Cody Stevens

by Cody Stevens |

Whether you signed up for the first time or just inherited a new account, deciding where to begin work on an AdWords account can be daunting.  With so many strategic options and available features, taking the first step is not as simple as one would hope.  You want to move fast, but not too fast.  You want to be cost-sensitive, but don’t want to deter growth.  You want to experiment and test, but need to drive positive results.  So…where do you start?

Fortunately, there is one strategic principle that can always guide optimization: Relevance. It applies regardless of the goals of the account, the function of the account, and the type of business the account supports.

Google has a quantifiable metric that allows you to determine how relevant you are: Quality Score.  Unfortunately, all the factors contributing to this score are not publicly available; however, it is commonly accepted that Quality Score is a measure of the overall user experience in the form of relevance.  Relevance is a measure of the synergies between a keyword, the ad it triggers, and the landing page that ad links to.  In other words, if your keyword, ad, and landing page tell the same story and speak to the same audience, the better off you are.

Search engines compete on their ability to offer the best user experience possible.  In the search industry, offering a stellar user experience translates into offering the most relevant content.  This includes both paid and unpaid content.  In order to be successful, you must follow this principle and make a concerted effort to offer extremely relevant content.  Doing so gives advertisers a competitive edge in two ways:

  1. 1. If you play by the rules, you are rewarded with cheaper CPCs by the search engines’ advertising algorithms.
  2. 2. The more effective you are at appealing to an individual, the more likely an individual will click on your ad. Search engines prefer advertisers with higher CTRs.

We now have a core principle to follow, but how do you employ it?

To put more context around this principle, I will highlight three best-practices any account should use.  If you are reading this and having an “oh no moment” due to the current state of your account, don’t fret.  The beauty of SEM is the ability to enact immediate change.  However, take caution: sound optimization is a process of steady progress.  If you move too fast and overhaul an account overnight, you run the risk of “shocking the system.”  Instead, be patient; measure twice and cut once.  On to the best-practices:

Match Types

Exact match gives you the most control over which search terms trigger an ad.  Phrase match offers slightly less control, while broad match hands control over to the search engine algorithms.  In order to ensure relevance, a large amount of spend should be allocated towards exact match.  Doing so gives an account manager optimal control over the type and quality of traffic that accrues spend.

To illustrate this point, here is an example from a large B2B advertiser in the virtualization industry.  When I first took on the account, the largest spend keyword was virtual desktop in broad match.  The ad associated with this keyword mentioned virtual desktops as well as the unique features and benefits of the product.  Unfortunately, the highest traffic search term matched by Google to this broad match keyword was “virtual stripper.”  Beyond calling into question the search habits of quite a few people, this result was not desirable for the advertiser.  With the overuse of broad match, the majority of the budget in this account was being spent on the wrong audience.  Also, by showing untargeted ads to the wrong audience, the account was hurting its overall relevance.

Refined Ad Group Structure

Ads are created at the Ad Group level, but keywords are what actually trigger the ads.  In order to ensure the most qualified/relevant ad is displayed, the keywords in an Ad Group must relate to that ad.  The more granular and specific an Ad Group structure you have, the better.  If you have a number of different keywords in one ad group, you should break those out into their own respective ad groups with ad copy that is appropriate.

Ad Copy

In addition to an ad being relevant to the keywords in your ad group, you should also consider what type of traffic is driven by those search terms.  If an Ad Group consists of general keywords, then it would be appropriate to employ general language.  However, if an Ad Group consists of long-tail, focused keywords, then an ad should contain more targeted messaging.  For example, advertiser X is a reseller of shoes.  If an individual searches “walking shoes,” they have expressed a very general interest and should therefore be served an ad that offers a more general scope:

Walking Shoes | 10% Off
Huge Selection of Walking Shoes.
Fast & Free Shipping. Buy Today!

Conversely, if a consumer demonstrates a greater level of interest through a more qualified search query, i.e. including a specific brand that advertiser X carries such as “Nike walking shoes,” you will want to appeal to that:

Nike Walking Shoes
Nike Walking Shoes From $49.00.
Fast & Free Shipping. Buy Today!


Relevance should be the cornerstone of any AdWords account.  If you leverage Google’s targeted and specific match types, organize your keywords in granular ad groups, and write ad copy that relates directly to what your consumers are searching for, you will put your account in a position for success.