Adwords account structure simplified

As the title of the blog suggests, managing a large Google Adwords account is not a piece of cake to get right. In order to be as effective as possible you need to ensure that all of the following are singing in chorus:

  • Keywords are matched with highly relevant ad copy.
  • keywords and ad copy are matched with highly relevant landing pages.
  • Landing pages are not broken and if they do break there is a system in place to alert you quickly – don’t rely on Google for this.
  • All keywords have bids that control their performance to best meet your core business KPI’s.
  • All ad groups are tightly themed.
  • All products that have been released this quarter are properly marketed.
  • Ads are carefully written towards users needs and expectations and optimise for a high click through rate from only relevant prospects.

You get the point, this list could go on for a few pages – there is a lot to do. And because there is a lot to do there is a necessity to have a clean and simple structure that is easy to manage.

In this post I will take you through an account structure suggestion that I feel is not only easy to manage but also is highly effective in helping you to achieve your goals.

Using only 2 keyword match types

Google Adwords has 3 main match types – fully detailed here, and summarised here:

Broad Match: The search term that the user entered only needs to vaguely match 1 word of any of the terms contained within your bidded keyword to display your ad.
The Keyword matching is very loose on broad match keywords and there is a low level of control that the user has over what user search queries apply to the keyword. It is advisable to keep your bids very low on these keywords.

Examples of how broad match keywords are matched to actual web searches:

Broad match keyword: Tennis Shoes

Ads may show for searches on:
tennis shoes
tennis tournament
mens shoes
ladies shoes
ladies trainers
buy tennis shoes
tennis shoe photos
running shoes

As you can see this means that you need to be very careful with your use of broad match keywords and supplement your ad groups that contain broad match keywords with a lot of negative keywords (will get to these).

Phrase Match: Matching search query needs to contain within it the entire keyword string in the exact order that the words appear. Phrase match looks like this “white tennis shoes” and will match terms such as:

White tennis shoes
black and white tennis shoes
Buy white tennis shoes
Cheapest white tennis shoes

Phrase match keywords allow good keyword targeting with quite a high level of control. This level of control increases with the number of words in the keyword string. Initial bids can be set at a quite competitive level.

Exact Match: Matching search query needs to contain the exact keyword that the user entered into the search engine and cannot contain any additional terms or plurals or variations of the included words.
Exact match keywords are as tightly controlled as you can get – a fully walled garden meaning that there will be absolutely no irrelevant matches.

Therefore for the keyword: [white tennis shoes] there is only one matching term:

white tennis shoes

Now, it used to be that there were these 3 simple match types but now there are additional variations on these match types.

Firstly broad match modified.

This allows you to modify the words in each keyword string using a + sign. In the above example the broad match keyword would become: +tennis +shoes.

What this does is tells Google that any word in the keyword string that has a + in front of it must be present in the actual term a user searches for an ad to show.

Therefore using the above example the following search terms would trigger our ad to show:

tennis shoes
buy tennis shoes
tennis shoe photos

Plurals/singulars can still be triggers as can mispellings and occasionally synonyms.

Secondly – the questionably named “improved” phrase and exact match

This type of keyword is  a broadening of the traditional phrase and exact match so that they capture more search terms such as misspellings, plural, singular, synonyms etc. We covered the use of these new phrase and exact match keywords on our blog in more detail. One thing to note is that the “improved” version is a default setting but can be switched off in the campaign settings.

We also have a detailed post on Google Adwords keyword match types but this was written before the release of the new phrase and exact match – although it is still relevant for this article and for the majority of PPC account structure strategies.

So, as I mentioned above; the proposed strategy only utilises 2 keyword match types: exact (with no “improvements”) and also broad match modified keywords. Exact match keywords keep a tight control, they are the backbone of the account and should pull in the majority of your leads/sales (more and more so over time) and the broad match modified keywords are the cleaners; they mop up all the opportunities that the exact match keywords have missed.

How does this Adwords account structure look in practice?

