Ad Group Structure: A How-to Guide for SEMs

The process of creating ad groups is complex, even for the most seasoned search engine marketers (SEMs). While each one grows and changes to reflect current advertising objectives, too many ad groups end up like a house of cards -- awkward, disorganized, and teetering on the brink of collapse.

Ad group structure is far more important than most search marketers think. Even though Google requires advertisers to put keywords into ad groups, few advertisers know how to do it effectively.

Solid ad group structure is vital to search marketing success because ads are assigned to ad groups, not keywords. The structure of the ad group will impact the relevance of the ad to all of the keywords in the group -- not to mention to the consumer who views it.

Two common construction issues undermine ad group structures today:

  1. Heavyweights: These ad groups have way too many keywords. For some advertisers, it's common for ad groups to contain hundreds, if not thousands, of keywords. These SEMs start with a plan, but adding more keywords to the same ad groups over time causes it to become less coherent and tightly themed, resulting in less relevant ads being delivered to searchers.

  2. Featherweights: These ad groups only have one keyword in each ad group. Rather than try to figure out which keywords should be grouped together to form a coherent ad group, many advertisers put each keyword in its own ad group, which automatically makes it tightly themed. This strategy is often deployed as an overcorrection when advertisers realize they have too many keywords per ad group.

    Although these ad groups are targeted and precise, the SEM's challenge now becomes how to ensure that the ad copy associated with each ad group is equally targeted and precise. In a keyword portfolio of 1,000 keywords, assigning one keyword per ad group merely shifts the problem of delivering relevant results from the process of creating the ad groups to the process of assigning 1,000 ad copies and landing pages to each one.

It's difficult to deliver targeted ads and relevant landing pages to consumers if you're using heavyweight or featherweight ad groups.

For example, a Chevrolet dealer has dozens of items to advertise, such as cars, trucks, new models, used models, service offers, leases, and accessories. If you put all of your products into one ad group, your ad copy would be reduced to the lowest common denominator: "Downtown Chevrolet -- We Meet All Your Chevy Needs." Even ad groups set up by major product line can seem too generic "Test Drive a 2011 Chevy at Downtown Chevrolet."

Making ad groups more tightly themed will improve results. Compare the relevance of the ads above to more targeted offers such as, "Top Waitlist Spots for Chevy Volts" or "Best Prices on Snow Tires for Chevy Tahoes." The more specific the ad group, the more relevant the ad copy can be. A more compelling offer for the target searcher results in a better response rate.

Basically, a poorly structured ad group will be plagued by underperformance. Without properly structured ad groups, SEMs will have campaigns with:

  • Ad copy that isn't as relevant as it could be.

  • Click-through rates that aren't as high as they could be.

  • Quality scores that aren't as high as they could be.

  • Average positions that aren't as high as they could be.

  • Conversion that isn't as high as it could be.

  • ROI that isn't as high as it could be.

  • Bids that aren't as high as they could be, due to artificially low ROI.

SEMs need relevant ad group structure to deliver relevant ad copy -- automatically. It's still possible, however, to build a relevant ad group and yet deliver irrelevant ad copy. The relevance of the ad and landing page are all fundamentally driven by creating the right ad group structure.

Here are two checks SEMs can perform to ensure their ad groups are structured as soundly as possible:

  1. Challenge for Heavyweight Ad Groups: Do any of your ad groups have 100 keywords in it? Do any have 1,000 keywords in it? If so, there is probably ample opportunity to deliver more relevant ads and landing pages to keywords within these ad groups. Basically, these ad groups are begging for restructure. Although there is no magic number to determine optimal ad group size.

    A litmus test: Can you market to different keywords in your ad group differently? If so, then they should be broken up into smaller groups.

  2. Challenge for Featherweight Ad Groups: Sometimes a head keyword drives so much volume that it pays to put it in its own ad group. However, overreliance on this strategy can quickly become unmanageable. Putting a keyword in its own ad group doesn't solve the problem of finding a relevant ad for that keyword. It increases complexity to the point that you feel like you need 1 million ads to be effective.

    A litmus test: Is there enough click volume behind this one keyword to justify it being in one ad group (for better control), and is the keyword unique enough to merit dedicated ad copy?

Emerging technologies will help SEMs create focused ad groups within a few clicks of a mouse, and then automatically create relevant ad copy for each of those ad groups. SEMs who build a solid foundation of the right ad group structure, which employs the latest technologies to help maintain and evolve that structure, can greatly improve the success of their search marketing campaigns.