Best Practices for Restructuring a Paid Search Account

Author: Matt Commins

My heart was sinking as I was listening to the last and final episode of the Up and In Podcast when my phone rang. (This was [sigh, it pains me to use the past tense] the best baseball podcast).  A friend of mine, who recently joined a new company wanted to discuss the viability of restructuring their paid search account and the best way to accomplish that. Restructuring an account consists of a large scale rearrangement of keywords and placing them into new ad groups. We spoke about the pros and cons and my friend decided to go forth with restructuring based on the best practices I will shortly outline.

Performing a restructure is a time consuming, tedious and meticulous task. Deciding to go down this path requires, depending on the size of the account at least 100 hours of work. If performed properly the long term benefits can be enormous. The account will be more efficient and most importantly, easily adaptable to accomplish the widest variety of goals. However, like with most things in life, there will be short term losses manifested as increased cost per clicks (CPCs) and costs. By following my best practices you can mitigate the short term losses.

When a marketer is given the keys to an existing paid search account the first inclination is to say the account is bereft of best practices; the ad copy isn’t optimized, specific match types are underrepresented, keywords are in incorrect ad groups, and the list goes on. It’s human nature to be overly critical of something new we’re potentially going to be spending a great deal of time with. We do this a lot on first dates when we hold people up standards we do not come close to living up to.

After reviewing the account certitude takes over and the conclusion is to tear down the account and rebuild it. It’s natural to have this feeling. If given the chance, everyone wants to live in a structure constructed to suit their own personal tastes. However, tearing something down and building something new can bring about more trouble than expected. It is impossible to provide one size fits all recommendations because every account is unique and has its own challenges. However, I will cover the most common strategies to employ when restructuring a paid search account. Enough shenanigans, let’s get the ball rolling.

Brief Description of Quality Score

Every keyword and its ad have a symbiotic relationship. The strength of that relationship is reflected numerically on a one to 10 scale with 10 representing the strongest relationship. The term for this relationship is called quality score.

Indulge me for moment and think of quality score as the tether (bond) between the paid search account and the search engine. I’ll call the search engine Google. The stronger the tether, the higher the quality score Google will assign. The Google AdWords algorithm not only prefers, but loves remnant tethers rather than new ones. This is contradictory to the “always be testing” motto Google has been saying for years.

Expected click through rates (CTRs) is the most important variable in the quality score calculation. If you take a step backwards you’ll notice this makes perfect sense. Google wants to provide the best user experience possible. And how is the best user experience reflected statistically? Click through rates. If Google expects a specific CTR, they’re going to give the remnant ad more priority and charge new advertisers a higher CPC. This is why the barrier to entry into paid search can be so difficult. It’s important to note this does not apply to Bing. Bing’s algorithm does not negatively impact new ads.

Restructuring Best Practices

When restructuring an account you’re essentially wiping away all of the history (removing the tether) of the keyword and expected history Google relies on. Without any history the quality scores are going to decrease. This brings me to the first best practice: never move exact match keywords, especially branded keywords. The CTR of the exact match version of a keyword is used when calculating quality score for every subsequent match type of that particular keyword. Therefore, maintaining the tether of the exact match keyword will help reduce the impact of the restructure.

When moving keywords the migration of the existing ads, even if they are not written with best practices is critical. The reason for doing this is to try to achieve the same CTR the keyword once had. You’re probably thinking I’m contradicting myself because I just said the exact match version of a keyword determines the quality score. Yes and no. There are many variables that go into the quality score calculation. The CTR an ad receives is another metric that is fed into the quality score algorithm. By using the same ad the CTR should be the same before the restructure. Creating new ads should also be written. Depending on the amount of expected traffic I recommend creating 1-3 new ads for every ad group. Try to make the ads reflect the ad group theme as closely as possible. Over time the new ads should have a higher CTR, which should improve the quality score, lower CPCs and drive more conversions.

Do a slow rollout. Suppose ten campaigns need to be restructured. I suggest doing one campaign per 3-4 weeks. This will allow the account to slowly adjust to the increased costs and minimize the impact of the increased CPCs. Suppose an entire account was restructured and went live on the same day; Google’s algorithm is going to freak out. Not to the level of my Mother at Journey concert but close enough. Under this scenario the entire account will encounter a substantial increase in CPCs which will increase your conversion metrics and lower the overall margin. When your boss or client sees this at the end of the month you will most likely lose your credibility and will have to continually prove you know what you’re doing. I’ve been in situations like that before and those are situations you do not want to be a part of.

To conclude, it will take time to recapture the quality score after an account is restructured. It takes roughly 10,000 clicks before an account has regained its quality score. If the restructure is done correctly, the account will be more efficient, easily scalable and more agile allowing for easy modifications to accomplish any goal.