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You’re Doing AdWords Wrong (Here’s How to Make It Right)

Growing up, I wasn’t the type of kid who knew how to fix things. I wasn’t into cars or building tree houses and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why my Discman kept skipping (yes, it was because I was moving). But there was one thing I was amazingly good at: making Nutella sandwiches.

Now that I’m older, I’ve realized that I do my best when I play to my strengths. Google AdWords is fortunately one of them. The other is making the occasional grocery store run in a highly effective manner. Let’s just say I still know how to get the essentials.


And although I know you’re not a beginner when it comes to AdWords, I can’t tell you how many high-budget AdWords accounts I’ve seen ($100k – $500k/month) that are set up in a way that just makes me super sad.

You can optimize your landing page all you want, but if you want to get the highest ROI from your PPC campaigns, you should also be optimizing the setup of your AdWords account.

Not only will the ideas I’m about to share improve your CTRs, Quality Scores, ad positions, impression shares, chances of dating and lower your cost per click, it will also help you improve your conversion rates.

Get ready to have your mind blown.


Here are three AdWords mistakes that are hurting your conversion rates… and how to fix them.

1. You’re not using single keyword ad groups

One major obstruction to AdWords performance is when people decide to bundle 10 – 20 keywords in a single ad group. Many people do this because all those keywords fit a common theme.

Sadly, it’s actually recommended by Google to do it this way within the AdWords dashboard:


What Google fails to mention is that having that many keywords per ad group can make search-to-ad message match hard to achieve.

Message match is when the search term matches with the ad, and it’s ideal because achieving it means that Google bolds your ad copy to stand out. In the split second it takes someone to decide which ad to click, yours becomes instantly more relevant.

But when you have that many keywords per ad group, you can never have a 100% message match between the keyword you’re bidding on and the ad that is being triggered to show.

If you have 10 – 20 keywords per ad group like Google suggests, you’ll end up with a situation like this:

Can’t believe I actually found a Nutella ad.

The keywords that are pointing to this one ad could be:

  • Nutella cookies recipe
  • Nutella recipes
  • Nutella brownies recipe
  • Nutella cake recipe
  • Nutella hot chocolate recipe
  • Nutella frosting recipe
  • Nutella cupcakes recipe
  • Nutella ice cream recipe
  • Nutella crepe recipe
  • Nutella cheesecake recipe
  • Nutella recipe book
  • Nutella recipe book urban outfitters
  • Nutella recipe brownie

As you can quickly see, not all these keywords that you’re bidding on would be relevant to that one ad. In an ideal world, when someone types in “Nutella cookies recipe,” you’d want an ad that has the following headline: “Nutella Cookies Recipe.”

So how do you go about perfecting your message match? The answer is SKAGs.

What are SKAGs?

Single keyword ad groups (aka SKAGs) allow you to control the message match between the keyword and the text ad because only one keyword will trigger that specific ad.

When you only have one keyword per ad group, your best bet will be to make your ad super specific to that keyword. This means that your ad for the keyword “Nutella crepe recipes” could and should look like this:


The reason why this ad is better and more relevant is because you have the keyword you’re bidding on in the ad itself. Perfect message match.

Higher relevancy = higher click-through rate = higher Quality Score = lower cost per click = lower cost per conversion.

I’d recommend having at least two drastically different ads in each ad group that you test against each other that follow the format below:

Headline: Include keyword in headline
Description line 1: Talk about benefits and features.
Description line 2: Talk about benefits. Call to action!
Display URL: YourDomain.com/Keyword

When you create single keyword ad groups, your layout of targeting should start looking like this:


And when it comes to keywords and match types, try setting them up like this in each ad group:

+nutella +cookies +recipe
[nutella cookies recipe]
“nutella cookies recipe”

How SKAGs impact your click-through rates

Here’s an example of what happens to your click-through rates when you continually create single keyword ad groups (screenshot pulled from one of my clients’ accounts):


Your click-through rate slowly starts to grow as your relevancy between keyword and ad increase.

Here’s what happens to your click-through rates when you don’t:


The multiple keywords in your ad group ultimately hurt your performance and relevancy, bringing down your click-through rates and Quality Scores (and adding more just makes it worse).

