The Challenge of Parenting Single-Keyword Ad Groups

Growing up, my friend Joe was an only child. Being from a family with three kids, I couldn’t help but be envious of all the special attention he received.

He got his own room. He didn’t have to fight with his siblings over which TV show to watch. He got all the Christmas presents. As far as I could see, Joe was living the good life as an only child.

Some search marketers (SEMs) like to treat their keywords like “only” children. They know that one element which factors into a quality score is a keyword’s relevance to other keywords in its ad group.

Keyword SearchBy creating “single keyword” ad groups, SEMs eliminate the potential for other keywords to “pollute” the relevance of the ad group and hope to improve quality scores in the process.

In addition, a single-keyword strategy seems simpler. Single keywords get all the attention.

They get ad copy and landing pages written specifically for them. It seems like an ideal strategy.

However, managing hundreds or even thousands of single-keyword ad groups creates a big challenge for SEMs — one not unlike parenting a large number of “only children.”

First and foremost, a single keyword strategy doesn’t necessarily result in higher quality scores. Quality score is still primarily driven by click-through rate (CTR), and CTR is driven by relevance of the keyword to the ad copy. Even with only one keyword in each ad group, the quality score won’t necessarily improve if generic ad copy is still associated with the ad group.

Furthermore, a single-keyword ad group strategy creates several new problems along the way:

  • A management nightmare: Though one-keyword ad groups seem to simplify SEM efforts, the strategy results in a proliferation of ad groups. Managing hundreds of ad groups takes a significant amount of time — a precious commodity for online marketers — which typically leads to poorly-managed campaigns overall.
  • An inability to scale: As the number of ad groups increases, it becomes difficult to create customized ad copy and landing pages for each one. Many SEMs solve this problem by identifying the best 10-12 ad copies and landing pages and simply using them across all the ad groups. But writing generic ad copy for single-keyword ad groups is just as ineffective as writing highly-specific ad copy for a generic ad group: Both strategies result in lower CTRs, suboptimal ad performance and not necessarily higher quality scores (as explained above).
  • A violation of publishers’ guidelines: Search publishers have limits in place as to how many campaigns can be in an advertiser’s account, and how many ad groups can be in a campaign. With a large number of single-keyword ad groups, the publisher may force an advertiser to separate its efforts into separate accounts, which can complicate reporting and analysis of trends.

The secret to success is knowing when it makes sense to deploy a single-keyword ad group. For example, there are certainly cases where head keywords rightfully deserve their own ad group.

However, in most cases, SEMs should work to combine keywords into tightly-themed ad groups. This strategy enables advertisers to provide “only-child”-style attention to all of their keywords, providing customized, highly relevant ad copy and landing pages scaled across their entire product portfolio.

Technology exists today to help search marketers treat each keyword like a stereotypical “only child” — without the parenting headaches. There are technologies that can help SEMs group thousands of keywords into tightly-themed ad groups, automatically generate relevant ad copy for each ad group, and continually optimize performance over time. It’s like spoiling each keyword rotten.

Join us for SES London 2011, the Leading Search & Social Marketing Event, taking place February 21-25! The conference offers sessions on topics including search engine optimization (SEO), keyword analysis, link building, local, mobile, video, analytics, social media, and more. Register now.

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