Season 2 | Episode 6

Paid Search Account Structure Tips and Best Practices

As advertisers, the number of available options, tools, and automation available for your paid search campaigns can seem overwhelming.

In episode 6 of Paid Media Coffee, we give you best practices and helpful hints around structuring and optimizing your campaigns that will take your strategy to the next level.

Our host, Kelly Mancuso, is joined with members of her extraordinary paid media team: Cody Rape, Charlie Rogers, and Anna Swinyer.

Get ready to download or stream this episode with a notepad to capture these great recommendations.

Kelly: Welcome to Paid Media Coffee. I'm Kelly Mancuso, and today we're talking about paid search account structure best practices. So here to help answer my probing questions and share their expertise in paid search. I have Anna Swinyer. She's a senior paid search manager at Nebo. Welcome to the show, Anna.

Anna: Thank you. Hi, everyone.

Kelly: We also have Cody Rape. He is a paid search specialist.

Cody: Hello, hello.

Kelly: And Charlie Rogers, he's a paid media associate. 

Charlie: Hey, everyone.

Kelly: All right. Let's jump right in. Paid search practices and capabilities have evolved so much. Not just since search started, but really every year new things are happening and emerging.

With the tools and the knowledge that we have today, what are the things that you all are first considering when you approach a new account and are building out new campaigns and starting from scratch?

Anna: I think the most important thing to consider in the very beginning is budget. Budget can actually optimize your campaigns throughout the year pretty simply.

A lot of people forget about the step when they're planning out their accounts on day one. But if you look at Google Trends, or if you look at the Keyword Performance Planner, I've even looked at finance websites before to try and figure out seasonality of the client that you're working on and really figure out when they're peak months are when they kind of have a little bit of a downturn. Those are great places to start for your account, to take your total budget if you have a yearly budget or quarterly budget, and decide how much that budget is used between months. Some clients do have weekly budgets as well, so that's something to consider.

But for the most part, most of our clients are doing monthly budgets. Really factoring in seasonality is a great first step.

Kelly: That makes a lot of sense because also the size of the budget is really going to influence, you know, how many campaigns you're able to build out or what kind of focus you have in the account as a whole.

And then also there may be budgets by product line or by service or things like that that you need to take into account. I think that is definitely a big thing. 

Charlie, what about you?

Charlie: I think one important piece of dialogue you want to have opened up from the beginning with your client, or if you're running it yourself with your business, just making sure they understand what are your businesses goals and what do you hope to accomplish, and then make sure that lines with paid search.

If you need to create some kind of goal or KPI that goes along with what paid search will help you do, then you need to do that. But just make sure you consider that and at the very beginning; what do I need to accomplish for my business?

Kelly: There is a difference between the paid search goals that you want to accomplish, whether you have, you know, a cost per conversion goal or conversion rate or traffic or whatever that might be.

And then also how do those support your overarching business goals? They should ladder up to that. And, having a conversation with your client or the key stakeholders within your company to make sure that you're aligning paid search goals is really important.

Cody: Just building off that, a few things that I think about when I'm first taking on a new client or building out a new account structure as Charlie mentioned, business goals, of course, needs to be top of mind. You know, we need to know what our client cares about most. 

The second thing I think about is the business verticals that your client may be in. Do they serve more than one vertical? If so this will play a major role in segmented campaign strategies down the road.

Another thing that I think about is the client's product mix and their product segmentation. How diverse is that product mix and how can you best leverage those products or services in this new account structure?

Kelly: That's a really good point, too. Thinking about what are the priorities with them as well, from a product or service standpoint because, tying that back to budget, there may be things that aren't huge priorities that they don't want to focus on, or there may be things that are just too competitive.

If the budget's a little bit smaller, you might want to advise them not to focus on that. So, yeah, definitely a great point. 

How are you approaching match type segmentation when you're building out campaigns? Do you always think it's necessary to segment your campaigns or ad groups by match type?

And if so, are you doing that at the campaign level or the ad group level?

Cody: Yes. I believe, how you segment your keywords is really a spectrum of how much control you want when you're managing the account in the long run. A campaign level segmentation will give you the most control over bids and budgets.

