Online Marketing Blog

Take The Guesswork Out Of PPC Campaign Setup

As we grow and take on more and more clients as well as consult with smaller clients, there has been one very alarming trend that we have noticed. The majority of business owners coming to us asking us to “fix” or “improve” their PPC campaigns all arrive with their accounts in the same state. Poorly set up and poorly performing. This is a little mind boggling as all PPC networks give explicit instructions on how an account or campaign should be set up. I will now go through step by step how we set up our campaigns and our campaigns for clients. This is quite a long article, so don’t say you have not been warned.

Before we start, here are three tips to save you time and get you the most out of your PPC campaign using this guide:

  1. Download the free AdWords Editor tool from Google.
  2. If possible, create a new account for your content network campaigns.
  3. Download the free KeyWordPad tool from GoodKeywords.

We will first start off creating our campaigns in AdWords because the tools available make for easy creation here first and AdWords makes it even easier to export your completed campaign for use on other PPC networks. I would strongly advise against using AdWords starter edition if you can help it as it encourages “lazy” and hence poor performing account structure.

Step 1) – Account Structure Determination

ppc campaign structureThe first step is to understand how your account will be structured. It is usually best to consider the product or service that you are offering at it’s most granular level and create your account like a tree. So if you have a site selling a software product or products, you should create a new campaign for each feature. For example, if you are selling some sort of image editing software, you should have a different campaign for “image editing” and a different campaign for “photo editing” and so and so forth. Inside each of your campaigns you should have generic ad groups (like a “cheap image editing software” group and a “buy image editing software” group) as well as an ad group for all the features relating to the root keyword (image editing). This may seem blindingly obvious but you’d be surprised how many advertisers just lump everything into a “software” adgroup with the default “campaign #1″ name. The tree should branch out immediately, more like a bush. So keeping image editing as an example, a single campaign will look like the attached image. Note, there are actually a few in this example.

Caveat. Each account is different. Splitting your account up into as many campaigns and as possible will give greater visibility but less general manageability. Find the right balance for you.

Step 2) – Keyword Research

Keyword SelectionThe second step is keyword research. There have been a million posts on a million blogs about this topic, so I won’t go into it. Let’s just assume that you have generated a nice keyword list for each of your ad groups using your favourite keyword research tool. Wordtracker, SEO book’s KW tool, Keyword Discovery and HitWise are all great tools. Each has individual pros and cons but for now, compile your list an move on. We will expand on this later on in the campaign setup but for now, we should have as big a keyword list as possible with all the keywords and phrases not related to your business taken out and put in a separate “negative” list/file. We will also use this at a later stage in the setup.

Tip. There are literally hundreds of different ways to go about getting your first keyword list. Lisa Barone has a great article on KW research here. If you are new to PPC advertising, I suggest you read that before continuing.

Step 3) – Set Up Campaign

New AdWords CampaignThe third step in setting up your PPC account is creating a new search network only campaign. I wont go through the steps to create a new keyword targeted campaign but please look out for the options that are not set by default. The first setting you need to change is the network settings by removing the check from the “Content Network” checkbox. The content network can be very valuable so I do not recommend ignoring the content network completely. We will set up a new content network only campaign later or in another account. You also need to make sure that your ad serving option is set to “rotate” so you can split test your ads and your delivery method is set to “accelerated”. The last option may not apply to you if you are working with a very small budget, but in general, you want to max out your budget initially if you can afford it to get some numbers to work with.

Caveat. The search network is the only network we will be working with in this post. The content network is very valuable and should not be ignored but it should be treated separately. For now, we want to focus on the search network.

Step 4) – Build A Negative Keyword List

Keyword NegativesThe fourth step is creating a new keyword list. A list of terms you do not want your ads triggered for. Google has recently removed/hidden it’s negative keyword builder so have a read of our negative keyword tips. You should have at least a few terms already from building your keyword list in step 2. You also know your business so sit down with your colleagues for 5 minutes and brainstorm some negative words too. Another tip is to run a search query report in AdWords if you are already running a PPC campaign and mine the negatives out of that. You can also go into your analytics package and look at what keywords people are finding your site for and take negatives out of that. For those queries in the search query report that Google does not want you to see, have a read of apollo SEM’s guide to extract all the data. Once you think you have all the negative keywords you can think of, add them to your campaign immediately. In my opinion no campaign should ever start without negative keywords.