Here’s another example of a complete single keyword ad group overhaul for the entire account. Notice the spike in click-through rate and the ongoing improvement of it as well.


You may be thinking, “Well crap Johnathan! I have like, a bazillion keywords, and I use dynamic keyword insertion for almost all of my ads! I can’t do this!


And all I’ll say is, “Can you afford not to?”

2. You’re not focusing on ad group level negative keywords

With PPC, there’s nothing worse than not knowing what you don’t know.

Inside your AdWords account, you most likely have short tail and long tail versions of different keywords. What you may not know is that your shorter tail keywords could be stealing away impressions from your longer-more-specific-tail keywords. Usually, this happens because AdWords doesn’t know how to correlate the search term to your long-tail keyword because of the match types you’ve chosen.

This is a problem. You don’t want your newly-created SKAGs to go to waste, right?

To avoid this scenario, we’ll need to take a very close look within your search term reports and make sure that each search term corresponds with the exact same keyword.

Using ad group level negative keywords

One of the things I always strive to do is to get all AdWords accounts to have at least 25 search terms (from highest impressions and down) in a row that are pulling from the exact same keyword. When that happens, your search term report starts looking like this:

Notice how the search terms correspond perfectly with the exact same keywords?

To make this (almost ludicrous) level of granularity happen, you’ll need to start adding ad group level negative keywords (not campaign or account level negative keywords) when there’s a discrepancy between keyword and search term. This will then prevent your short tail keywords stealing away impressions from the longer tail ones.

When you look at your search term report and see search terms that you want to show for but don’t match up exactly with the keyword that you’re bidding on, you’ll want to add that search term as an ad group level negative keyword (from the current ad group) and then create a new ad group for it.

Ensuring the right ads are being triggered to show

To make sure your keywords are triggering the right ads to show, you should frequently perform keyword diagnoses. To do this, you’ll want to be at the keyword level view within your AdWords account and click on the “Details” button and then “Keyword diagnosis.”


Sometimes you’ll find that negative keywords, bids that are too low or internal competition are preventing certain keywords from triggering corresponding ads. No matter the source of the problem, identifying the issue gives you the information you need to optimize your ads and make them hyper-relevant.

As you continue to do this over time, your Quality Scores, click-through rates and average ad positions will start going up because you’re granulating and improving relevancy.

3. You’re not using dynamic keyword insertion

Now that you’ve done your part on the AdWords side, it’s time to start capturing the traffic on your landing pages. Remember the day you created landing pages for every single keyword? No? I sure do.

Well, luckily, you may never have to go through that.

With dynamic keyword insertion, you can essentially take any text on the landing page and change it out with what you specify in the URL parameters. This allows you to create one landing page around a service or product theme and then change the headlines and calls-to-action to fit the keyword that the visitor searched for.

This will also have a positive impact on your landing page Quality Scores as Google sees that your page is very relevant to the keyword you’re bidding on.

With dynamic keyword insertion in place, your PPC funnel could essentially look like this:

By the way, that’s a horrible landing page. No call to action at all. What is that? A parchment?

A PPC funnel structured like this results in ads and landing pages that are extremely relevant to what people are searching for. Here’s that magic equation again:

Higher relevancy leads to more conversions

This trifecta of strategies will make ads more relevant to your leads and will result in increased conversions. It’s a win-win.

SKAGs, ad group level negative keywords and dynamic keyword insertion work together to improve the relevancy of the ads seen by your visitors and give visitors a consistent experience.

Combined, these three steps will make your AdWords campaign optimization efforts more accurate than a Stormtrooper trying to do its own laundry.


So there you have it: a brand new way to structure your AdWords account. I’d love to hear how your initial tests go.

Do you think this will help with your PPC performance? Why or why not? Please comment below!

— Johnathan Dane


About Johnathan Dane
Johnathan Dane is the founder of KlientBoost, a California-based PPC agency that's on a mission to grow companies. He's been interviewed by Google and has a German Shorthaired Pointer named Tanner. Connect with him on Twitter.
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  1. Qaz

    Great overview John, sometimes people over complicate Adwords but from an account strategy point of view it really is “as simple as that”

    However, it looks like Google might be directly targeting this with the recent exact match not being exact match changes!

