Paid Search Management: Campaign Organization, Part 1

I love RTS (real-time strategy) video games. Collecting resources and building an effective base of operations in games like “Starcraft” fulfils some sort of obsessive-compulsive need for organization in me.

One of the most fun challenges is planning out my base — figuring out the most effective layout that makes the most of each building, while leaving room to scale without losing effectiveness. Yeah, I’m a nerd.

And being a nerd, I can’t help but draw a parallel between RTS games and paid search campaigns. Both operate on a set of logical rules, both require attention to detail, both have many pieces that work together, and both require planning in advance to achieve maximum effectiveness. And if we look at paid search keywords as RTS “units” (the soldiers and workers that execute orders), then the parallel to a well-planned RTS base is a strategic campaign structure.

Campaign organization is one of the most overlooked pieces of paid search management. It’s not uncommon for advertisers to spend hours sorting their keywords into well thought out ad groups, and then limit their effectiveness by throwing them all into a single campaign.

Two of the most important factors in your account’s success are controlled at the campaign level — budgeting and targeting. To drive maximum results, it’s crucial to split your keywords into granular campaigns that allow you to take advantage of the features offered by Google only at the campaign level.

Account Limits

A brand new AdWords account has a limit of 25 campaigns. While at first glance that seems like plenty, once you start employing the below suggestions you’ll run into that ceiling pretty quickly.

Fortunately, a quick call to your account rep or an e-mail to AdWords support will increase that limit to 100 campaigns. That’s where the fun begins.


Budget caps and spend strategies are set at the campaign level. Google allows you to set a total amount that a campaign is allowed to spend per day and either go through that budget and then pause the campaign or try to spread your impressions throughout the day (these options are found in the Settings tab).

The basic best practice is to split your brand and non-brand keywords into separate campaigns, so that high-volume expensive non-brand keywords don’t deplete your daily budget and cause your ads to not appear for more important brand searches.

That’s a good start, but a smart advertiser will go much farther. Creating separate subdivisions of non-brand keywords that are extra high competition and placing them in their own campaign will allow you to get more out of your non-brand keywords overall. You should also create another campaign populated with the trademark keywords that you want to be live 100 percent of the time. Your campaign list now looks something like this:

  • Trademark-Evergreen
  • Brand
  • Non-brand-High Competition
  • Non-brand-Low Competition

Many keyword lists don’t fit the brand/non-brand split at all. I ran into this issue when organizing the following keywords in a Nike campaign:

  • Nike Shox
  • Shox shoes
  • Running shoes

The first and last keywords are easy to place (in the brand and non-brand campaign respectively), but the third (“Shox shoes”) is a little trickier. It doesn’t contain the brand “Nike,” but it also isn’t a non-brand term because Shox are a well-known trademarked product made by Nike. A good solution is to split these kinds of keywords into a separate campaign so they don’t pull spend away from your trademarked terms or lose their effectiveness because a true non-brand keyword is hogging the entire budget.

Google’s dayparting features are also set at the campaign level. Do some analysis on your conversions. Is there a time of day when a subset of keywords is more effective? Split them into their own campaign. You can then either pause them during less effective times of day or use the bid adjustment settings to shift CPCs up or down across the day.

In part two, we’ll cover the multitude of targeting features, all of which are set at the campaign level.

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