Keyword Themes Or Individual Keyword AdGroups In Google Display — Which Is Better?

Google Display Network Keyword BidsFor the last couple of weeks, I’ve had my AdWords Display Network lab coat on. I needed volume and more conversions for my Google AdWords account, so I decided to set up and run a variety of keyword-driven campaign experiments.

What I learned can save you a lot of time, money and frustration.

What Are Keyword-Driven Campaigns? 

Keywords are the most common method for targeting in the Google Display Network. In a keyword-driven display campaign, the main factor in determining which landing pages appear for your ads is your choice of keywords inside each AdGroup.

Keywords can be combined with managed placements, topic targeting and audience targeting to refine the targeting for those types of campaigns. For my experiments, I focused on AdGroups that only use one or more keywords and no other methods of targeting.

Experiments, Challenges And Results 

Google’s display network has changed a great deal over the years and only continues to change and improve. I started by setting up my keyword (only) driven display network campaigns and AdGroups like I have in the past, using small groups of keywords.

  • Challenge #1: Relevant Traffic. Google was doing a very good job at sending me relevant traffic, so at the beginning, I only had to add a couple of topic exclusions to refine the traffic. It didn’t seem to matter to Google if I used one keyword or multiple keywords in an AdGroup, the traffic was still very relevant.
  •  Challenge #2: Optimizing Bids. Google has only recently allowed advertisers the option for keyword-level bidding in the display network. Since this was a new toy to play with, I started my bid optimizations by using the AdWords User Interface (UI) to do bid changes at the keyword level. *Currently, that is the only way you can see performance at the keyword level for display advertising. If you go to AdWords Editor, your only view for performance in keyword-driven campaigns is at the AdGroup level. Even though you can change bids at the keyword level in AdWords Editor, you just can’t see impressions, clicks, cost or conversion data.
  • Challenge #3: Reporting Delay. Google initially reports some data, but not all data, at the keyword level in your UI. You have to wait about 48 hours before you get the complete picture. I have talked to other advertisers who are also seeing keyword-driven campaigns that have some reporting (impressions, clicks, cost, conversions) that can only be attributed to the AdGroup theme and not to any specific keyword. The reporting delay complicates determining if cost and/or conversions were attributed to a specific keyword or to the AdGroup as a whole.

Keyword Bids May Not Work Like You Think They Do 

As an experiment, I set up new campaigns with AdGroups that only contained one keyword each. My thought was that I could now optimize at the AdGroup bid level. As I was setting up the new campaigns, I made a very big mistake.

I set up the new bids at the keyword level so the old (much higher) bids at the AdGroup level were still set. When I checked in on my new campaigns, I quickly noticed that my cost-per-click was much higher than the keyword level bids that I remembered setting.  

What I learned from my bidding mistake was that in my case, Google defaulted to the higher AdGroup level bid even though there was only one keyword in my AdGroup and that keyword level bid was lower than the AdGroup bid.

  • Challenge #4: Optimizing Conversions. Although it originally appeared as if I could optimize for conversions at the keyword level, the delay in reporting left me with a dilemma. Because of the volume and spend, I wanted to optimize within hours, not days. I knew I could use a combination of data from Google Analytics and the UI to make quick adjustments to my AdGroups, but if I wanted to leave the AdGroups themed using multiple keywords per AdGroup, it would be a minimum of 48 hours before I could make any adjustments.
  •  Challenge #5: Keyword Cannibalization. I inherited a very old display network campaign that performed well in spite of how it was originally set up. I quickly saw the traffic and conversions drop when I created new AdGroups that contained the same keywords used in the original campaign. As soon as I deleted those keywords from my new AdGroups, the traffic volume and conversions went right back up.

Disclaimer: After discovering the cannibalization issue, I knew there were more experiments to run, but I still haven’t had the opportunity to experiment with fresh campaigns that use AdGroup-level bids and keyword themes where keywords overlap across multiple AdGroups.

Themes Or Individual Keyword AdGroups? The Answer

Unfortunately, the answer to the question is not which strategy is best. It seems to be more like: how much time do you have to spend trying to find the right balance between keyword bids and AdGroup bids? It also may depend on how much money you are willing to spend and how much patience you have with the delay in reporting for themed AdGroups.

Because of the competitive nature of my industry and sheer volume of keywords I was working with, for right now, I have chosen to move toward the one keyword AdGroups strategy. My choice was based more on efficiency. I get volume and relevant traffic and I can now focus my optimizations on the AdGroup bid and not worry about themes or keyword-level bids.

Share Your Experience. Please share your own experience with the Google display network’s keyword bidding options, with one keyword AdGroups and with themed AdGroup strategies.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Display Advertising | Display Advertising | Display Advertising Column


About The Author: is the VP of Media at Advice Interactive Group where she develops plans that strive to achieve the most effective spend plans possible to meet client's digital marketing and targeting goals.

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  • ellenfoley

    Dear Elizabeth, I am loving your column. We are a small shop. We just changed our keywords on a PPC campaign for a small college’s online graduate studies program. Our traffic dropped to zero. Is this keyword cannibalization and can you explain more? Do we delete the new keywords and go back to the old system in which we believe misdirected users are clicking on our ads at $20 a pop because the keywords are not quite right? We’d rather use our small buy on people who may really be interested in the online programs rather than the women’s basketball team. Thanks for your great work at sharing this.

  • James Moore

    Another great column Shelley.

  • Shelley Ellis

    The are so many reasons why your traffic could have dropped on the display network. Most of the time, it’s due to over optimization (too many excluded top level domains at the campaign level). When you do keyword targeting, it’s also fairly difficult to find the right mixture of words in your ads to appeal to and convert a fairly broad audience. A mistake I’ve made in the past is to try to match keyword specific ads with the keywords in my display campaigns and while in theory, it sounds like it should work well, in reality, it usually doesn’t due to the nature of ad distribution for keyword targeting. Those are just a couple of reasons. There are many more including landing page choices, settings, quality scores, competition and more. Wishing you the best of luck!

  • ellenfoley

    Thanks so much, Elizabeth. I’ll keep reading. The campaign that fizzled was in the search area. One of my suggestions to the team is to move the money into the display network. we haven’t bombed there yet.

    I do think we did some over optimization in the search keyword plan. Thanks again!

  • Shelley Ellis

    Couple of ideas to improve your search campaign:
    Use a keyword grouper (AdWords Editor has a free one built in) for any AdGroup with more than 5 or 6 keywords and write new ads that fit that group of keywords.
    Use all three match types for your keywords (broad, modified broad, phrase and exact) and keep Google’s new default setting that lets them show your ads for misspellings and close variations even for phrase or exact.
    Don’t use the setting to rotate ads. Use the setting to allow Google to optimize based on clicks.
    Ask Google to do a negative keyword report. Sometimes we over-do our negatives (kind of like overkill on placement exclusions in display) and we don’t even realize we have negatives that are the same as keywords we are trying to run. In the meantime, consider doing a negative keyword audit and separating out your exact keywords into their own AdGroups with NO negatives.


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