But if you have an account that has a ton of offerings, with a broad keyword depth, having campaign level of segmentation can almost get overwhelming. I really like to think about the long run when creating a new account structure and asking myself, how manageable would this account be as we grow. Will the added effort add incremental value to the account?

Anna: And when you know when I'm thinking about match types as well when I'm breaking them out, whether it's campaign or ad group, I really focus on three different match types. I know there are several to choose from, but in my experience, exact match as well as phrase match and BMM or broad match modified, those are the three match types that I typically use.

When I'm breaking them out, I like to segment my exact match keywords in one, either ad group or campaign, and then the other I segment out. I do call it my BMM ad groups are broad match modified ad groups or campaigns, but I incorporate phrase in there as well. They kind of play on each other a little bit.

Which is why I don't mind bucketing them together. I haven't seen great performance if I break them out. I typically do those two styles and I'm breaking them out. 

Kelly: Yeah. There's not really a way to exclude broad match modified keywords from a phrase match ad group. 

Anna: Exactly. 

Kelly: So, you kind of have to bucket them together, otherwise you risk, you know, overlapping keywords.

Anna: Exactly. And you know, there's been a lot of talk recently about close variants with exact match. A lot of articles, if you're reading about it, and yes, I have noticed my search terms expand a little bit with my exact match keywords. But even with the close maps variance update, I'm still seeing my exact match keywords have higher conversion rates typically than my broad match modified and my phrase match. 

I'm also seeing those CPCs still cheaper. They have increased slightly, but not to the extent where it requires us to start consolidating all of our match types together. I'm still seeing great performance and it's a really integral part of our strategy to still break them out by match types.

Kelly: Cool.

Charlie: I'd like to double down a little bit on what Cody said, which is thinking about how they can build to scale, and especially in this industry where search practices and best practices change. Then also businesses can change and evolve over the years about what they're offering or what their core products or services are.

You definitely want to think about a setup that will allow you to quickly and easily adapt to those changes so that it is manageable long term.

Kelly: Especially if you start smaller and then you're going to scale later on. You need to make sure that you can easily do that. You don't want to find yourself in a mess and thinking, oh my gosh, what did I do to myself?

All right. At what point are you thinking about the audience strategy? And by audience strategy, I don't mean you know the audience that you're targeting or you know, your, persona, so to say. I mean the audience in terms of layering on remarketing lists, or other behavioral audiences like affinity audiences, and market audiences, or detailed demographics?

At what point are you thinking about layering those onto your campaigns? Is that something that you wait to do post-launch or are you starting with that at the beginning?

Charlie: I think about it pretty early on because we have so many options of audiences we can layer and have access to so much data to use.

It can really help you as you start to launch your campaigns to go ahead and accumulate that data and build those audiences up to it and see what makes sense in terms of optimization that's down the road.

Cody: I completely agree with that. When you start a new campaign or when you're launching a new account, you can really be strapped for data.

You really just have what the client gave you. But as we all know, that might be totally different when you're looking at affinity audiences or what your audience cares about outside of what your client offers. I believe laying on those audiences early will give you some insights into what your audience cares about and how you can speak to them later when you're creating ad copy and altering your ad copy.

Anna: I totally agree. I think a lot of our fundamental account decisions may or may not be impacted by our audience strategy that we have in the beginning. For instance, if client retention is a really big goal for your client, then budget might be a factor for previous site visitors or maintaining those relationships with people that have interacted with your website.

That's the step one that would need to be broken out by the campaign types, so that way you can control that budget that's going to that audience. If that's not a factor for you, then maybe you just want to message that audience differently. Then that would factor into your ad copy strategy and you would apply if-thens and change your ad copy a little bit based off of the audience that you're trying to message differently.

But like Charlie and Cody also said, if none of those are a factor, then also if you have a smaller budget that plays a bigger role in layering on these audiences like we've talked about because you don't have the amount of budget, you know, to span 100% impression share, absolute top page of rate and last all day.

Layering on those audiences in the beginning and really garnering those insights are huge. To be able to use your budget strategically throughout the day and really hone in on that audience that you've seen historically performs really well. That's another great insight for our clients.

Kelly: So you are layering them on as observations in the beginning and then monitoring and potentially taking the next step from there, like adding bid modifiers or potentially changing ad copy with if-then statements and whatnot.

Anna: Yes, I start, like you said, Kelly, with observation at 0%.