Tip: Do a search for your main keywords on Google. Look at the first 50 results and try to identify possible negative keywords from the sites that are listed that are not related to your business.

Step 5) – Create Your Root AdGroup & Ads.

What we need to do now is create a default, generic adgroup and ad. The ad should be action oriented and describe your product. Create your ad with strong words and use our guide to link them words with a strong call to action. This ad is only going to be our default ad for setup. We will not be using this ad in production. It should accurately reflect your product or service so you do not start off with a poor quality score. So assuming we are setting up the “Image Resize Software” campaign, we create an ad with “Image Resize Software” in the title and at least once in the ad copy. No need to tweak just yet, this is only for setup. We like to call this initial adgroup “Campaign Name Root”. What we need to do now is dump all the keywords from our keyword list into this adgroup. There could be thousands, that does not matter. We will separate them all further on. The important thing is to setup this root campaign and have all the keywords possible thrown in. Once setup is complete, confirm all your actions and your campaign will go live. Pause this campaign immediately. We will be doing a lot more work on the campaign so we do not want it live.

Caveat: You may notice that a lot of your keywords have a poor quality score in this situation. This is normal. While you may not see this if your account has a lot of history, if your account is new or previously performing badly, this is common. We will fix this at a later stage.

Step 6) – Download Your New Campaign & Split It Up

Now we really get to have some fun. If you have not done so already, download AdWords Editor and download your account containing your new campaign with the root adgroup. What we need to do now is use the “keyword grouper” tool within AdWords editor to group our keywords by theme (Check the screenshot to see how to access this tool). When given the option to “copy text ads from a template” select yes as we will use our default root text ad for now. Finish the process and you will have lots of ad groups divided into common “themes”. Upload the new campaign with the newly separated adgroups to Google and log out of AdWords editor for now.

Caveat: When using the keyword grouper too make sure that you do not exlude “stop” words, especially the word “in” as this will prevent AdWords Editor from creating the “in” adgroup which usually refers to local searches. Local or location specific searches can be some of the most valuable.

Step 7) – Manually Create New Ads For Each AdGroup

The next step we need to take is to go back into AdWords and create new and custom ads for each adgroup. If you are stuck for time, create a minimum of two ads per group. If you want to start off strong, create at least four ads for testing. It is absolutely essential that we use the “theme” keyword in in our ads titles. AdWords editor makes this easy by naming the adgroup the same name as the “theme” word. The “theme” word should also be used in the ad copy if possible and absolutely in the display URL as either a “fake” sub directory or a “fake” subdomain. The reason for this is so that AdWords will assign a decent initial quality score to your keywords and so that anyone searching for your keyword will see the exact keywords they searched for bolded in your ad. You should set the destination URL to either the category/product page or if you have the time, an individual landing page for that product and keyword combined. Make sure that your ads are compelling, are grammatically correct and have a clear call to action. You may also want to take this opportunity to create some Dymanic Keyword Insertion powered ads.

Tip: If you do not want to or do not have the time to create an individual landing page for each keyword, use PHP (or any other server side scripting language) to dynamically insert the keyword into the general landing page for this adgroup.

Step 8) – Expand Your Keywords

At this point we like to go into each adgroup and use the AdWords keyword too to expand our keyword list. Copy all the keywords from your adgroup and paste them into the keyword tool making sure the “use synonyms” box is checked. The AdWords keyword tool will give you a list of possible other terms you might want to add to the adgroup that you may not have thought about (as well as give some additional keywords for your negative list). In some cases, you may also want to use the in built keyword pad tool to duplicate all your keywords using different match types. A lot of times different match types cost different prices and convert differently. Once you have a packed up your adgroups with relevant keywords, you are almost good to go.

