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Is it the end of PPC accounts as we know them?

How to best structure a PPC account is a topic frequently discussed within the world of paid media. The nuances of relevancy, match types, bespoke messaging are all factors hotly debated as to their importance and their impact on the best way to build your account.

Here’s a potentially contentious question for you. Why do we bother?

Bold, I know. But what if it’s only a matter of time before structure becomes irrelevant?

So why, right now do we care about account structure?

  • Easier to manage
  • Easier to optimise
  • Quality score

There are undoubtedly other reasons but those three are for me, probably the main motivators for making an effort with account structure. Let’s talk a little bit about now and then come on to why I think we could be heading for change.

Reversing a trend

Google released a white paper last year called “Settling the Quality Score” – aimed at dispelling the misconceptions they feel are held by a lot of people in regards to Quality Score – outlining both how to optimise it and clarifying the things that do and do not matter. They were at pains to stress that the focus should be on doing what’s best for users and customers, rather than trying to chase a Quality Score number. We should “Be relevant, be compelling and drive traffic to landing pages that deliver on what you promise in your ad, and you can feel confident your score should reflect that quality”.

dos and donts

One of the key findings was Google stating very clearly, “How You Structure Your Account: Doesn’t Matter”. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a part to play. Google did appear to contradict themselves in the document when they then stated that the keyword/ad relevancy combo was important. Reading a bit further though, it all becomes clear:

If it doesn’t affect user experience, it shouldn’t affect quality or Quality Score. Set up your account in whatever way lets you manage it best, and feel free to restructure things like campaign names or the number of ad groups as needed. There is no such thing as ad group-level, campaign-level or account-level Quality Score.
Note also that breaking keywords into new ad groups or campaigns (without changing the ad text or destination URL) has no effect on their Quality Score. But moving a keyword to a new ad group that has new ad text could change your Quality Score, because that can affect user experience.

Needless to say this caused a bit of uproar in the PPC community where in some ways the focus till recently has been on more complexity. Google has increased the limits for Adwords accounts several times over the last few years to the level where you can now have a maximum of 10,000 individual campaigns and 5 million keywords. Until the arrival of Enhanced Campaigns in 2013, it was common to have every campaign in triplicate – one for desktops, one for tablets and a third for mobiles. If we wanted to customise bids by location, or run different messaging in the evenings compared to during the day that was another set of campaigns yet again.

enhanced campaigns

Further Simplification

Enhanced Campaigns isn’t the only change that Google has introduced in the last few years with the aim of either simplifying accounts or their management.

Dynamic Search Ads launched a while back – these do away with the need to even have keywords in your account and work by allowing Google to crawl your site (in the same manner as SEO) and fill in the gaps in your keyword coverage.

They made it even simpler to get ads up and running. While I don’t think they should be relied on and should act more as a tool to help you find incremental opportunities, it gives an insight into what Google is trying to do.

Further simplification can be found in your account’s campaign settings. Google have a “Standard” option, next to “All Features”. Standard only includes basic targeting options for locations, bids, budgets and language. You’re also limited in your choice of sitelinks. You can’t ad schedule, change your delivery options, utilise advanced keyword matching or exclude IPs – all things that help you be ultra targeted and incidentally, control cost.

They also introduced “Search with Display Select” last year – the option that sits at the top of the new campaign creation button. This chooses placements for your ads on the GDN and and sets bids for them automatically – once again, less control.

The missing piece

One of the key reasons we still have to structure accounts in the way we do is to increase the relevancy between keywords and ads – something that Google has stated is still important to Quality Score. Given that the only way to ensure keywords and ads are highly relevant to each other is to have lots of granular, tightly themed ad groups there doesn’t seem like much we can do to decrease complexity here.

Or is there?

Enter Ad Customizers, a relatively recent release by Google that allows you to drop custom parameters into ad copy. I wrote about them last year in a bit more detail and you can use them to drop any of the following (and more) into an ad:

  • Product Name
  • Brand
  • Price
  • Discounts
  • Stock Levels
  • Countdowns

You can apply these parameters at a keyword level, so there, straight away is the solution for ultra-relevancy. Using Ad Customizers, it would be possible to have dozens of keywords that all needed bespoke ads within a single ad group – rather than separating them out as we do at present.

The Future

We’ve already seen Google eliminate the need for keywords, make it possible to consolidate 200 campaigns into one and make it possible to create highly customised ads. Along the way we’ve lost some flexibility and control. While it seems inconceivable that things might change further, I imagine we all thought that before the arrival of Enhanced Campaigns, or keyword [not provided]. Never mind the furore of competitor brand bidding or how the industry was shaken up when Google abolished agency best practice funding. Yet each time we’ve adapted and moved on.

While some of the changes Google’s made have been beneficial, in the main I don’t think that less control and complexity is a good thing. I understand Google wanting to make Adwords more accessible to new users or those who aren’t using agencies, but it had felt in recent years that they’re trying to marginalise the role and expertise of agencies and the tech companies who work alongside them. You could argue that less complexity and control helps Google make more money, but that’s probably just me being cynical 🙂

I believe we’re going to see a lot more simplification over the coming years – dressed up as being improvements or somehow beneficial to the average PPC manager when the reality is it’s likely to be anything but. I don’t expect Google to suddenly do away with campaigns and ad groups overnight, but I do think it’s just the beginning of a long journey towards less control.

What are your thoughts on where things are headed after all of the change we’ve seen in the last few years?



Arianne Donoghue is a Digital Marketing Manager at Icelolly.com. Having started off her digital career client side in 2006, she's worked for both agencies and brands in-house, specialising in search. She is now back client side delivering paid media digital strategy for leading holiday comparison site Icelolly.com.
  • Susanne Wulf

    Arianne Donoghuedona a very good job. I learn some new techniques about PPC accounts & marketing. Thanks, for sharing & best of luck for future.