The image below shows the 3 levels in a Google Adwords account: Campaign, Ad Group and Keyword. Of course there are other elements such as adverts which would be at the same level as keywords in this illustration.

Google Adwords Account StructureAs you can see the ad groups (2nd level) within a campaign (top level) are effectively duplicated by theme and then differentiated by match type; Broad or Exact. Initially you can start the account with just one or two keywords (bottom level) in each ad group. This is because the starting structure really is just a start and will develop over time.

Ideally you should use your knowledge of and data from your business to build out an account structure that covers all of your products and services. This is relatively easy for retail sites as they tend to have a clear product hierarchy which can be copied for Google Adwords. However, if you are a business with only one or two products or services then you will need to build out your ad group starting structure based on the types of keywords that users use to find your product or service. The Google keyword tool is a good starting point and if you are already a well established business then your Google Analytics account will hold a lot of information on the types of keywords that are bringing users to your site and which can help you to form a starting account structure.

Whatever type of business you have, ensure that you only have a maximum of 5 keywords per ad group to start with.

Making ONLY the most appropriate ad group eligible for each search term.

With the above example where we have duplicated ad groups and then differentiated by match types there is currently a conflict if we just start ads running like this. For example if a user searches “white tennis shoes” ten both the broad and the exact match ad groups have an eligible keyword for the auction so will be competing against each other – you do not want this.

The solution is a simple one – use negative keywords.

For every exact match keyword in an exact match ad group, copy across into the broad match ad group as a negative exact match keyword.

With the above example you would need to put the following 2 negative keywords into the broad match ad group.

negative keywords to addYou would of course then do the same for the White Tennis Shoes – Broad ad group using the exact match keywords from the White Tennis Shoes – Exact ad group.

This then gets you ina position where there is little cross over. However, now it starts to get a bit more tricky to second guess what may happen. For example – what happens if someone searches “Blue and White Tennis Shoes”, where do you want them to go? In this case they could go to either of the broad match ad groups for blue and white – they conflict. One solution is to create an additional ad group for Blue and White Tennis Shoes – Broad and then add the work “blue and white” as a negative *phrase match keyword to both the Blue Tennis Shoes – Broad and the White Tennis Shoes – Broad ad groups.

* we use a phrase match negative in this case as no one is likely to search the exact term “blue and white”.

Another solution could be to choose which ad group (and also therefore landing page) in your site is most appropriate of the two – perhaps the one with the products that sell best. For example if you sell more “White Tennis Shoes” than “Blue Tennis Shoes” then you may want to send people who search “Blue and white tennis shoes” to your White tennis shoes page. Therefore you would add the word “blue” as a negative phrase match keyword to the White Tennis Shoes – Broad ad group.

A negative phrase match keyword means that the keyword will block any ads showing for user searches that contain that exact phrase. again refer to our post on keyword match types for more detail.

A third solution could be to just play it by ear and allow this conflict for a week until you have some data on search volumes, clicks and conversions and then make a call based on this data.

Finally, there are a number of common stop words that should be added to all campaigns in your Adwords account in order to stop you showing ads for them. This may be terms such as:


There are usually hundreds that you can think of for each account that you work on – the Google Adwords keyword tool is also pretty good at showing you thematically related keywords to your main keywords so can be used to find terms that do not relate to your specific business. With the tennis shoes example you may sell a wide range but no Adidas ones therefore you would need to add “Adidas” as a negative keyword for the whole Tennis Shoes campaign.

Managing this Google Adwords Account Structure Going Forward

If any of the above was at all unclear then please leave a question in the comments below and I will get back to you with a response as quickly as I can.

Assuming that it is clear then how should this account be grown and expanded to ensure that costs are minimised yet opportunities are exploited?

As with all Google Adwords account structures you need to run regular search query reports in order to find out exactly what search terms are triggering your ads for each of your ad groups (unless your account strictly only contains exact match keywords). This always throws up issues that you had not previously noticed/considered and it also presents new opportunities that you had not previously noticed.