Caveat: It’s always wise to build one campaign at a time and build your keywords and adgroups slowly. If there is a problem or a problem setting you will not have to spend hours manually going through all your hard worked on campaigns fixing a problem you could have found early on with patience.

Step 9) – Duplicate,Track, Monitor, Succeed.

Once you have all your search campaigns ready to go, your final step is to make sure that your analytics package is installed correctly and that your ads are showing up in the countries you are targeting. Insure that your conversion tracking is working correctly and place a test order if necessary. Once you are sure you are setup correctly, you can now duplicate your campaigns for content network use (Simply copy and paste in AdWords Editor) and for use on other PPC networks. Please note that your campaigns will almost always perform differently on the content network and on your other PPC accounts. You should modify your bids and check your status on these accounts individually.


That’s pretty much the typical setup for each of our campaigns. This may seem incredibly basic to some of our readers but time and time again we come across accounts that are so badly put together that it shocks us the owner continues to use it in the hope that their results will change.

People continuously ask, “Does Adwords/PPC Really Work?” and the answer is an overwhelming yes! As long as you are doing it right! Do you have any PPC setup tips that have helped you get the most from your PPC campaign?


  1. avatar
    Janine Says:
    April 27th, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Welcome back – no posts for a while but well worth the wait :) I know that there is a lifetime’s worth of reading in AdWords help and tons of articles online, but practical, step by step, detailed guides like this are quite rare. Thanks for taking the time to write it up and share this info to help others learn the basics. One of these days I’ll find time to get into AdWords at last and guides like this will really help me get going the right way when I do, and it’s great to have an overview of the right approach to take in the meantime…

    Reply

  2. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    April 27th, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Thanks for stopping by Janine! I have been a little ill recently, hence the low posting frequency. Normal weekly posting should resume shortly.

    No problem on the guide, it’s really just a how to that we can point new users to in future. Glad you found it useful. :)

    Feel free to give me a shout if you need a hand with anything. I’m sure we’ll meet up at some stage this year at a barcamp or Dublin conference/meetup.

    Reply

  3. avatar
    Keith Says:
    April 27th, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Nice One Dave, Some great gems in there!

    Reply

  4. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    April 27th, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Thanks Keith! Glad you found it useful too.

    Reply

  5. avatar
    Shycon Design Says:
    April 28th, 2008 at 2:13 am

    Brilliant article. Your strategy in the first few steps is going to save me an incredible amount of time.

    Reply

  6. avatar
    Mario Says:
    April 28th, 2008 at 7:56 am

    Great article Dave, you really made a process look easy ;)

    Anyway, I would just add something about content network…

    IMHO, I don’t think that copy&paste technique is the best solution for content network. Especially if we have really big adgroups…it would be nice to break content ad groups into smaller ones.

    And using dynamic keyword insertion in it can be like a sword with two blades.

    My two cents ;)

    Reply

  7. avatar
    Ryan Blakemore Says:
    April 28th, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Great stuff there. I use wordze for keyword research, but I suppose the best strategy for that is to combine multiple sources.

    Reply

  8. avatar
    Dave Says:
    April 28th, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    Dave – This is an excellent article…thanks so much for taking the time to put it together!

    You know I was going to ask you a follow-up question here, but I just re-read the post and I think I’ve got it! ;)

    Cheers,

    - Dave

    Reply

  9. avatar
    Baz Says:
    April 29th, 2008 at 8:41 am

    excellent, as always!

    Reply

  10. avatar
    Max Pool Says:
    April 30th, 2008 at 1:33 am

    As always – great post!

    Just for clarity, in step 7 when you talk about the display URL or “fake” URL besure that the display URL actually resolves or 301s on the same domain for extra QS love.

    Throwing a 404 or 301 to a different domain leads to low QS or worse getting slapped…

    Reply

  11. avatar
    Browsers Says:
    May 2nd, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Great article but why do you use ajax pictures loading? It’s so annoying.

    Reply

  12. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    May 4th, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Thanks Max. Actually, pointing or redirecting to another domain is not longer something you can get away with. Not even if you ask your reps nicely. However, there are a lot of cases where this is STILL not being enforced.

