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Keeping Your AdWords Ad Groups To 15 Keywords Or Less

While there are multiple ways to structure ad groups in order to drive traffic and conversions, Cardinal Path adheres to fundamental best practices.  When the end goal is to drive up quality score and reduce cost, the best plan of attack is a rock solid structure built, in part, on a clear and relevant keyword approach, as outlined in the following points:

1. Focus On Intent

Start with the intent of the ad group.  What is the product or service being advertised?  What specific variation do you want to convert?  When building an ad group, you should always ask yourself, “could this be broken out further?”  For example, if a client is selling basketball shoes, she might have a large range of more specific descriptors worthy of their own ad group:

The more specific the keyword, the more accurately you might match and message to the intent of a searcher.  Someone searching for “blue mens nike mid basketball shoe” is very different than someone searching for “red womens reebok outdoor basketball high-top.”

2. Tailored Ad Copy

The great thing about making the investment in focusing the intent of the ad group is that ad copy writing becomes far easier.  Rather than cramming superlatives into a one-size-fits-all type of ad, you can cater to extremely specific details that will match the search query, appearing bold, beautiful and relevant to the user.  Here’s another example, taking our basketball shoes query a bit further:

Let’s assume the user searches on “blue mens nike mid basketball shoes” and is presented with the following two ads.  Which appears more relevant and therefore more likely to be clicked upon?

Not only is the second ad offering almost exactly what the user searched for, the ad matches the intent and builds credibility with the user.  Best of all – it was easy to write.  Most of the semantics came down to reproducing the extremely specific keyword in the body of the ad.  The user will be far more enticed to click on this than a generic, less-specific variation.

3. Relevance

This is the key element – As marketers, we need to ensure consistency from keyword to ad copy to landing page.  This alignment affects not only the users’ enticement to click on the ad, but the entire journey.  For this reason, it’s important to keep our keyword set as uniform as possible.  Once this branches into multiple themes, the consistent messaging and focus starts to fray.  Keeping keyword sets small and focused helps ensure they’re keeping to one theme.

Here’s an illustration of two ad groups.  The first takes our basketball shoes example from keyword set to ad copy.  Notice that even though the keyword set is centered on ‘basketball shoes,’ it’s very easy for this to fall into multiple themes:

In the second example the keyword choice is highly specific, driving users to a very pointed and highly relevant ad:

4. Quality Score

Quality Score rewards (among other factors) relevancy, and it can’t get much simpler than that.  The whole reason for limiting ad group keywords is not formulaic.  This is a means for driving a consolidated, well-targeted list that focuses on ONE theme.  Quality score WILL improve if you strive for relevancy and consistency in the journey from keyword to message to landing page.

4b. The Caveat – Why Not Just 1 keyword Per Ad Group?

Great point – and this is something many advertisers strive for.  It ensures absolute control over messaging and traffic.  Matching one ad with specific copy to a particular exact match keyword is as relevant as you can get.  Still, this level of control comes at a price of efficiency (how much time you’re willing to spend) and volume (how many queries are you matching for).

We’d love to know what you think, so feel free to comment!

  • Calin Sandici

    I agree with everything you’ve said, Alan. Good post, I’m hoping that many people at the beginning of their AdWords journey will use this strategy.

    I do have, however, one mention: CTR. If the ad copy does not get you a high CTR, the quality score will not rise to its potential, in spite of the search term – ad copy – landing page matching. But that is maybe the next step, #5, “going beyond (con)textual relevance”.

  • Greg Cassar

    We use Speed PPC to build campaigns as it lets us easily build 1 adgroup per keyword. Then we spend the majority of the time tuning just the top 20% of adgroups

  • Calvin

    I inherited an account with 30,000 ad groups across 10 campaigns. Each group had one keyword with three match types. The account was inflexible and in some ways incomprehensible and obese. Granularity has a cost. I recommend taking management overhead seriously when calculating ROI. Great post.


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