3 Reasons to Ditch Your Messy AdWords Account and Start Over


One of the biggest obstacles I face with clients is taking control of a messy and hard to manage account. Often times AdWords accounts change hands over time, have an “old school” strategy for setup, or just have too many cooks in the kitchen for a lack of better terminology. This often leads to an account with more campaigns, ad groups, and keywords than you know what to do with.

I speak with many clients who feel like they are drowning in their accounts and don’t even know where to begin. Upon analyzing these accounts, I often have the same sentiments; it can feel impossible to know what the best first step is because there are so many things that can and need to be fixed.

adwords account help

The obvious question is then, “Do we try to fix what currently exists or would it be better to start over?” Either option can feel rather daunting, but in my experience, I’ve had more success and fewer headaches when we have scrapped the mess and started over with a neatly organized AdWords account structure and a lot more simplicity.  

Here are 3 reasons why you should consider building out a new AdWords account from scratch and walking away from the current mess of a situation that you are trying to navigate.

#1: It’ll be easier to manage

Just think about it. If you have 10 campaigns, 100 ad groups, and hundreds of thousands of keywords (this might be a bit dramatic for some, but it’ll get the point across), that means you have to look at each of these elements to decide what optimization steps to take in your account. Daily tactics include questioning which of the hundreds of thousands keyword bids should be changed, which match types are working well, which ads should be optimized, and overall just where to even begin.

With an abundance of campaigns and ad groups, there is often overlap in the account, keywords competing against each other, and a whole lot of keywords that aren’t even seeing any performance and yet are taking up space and cluttering the account.

I often see misspellings, different match types, and even just the plural version of a keyword located in different ad groups. It feels confusing to even try to explain this, so imagine trying to manage an account with a structure that doesn’t allow you to easily locate specific items. Having too much clutter makes it too hard to take action, especially if you have not been deeply involved in the setup and continued growth of the account.

Starting over will most likely allow you to cut down on the number of keywords, ad groups, and campaigns necessary to advertise your specific product or service offering. Often a product/service can be communicated in only a handful of semantically related keywords rather than hundreds of overlapping keywords. If you start from a fresh slate, this will allow you to not only acquire a sense of organization, but you will be able to easily locate keywords and themes within the account, make changes to a smaller number of keywords during a normal workflow for optimization, and gain control in targeting and communicating to your potential searchers.

#2: You can track your performance more efficiently

Along with being able to manage individual aspects of your AdWords account within sifting through a bunch of waste, starting over with a neatly organized account will allow you to track performance much more effectively. Rather than having to look through every nook and cranny of your old messy account in an attempt to see which of the pieces is performing well, you will have fewer places to look and a better understanding of what is working well and what needs improvement. Looking at the performance of 100 or so keywords is certainly a lot more manageable than looking through the performance (or lack thereof) of 100,000+ keywords.

Similarly, when there are too many moving pieces in an account, especially with broad keywords and just general overlap, it can be difficult to truly pinpoint what is working well – there could be 5 or more keywords all competing for the same search queries, and that means having to look at the performance of all 5 of those keywords just to identify if there is success or failure. By cutting down the number of keywords, you can look at just one instance of a keyword and much more quickly identify positive or negative performance.

#3: There won’t be as many surprises

You might be tempted to take the road of fixing your account rather than starting over because you have the common feeling that you do have some good data, that you can benefit from historical performance, and that a lot of work has gone into the account in the past so it doesn’t make sense to just walk away from it. I get that, I really do, but I can predict that you will run into more obstacles and surprises than you realize when trying to “fix” what’s wrong in your account now.

adwords account

With every pause of a keyword and with every change, you have to worry about the hundreds or thousands of other keywords that weren’t seeing performance previously but could easily be activated as soon as you make a change. In my experience, pausing one keyword meant seeing a performance spike in an unwanted area; keywords that we didn’t even realize were in the account would all of a sudden start seeing performance after even the smallest change. Especially with large, unorganized accounts, there can be numerous unknowns, which can make it very difficult to predict the outcome of a change to the account.

Starting over will allow you to avoid the scenario of being in a sinking ship where plugging one hole just causes a more forceful flow of water through another hole. If you start from scratch you’re building up successfully rather than trying to jump in five different directions just to salvage something that has been doomed from the beginning. You maintain control over what you are putting into your account and can drive forward movement rather than having to simply react to whatever goes wrong next.