And then what I do to change my bid modifiers is I'll check them at least every 30 days. Sometimes I'll check them more than that on the month, depending on how much volume the audiences are getting. And from there, I take the overall campaign performance as the baseline, and I assess how those audiences are doing over or under that baseline, and I create my bid modifiers from there.

Kelly: Awesome. 

When thinking about organizing your different keyword themes, how do you balance brand versus non-brand versus competitor terms? 

Do you have any rules or recommendations for doing that? I know brand versus non-brand can be a big point of contention for many clients with some going, you know, all the way in one direction where they want to be 100% impression share for their brand terms.

And then others don't even want to touch it. What do you think?

Anna: We always start with brand non-brand and competitor keywords broken out. That’s our step one, we're thinking about keywords and how we're going to bucket them. It's really smart to break out your campaigns that way. Just from, like you said, a budget and optimization standpoint.

The rule of thumb for us, if your client doesn't have a preference on how much brand they want to spend is 80/20 so 80 non-brand and 20 brand. And the reason for that is non-brand is obviously much more competitive. It's much more expensive. It's more costly to stay in that auction. So we found that 80/20 is a good way to keep your brand presence really strong, as well as staying competitive in the auction for non-brand.

Charlie: Another point I'm going to bring back from earlier would be, you know, refer to your business's goals. When you think about how you're going to divide up the budget between those brand and non-brand terms. And then if you even have the budgets to do a competitor campaign to make sure you think about how that's going to accomplish those overarching goals.

And then another tip, I would say, would be for a brand campaign if you have so many brand terms and you need to pull out your core brand into their own campaign, you can really make sure that the campaign is not capped by budget. That is maxing out search impressions, share to protect your brand and the SERP.

Because we've seen the competitors will try to get in and compete with your brand terms.

Kelly: And what do you mean by core brand? If I'm going to go and execute that strategy, what would I take away as my core brand term?

Charlie: By core brand, I would say it's your highest performing, but it's probably just your brand name itself.

Maybe an exact match and also potentially a phrase match. Let me just make sure it is protected at all costs.

Kelly: Okay. That makes sense.

Cody: Yeah. I think for businesses that may not necessarily be household names or drive a ton of search volume, I find it beneficial to segment branded keywords into their own dedicated campaigns with no budget restrictions.

I know to really capitalize on our awareness efforts from display or even your non-branded keywords. When segmenting non-branded keyword themes, this is where creating your initial account structure, really thinking about the product mix and what your client offers come into play. I really like to use the client's website as a roadmap, really looking at how they've segmented their products or services on the website.

And this is typically a good starting point to align with;  how the client operates internally and how they classify their product or service mix.

Anna: I think that's a great point. A lot of times when we're thinking about brand keywords, we're just thinking about the brand name, but it also funnels down to what products they have, which locations they have.

Those sorts of things too, also fall into our brand keyword bucket.

Kelly: Yup. Are you always building out competitor campaigns to start with?

Anna: What I found in highly competitive landscapes where there isn't a big product differentiator, competitive campaigns are a very integral part of my strategy.

It's a great way to make sure that you're competing in the space against your competitor queries, as well. A lot of times what I found with products that the brand recognition isn't as strong. Bidding on a competitor term can give you great results, as well. And it can be valuable to boost up your non-brand performance as well, which is a great factor too.

Another thing that I like to do with my competitor campaign is layering on the RLSA audiences from previous visitors. That way I know that this person has already visited my website. They've already interacted with my account, and now they're going out and shopping elsewhere on competitor terms. That's just a way that I like to keep my brand top of mind for that user and really circle them back to my website and keeping them back on my brand as much as possible.

Kelly: That could also provide some pretty interesting insights, I think for the client as a whole. Like maybe they made a change on the website or they rolled out a new campaign or ad spot that didn't resonate well with people and now they're going to the website and actually ending up converting with customers.

If you see an influx of that, um, RLSA audiences impressions, that would be a good sign that maybe they did something that wasn't a great idea.

Anna: Along with insights for just the impressions from the competitor campaign overall, another great point to having a competitor campaign in your strategy is auction insights.

