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How To Set Up The Best Google Search Ads Campaign Structure

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For a new or intermediate growth marketer, search engine marketing (SEM) can feel quite tricky and technical. It took me a bit of time to find my most profitable paid search campaign build, process, and structure, and it definitely helped that I had a strong SEO background. But now, after many years of proven results, I believe I’ve found an answer to the golden question: “How do you create the best Google Search Ads campaign?”

This is a campaign structure I’ve leveraged time and time again that should work across a myriad of different product or service funnels. 

Although I’ll be detailing a campaign build process from the beginning, sprinkled throughout this article will be some tips and tricks that you can incorporate into your existing Google Search Ad campaigns. 

Without further ado, here’s what I consider to be one of the best Google Search Ads campaign structures–plus, some proven optimizations you can make that’ll allow you to achieve a higher CTR and ROAS on your Google or Bing paid search campaigns.

1. Macro Campaign Categories

When first organizing my search campaigns, I generally like to break them out into branded, non-branded, and conquesting. Branded campaigns bid on your brand terms; this can include: 

  • The name of your company
  • Unique taglines or slogans
  • People at your company
  • Domain names
  • Searches for company-specific attributes like “Company contact” and “Company reviews”

Pro tip: for branded search campaigns, I like doing a Target Impression Share, absolute top of results page bid at 100% share. This ensures that you’ll show at the top and not lose any clicks.

Non-branded search campaigns are the largest category and should include specific keywords related to keyword themes/clusters you’ve identified. These keywords should have good volume and be relevant, matching the intent of the action you want the user to take when they go to your landing page. I’ll go deeper into the research behind these keywords in the following section. Overall, though, I generally keep a campaign to ad group ratio of 1:1. This means that there are usually one, and no more than four, ad groups in a campaign—where each ad group is centered around one keyword theme or cluster. This allows for the most control at the bid, budget, and traffic levels. 

For conquesting campaigns, include keywords of your competitors. Let’s say you’re a DTC mattress company, you may want to build out two conquesting campaigns: one can include keywords like Casper®, Avocado Green Mattress®, Purple Mattress, and Tuft & Needle, and the other, Sealy® and Mattress Firm. Furthermore, the headline copy in each should answer the question: why would a customer want to switch to your brand or product? If you have more competitive pricing, mention that; stronger reviews, say that. 

Lastly, my budget breakdown is typically 15% towards branded, 75% non-branded, and 10% conquesting. These are not meant to be static numbers; they will vary overtime as you optimize the campaigns. 

2. Keyword Research 

This is a big topic that arguably deserves its own article or guide, but I’ll try to distill what I’ve learned. 

Make an outline. I know many people, including myself at times, may skip this step, but if you’re looking to create the best Google Search Ads campaign structure, a rough outline is crucial. I open up a Google Sheet, write out each keyword theme in the first row, build out the keywords in the column below each, and then write the headline and description text below that. This allows me to make sure there aren’t any duplicate keywords and makes it easy to craft ad copy with a high quality score since I can see the associated keywords directly above in the same column. 

Let’s say you’re a financial services company that offers retirement and financial planning services. Your outline may look like the below: 

Keyword Research example

I typically use SEMRush to create my keyword lists and use broad terms as seed keywords. To continue with the financial services company example, I’d first write out the services that are offered at the company (e.g., “retirement planning”) and input that in the keyword idea generator in SEMRush or Google Ads Keyword Planner. I’d then export the idea list to Excel and filter down to relevant keywords that have a volume of over 30 exact searches per month on average; I’m usually pretty open to a range of competition levels. Once I have that list, I’ll look for patterns and build out a list broken out with prefixes and suffixes. 

If we imagine the phrase “best retirement advisor” as a keyword with “best” as a prefix and “advisor” as a suffix, you’ll notice the general strategy below. Each type of service or intent has its own campaign with each ad group leveraging a different prefix or suffix. This enables you as the growth marketer to have control at each level: service type and/or search intent. 

Here’s what it looks like broken out:

Keyword list broken out with prefixes and suffixes

For match types, I almost always start with phrase match and then move to exact match on select search terms that outperform in their respective ad group. Broad match keywords are typically too broad and pull in irrelevant searches. 

Pro tip: as the campaign performs, that keyword suggestion tool in the keyword tab will be your best friend. The suggestion tool is powered at the ad group level and it’s often more powerful than the generic Keyword Planner that Google Ads offers. 

If you’re a company that needs or would like to leverage geo-targeting, this campaign structure allows you to easily duplicate a non-branded campaign, change the targeting, and add the location as an additional suffix (e.g., “best retirement planner in New York City”). 

3. Negative Keyword Starter List

I typically start out my campaigns with a negative keyword master list. This makes it easy to add new negative keywords and apply them to all campaigns. The starter list I employ contains keywords like: “free”, “discount”, “cheap”, and other niche-specific undesirables. 

Growing and maintaining your negative keyword list takes time—this is what will start to truly separate out some of your star keywords from the pack. Continually check the “Search Terms'' tab, every other day or so, to make sure you’re not paying for irrelevant or expensive keywords. 

4. Proven Tactics for Responsive Search Ads

I’m a huge fan of responsive search ads. I typically upload 12-15 headlines and all 4 descriptions. I recommend you do the same. 

As you begin writing your ad copy in your outline, make sure you’re cross-referencing your keyword list. A high quality score is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. Use the guided quality score chart to the right of your ad when inputting your ad copy; it’s a helpful friend. 