    Reply

  13. avatar
    Organic SEO Consultant Says:
    May 6th, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    This is a phenomenal post, I love your blog Dave! Yeah, most of the time people just have their campaigns setup the wrong way. More often than not it is just easier to setup an entirely new campaign from scratch. Some of the time that is all that is needed in order to make significant improvements to the client’s bottom line. Then we always look like rock stars, which we all are of course. Seriously though, the visuals really added a ton of usefulness here as the subject can get confusing.

    Another tip to improve paid search landing pages is SEO them! Of course the organic SEO consultant is going to say this, but its true. You will get a better QS if the landing page is made more relevant to the keyword through optimization.

    Reply

  14. avatar
    Internet Marketing Coach Says:
    May 10th, 2008 at 7:33 am

    Simple step by step and if you have this in a video format, it will be even more awesome!

    Rgds
    Fione Tan

    Reply

  15. avatar
    Mr SEO Says:
    May 14th, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    Great post, thank you.

    Dave, is there software other then Adwords Editor that allows us to maintain multiple different campaigns and that print decent reports.

    Reply

  16. avatar
    VeraBradley Says:
    May 16th, 2008 at 4:30 am

    Fantastic guide! I’ve actually tried setting up a campaign before but i kinda gave up halfway because it was too complicated. That time, there wasn’t any compherensive guide for me to refer on. I’ll try setting it up again with the help of your guide, and hopefully I’ll be successful in doing so.

    Reply

  17. avatar
    zohai Says:
    May 16th, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Very nice post there.

    Definately one of the main concern other than having the correct content to attract clients is haveing the right keywords as well so that a more relevant audience could be projected to.

    Reply

  18. avatar
    Gafas de Sol Says:
    May 21st, 2008 at 10:34 am

    you have klaid down a real roadmap to come-up with effective and result oriented PPC camapign. Short, focused and very relevant article from the pen of expert, i believe.

    Reply

  19. avatar
    Lawn Care Boise Says:
    May 23rd, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Step 1. Account Structure Determination: For some odd reason, I’ve drawn this out for way too long. After reading this post, I decided to tackle it straight on and within 2 hours knocked it out. It is extremely important and my campaigns will be better of because of it. I guess, we were just lazy.

    Reply

  20. avatar
    Paul Says:
    May 27th, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    Great post, just flew by via the IWF link.

    What can I say, some of the things I knew already, and now I know a lot more ! Thanks dave for taking the time to share.

    Now to use my new skills !
    paul

    Reply

  21. avatar
    Gavin Doolan Says:
    May 28th, 2008 at 9:00 am

    Hey Dave,
    With relation to the keyword tool KeyWord Pad. I noticed it allows for many combinations of mispelt words and other cool tricks. However I am under the impression that certain keywords in an account will not be triggered or disabled by Google if there is a very low or no search volume. Do you know if this is true? If it is true it seems like it not worth the additional effort of digging or growing your keyword list.

    I am wondering why you also suggest creating another account specifically for the content network? Is this for reporting? Is it for QS reasons?

    I always disable the CN for new campaigns and if I am going to run them as you say create a new campaign.

    I’ve been meaning to write a post like this one myself, just haven’t found the time. Thanks for the clear and concise article.

    Cheers,
    Gavin.

    Reply

  22. avatar
    Travis Liu Says:
    June 4th, 2008 at 2:45 am

    Even though you research your keyword but sometime you could be paying more for your ad to display on “Search” network, if thats the case you could choose your ad to display on “Content” network and paying less for the same keyword. The traffic coming from “content” network will not be so targeted but your ad get more exposure.

    Reply

  23. avatar
    Shana Says:
    June 11th, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    this is a very helpful article thank you Im starting out on ppc

    Reply

  24. avatar
    massivemutant.com Says:
    June 27th, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Helpful article

    Reply

  25. avatar
    Seo NZ Says:
    August 4th, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    Really appreciate the time you took to put this together – saved me a massive headache. What I would like to ask is can you please recommend a book on Adwords? This is definitely a area I need to improve on and would appreciate your expert guidance.

