The idea of creating highly targeted ad groups, so that all of the attracted search queries are well aligned with the included text ad copy, is one we’ve written about often.
One of the drivers is the fact that better alignment drives up click-through-rates and thereby quality score.
A number of recent conversations have suggested that this good idea, like many others, is being taken to absurd extremes.
I’m talking about the practice or ‘recommendation’ of limiting ad groups to a single keyword.
Single Keyword Ad Groups Have No Quality Score Advantage
The primary reason I’ve heard for this practice is improved quality score. But it won’t work.
The quality score of a keyword in AdWords is based primarily on the CTR, from a specific geography, of search queries that exactly matches a that keyword. There is an impact from the historical CTR of the entire account, of the relevance of the query-keyword-ad, and the potential of penalties from the landing page. There is no factor in that definition that would favor a single keyword alone in an ad group.
There is no ad group quality score. There is no benefit from keyword loneliness. There is no ‘lots of ad groups’ bonus.
Isolating keywords in-and-of-itself does not help quality score. There is really no way any keyword can impact, positively or negatively, another keyword in terms of quality score.
The Right Number of Keyword Per Ad Group Is…
So how many keywords should be in an ad group?
Assuming we want to maximize quality score and overall results, the answer is: as many as will attract search queries that are directly addressed by your text ads. You may recall that we want to work from the text ad (or text ads) backwards. So the number of keywords really isn’t important. What matters is the alignment of the search queries (and the intents they represent) with the text ads.
If there are a lot of different keywords needed to match and attract all the different search queries that people use to say essentially exactly the same thing, then your ad group should have a lot of keywords. If there is only one keyword that is needed to match and attract to every search query that is directly addressed by the text ads in your ad group, then your ad group should have one keyword.
But the one keyword situation is likely to be very rare.
You don’t want single keyword ad groups, you want single-minded ad groups. If they attract synonymous queries, the more keywords the better.
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Paid seach campaigns are organized into campaigns and ad groups. Why they’re organized and how they should be organized is something that doesn’t get discussed enough.
The secret to ad groups is hidden in its name. Ad groups are a way to organize text ads. If they were a way to organize keywords, they’d be called keyword groups!
Properly building ad groups is incredibly important. Yet it seams that most people spend far too little time designing and constructing their ad groups. This happens primarily because the goals aren’t clear.
The Goal of Ad Groups
The goal of an ad group is:
- To perfectly align questions (search queries) with answers (text ads).
- Every query that comes into an ad group should smack straight into some ad copy that directly and perfectly addresses its topics, issues, intent, and desires.
- It not good enough for all the keywords in an ad group to be similar or narrowly focused or contextually similar or anything else.
- If the people whose queries come into a group don’t see text ads that satisfy them, the ad group is a failure.
Rebuilding Ad Groups
It’s also rare to find paid search managers spending a lot of time re-organizing ad groups. Which is a mistake because taking what is learned from real-life data and experience and shifting things around is often the most effective way to jump start a campaign that is stuck with performance below your expectations.
Ad group reorganization doesn’t happen a lot in large part because it isn’t easy enough to reorganize within our tools. But the ‘clarity of vision’ problem applies here too. Without a clear set of organizational goals how can you know that something is wrong or how you should fix it?
There is only one legitimate way to analyze the success of an ad group: Take the list of search queries the ad group has attracted, say over the last 30 days. Put this list next to the text ad copy that has been shown to the people who executed those searches.
If you can’t look at any of the text ads on that list, and be completely comfortable that it is clearly and directly aimed at answering the question implied in any and every search query on the other list, then you have work to do to improve your ad groups.
A lot of that work involves adding and deleting keywords, shifting or duplicating match types, working on bidding and quality score, and other similar tasks. But none of these efforts can be fully or correctly completed if you don’t first commit to building ad groups around the ads they contain and not around the keywords they contain.
The Ads Are The Targets
This is the distinction that matters. Build ad groups around ads. Fit in keywords that attract compatible queries.
Ads are the target. Build a nice small target. Then hit it. Hit it as squarely and cleanly as possible. Don’t allow anything in that isn’t a bullseye.
There may be many great keywords that just don’t fit. You may have to add negatives to that particular ad group that are perfectly valid keywords elsewhere. That’s fine. You can build as many ad groups as you need to have each one be tight and focused. But if you allow unaligned queries into your ad group, the downhill spiral begins:
- Queries that don’t target the ad copy get impressions but not clicks.
- So CTRs drop
- And what may be perfectly good queries are under-served by inappropriate ads (ei they’re wasted)
- Quality score suffers for the keywords, target URLs, and overall account
- Money is wasted in the process, and cost rise in the future (due to lower quality score across the account)
If the search engines let you dynamically decide which ad to show based on the search query, you could build ad groups around keywords and then direct each person to a highly targeted text ad. But they don’t, so you have to work the other way around. Build highly targeted text ads then construct ad groups that only bring very specific people to them.
It’s easy to remember: they’re called ad groups.
What do you think?
This blog post is a companion to our free ebook ’21 Secret Truths of High-Resolution PPC’.
It will be available for download later this month.
If you’re going to buy the same keyword multiple times with different match types assigned, how should you organize them?