Quality score chart

Pro tip: dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) can be used to increase your CTR and quality score. Let’s say you’re writing an ad for your ad group with the keyword theme “retirement advisor”, try this for one of your description variations: 

Looking for a {keyword: retirement advisor}? Get a free, personalized plan in just 30-minutes.

This way, whether your potential customer is searching for “retirement advisor”, “retirement planner”, “retirement professional”, etc., their search will appear in your ad copy making your ad appear more relevant. But if you employ this tactic, make sure you have a fully-vetted keyword list and than all make sense in the dynamic area; this also works far better for exact match keywords.

Google Search Ad ad extensions can be overwhelming if you’re just starting out. There are many options, and some extensions are better suited for ecommerce, some for services. To continue with the retirement planning company, I'd recommend using the following ad extensions: 

  • Images: use small, square images that will stand out in the SERP, not logos. 
  • Calls: I recommend this extension if you have call tracking set up and/or a conversion(s) that’s tied to a phone call in your funnel.  
  • Callout text: this is my favorite extension, as it allows for additional ad copy that can highlight the most important parts of your business. 
  • Sitelinks: somewhat of an unpopular opinion, but I think sitelink extensions are overrated. I tend to use sitelink extensions on branded search, but I’ll usually run an AB test for non-branded campaigns. More often than not, although the CTR may be higher, the conversion rate, and therefore CAC on the net result, tends to be better without them. 

Other ad extensions may be better suited for other campaign types, like Google Shopping Ads or Local Service Ads, but for the purposes of Google Search Ad campaign builds, integrating these extensions are the highest impact + lowest effort options. 

5. The Evolution of Your Bid Strategy 

These are four bid types that I use the most:

  • Target impression share, absolute top of results page at 100% share
  • Maximize clicks 
  • Maximize conversions
  • Maximize conversion value with TROAS 

I’ll go through why and exactly how I use these with my campaign builds. 

For branded search terms, I almost always use the target Impression share, absolute top of results page at 100% share. The logic here is pretty simple: I want my clients to show up at the top of the SERP for their branded terms. I don’t want any competitors to take traffic away from those valuable branded terms. 

The maximize click bid type is one that I usually start with for my non-branded campaigns. Since I don’t use broad match types, opting for phrase or exact match, it’s able to bring in a handful of relevant traffic in an automated fashion. I wouldn’t recommend maximize clicks if you have a more broad keyword list or are using a broad match type. If your campaign has trouble with maximize clicks, you can try manual CPC with Enhanced CPC turned on. 

Once my campaigns are generating about 5-7 conversions per day for about 2-3 weeks with maximize clicks, I’ll switch them over to Maximize Conversions. At this point, my campaigns are typically around 6-8 weeks in, and with ongoing keyword optimizations, I’ve narrowed my keyword list—plus, my responsive ad copy combinations have found their top variations. In other words, switching to maximize conversions when only your top attributes are running will accelerate your conversion volume and likely bring down your CPA by 20%-30%. For most of the flight time of my non-branded campaigns, maximize conversions will be leveraged. 

Pro tip: at this point as well, about 6-8 weeks in, you should have at least five strong keywords that are driving the majority of the conversions. I recommend taking those top 3-7 keywords, putting them in their own campaign with exact match types, and running with maximize conversions. This will allow you to further control your volume since you can adjust the budget on just those top terms. 

Although I tend to use maximize conversions, I wanted to include maximize conversion value since it does work well or even better than maximize conversions in some builds. If you’re running a multi-step sales funnel where you have several conversion steps, each with a different value, I’ve found that maximize conversion value drives better results. 

Additionally, if you’re an aggregation-type ecommerce shop, and therefore have a wide price range, you may benefit from maximize conversion value. Generally, I recommend running a bid-level AB test every 2-3 months to validate that your current bid type is the most optimal. 

6. Integrate Values into Your Conversions If You Can 

If you’re building a direct response campaign, you should be using a conversion-goal campaign build and a conversion-type bid strategy. Additionally, each conversion event along your funnel should have an associated value. For e-commerce, this is relatively straightforward, but for a sales funnel, it’s a bit different. I’ve seen many sales and lead-based funnels not have values on their events, and I can tell you that it’s hurting performance. Here’s what you can do: 

  • Connect with your analyst and determine average values along each step of the funnel: an initial lead form submission, a qualified lead, and a converted lead. 
  • Create events for each of those steps and assign your calculated values.

In sum, make sure you’re prioritizing your pixel and giving it as much accurate and relevant data as you can. 

The Best Google Search Ads Campaign Structure

I know there are a handful of campaign structures that generate results, but in my over 8 years of experience running paid media campaigns, the above has generated the most consistent results at a strong CAC and ROAS. But of course, as a true growth marketer with Growth Collective, I’m always optimizing and coming up with even better strategies, processes, tactics, and structures. 

Jake Madoff
Growth Marketing Expert
Former Company
Current Company
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Jake Madoff
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About Author
Jake is a full-service growth marketing expert, specializing in paid social, paid search, SEO, and CRO. He has led growth at two multi-million dollar startups, founded three startups of his own, and through his 7-year freelance career, has worked with over 50 brands, ranging from small ($5K-$10K monthly spend) to large-sized media budgets ($500K+ monthly spend), helping these brands to optimize and scale their existing paid social media campaigns, evolve their creative strategy, and diversify their paid media marketing mix across different paid social channels.
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