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The Ultimate Guide On How To Restructure A Paid Search Account
I recently had my 10 year anniversary for paid search. Celebrations were in order, so I decided to write this article. This introduction sets the scene so if you want to jump ahead, be my guest:
One thing I have learnt, is everyone loves a restructure. God forbid that anyone else's messy structure could do anything useful. It would have to be a total flop.
Seriously though, I don’t think I have ever taken on an account that didn’t need a new structure....
There are lots of reasons why accounts need a clean up.
Positive ones reasons include new features introduced by the search engine. Or it could include learnings found from testing, a business pivot or a whole new line of products.
Negative reasons include an individual who knew everything left. Often a lack of knowledge. Or unfortunately people can get sloppy or the previous agency team lost their way.
There are lots of reasons why accounts need a restructure or a new structure. This is usually because people lose focus or get sloppy. Sometimes the agency you’ve employed can lose focus or become less engaged. This can happen to employees or agencies after the initial period of excitement. Come on Dan, I hear you say, stop being so negative. Ok, one can choose a restructure because of new unincorporated features. Or a business pivot, new products, a test result which has revolutionised the best way of doing things.
I apologise ahead of time for this article. Not because of the content (how could you be so mean to think that…..) but due to the cross over with another article I wrote. 'The Ultimate Guide To Paid Search Naming Conventions.’
This article has it's own agenda so please read them both. Don't read them to a non digital professional as an interesting story. I am aiming to provide a detailed approach to many of the key paid search topics.
As with lots of my articles about paid search, I will reference Google Ads. Yes there are many more search engines. Don't forget about DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yandex, Baidu, Yahoo, Ask, AOL and many more. But Google & their Google Ads product dominates paid search. Most of the principles apply to Bing anyway. Yandex & Baidu have similar approaches but are different. Same same but different if in Thailand and also another huge blog post in their own right.
Another benefit of a good account is the potential to leverage data insights. Two that spring to mind are GOA (our data insights tool), Google Analytics and many more.
I’ve structured this article like the information section of many of our GOA policy checks. Each of our policy checks shows a data insight and says why we’ve pulled that data. Then we say what is likely to happen when you follow our advise and finally how to action it.
Why should I start restructuring is how I start but if you would like to jump to the other sections, then click on the links below:
Why should I restructure
First off ask yourself if you should be restructuring. Here are the reasons that you will find in your account for doing so:
The account isn’t organised and it is hard to make updates & optimise
Take advantage of the available segmentation at the various levels like campaign
There’s been a change in the way the search engines let you target their consumers. Enhanced campaigns, being able to target devices in separate campaigns etc
You cannot guarantee which ad copy you are showing to a specific search term. Search terms are being matched in many different sections of the account. Filtering traffic to the right ad is a critical part of paid search.
There are duplicate keywords everywhere. This links in with the point above but is sloppy paid search best practice.
Lots of the keywords aren’t getting traffic
Ad groups have lots of keywords in them and are not closely associated with the ad copy
The keywords in the account have low quality score (GOA has a check for this)
New paid search tactics that you’re not leveraging
Current structure doesn’t help optimise via the naming convention
And here are external reasons:
Business pivot - you have changed your focus
Business updates - new products, changes in goal
New paid search manager / team - everyone has a different way of doing things
It will take a considerable amount of time and effort to restructure a paid search account. Carefully consider the decision.
What will happen when we do this?
There are lots of benefits of a restructure. These positive points are subject to nailing the delivery & launch of your restructure:
Your KPIs will improve. The ones that make a difference to your business. Revenue, sales, leads etc. This has eventually happened in all the restructures I’ve seen. Sometimes you can have drastic improvements early on. Sometimes it’s a slow, gradual increase in performance. Worth saying, I have never had to reverse a restructure using method outlined in this article.
Your Quality Score will improve. Because your structure will be more relevant. Keywords, ad copy, landing pages and extensions all better organised.
It will be easier to optimise your account better. The improved structure will show you where to focus your time.
You will be able to leverage more rules, scripts and of course GOA policy checks.
Reporting will improve. And your reporting will be faster.
