on a non-brand query, and vice-versa. This can be achieved by adding brand negatives to all of your non-brand ad groups and non-brand negatives to your brand ad groups.

When we create ad groups at 3Q Digital, we put our best queries into Single Keyword Ad Groups, or SKAGs (technically, they should be SQAGs — Single Query Ad Groups, but that doesn’t sound as good). An ad group with 25 or 50 keywords in it is only useful as a testing ground to help you discover which queries are winners (and should go into SKAGs) and which are losers (and should be negative matched across all campaigns).

An ad group with an array of marginally related keywords (think [blue widget], [large blue widget], [widget store], etc.) does not allow you to create ad text and landing pages related to specific user intent. As a result, you’ll find some queries that do quite well in the ad group, and others that, while they might perform well in a targeted ad group, perform poorly in an untargeted ad group.

Advanced AdWords features can work amazingly, and trying out the AdWords Product Team’s latest invention is always fun. No advanced feature, however, can save you from bad account structure. In this age of dynamic site extensions, RLSA, and complex day-parting, AdWords success is still very dependent on proper organization of queries, landing pages, bids, and ad text. Until you get that stuff right, everything else is a distraction!

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google | Google: AdWords | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is founder and CEO of 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates), a position he has held since the Company's inception in 2008. Prior to 3Q Digital, he held senior marketing roles at several Internet companies, including Rentals.com (2000-2001), FindLaw (2001-2004), Adteractive (2004-2006), and Mercantila (2007-2008). David currently serves on advisory boards for several companies, including Marin Software, MediaBoost, Mediacause, and a stealth travel start-up.

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  • Pat Grady

    “The next problem was matching keywords to queries.” Ouch, too common!
    “97% of the revenue in the account came from
    brand terms.” Ditto!

    I like that you switched the planed topic, hammers home a great point – you can’t do advanced tactics well, unless the basics are rock solid.

  • http://www.simplyclicks.com/ David Burdon

    David, I’d agree with much of sentiment around structure. I see poor account structures on a regular basis. I may disagree with single keyword ad groups. I’ve found ad groups with tight clusters of 4-6 keywords function quite well.

  • Adrian Huth

    the big issue with SKAGS is recently I found out that Phone extensions only show up if that ad group gets enough impression share. This typically hasn’t been an issue on National campaigns but for local driven campaigns this has been a huge problem. I’ve explained to Google that SKAGs has always been the best practice to match up ad copy and the google rep agreed saying that he will take this feedback to internal. Currently, and sadly, the only fix is to do exactly what the article says not to do so keep this in mind before redoing the entire account structure.

  • David Rodnitzky

    Thanks Pat. Inspiration often comes from unexpected places!

  • David Rodnitzky

    Hi David, 4-6 keywords can certainly work! My main point is that all the keywords in an ad group have to work well with the ad text and the landing page that you are using in that ad group!

  • David Rodnitzky

    Interesting observation Adrian. If you have a query on exact match and are bidding significantly for that query, shouldn’t you show up very highly for the exact match impression share for that query? Or are you saying that Google’s algorithms don’t have enough data to go on to even allow the SKAG to enter the auction?

  • Adrian Huth

    For the actual query the keyword being bidded on (in your example the exact match) would trigger the ad in the account. The problem is that phone or call extensions only show if the ad group has reached a certain threshold of impressions. I explained to the rep that this should be on the campaign level and he agreed but it still leaves us who have clients who value call conversions and that extension showing in a dilemma between an account structure you mention (which I agree with) with very few call extension impressions and an account structure not optimal by being forced to stuff ad groups with many different keywords in order to boost the impression share so that call extensions will show. Like I mentioned I only have this problem with more localized campaigns with clients that value phone conversions over other types. It’s very frustrating though.

  • Delve Partners

    Did you make them more money or just spend lots of time working on the account?


  • Regina Zaltsman

    yes, Adrian, the call-extentions will normally arise after at least 50 impressions

  • Adrian Huth

    right which when locally targeted isn’t enough to show call extensions. This needs to be changed from ad group to campaign and this wouldn’t be as much an issue.

  • Herik Mourão

    Campaign structure is the first step to any optimization. Without a good campaign structure, any bid manager can work properly or any creative optimization could make sense.

    How far the campaign structure should go??
    THat´s the kind of question that separate men from boys.


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