Your account structure might be hurting performance. Here’s why (and how to fix it)

Oversegmentation is often the enemy of automation. Columnist and Googler Matt Lawson talks about how a fussy account structure can tank AdWords performance.

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When it comes to managing AdWords, something I’ve come across time and again is that lots of accounts are oversegmented. I’ve seen AdWords accounts with almost awe-inspiring intricacy. No dimension unsegmented; no campaign setting untweaked; no minute negative keyword unadded. I think we’ve officially reached the point at which some of you are too good at your jobs.

Automation is better than it’s ever been. It’s so good, in fact, that it often beats oversegmented, even overengineered accounts. Campaigns can be segmented by devices, match types, audiences, geographies and more. Campaigns shouldn’t be segmented by all of those.

AdWords Smart Bidding looks at specific queries (and the context of those queries)

Overly segmented account structures are attempting to approximate something that Smart Bidding already does: bid to a user’s specific search query and adjust bids for devices, time of day and audiences to control the impact on the advertiser’s objective. AdWords Smart Bidding considers dozens of additional signals and the combinations of them, like mobile devices at nighttime in a specific area.

You don’t need to manually define each segment’s value if you’re accurately tracking your conversions in AdWords. Tell Smart Bidding what your end goal is, then track performance. You can stop using CPC bidding as a proxy for value; Smart Bidding can boil everything down to what really matters for you, whether that’s a CPA or ROAS goal.

A simpler proposal

Your default campaign structure should be a lot more straightforward. This may sound insane, but here’s how I think campaigns should be organized:

  • Organize your ad groups around what ads you want to serve to groups of users.
  • Organize your campaigns around your objective and KPI.

Some aspects of campaign setup warrant separate campaigns — such as budgetary control and the countries/territories where you can actually sell your goods and services. There is no longer a need for additional campaigns to work around long-gone AdWords limitations surrounding bidding and messaging. Bidding has Smart Bidding. Ad text has ad customizers. Audience targeting benefits from both Smart Bidding and ad customizers.

One thing in particular that I want to highlight is separate campaigns or ad groups by match type. The AdWords system is set up to prefer the more specific keyword, and in those rare cases when it doesn’t, it’s to your benefit. A less specific keyword will trigger only if you’re projected to have a higher Ad Rank and a lower CPC. (You might even consider de-duplicating your match types of the same keyword in your account. That’s too big a topic to cover here.) Ultimately, what may seem like sloppy structure is actually saving you money.

If you have a set of high-performing keywords that deserve their own budget, you should break those out. That’s a case where it makes sense to make such a management decision. But that should be for your best stuff. Let performance dictate what gets priority.

The benefits of aggregated campaigns

An overly segmented AdWords campaign structure can actually be a serious barrier to performance.

1. Automation works better on large sets of information.

AdWords’ Smart Bidding can work on pretty paltry data. But it works even better when it has large amounts of insight to feed into its machine learning. Larger campaigns, including data across all different types of cross-device, cross-user-list, cross-time insights, tend to perform better. A bigger campaign is actually more likely to perform better when you fully embrace automation.

2. There are fewer ads to maintain.

Keeping up with your ads is a lot of work. The smarter you are about the amount of work you create for yourself, the more your work time is spent on finding and deploying great messaging. And the less time you have to spend making sure that you’ve copied/pasted your ads across all nine device-specific campaigns that advertise women’s tankinis to previous customers who reside in New England.

There are ways to customize ads geographically without a duplicate campaign. If you find yourself copying/pasting tons of ads, while only changing the tracking parameters to capture the name of your highly specific ad groups and campaigns, you might not need that additional campaign.

3. There are fewer ad extensions to maintain.

Ad extensions are fantastic. They’re a universally good thing, and it’s important to enable everything that makes sense for your business. As your campaigns multiply, so does your need to monitor all of those extensions. You’ll have to start by ensuring that they’re implemented, then you’ll have to ensure that they don’t overlap with your ad text.

4. It’s easier to manage negative keywords.

I totally get the impulse to use negative keywords to shape traffic, but the obsession with seeing that every query matched to the intended ad group is misguided. As I mentioned earlier, the system is set up to save you money when serving less specific keywords. You should instead investigate why a less specific keyword/ad group is that much better than what you intended.

And once you let go of using negatives as traffic cops, they can return to their original usage: eliminating queries that aren’t a match for what you’re selling online.

5. It’s easier to identify insights.

Instead of looking through 9+ campaigns, you can look at one campaign and see how things are trending. And you’ll always have the ability to segment for deeper insights down the road.

The current status quo of pivoting a bunch of campaigns into one high-level output can be turned on its head. You’ll instead start with aggregated insights, then segment data as needed. I think it’s a much more useful way to keep an eye on trends.

6. It’s easier to make decisions.

When you’re doing a better job identifying insights, you make it easier on yourself to make decisions that improve your account. Once your structure allows you to spot trends, you can adapt to those trends more quickly.


I know moving away from oversegmentation is a big change, but I think it’s an important one. If you want to dip your toe in the waters to start, consider consolidating some ad groups together and see how performance trends.

You could even use campaign drafts and experiments to run a split test of consolidated ad groups against segmented ad groups. (As you’re evaluating performance on that campaign, remember to factor in management time.) If performance is roughly even, that’s a big win for consolidated campaigns/ad groups. You’re saving time, which frees you up to do bigger and better things for your account.

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About the author

Matt Lawson
Matt Lawson is Vice President of Ads Marketing for Google, responsible for a broad portfolio of ads products including search, shopping, display, and analytics.

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