PPC Campaign Structure Case Study: English Soccer & The 80-20 Rule


What’s your strategy for setting up your campaign budgets? One of our clients shared a case study with me about how he restructured his campaigns and budgeting strategy by combining the popular 80-20 Rule and the English soccer league system. Using this structure, he was able to improve his metrics across the board.

PPC Campaign Structure

Let’s take a closer look at his account restructuring plan and execution to see what lessons we can learn.

Background Info

80-20 Rule

The 80-20 Rule (more formally named the Pareto principle) states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Our client was seeing a similar ratio of cause to effect with the performance of his account: 20% of keywords and ad groups were bringing in about 80% of impressions, clicks, and conversions.

Soccer League Tiers

Our client also used the soccer league tier system in England as a basis for how the account would be structured. For those of you who aren’t familiar, there are several tiers of leagues for club teams. The top league in England, called the Premier League, houses 20 teams. These teams are the best of the best. Underneath the Premier League is the First Division (it’s actually called The Championship but that makes things more confusing). These teams are a step below the teams in the Premier League.

Also, every year the very best soccer clubs across a variety of European nations and leagues get together to play in a tournament called the Champions League.

The Campaign Organization Plan

Our client used these principles when structuring his campaigns. The account had three types of campaigns:

Premier League Campaign: Primary Campaign

This is a geographically targeted campaign that contains ad groups specifically targeting the 20% of ad groups and keywords that bring in 80% of impressions (and other PPC metrics). This campaign will have the largest budget – at an 80%/20% ratio with the First Division Campaign below it.

First Division Campaign: Secondary Campaign

This is a geographically targeted campaign that contains the rest of the ad groups and keywords outside the top 20%  – this contained ad groups for the locations that did not receive as many clicks or conversions. In the real life soccer leagues, teams can move between the leagues by promotion and relegation. Our client used “promotions” and “relegations” to pause or enable keywords or ad groups between the two campaigns.

Champions League Campaign

As the Champions League in soccer pulls in teams from a wide variety of nations (as opposed to the Premier League and First Division which only draw teams from one nation), the plan for the Champions League campaign was to have a more general campaign that was targeted to potential areas not targeted by the other campaigns within the country. This campaign could pull in other potential queries from other locations not targeted by the other campaigns. However, the ad groups, keywords, and ad text that are part of this campaign will have geographic specific terms to let users know where the physical locations are. This campaign would have the smallest budget.

Execution of the Plan

Our client started implementing the plan he laid out, but learned that there were several factors to consider that changed his original outline:

1.       Using the 80-20 rule, our client focused on setting his Premier League campaign to target the locations that had the best response rate and were generating the most business. The First Division campaign was used to target locations that were not performing as well.

2.       Our client told me that geographic targeting in his country is not quite as effective as it is in the USA. To tackle this issue, he focused less on the geographic targeting options at the campaign level and used more keywords that had geographic terms to refine his ad impressions. If I were running a similar campaign in the USA, I would lean more on geographic campaign targeting than he did.

3.       The Champions League campaign wasn’t quite as successful as originally planned. Realizing that, our client decided to use this campaign for other purposes, such as experimenting with new ideas, or running special offers through the campaign.

Lessons Learned

What are some key takeaways from looking at this account restructuring?

1.       Use a Plan – Our client put significant thought into his campaigns before he even started touching AdWords. By documenting his plan, he was able to maintain solid organization as he was restructuring. Also, through documentation, he could easily bring other people (like the WordStream Customer Success Team) up to speed with his goals. Don’t be afraid to have a bit of fun with your plan! Because our client got creative with his terminology, it made it easier to remember how things were structured and it also helped him explain the concepts to me as well. He also came up with a way to name each of the different groups and campaigns something unique, but stuck to a consistent naming pattern that made it easy to understand. These methods helped him reign in his large account structure.