Future expansion will be easy with your keyword & ad copy build out templates
And the other point you need to be aware of is the inevitable downturn in performance at first. There is a 2 - 6 week period where there is instability of performance. This has happened across most restructures I've seen implemented. The cause is due to many factors.
Always set expectations of an expected downturn. This is during the transition phase before the new & improved structure kicks in. When your more granular ad groups take over with the enhanced tactics, you will be laughing.
I’ll finish off with pointing out that there’s a lot of work involved with a successful restructure. I’ll go into most of the pre work below but there’s a lot to do after the restructure goes live.
Unfortunately there’s still a lot of hard work after it goes live. You don’t put your restructure live to a fanfare of trumpets and sit back counting revenue.
How to restructure a paid search account
If you want to focus on a specific area today, here are some links to jump ahead in this article:
Planning your restructure
Business & high level paid search areas to review
Paid search data to review
Planning your restructure
At some point you need to plan the launch of your restructure. I’d recommend starting this before you finish off your restructure. Give yourself deadlines to hit... Otherwise you could lose yourself into a world of segmentation and keyword build out.
The main things to plan are:
When will you do the restructure? Make sure you do it in time for any high performing times, such as the led up to Christmas or a sale period.
Are you restructuring everything? Is it all a mess or do a few specific areas need attention?
How long you will give yourself to create the restructure
Your restructure roll out plan. Do not stop one version and activate your new structure. You need to plan a gradual switch over with a brief period where both the old & the new are running. More on this below.
Business & high level paid search areas to review
Ok, you’ve decided to go ahead (or start if you’re structuring). You need to have a long, hard look at yourself historical data & performance…
And with the learnings from that data, review these points which are crucial to the way you approach this:
Your different business functions
How much budget you have
How much search volume is available
How many markets you are competing in
Current best practice & features available on the platform in question
How big your team is. As a rule of thumb, the more granular you can make the structure, the more work you make for yourself. This is because it increases the work it requires for updates & maintenance.
I would recommend getting someone who understands search to plan and review this. You only need a senior individual to check in now and again. After that’s, it’s common practice for people who have less experience to do all the work building it out. Often individuals with a very small amount of experience.
Paid search best practice, data and search tactics to review
Onto the cornerstone of any good restructure - performance data. This is a whole subject in itself and there could be another blog post in here.
First, pull all your keywords to review the performance data
Pull keywords with all the metrics that matter for your business, whatever they are…. Revenue, ROI, ROAS, AOV or CPA. Don't forget traffic metrics - impressions, clicks, CTR, CPC, average position, quality score... Or my favourites conversions/revenue per impression... They blend the mighty CTR, CVR & AOV (revenue one only) into one.
Here are some areas to check:
Ad copy performance
Landing page performance
Time (depends on your client)
Put everything aside except for the keyword performance data for now.
You might need to cross check the odd point now and again but most of your focus should be the keyword report.
Also be mindful of these points:
Keyword, ad copy & landing page relationship. Also known as the consumer journey, or part of the consumer journey.
Your marketing budget
Budget for the team doing the activation. If you can only afford to pay for a small team of two, then don’t plan a paid account that requires four people to maintain.
The main traffic driving keywords
Cookie pool set up & performance
RLSAs / retargeting strategy
Seasonality can throw your performance. So if your products are seasonal (most are) then make sure you take this into account.
Google analytics data:
Landing page performance
Pages per visit
New vs returning visitors
And many more....
Colour conditioning in excel really helps when reviewing lots of data...
When looking at this data don’t forget to segment the data to reflect the seasonality of the account. E.g. don’t do a eCommerce restructure in January only looking at the last three months. Christmas seasonality will throw most of your assumptions out the window. This also applies to the keyword gathering….
Adding more performing keywords to your restructure:
Ok so you have a big list of keywords from your account with performance metrics.
Now filter to the keywords that are performing to your business & marketing objectives.
There's a large percentage of your new structure.
There’s still lots of work to do and more sources where to find more search terms for your restructure:
Start with a Search Term Report. Get a few months, at least 3. More if possible.
Use filters to focus on the key areas first - 80/20 rule applies to almost every brand. 80% of the traffic through 20% of the keywords. Columns to filter by include revenue, revenue per impression, ROI, ROAS. Also CTR, CPC, Avg pos and quality score….. Or another but make sure it's relevant to the brand you are advertising.