That'll give you better insights to tell if your competitors are bidding on other competitors. It's a great gauge to tell are other competitors using competitor campaigns, as well? Should you not be doing that or, you know, is that the status quo for that vertical? It's a great insight to see if your strategy lines up with what others are doing in this space.

Kelly: Yeah, and definitely I would say, don't use ad copy or messaging where you're trying to pretend like you are the competitor. If you're showing up on those SERPs, you want to make it clear that, you know, that's not who you are, but they should choose you over that competitor because of, you know, X, Y, and Z.

So, um, I've definitely seen a lot of those more predatory tactics where they're trying to mimic, um, you know, the competitor's ad copy or taglines or even using them in their brand names in the ad copy themselves, which obviously isn't allowed, but until somebody reports it, yeah, you can do it.

Charlie: Competitor conquesting can certainly be tough and especially when your brand has this certain, you know, status to it or people are really just considering your brand over anything else about the actual quality or the product or service you're offering. I think as you mentioned, Cody too, if you can't afford competitor conquesting, make sure you exclude those terms because if you let them slip into your other campaigns, that's also wasted spend that you're not really strategizing properly to go after it. 

And Kelly, like you just mentioned, this really can influence your approach to ad copy and not go too far ahead of what we're about to talk about, but it's definitely should be a consideration in that phase as well.

Kelly: And something that none of y'all mentioned is the cost impact of bidding on competitor terms.

A lot of times those CPCs obviously are going to be really high. And so if it's something that you have really strict goals or a really strict budget and they could be more efficiently allocated to other types of campaigns. You know, you might want to be careful with bidding on a competitor term, but one thing that Cody, I think that you have done this in one of your accounts before is like a little trick that I read about a while back where, if you have a branded campaign and you want to kind of boost your quality score a little bit and potentially improve your CPCs, is have your modified broad match keywords of the competitor and then add your own brand name at the end of the keyword as a true broad match term. That way the user's query doesn't actually have to contain your own brand term.

It can only contain the competitors, but there's a little bit more relevancy between the keyword and the landing page and the ad copy. I know that's worked well for us in the past. 

All right. So shifting over to ad copy, how does the high-level keyword theme influence your approach to ad copy?

Charlie: We've talked about the difference in campaigns from brand and non-brand.

I think that would definitely influence your copy. For brand campaigns where it's a little less educational with your copy, more compelling to drive those stronger calls to action. And then if you have enough volume in your brand campaigns, that would even provide you a way to test. Different ad copy variations since you have a higher volume and intent there.

Now on your non-brand, it'd be more educational focus. These people might not know about your brand and what you offer and you want to definitely compel them to click on the ad.

Kelly: That's a really good point. I think testing ad copy is definitely something that like running it through a brand campaign, you can get quicker insights sometimes, especially if the volume is there.

Anna: Yeah, and it's cheaper.

Your CPCs are much lower on brand campaigns. 

Cody: Yeah. Just building off of what Charlie just said, matching ad copy to keyword text and user intent is, I would say, crucial for successful ads. Quality score is as important as ever and having your ad copy aligned with the user search query, and also aligned with the content of the landing page will not only make your account more prominent in search auctions, but you will also accomplish what's most important here. And that is, you know, serving the user with a valuable experience.

Anna: What I typically do is I'll make three to four general ad copy templates and I'll find them replace, or I'll include modifiers based off of my ad copy themes, my different products, adjectives if we are breaking out even by color or a different type of a manufacturer. That's a great way to kind of keep your ad copy relevant and consistent for testing purposes, but to make sure that they're specific for whatever ad group theme you're on.

Kelly: That kind of makes it easier to roll out the ads and tailor them at scale if you have those similar kinds of variations that can be tweaked.

And also when you're talking about measuring ad copy tests as well, even though it's not the same exact ad, you've got the primary sentiment or the primary theme of the ad is the same regardless of the keyword.

Anna: Sometimes, too, if brands have specific brand drivers or brand callouts. Those are great ways to break out your ad copy templates as well.

Want to focus on one message for each ad copy? That's a great way to see performance. See what's performing differently, what, you know, a basic brand awareness campaign might deliver, could be different than what a search campaign is delivering. That's a great point, too. It kind of ties back to what Charlie was talking about earlier about with the educational factor of ad copy.

