PPC campaign structures: why more segmentation isn’t always better

Posted by Shane Barker on 19 Jun, 2017
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If you're a seasoned PPC advertiser, you'll no doubt know the importance of segmentation. But did you know that too much segmentation can be a bad thing? We examine how segmentation can be taken too far.

PPC campaign segmentation

Segments allow advertisers to focus their messages on specific audiences and collect targeted metrics. If you’ve been using Google AdWords for a while, you were probably taught that segmenting your audience is crucial (which is true), and the more segments you can identify, the better (which is not necessarily true).

To put this into context, many advertisers create separate segments to target different keyword variations, devices, times, locations and budgets. For years, advertisers have adopted this as a best practice (which, once again, it is). But many have taken their execution of this beyond what is reasonably practical, and it has led to problems within their PPC campaigns.

Segmenting in PPC should be done with a great deal of thought and only after the necessary data to warrant it has been compiled. Segmenting campaigns and ad groups, “just because,” will likely lead to more complication when managing your account. Knowing when and how to segment your PPC campaigns and keywords will save you time and make it much easier to manage.

Below is a list of things to think about before you begin breaking out too many campaigns and ad groups.

When you SHOULD segment

Segmentation can still be extremely effective, but only in certain circumstances. If you wanted to isolate a budget (not a bid) around a single campaign (after keyword volume and performance has been observed for the keywords in that campaign), then segmentation could be effective.

Another circumstance where it makes sense to segment your campaigns is if you sell different variations of products to different locations. An example if this would be if you have a company that offers mugs with city names on them.

city mugs

Source: https://www.zazzle.co.uk

Sometimes categories will vary by location. For example, if you sell hats, people in warmer climates may be searching for hats to make a fashion statement whereas individuals in colder states are looking for hats to keep warm. The search terms would vary, as well as the product category.

Why over segmenting campaigns doesn’t make sense

Enhanced campaigns

Up until 2013, if you wanted to control how much you spent on serving your ad to mobile devices, you had to create separate campaigns. Then Google launched Enhanced Campaigns, giving advertisers the ability to adjust their bids based on different devices, geography or time of day from within the same campaign. This allows you to get your ads in front of the right audience without tweaking multiple campaigns.

Keep in mind: Adjusting your bid will ultimately affect your entire ad spend and traffic. Also, combining campaigns and using the bid adjustments function will not give you as much control from a budget perspective. When you reduce your bid for a specific device, it could reduce your budget for that particular device as well as your traffic.

Modified broad match keywords

Modified broad match keywords are more targeted than broad match but less restrictive than exact match. They’re identified by adding a + in front of a broad match keyword. The keywords that appear after the + must be included in the user’s search in order to trigger your ad.

For example, let’s say you sell dog treats and your broad match keyword is “dog treats”. This search could serve ads for, “dog biscuits”, or, “puppy treats”. But if your broad match keyword was “+dog treats,” only ads containing the word, “dog” would be served.

Applying this to your AdWords campaign structure, take the example of an advertiser who creates 10 separate ad campaigns for the different cities and zip codes in which they offer dog treats.

Sound familiar? This not only reduces your traffic volume for each campaign, it’s also inefficient. Even though almost all the searches will have local intent, less than 15% of them will include a city name in their search and less than 2% will specify a zip code.

What to do instead: Capture all the data by using modified broad match keywords. Be sure to do keyword research first to get an idea of volume, then create city/region specific keywords and ad groups based on where you see large search volumes.

Risks of over-segmenting

If you’re still not convinced that there’s a better way to structure your ad campaigns, consider these details.

If you don’t have enough search volume because your campaigns are focused too narrowly, you don’t have enough data to make actionable decisions. If you only have 50 clicks on a particular keyword within three months, it’s hard to make a judgment call on whether or not to continue pursuing that keyword.

You’re either forced to wait until you have enough data or make a decision without enough information. This problem trickles down and affects all your segmented campaigns as you’re adding more keywords which will accrue even less data.

The real risk is that a part of your budget is going towards keywords that you can’t accurately analyze within a reasonable time period.

Fewer Searches = lower Quality Score = higher CPC

When you segment your campaigns too narrowly, you’ll see fewer searches for your keywords. Google will recognize this and assume your keywords aren’t relevant and likely give you a poor Quality Score.

Your Quality Score is a measure dictated by Google that determines how relevant your ads are to search queries. The higher your Quality Score, the greater the chances of your ad being served and of being served at a lower cost-per-click. So with a low Quality Score due to low search volume, you can expect to see higher costs-per-click.

Quality Score

Source: https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/6167118

Geo-Segmentation creates gaps

If you’re choosing specific cities or regions in your geo-targeting campaign settings, you could be missing a big chunk of local searches. Even if you expand your radius and overlap your campaigns, there are dark spots which don’t get accounted for. This happens often because of your ISP location (where Google thinks your internet service provider is) can be incorrect.

So let’s say Google thinks your location is 25 miles from where it actually is. This means searchers triggering your keywords that actually are in your specified city, let’s say Los Angeles, won’t see your ad because their ISP thinks they’re in Palm Desert, California, which is outside your geo-targeting radius.

How to solve the problem: If you choose to keep your campaigns segmented by city or region, expand your radius way beyond what you were originally targeting. This approach is less efficient but will maximize your revenue.

geotargeting

Source: https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/1722043?hl=en-GB

Double bidding

Double bidding or cross bidding often occurs when you use phrase and broad match keywords in your campaigns, causing the same queries to trigger more than one keyword. Often one of the other keywords is not in the correct ad group or campaign, and therefore doesn’t serve the correct ad or landing page. Furthermore, Google will likely show the ad triggered by a keyword with a higher CPC, despite its ad group. Double bidding is extremely common unless you’re only using exact match keywords, however it probably only affects about 10-20% of your keywords.

How to avoid it: Unfortunately, it’s not easy. You’ll need to export your campaigns into spreadsheets to identify instances of double bidding. Then, add those keywords as negative keywords at the ad group level in order to force the query to trigger the right ad.

Difficult to identify winners in split testing

When your campaigns are over-segmented and you’re working with several different ad groups, you’ll have less keyword volume and therefore less data. When running split tests (which you should be!), it will take much longer to identify which one is underperforming and remove it. This means underperforming ads continue to be served and ultimately waste money.

It’s a hassle

If these reasons still don’t have you convinced, consider the additional time you need to invest into your ads. The more ad groups you have, the more ad groups you have to monitor, manage, and optimize.

Is less segmentation right for you?

Like the title states, more segmentation isn’t always better, but there are some exceptions. To determine whether or not your business should do a campaign and segment overhaul, research your best keywords to see if there are variances in device, location, and time of day.

Most of the time, the difference in performance can be leveraged with bid adjustments across fewer campaigns. If there are drastic variances that warrant changes beyond bid adjustments, you might be better off with separate campaigns.

Check with a PPC data analyst to audit your current AdWords structure to determine the right setup for your business.

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