Add columns and label the keywords . Have a column to mark if you are going to keep the item in question… Use yes, no or maybe.
Filter and then add to your other list.
Now you have all the performing keywords & all the performing search terms in one place.
One useful thing to do now, is to see where the keyword performed best.
So what you do is sort your keywords first by the metric that is most important. Then by the second (and continue if there are more). And finally, by keywords. All of this should happen in the same sort….
Then use an IF formula to find duplicate values in your spreadsheet
Cell B2 needs to have a 1 in it to start the series off. Then B2 can be copied down with a double click.
How To Do A Sequence In Excel
Then you can do a pivot table to see where the top performing instance was in your account. You might find out that a broad match modified keyword is out performing the exact match. Now you have a different consideration for your ad copy building / launch.
Other places to check for keyword ideas
Check the website you are driving traffic to!! Make sure that you’ve covered the right categories & all the relevant products. This is often one of the biggest wins. Always start with the performance data though, you will see what worked. Sometimes you have to throw all the historical efforts away but that's not always the case.
Google analytics can provide keyword opportunities if set up correctly. The search console needs to be in place for the queries section to work. Check transactions / revenue etc.
The scrape Google Chrome extension will mine websites for more keywords.
SEM Rush. This is worth checking out not just for keyword mining.
Don't forget about Google. Take your highest volume terms and do a few google searches and look at the organic results. This is a great place to find both positive & negative opportunities. Only do this for your highest volume terms unless you have too much time on your hands.
Review your competitors using the keyword tools above but also have a look at their website. View source on the browser and have a look at what they have on there. Title tag, h1s and all the other on page SEO areas that are worth looking at.
Look at online dictionaries & thesauruses
Keyword build out templates
This can be one of the biggest time savers. I would argue you should only use it if you have considerable repetition in your account.
Times you should use this:
You have a vast number of accounts segmented by country with a large amount of repetition
The advertiser has a large number of what is effectively the same thing. Two examples could include:
A large advertiser with a large number of locations.
eCommerce website with a lot of different categories.
Fashion eCommerce website with a lot of different designers & categories. Here you also have repetition in the gender & clothing item colour searches...
In both these cases, you will have a huge amount of repetition. It is probably easier to create a ‘template campaign structure’ with a modifier in place. This would be
After you have a huge list, then make sure you:
Remove. Those. Duplicates.
And the final important step to creating that great keyword foundation.
Find the search traffic for the keywords to see if you will include them in the new structure.
Now the Google tool can be unreliable. I've heard various informed individuals claim it is between 2 & 5 times out. Sometimes more. Here are a few rules to help you navigate this:
If the keyword has converted in the past, include it however little traffic the tool says it will have.
Any keywords that you decide to keep, put them in the keyword planner tool to check they have search volume. Put a limit in place. Anything below a certain limit that hasn’t driven revenue/conversions. Or isn't highly relevant... Then cut it out. If you have the right keyword match types in place then it will be picked up anyway.
TIP - don’t forget to filter the keyword planner tool to the right country / language. This will ensure data accuracy.
At this point I would run the keywords by your client or boss. Or get a colleague to sense check them!
Now it's time to start planning your approach to the structure.
The 10 (however many I come up with) commandments of keyword restructuring
- Segment thy search & display for they shalt never be in the sameth campaign
Ok bored of ye olde english now. I’m stubborn with a terrible sense of humour so thought I’d last a bit longer. Apologies for the odd thy below.
Look at the most important metrics. How this contributes to your business objectives (money!). This is often referred to as the macro conversions or metrics. Don’t forget that there are lots of other metrics that lead up to this point.
Make sure you fairly assess the value of your keywords & tactics. Don't forget to review the value the keyword has given elsewhere. Or not given... Last click is not the answer. You will see lots of talk about attribution. Well, lots of talk.... It's such a hot topic at the moment. Mainly because the industry has been dining out on last click for years and now has food poisoning. Avoid the toilet at all costs. If you don’t have an attribution model in place there are ways round for now. Look at your data in Google Ads or Analytics. Check out assisted conversions/revenue, not just last click. Last click is the default set up but check out the attribution section in Google Analytics.