    I do have one big issue with this strategy, I often end up with lots of low volume keywords, which can often not be healthy for your account/overall QS – how do you get around this potential issue?


    • Pierre-André DEWITTE

      As far as I know, low volume keywords have no negative effect until they have a good QS (cross-checked information from official Adwords forums, blogs, etc.).
      Personnally, I encounter sometimes low volume keywords with a QS of 8 or even 10.
      If these keywords don’t make your average QS down, I would keep them active.
      To make sure these keywords triggers an ad impression as soon as the search volume rises, you can put them in a specific adgroup with higher auction. Even if the auction is higher that your average desired auction, as the volume is very low, it won’t cost a fortune :-)

    • Johnathan Dane

      Hey Qaz :)

      I wouldn’t recommend doing this for ALL your keywords (to begin with at least). Even with the campaign default setting of allowing the variants and close matches to come through, you still have just as much control as before. In fact, many of our accounts and clients are purposefully set to allow those variants.

      Even if you have low volume keywords, you’ll still see a jump in QS. I would recommend starting first with your top 5-10 volume keywords and see the results. Then you can just pour a cup of your favorite drink, turn on your tunes, and go down the list :)

  2. Upenyu

    Is it true that Google is abandoning axact keyword match and will feature ads according to relevancy, mispelled words etc?

    • Pierre-André DEWITTE

      Yes Upenyu, but when we look more closely, keyword exact match is already opt-out by default since 2012. Since 2012, when you create a new campaign, by default, you target misspelling copies, plurals, and “very similar searches”. But for now (end of september, more exactly), you won’t be able to choose.
      IMHO, it’s a good thing to automatically target misspellings and plurals (we save time), I don’t know many advertisers who really want to target specifically singular rather than plural (or vice versa).
      The only case that make me say that this change is a bad thing is the change about the delibarately vague term “other close variant” !! What is a “close variant” ?! We’ll have to be very carefully after this Adwords update, and check search termes of each our exact keyword to make sure Adwords doesn’t include some aberrant keywords in its “close variant” logic.

  3. Ravindra Reddy Chitla

    Hi Johnathan,

    It’s timely article. I have been working on search impression share and CTR’s this week.

    I got a problem, which was not even solved by google’s team. The problem is that around 50% of our keywords are conflicting with other keywords in the same or other campaigns (all the keywords that I have taken were unique). The error message is something like “this keyword is triggering ads with other keyword in xxcampaign–>xxadgroup”

    Google’s suggestion is just pause all the conflicting keywords..do you agree with that? or you got any fix?


    • Johnathan Dane

      That makes no sense for Google to recommend that!

      You’ll want to start using ad group level negative keywords to reduce the internal competition. But be careful. Once you add one negative keyword, you might find you’ll have to add multiple more simply because your short tail keyword ad groups are the ones stealing those impressions.

  4. Matt Rouse

    We have been testing a very similar strategy lately and it is working, nice to have someone confirm that we were already heading the right direction! One other big jump we noticed in CTR was adding spanish to our languages, even with only english ads for areas with a large hispanic population.

    • Johnathan Dane

      That’s awesome Matt!
      Try allowing all languages now :) You still have the filter of the language of your keywords, but you will prevent your ads from showing if the default language setting or Google domain (google.de for example) is set to something else.

  5. Matt @Leansafes

    I’ve been wasting a ton of money on Adwords without seeing much return. So thanks for this tutorial Johnathan :)

  6. Simon

    Great post – your idea to create negative kw lists at the regarding ad group level from results on the SERP is spot on. Great post overall.

  7. Manuel Cobos

    Great Post, thanks Johnathan

  8. Lidia

    Hi Johnathan!
    I have so many products, countries, campaings and KW that SKAGs are way beyond impossible for me. I’ve chosen to segment my KW in groups of the same KW including variants of the same KW, grouping them by KW not by theme.
    I use DKI on the titles and URLs to get relevance. Of course, the KWs on an Ad Group are negative in all the other groups.

    What do you think about it? Is there any better way to manage my KWs?

    • Johnathan Dane

      Hey Lidia :)

      Yea, we’ve run into that problem ourselves as well many times. I feel your pain!