And something that we haven't touched on yet in terms of ad copy is we talked about brand and we talked about non-brand, but competitor campaigns also offer a different way to message the user. If you're thinking about it, someone that's typing in a competitor query obviously isn't expecting to see your ad.

So, what I've found in the past to be successful is to focus more on a quick grab sort of ad copies. Such as a promo messaging or a don't wait, visit us now, limited time offers. Those things really grab users quickly with competitor messaging.

Kelly: To what degree do you think that the number of ad groups that campaign has or the number of keywords in an ad group has matters?

Is that something you're trying to be mindful of, or do you just, you know, build out and see where the numbers fall?

Anna: This definitely plays a big part into how much budget you have for your campaigns. I have found if my ad groups get over 30 in a campaign, some ad groups and keywords start to lose presence or they flat out don't spend it all.

A good tip that I've found you after I've been running my campaigns for a little bit and I see if one ad group is prioritizing majority of the campaign spend, I'll break that out into a new campaign in order to let other keywords and other ad groups see the light of day, I guess, in a way and really test them as well.

Kelly:If you have one ad group that is taking all of the impressions and spend from a campaign and it's a shorter tail ad group, and you've got longer tail variations of that ad group in the campaign, maybe check and make sure that you've got appropriate negatives on that shorter tail ad group.

So, for example, if you have the ad group Nebo and then the ad group Nebo agency, you would want to negative “agency” from the Nebo ad group to make sure that you know you're funneling your spend correctly. That could be a good way to just make sure you've set up the campaign correctly in the beginning.

Charlie: That's a good execution point for my tip, which is to keep your ad groups tightly themed, but while you're making sure you don't have too many ad groups in one campaign. You still want them to be tightly themed, so if you had to break it out, that's what you have to do. It's a great point.

You know, one thing we haven't mentioned yet are SKAGs or single keyword ad group, and I'm totally okay with those. I think sometimes it's required, especially if you have your campaigns take me by match types, it would be required for that in certain instances.

Anna: Yeah, that's a good point, Charlie. You mentioned it's required and sometimes it is required.

If your brand name is one or two words total, then it might make sense to have an exact match keyword as a SKAG. It's one of those things that gives us control as advertisers and make sure, you know, even from a PR standpoint, if something's going on with that brand, we can control that one keyword. It's really important.

Kelly: For sure.

All right, so I want to move on to automation. Where does automation come into play when you're building out a new strategy? Are you thinking about this initially or is it more of like a latter phase in the account.

Charlie: Automation is such a big category, right? There are so many different types of automation.

Kelly: This is actually a test question. This is actually a trick question. 

I'm kidding. 

Go ahead, Charlie.

Charlie: Sure. Initially, I think there are some basic scripts, you know, automation scripts I like to throw on, as I say, for in case of emergencies. A script that watches your budget and makes sure if you have a tight budget for the month, that it will cut off at the right time if you go over. 

As well as a script that looks over the landing pages. Constantly crawling every hour to test to make sure there are no errors, and if so, it'll alert you immediately and email you so you can get on that and make sure and see where the problem is.

Kelly: There's nothing worse than finding out that site's been down or you know, ads are disapproved or something like that after the fact.

Charlie: Right. I've had this script actually catch a site being down first before any other errors came in, so it was actually pretty helpful.

Kelly: That's great. I'm sure those scripts are really helpful, so maybe we'll try and tweet them out through the Paid Media Coffee Twitter account. 

Charlie: Yeah.

Anna: Yeah. I think of automation when I'm first setting up my accounts in two different ways.

I think about it from an ad type perspective. Dynamic search ads or DSAs, as well as responsive search ads, RSAs, are two great automation ad type tools if it falls within your account strategy. I found that for e-Commerce clients, the DSAs are a great value add. 

I've actually used dynamic search ads instead of broad match keywords to let Google or Microsoft crawl the websites and figure out which queries you might not already have in your campaigns. But you can add them as well. That's also a great tool that I've used.

Kelly: Would you make sure that any of the keywords that are present in your account are added as negatives on that?

Anna: Yes.

Kelly: So, we're not overlapping?

Anna: I take a single list of all of my active keywords in the exact match form, and I apply them as a negative keyword list onto my DSA campaign. 

Kelly: Okay. 

Anna: That way you're not competing with yourself and you're only finding different queries that aren't already incorporated in your account.