Here is a post giving the full detail on how to run a search query report in Adwords.

To summarise it; a search query report shows you all of the exact terms that users have searched before clicking on your ads. If you have conversion tracking enabled then it also shows you the exact search terms that led to conversions. This means that if you run a search query report and see new search terms that currently do not exist in your account then you can add them to the account easily.

Additionally, you may find a wide range of irrelevant keywords for which you need to add negative keywords. This process should be done every week or so as it is the best way to control the flow of traffic to your site through Adwords.

When you run a search query report, depending on the size of the account and the date range that you select it may contain hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of terms that need checking so you need to have a decision making process in place.

The basic decision making process for negative keywords could be approached like this:

Decision making process on a negative keyword

You are probably wondering what i mean by “simplify the negative keyword”. What I mean is that if you find a keyword in your search query report like:

“what white tennis shoes did Boris Becker wear in the 1995 Wimbledon tournament” then this is unlikely to ever be searched again so adding it as a negative keyword is not going to do you much good. However, what exactly is irrelevant about this search term? There are a few things that stick out as a concern:

1) Wimbledon
2) Boris Becker
3) tournament
4) 1995

Now to my knowledge none of these are a current brand name of tennis shoe so they could all be added as negative keywords – probably at the campaign level. However, if you did have a brand called “Nike Wimbledon tennis shoes” then you would not want to add a negative keyword to that ad group or the campaign that it sits in for the word “wimbledon”. Therefore you need to add “Wimbledon” as a negative keyword (phrase match) to all of the other ad groups in the campaign that do not relate to the Wimbledon brand.

For new positive keywords you could approach it like this:

new keyword discovery process

Using this process will mean that the account is constantly being trimmed of irrelevant traffic and at the same time growing based on the keywords that are relevant and that are working well.

As always, if this is at all unclear then please let me know in the comments and I will adjust accordingly. This is a complicated topic so difficult to judge the level of detail needed so that it is easily understandable and at the same time consumable in 15 minute read.


Posted in PPC

5 thoughts on “Adwords account structure simplified

  1. Thanks, I have been trying to build out my campaign for a few days and just been pondering the best way to do it, every option I came up with had draw backs, and I couldnt seem to get it clear in my head about which way to go. I will try this for now as it seems to cover most bases. The only other option I will probably add in is 1 campaign level broad match (unmodified) to collect missed ALL missed oppourtunities using low bids and continual addition of negative keywords (i.e. tennis shoes), I will deal with the low quality score and added cost in the hope it will provide some good data.

    1. Hi Ollie

      Glad it was helpful – your suggestion makes sense although managing the conflicts between that campaign and all the others will be very difficult as if you have the same keyword as a broad match and a broad match modified in another campaign then how will you control the traffic between the two? I think (cannot currently think of a way) that it will be impossible meaning that you will have campaigns competing against each other. Perhaps give it a go for a short time and then analyse in a search query report what overlap is occurring and how you can best manage it.

  2. Hello! It was very helpful to understand some basics of adwords optimization. I wonder if there is still more deeper optimization. Or there is another secrets 🙂


    By the way, im using it with a services for fridges and washings machines of all brands

  3. Great post!

    I’m confused by one point. In the flow chart for finding positive search terms you say add a new broad match ad group if it is a high impression term and an exact match if it is a low impression term with lower than 10 impressions/week. In my mind it looks like it would be inverted with high impressions getting the exact ad group. Can you explain this?

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Mike
      Good question. My thinking is that if it is a high impression term that you will be able to mine further related search queries from it in the future. Therefore by adding it as a broad match (modified) keyword you will be able to pick up traffic from closely related search queries. If a query only has a few impressions over 1 month for example then it is less likely to trigger as many related search queries so by simply adding as an exact match keyword you have the greater control of it and are less likely to miss out on further opportunity through it.
      It’s a tricky one to explain so let me know if that still does not make logical sense?

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