    Reply

  26. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    August 4th, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    @SEO NZ, thanks for stopping by. I noticed you’re looking for info on setting up a large PPC campaign.

    To be honest, there are not many books out there that cover large scale campaigns. Your best bet is to set up the campaign in as granular a way as possible and tweak as you go on according to your campaign goals. (ROAS, Volume etc.)

    Reply

  27. avatar
    Hi Dave Says:
    August 6th, 2008 at 7:36 am

    Thanks for your reply.

    That is unfortunate that there aren’t many books for managing large PPC campaigns. I do try a break down campaigns as much as possible, but find this adds to the problem as you are having to micro manage so much data.

    Do you recommend any other resources to further develop PPC skills?

    I’m a long time subscriber and always look forward to new posts from you and your team.

    Cheers

    Reply

  28. avatar
    chetan Says:
    August 6th, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Very nice article. Will surely work on my future campaigns.

    Reply

  29. avatar
    paul Says:
    August 16th, 2008 at 6:42 am

    This is a great blog with some really handy information.I have been testing some banner targeting on the Google content network, does anyone have much experience with this.

    Reply

  30. avatar
    Edwin Says:
    October 13th, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Hi Dave… thanks for sharing knowledge about how to setup PPC campaign. This is very helpful and straight forward. Now its time to practice…

    Reply

  31. avatar
    Reshma Nayak Says:
    November 1st, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    Hi dave, great post. I’m right now in the process of the ‘perfect’ campaign structure & this sure helps. I, however, still want to know (a)if you have all match types in the same adgp(b) How long do you wait before you optimize ads, kws? (c)What rationale do you use to split the account at campaign level?

    Reply

  32. avatar
    weeksgo Says:
    November 15th, 2008 at 6:31 am

    Wow. This post is excellent! The steps are very clear. Very easy to follow. Excellent post!

    Reply

  33. avatar
    Glenna Garcia Says:
    December 10th, 2008 at 6:35 am

    As a “newbie” – I wanted to say that this site is really great as far as instructions and helpful info. Getting all of it into 9 steps is incredible.
    It’s not very sexy, though, is it? Not that I’m complaining – I’ll take my learning where I can get it! Thanks again!

    Reply

  34. avatar
    Marc Says:
    December 27th, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Outstanding detailed tutorial on Google PPC campaigns … wish I had stumbled across you a long time ago. I can see why your clients would benefit from your services. However, it looks complicated … makes you wonder if there isn’t an easier way to generate valid PPC campaigns.

    Reply

  35. avatar
    Selvam Says:
    January 8th, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Dave,

    Its really useful for adwords begineers..Here i noticed, none of sites which offers about useful Google adwords Professional Exam Tips..Why don’t you offer that?

    Hope it will added here soon..

    Reply

  36. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    January 8th, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Selvam, that’s a great idea however the exam is actually pretty simple and the best way to pass it is to go through the AdWords learning center and complete all the quizzes.

    Reply

  37. avatar
    Webmaster Geek Says:
    January 16th, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Great post. This is where I discovered Keyword Pad, simple tool without which I cannot imagine to work now. Now I’m planning to install Linux on my computer and wondering if there is Linux alternative for Keyword Pad. It is a really handy tool, a “must” for longer lists.

    Reply

  38. avatar
    SEO India Says:
    March 17th, 2009 at 5:18 am

    This is a great article that is concise and informative. I would like to see a comparative analysis between three major ad networks for the same campaign. ( google, yahoo, MSN ). Does the above strategy work well with the other two?

    Reply

  39. avatar
    Pallavi Joshi Says:
    April 1st, 2009 at 10:41 am

    This post is excellent! The steps are very clear. these are the basics which we actually miss!! i need more information on reporting part, stats, calculation etc. Excellent post!

    Reply

  40. avatar
    Bathroom Glasgow Says:
    January 16th, 2010 at 1:17 am

    Hi dave, great post. I’m right now in the process of the ‘perfect’ campaign structure & this sure helps. I, however, still want to know (a)if you have all match types in the same adgp(b) How long do you wait before you optimize ads, kws? (c)What rationale do you use to split the account at campaign level?

    Reply