      Here’s the only thing I recommend you do: Take your top 5-10 search terms (from your search term report) and create new ad groups for them with no DKI in the ads.

      Then compare everything as before. Your DKI could already be doing just great for you, but you may be losing out on click share due to short tail search terms that result in short tail/boring ad headlines.

      If you find that this does produce better results, then you have all the proof you need to start your long journey to transform your entire account :)

    • Iain Dooley

      The good news is that actually doing the work is very easy and hence very easily outsourced.

      Organising your campaigns like this is so valuable it’s worth paying someone to do it for you.

  9. PK Bibi

    Well Jonathan, this was all good while it lasted.
    To spice things up, Google are throwing another spanner in the works in few weeks’ time when they make “Search Network with Display Select (SNDS)” mandatory.
    Ad groups with single phrases don’t generally tend to work well on the Google Display Network (GDN).
    What would your thoughts be on using SKAGs when this happens?

    • Johnathan Dane

      It’s all about control.

      By not doing SKAGs (even for display), you’re giving up control by having multiple keyword triggers with the same ads. It can definitely work, just like not using SKAGs can work, just not the best way of improving performance.

  10. panthomas

    Nice writing, good stuff! Thanx!
    I am wondering why do you set 3 different match types for each keyword. Does it help anything or is it just for testing purposes and you eventually leave just one after while?

    • Johnathan Dane

      Thanks man :)

      Eventually you will start refining all ad groups and extracting search terms to create new ad groups and then adding ad group level negative keywords.

      If you start with single keywords with just one match type, then you’re limiting yourself with less impressions to begin with. Over time, the 3 keyword match types will basically become more and more exact match search terms.


  11. Adam Lundquist

    Hi Johnathan,
    This is a great article:-) First off, that headline grabbed me, second off I love Nutella, thirdly I am a big fan of SKAGS. They can be a pain to setup, but they are worth it in the long run. In my view you are getting paid to do the work (if you do this for a living) so you may as well do it to the best of your ability no matter how big a PITA it is. My questions to you is – why are you including phrase match? Doesn’t BMM basically give you everything that you need with that?
    Again great article for my Friday:-)
    – Adam

    • Johnathan Dane

      Haha thanks Adam! :)

      You’re absolutely right about the phrase match, and many times, you’ll find that the phrase match keyword is what gets the lowest amount of impressions between the 3 match types.

      I personally like to include it because I’ve seen many times that the phrase match keyword just has a way better conversion rate than the broad match modifier (BMM). Obviously the BMM has phrase match and other broad match modified search terms, so the results are all jumbled and isn’t crystal clear.

  12. Peter

    Great post John.

    I’m wondering, if the idea of this way of setting up the AdWords account is to ensure that the search term is matched with the right ad, why include any other keyword match type than exact in the ad group? Won’t using modified broad match mean that you could end up with a search term triggering an ad which doesn’t have the keyword within the copy?

    Also, within this sort of granular account set up, what would your approach be with the use of broad match keywords for looking for new opportunities?

    I work with an account with a narrow enough focus that I could manage using SKAGs across the account.


    • Johnathan Dane

      Hey Peter!

      You’re right on point. The reason for why you would want to use broad match modifier and phrase match keywords is because it would take you 328 times longer to figure out all the exact match variants you want to bid on.

      BMM and phrase match allow to act as keyword mining tools to further create new ad groups for once you look at the search term report. That’s when you start seeing up upward sloping trend in your CTR for example.

      It’s a great idea to use regular broad match keywords once you’ve hit an impression and click ceiling with the 3 match type setup. I treat broad match keywords as pure keyword mining tools, and then extract what they might generate in the search term report.

      Keep a close eye on them though ;)

  13. Rob

    Great post Jonathan. Luckily the accounts I manage are small enough to be able to use SKAGs. And manage the landing pages. Otherwise the Unbounce product with DKI on the landing pages is invaluable.

  14. Marian

    Great tip indeed, well detailed, very helpful and easy to understand. Worth sharing to others. thanks…

  15. Jon

    So….you’re one of those types with 500 AdGroups per campaign. Gross….

    • Nick

      haha… Just 500 Adgroups?! I have created spreadsheets with over 100k Adgroups and had to split campaigns due to the Adgroup number limitations.