2.       Experiment – One of the main successes in the case study is how the client used experimentation to implement his plan – and to figure out when to ditch his original plan. In using a portion of his budget to test new ideas, our client was able to incorporate those successful ideas into the main structure of his account. One of the great aspects of AdWords as a marketing tool is the data that it provides. Everyone can use this data on some level – whether it’s A/B testing ads against each other or using a part of the budget to test new marketing concepts.

3.       Know Your Environment – Make sure you understand the environment you’re operating in, in the “real world” and in AdWords. In the case here, our client found out that location targeting options weren’t sufficient for him so he needed to take control into his own hands by adjusting his keywords. Knowing your environment also means understanding features and options within AdWords that you can use to your advantage.

4.       Don’t Marry Yourself To Best Practices Best practices are there as guidelines, and oftentimes they will help you be more successful, but you don’t need to always follow them to a T. Our client could have followed a best practice of splitting his campaigns up by location and using location targeting, but by using data through experimenting, he found that he could target better, and manage his account easier, by using a slightly different structure where location was targeted through keywords on the ad group level.

5.       Sometimes You Need a Big Overhaul – The complete restructure of this client’s campaign took significant effort, but it paid off for him with lower CPAs as he was able to improve and optimize his campaigns.

6.       Use available tools – Here is a direct quote from the client: “The real game changer was Wordstream, without it the fine tuning would have been an enormous task. Indeed I suspect I would have had to produce my own Access/Excel solution to crunch the volumes of data.” If you're not a WordStream customer, take advantage of the tools available to you to make your restructuring easier.

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May 01, 2013

Awesome post Phil, great real-world information here!

David Smith
May 05, 2013

I love the analogy of using the English Football (/Soccer) Leagues as a way of explaining things.I've setup client campaigns in the past in similar ways, but they often do not understand why I would want to do this. They often think I'm confusing things on purpose to ensure I'm the only person who can manage the account...I'm definitely refering them to this article in future, it'll save me a heap of time as it explains the reasoning behind it all and goes to show it has worked well with other business.

Rob Colbourn
May 24, 2013

The other important consideration (when you have a client who had a limited budget anyway) is that although 20% of the keywords may be grabbing the lion's share of clicks, there might be better-converting lower search volume keywords that aren't getting a chance to shine because the 20% are hogging all the budget. I find that splitting out lower volume keywords in to a campaign of their own (let's call this the Football Conference campaign to continue to analogy :) ) allows a certain amount of budget to be ring-fenced for these terms, making sure they get a chance to convert after all.

Marty Foley
May 24, 2013

 I tried this approach before, where I created different campaign "Tiers" based on performance, such as Tier 1, 2, and 3. But over time I found that spreading out the traffic volume over more campaigns  has some disadvantages... * It slows down ad test results. * It takes longer to get enough conversions in a campaign to qualify to turn on Conversion Optimizer (minimum of 15 in last 30 days). * It makes account management more tedious and time consuming. For example, more moving of keywords as their performance varies, more ad groups and campaigns to manage, etc. What's more, segmenting by traffic source (Google search separate from Search partners) further multiplies the number of campaigns and ad groups, and the overall complexity of an account. However, I understand that certain keywords perform better so I apply the 80/20 rule in a different way... By moving better performing keywords to their own separate ad groups when traffic volume and performance merit it (rather than to their own separate campaigns), bidding higher on them and lower on the others, by spending more optimization time on them, etc. Marty Foley ~ Traffic and Conversion Mad Scientist

May 24, 2013

Great point Rob! I'm definitely a fan of splitting up campaigns and making sure that certain terms have "room to breathe" by getting a portion of the daily budget that they might not have gotten if they were in the same campaign/ad groups as some of the higher traffic keywords.

David Rothwell
May 24, 2013

Lead gen account, or e-commerce product sales?Profitable? Hitting CPA targets?Unlimited budgets?Accelerated delivery?Scheduled?

Johan Hedin
May 25, 2013

Great illustration. Lots of money can be wasted if you have not done your targeting correctly. Thats why we always work with the client to understand the audience and the various campaign structure elements that are very important to run a targeted campaign that generates the best results. 

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