Attribution is a long blog post in itself, one that I will address one day. Expect a lot more talk about this when Google launches their attribution offering.
If it doesn’t perform against your objectives and you’re wondering why it’s in the campaign, get rid.
Separate out the mega high spenders into their own campaign to put them front and centre. Focus!
If the keyword doesn’t have any traffic then remove it.
Consider thy bids for the restructure. Two options. Keep bids the same for the new keywords and lower the existing keyword bids after launch. Or make the new keyword bids higher. As always focus on higher performing keywords. Also new keywords found performing well in the search term report. They were going to a broad or phrase match before but now are shining on their own.
Remove any keywords with characters that have special characters. Commas, full stops, semi colons etc......
Respect thy negatives….. Lots more on negative keywords below
Then you are going to use your keywords to...
Create your campaign & ad group structure.
First off, let's talk about the limits
As with anything, these have exceptions in certain circumstances:
Keywords per ad group - 10 max. Try for less, you should have a max of 5 unless it's super low search volume and you don't have the time.
Ad groups per campaign - whatever it takes. Long tail campaigns can have loooooooads if you have the SKUs
More negative keywords the better. No limits please. Don’t lose track of what you’re adding though and always look at your positive keywords. More on this below. Don’t spend weeks creating the most extensive detailed list known to mankind. After launch, you will be doing regular search term reports. This will find you all those lovely new positive & negative keywords.
Ads per ad group - 2 or 3. 2 for faster testing, 3 for more varied testing
After you’ve done your structure, then it’s onto the joy that is...
Why are we only looking at this now and not earlier? Because negative keywords have two main purposes:
Removing wasted impressions to boost engagement (CTR). This will also result in cutting down on irrelevant clicks
Filter the searcher to the right ad copy.
To effectively implement part 2, you need to know your structure. Why? You will apply many of your negative keywords at the campaign level.
This is what to do:
Add all the required negatives to filter the search term to the right place. This can be a long job and often you won’t see opportunities until you’ve put the restructure live.
Add exact match negatives to broad match campaigns / ad groups
Do a search on various search engines to see the organic results. Any that aren’t relevant, add them.
Check your high volume positive keywords to see if they apply to other areas. The car manufacturer SEAT is not a seat. Magnum is an ice cream, gun and a condom. Not all at once mind.
RED HERRING - did you know that Roger Moore (aka James Bond) invented the Magnum? It's on the BBC so has to be true. Apparently he wanted a choc ice on a stick. What a legend.
Anyway, now you have a wonderful structure of positive & negative keywords. Time to cover them with ad copy, extensions, landing pages and other flourishes.
Finding the right landing pages is very important for a restructure
Make sure you deep link to the most relevant page.
It’s safe to assume that taking the consumer to the most relevant page will perform best. Unless you have data proving otherwise... I have run tests before where this has been disproven but it is definitely the exception, not the norm. 99.9% of the time, consumers want to be taken to the most relevant page.
You’ll need a landing page performance report and some time to review the website.
The more relevant, the better.
How to find the right ad copy for your restructure
Find your your champion ad copy from your previous structure as the main base for your new structure.
Review the performance data that you pulled earlier or are about to pull. We've talked about the metrics. Google says they calculate quality score at the keyword, ad copy & landing page level.
When creating your ad groups, arguably the most important point you have to keep in mind is the following:
Relevancy of keyword, ad copy and landing page
Let’s recap what happens in the Google Ads process:
The user enters the search query.
A keyword matches the search query and shows the ad copy
Hopefully the consumer (user of Google) finds your search relevant. They click on your compelling ad copy.
The consumer is then taken to a landing page that is relevant to their initial enquiry (search query)
Imagine the search query as a question. The consumer is asking Google a question. It's your job as marketers to answer that in an effective manner that provides value to the consumer. Also also to the product or brand that we’re advertising....!
I’ve written a few other articles on ad copy:
Golden rules of ad copy
The craft of copy
Also ad copy testing ideas will help you progress once you have the above covered
Once you have your ad copy templates built out, then you want to use your ad copy theme to build your ad copy. I’ve created a spreadsheet which I can share on request..