  16. Mark

    Hi Jonathan,

    Do you think Unbounce’s DTR feature helps the “Landing page relevance” factor of QS?

    I’m trying to figure that out.

    • Johnathan Dane

      Hey Mark,

      Are you talking about the dynamic text insertion feature? If so, yes, we’ve seen that work for improvement in QS.

      However, sometimes it doesn’t change the Landing page relevance portion, just because that measure is not entirely accurate. And not to mention, are very scary metric to be focused on :)

  17. Timur

    Great article Jonathan! Thanks a lot!

    Could you please clarify for me for negative keywords.
    I have two ad groups:
    [real estate in montreux]
    “real estate in montreux”

    Second ad group:
    [real estate in montreux switzerland]
    “real estate in montreux switzerland”

    How should I add neg. keyword in ad group?
    for the first group: switzerland or real estate in montreux switzerland?

    Thanks for your answer!

  18. Johnathan Dane

    To make it easy, you should just add the negative keyword ‘switzerland’ in the first ad group.

    Hope that helps :)

  19. Ian

    Really sound and informative article.

    I can only really back this up.

    Since making the move to much smaller, focused and keyword targeted adgroups, conversions (and click throughs) have seen a decent level of improvement.

    Yes, it of course takes more time, but it is the results that matter, and I think it gives you more control in the long run anyway.

    Again, fantastic article.

  20. Oksana

    I found the way to automate Google AdWords when it is really hard to create, edit, start and pause them manually. See examples here http://blog.adpwr.com/google-adwords-automation-examples-that-you-can-do-too/?utm_source=unb&utm_medium=article&utm_campaign=adwords

  21. Bahador

    Great post and I’m already seeing the boost in QS since last week! Two questions:

    So your recommended order for match types is Broad, Modified Broad, Phrase & Exact Match? Don’t you think it would be better to use the broad match in a separate campaign for keyword research?

  22. Metis

    thank you very much. it is very helpful.

  23. Mandeep Hooda

    Great post Johnathan Dane, relevancy and different ads testing give you a analysis on your Adwords account. Yes, you are true 2-3 ads should be live for 10-20 keywords for best search query matching.

  24. Popüler filmler

    thank you very much. Very nice article

  25. Nick

    Hi Jonathan, So I’m now creating SKAGs. My question is that for my exact match ads should I use KeyWord insertion for the title or set the exact match as the Title? Will either method alter the QS?



    • Johnathan Dane

      Hey there Nick!

      You’ll want to have your keywords in the SKAG be exact match, phrase match, and modified broad match for the same keyword.

      Don’t use DKI for the ad headline just yet. Depending on the length of your keyword, you can add supporting words around it, in the headline.

      Let’s say you’re selling yo-yos and your keyword is ‘buy yo-yo’ – your headline could be:

      Buy Yo-Yos Right Here – as an example.

      Hope that helps!

      • Nick

        Hi Jonathan

        Thanks for your reply. My IT people set up an access database that creates all the different variations of SKAG AdGroups and spits out a CSV so I can upload them. Currently it uses DKI for the headline with the same fallback text is the keyword is too long.

        If it’s better to match the keyword up to the headline then I can have it so the database works out if the character length of the keyword and if it’s more than 25 to use DKI and if not to only use the keyword.

        Hope that makes sense. :-)

  26. Razvan

    Hello Johnathan,

    Thank you very much for the tip, I believe it is very helpful. Just have 1 question.

    What if you have SKAG – nutella cookies recipe -, but you have in another ad group (lets call it ad group no.2) the keyword “nutella cookies recipe for children”. Would you recommend to move the keyword “nutella cookies recipe for children” to the SKAG mentioned before?

    I am facing this current situation and I don’t know if I should add nutella cookies recipe as a negative keyword to my ad group no.2. I could only ad exact match negative keyword so I wouldn’t affect my other keywords.

    1. Add “nutella cookies recipe for children” to SKAG?
    2.Add only exact match negative keyword to ad group no.2

    Thank you.

  27. Johnathan Dane

    Yes to both :)

    But only if you’re getting enough impressions on that new “for children” keyword.
    If the search volume is low, then there’s no point going through the motions of adding it.