Buying the same keyword more than once, with different match type settings, is an idea we like, as explained in our Match Type Keyword Trap series.
But this practice begs the question – should the same keyword appear more than once in the same ad group, or should you split them into different ad groups?
Separate But Equal
In terms of the effectiveness of the keywords at their match types it doesn’t matter. Google will match them appropriately no matter where you put them.
But I favor splitting them into separate ad groups for five reasons.
- It’s easier to match search queries to text ads. This is the name of the game, and each keyword will attract different queries based on the different match types. So can you write better ads knowing that some of these queries will be exact, some will use the phrase, and some will be all over the broad-match-place? Probably.
- Reporting is easier to digest (pt 1). If you’re a search query freak like me, and have a great tool like ClickEquations that shows you nearly every search query, it’s easier to scan the queries in an ad group to see if they’re all appropriate and uniform in content and nearly so in performance if they’re segregated by match type.
- Reporting is easier to digest (pt 2). The roll-up data and averages of any ad group are only as worthwhile as the consistency of the performance of the keywords that make it up. Diverse keyword groups produce statisics-of-questionable-value (SOQV as it’s known in the trade). Broad match keywords perform very differently than exact match keywords and I don’t find it useful to see the average CTRs or CPCs or CPAs of them rolled-up together.
- Quality Score should be better. By the letter of the law on QS, we want high-as-possible CTRs and tight query-keyword-adgroup-landing page relevance. Both should be slightly better with segregated ad groups – although as with all quality score details, there is no way to prove this!
- Reporting is easier to produce. Google does not provide a macro to automatically tell you the match type of a keyword as part of the destination URL. This is one of the few areas where Yahoo and MSN have something Adwords does not (intentionally on the part of Google we can be sure). Therefore if you want to track, measure, report on the performance differeces of your various match types, it’s a lot easier if they’re in separate ad groups. There are other solutions, but this one is the simplest and most robust.
This is not a big deal. For many people, or even in certain situations within a campaign, repeating the keyword in a single ad group makes sense. But if and when possible, I split them out.
Note: This post was inspired by comments made on a recent PPC Rockstars with David @Szetela Podcast. These shows have become a regular part of my commute, and I recommend them highly! (Even the occasional ones when I’m an guest.)
A nice surprise from Google today, with the release of independent statistics for ad-group performance on the Google ‘Search Network’ – sites like AOL and Ask.com.
This is no doubt related to the Google-Yahoo deal and clammoring on this blog and elsewhere about the issues involved in integrating those reports. It’s great that reporting is now separate – next we need separate bidding options like they provide for the Content Network.
Interestingly, in one of our campaigns the search network bid is set to ‘auto’. I don’t know what that means. Are they going to auto-lower bids on search partners? Better than keeping them the same as bids on the Google network, but I’d still prefer advertiser control.
How many keywords should you place in one ad-group?
It’s an age-old question for paid search marketers.Traditionally ad-groups have been considered organizing baskets for keywords. All the variations on a particular keyword, and/or all the keywords driving to a particular product or product category, are often placed into a single ad-group.
It’s common to see campaign and ad-group structures which mirror product categories and sub-categories, for example.
When the question of ‘how many’ comes up, the answer is often given as a number. I’ve never understood this. Why does the number of keywords matter?
Even the Yahoo Smart Start Guide (PDF) suggests “While there isn’t a magic number of keywords to include, you may want to start with no more than 20 – paired with two or more ads – and adjust from there.”
Consider The Text-Ads
Here’s another way to think about it. What you’re really organizing with ad-groups is text-ads, not keywords.
Each text-ad in an ad-group should be a different attempt to answer the same questions, or attract people with the same interests. It doesn’t matter how many keywords you place in an ad-group as long as the queries each of them is likely to be matched with are all appropriately served by those ads.
You’re playing Carnac, writing answers to questions that are going to come along later. The keywords you put in that ad-group are your only chance to ensure that your answers are going to be relevant to their questions.
If there are 20 keywords then there are 20. If there are 100 then there are 100.
When To Split Ad-Groups
Leaving the numbers aside, there are two smart reasons to subdivide the keywords in an ad-group. Both are based on the idea of matching your text-ads more closely to the search queries and keywords.
One is to separate keywords by subject terminology – a focus primarily on nouns – so that the specific keywords are repeated in your text-ads and on your landing pages. This is done primarily in service to the gods (or slave drivers) of quality-score.
The other is to separate keywords by qualifiers – verbs, adjectives, or other modifiers. This is done primarily to better align your text-ads with the expressed or implied intent of the users. In most cases it also brings along the quality score benefit too.
Would you want to present the same text-ad to someone looking to ‘buy a house’ as someone trying to ‘sell a house’? How about someone wanting ‘bell bottom jeans’ vs one looking for ‘stone washed jeans’. ‘discount headphones’ vs ’3-driver stereo headphones’?
The more narrowly you can segment your user queries, which you control via keywords and match types, the better your click through and conversion rates will be.
Divide and Conquer
The topic of organizing campaigns is one I hope to cover extensively in the coming weeks. This post was inspired by one over at PPC Hero talking about the benefits of breaking down ad-groups.