Or (recommended) you can create your own using these wonderful excel formulas:
Text around the cell contents (@ etc)
See more about these formulas in my other article:
The Big Biddable Guide To Excel Formulas & Shortcuts
Anyway…. Back to the task at hand.
Ok so now you have a big list of keywords, in ad groups with some amazing ad copy that is going to do the business.
Currently you only have exact match. You now have to make the other types of keyword that I would recommend: Broad Match Modified or BMM.
And you are going to segment by match type at the campaign level.
Yes there will be much gnashing of teeth at this point from some. They will be shouting ‘phrase match’ post gnashing. Personally I don’t see the point, BMM does your prospecting and exact does the converting. If you add phrase match into this then it increases the number of campaigns, keywords & ad copy by 50%. This is a lot more maintenance.
You already have the exact match keywords so now you just need to create the BMM keywords. Use this lovely formula to make your exact match keywords into a BMM:
=CONCATENATE("+",SUBSTITUTE(TRIM(A1)," "," +"))
Other way in excel - find & replace spaces with ‘ +’ (space+) and then use this formula to add a plus to the beginning:
Also can be done in Google Ads editor. Add a + to the beginning of the exact match keywords. Then use the editor ‘find and replace’ formula to swap any spaces with “ +” (note the space before the plus)
Other way in excel - find & replace spaces with ‘ +’ (space+) and then use this formula to add a plus to the beginning:
Oh yeah, and don’t forget ad extensions which have been part of the quality score for years....
Ad extensions to use as part of your restructure
Make sure you have your full coverage. Review them like the keywords. Choose your top performers to ensure the best possible start. Like the ad groups, make sure they are relevant to the keywords included. If you have to launch with various promotions then do so but historical top performers would be best.
Other points to address / include / correct in your new restructure:
Google tag manager
Google Analytics WITH auto tagging or UTMs depending on your search engine. Don’t lose data.
ValueTrack for all kinds of campaigns - how to set it up here. Get it on everywhere. Why would you not want all that delicious data? You can find out things like this:
Network (inc search partners)
Random number (for CRM or similar)
Pass through information about ads / sitelinks etc
And of course, use the IF function in there…
Now you are ready to launch your restructure
First QA everything. Yes, Quality Assurance. Not question & answer as I once guessed. Oh the shame.
Anyway, QA should be applied to take out mistakes.
I usually advise something like this:
Launch the new exact match keywords first with similar bids to what the old structure had.
Check your account regularly to make sure your keywords and ads are approved and running. This is particularly important for trademarked terms. The trademarks are usually applied at the MCC level.
Then in one day intervals to ensure that your are continuing to appear on the keyword you selected. Make sure to continually monitor for keywords and ads that are disapproved.
One or two days later lower the bids on the old structure by ten to twenty percent
Then after a week or so add the new exact match keywords as negatives to the old structure. The odd close variant will still sneak through
Pause the old exact match keywords a week or so later.
When we add the exact negatives, launch the BMM restructure. Follow a similar process for the BMM keywords
Other considerations for your restructure
If you spend a lot on both brand & generic, separate the launch to minimise the impact to any specific week
Talk to the other departments, try and avoid high performing days
For a large international, test the restructure in smaller markets first
Don’t have the same restructure for every market. Have a tiered approach… Smaller countries get less keywords to start with. Then build out using search term reports
When localising for international campaigns, start with the short tail & SQR regularly. What’s applied across multiple markets won’t get the volume due to nuances. Better to start with less keywords, takes less time to complete and they might not get any traffic volume
Make sure a restructure is excellent before rolling out across multiple markets
Launch parts of your restructure that aren't currently covered as a test. e.g. when moving into peak just look at brand & new generic opportunities first. E.g. non covered designers, seasonal items or new trends. Then focus on the rest.
Use drafts & experiments to split the impressions. Between the restructure and incumbent keywords of course… I only tried this with ACE. Change the % split over a few week period.
And there we go. 4,848 words on how to restructure a Google Ads account. If you found the contents useful, then please tell the world and share this with everyone you know.
As always, any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org