Kelly: It's basically like a keyword mining tool.

Anna: Yeah. Yeah, essentially. And the rule of thumb, for that, is I make sure that my DSA campaigns are spending less than any of my other campaigns. That's like a good gut check for me to see that my account's in good health. But then along with the ad types, you know, there's that smart bidding.

We haven't talked about that yet. The huge thing that's coming through search, what I do and I start an account is I always start with manual CPC first. I really want my campaigns to garner a benchmark of performance. Applying manual CPC in the beginning for probably about two weeks gives you a great gauge for CPCs, as well as click-through rates, see how the campaigns perform on a daily basis, and then start rolling out smart bidding.

And that way you can really test. If a smart bidding tool is doing better or worse than your manual CPC benchmark. We found that max conversions work really well for campaigns that have smaller budgets.

Kelly: Yeah, if you are limited by budget.

Anna: Exactly. And then target CPA obviously is a great route, too.

Kelly: Are you during that manual CPC period, are you using enhanced CPC?

Anna: Well, I think, I think that in enhanced CPC, I have seen great success with that, but it's not giving me that true benchmark of how the campaign just performs on its own and enhanced CPC uses signals and user intent and all these other cues that we can't see as advertisers. So, I kind of feel like it's giving it a little bit of a false read on what, just the bare, the benchmark is for those campaigns.

Kelly: Okay. Makes sense. Cody, what about you?

Cody: Yeah, I believe Anna had a good point when talking about dynamic search ads and responsive search ads. I like to use this as kind of a testing ground. It's a really great way to test out new value propositions and ad copy. I really mix and match our call outs. It's a great tool for really generating the best ad copy possible. But I believe in terms of the bigger picture with automated bidding, for more manageable accounts, I believe it's more of a nice to have at the time of launch. And as you kind of grow and scale your account, then you can kind of start thinking about what automated bidding strategy would work best based on the results you've seen in the account.

Kelly: Great tips. Great advice. To wrap this up, I would like for each of you to give us one final piece of advice or a recommendation that you want our listeners to remember when it comes to approaching a new account.

Anna: I would definitely say all the topics that we've covered today and all the features for search campaigns, build out more in the beginning.

Build out as much as you think might be applicable for your account. You can always downsize later, and at least you have that historical performance to garner any learnings in the future.

Kelly: Okay. Cool.

Charlie: I think it's great to take in consideration tips from paid search professionals such as this podcast or other resources.

But remember, there really isn't a one size fits all approach and you have to tailor it for whatever you're working on at that time, and you have to think about your business and then the end-users and what makes the most sense for both those groups.

Kelly: Yeah, there are a ton of resources out there. I know Anna, you and I have talked about how when we're trying to like get advice on something, that specificity of the search queries that we will put in about, you know, like how to do this with this vertical, using this tool and to get this result.

One tip I would have on that is, make sure, or at least I always do, to sort my search results by time to make sure I'm getting more recent articles and tips and content just because as we all know, things change so much in this industry. You don't want to read something and then go and try and implement it or talk to a client about it and realize that, oh wait, that's not even possible anymore.

Or, you know, the whole approach has changed. So, all right. 

Cody, what about you?

Cody: Yeah, so I think they'd be a closing tip would just not to be narrow sided when first creating your account structure. Really think about the long run. One of my favorite acronyms are the five Ps, which stands for proper preparation and prevents poor performance.

Yeah. Really thinking about how what you do now is going to impact your account, six months from now, a year from now, and even two years from now. You really want to set yourself up for success, in the best way with the most efficient account structure possible. And I think we have a lot of great information for you with this podcast.

Kelly: Yeah. I agree, Cody. Our listeners do, too. All right, well, thank you so much for joining me today. I learned a lot, so thank you. Our next episode is going to be focusing on the importance of cross channel search strategies. We are going to be talking about different search engines and tips and tricks for leveraging those and also thinking about search engines and a little bit of a different way.

If you liked the podcast, please go and leave us a review or leave us a rating. Send us an email, let us know, and we're always excited to hear from you guys and any questions or comments that you might have. You can email us at and also follow us on Twitter @paidmediacoffee.

All right, well thank you all and we'll talk to you next time.

Posted by Paid Media Coffee on April 10, 2020


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