Case Study: Why I Deleted My Client’s AdWords Account

When one of my clients joined WordStream, he was new to his company’s AdWords account and yet was tasked with the duty to help them at least break even in paid search. My first look at the account made me realize we had a lot of work ahead of us, as there were close to 50 active campaigns, even more ad groups, and literally hundreds of thousands of keywords. There were so many components to analyze and so many moving pieces that it was quite difficult to determine the best first steps.

For a while we tried to salvage what we had, so we started pausing some obvious keywords that weren’t contributing to the account, started working on some of the keywords that were clearly wasting money, and focused on some of the high CPA areas. Initially, we paused 100,000+ keywords and saw just about zero change in performance; this just goes to show how much junk was sitting in the account making it even more frustrating to manage, but really contributing nothing at all. From here we started making changes to keywords and run into more and more unexpected changes in performance due to keywords in the account that we didn’t even realize existed.

Ultimately the pace of small changes wasn’t helping, and we were still just seeing performance metrics that weren’t in line with goals. Not only that, but the account wasn’t feeling any more manageable. We finally decided to simply ditch everything and completely start over so that we could have full control over every keyword, every bid, every match type, and so on.

We started over in early to mid-May, so it has been about one and a half to two months since we revamped the account. So far performance has been great. We have seen:

  • 149% increase in CTR
  • 27% decrease in CPA
  • Roughly a 40% decrease in overall cost

Not bad, right?

delete adwords account

Other metrics such as impression share have certainly improved as well:

adwords account data

And seeing a graph where CTR is going up month over month and CPA going down is always a good feeling:

delete my adwords account

The Biggest Takeaway

As if an improvement in performance isn’t a good enough motivator, I think that the biggest incentive for me in telling clients to consider starting over is that it will make account management that much easier. If your job is to manage even just one AdWords account, you should want it to be as easily executable as possible. It’s not worth it to make your PPC experience miserable just because you’re afraid that starting over could lead to negative results or you don’t want to give up on an account that has existed for quite some time. An easy to navigate account is going to cut down on time spent working in the account and will make overall optimization much more convenient.

I’m also not saying that starting over is for everyone; some accounts certainly just need a bit of a tune-up, but I certainly wouldn’t rule out the option of creating something new for your own sanity as well as overall performance.

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Eric Marshall
Jul 03, 2014

Thanks for writing this Katie. I have a question though; how exacatly do you 'start over'? Do you delete everything in the account and create everything from scratch in that account? Or, shut that account down and create a completely new account? I was under the impression that the latter is a violoation of AdWords' terms and conditions, but I may be wrong on that.

Katie Lyons
Jul 03, 2014

Hi Eric, thanks for the question!  There definitely isn't just one "right" way to start over in your account, it really depends on goals, current performance, and expected performance.  The "safer" route would be to start running some new campaigns in your current account, but bid higher on these new campaigns in comparison to the old ones.  Essentially with this strategy you are working to slowly phase out the old structure by controlling traffic based on bids.  If you bid lower on the old stuff and higher on the new, you will start driving traffic to your new setup, which will allow you to ease into the new structure rather than shocking your account.  That being said, with the client in my example we took the less safe route by creating new campaigns and turning off the old ones.  The old structure was really just not utilizing spend well and wasn't worthwhile to keep running it.  I'm happy to say that there wasn't a negative shock in simply switching over, but that won't always be that case.  You certainly need to consider the size of your account, the current account performance, and if you think it would be better to ease into new structure or simply ditch what isn't working.   

Emergency Pizza Party
Jul 03, 2014

The account's AdWords history used to be considered a QS factor. Is that different now?

Katie Lyons
Jul 03, 2014

Google really puts more weight on what is currently running in your account.  New keywords' quality scores are impacted by existing quality scores, so it's important to look at the landscape of your current keywords especially when adding something new.  Often when I see a messy account I see quality scores that are mediocre, so that definitely goes along with the idea that starting over can work to your advantage because as soon as you pause some of those keywords with low quality scores, you might be able to achieve better performance on the new pieces of your account without worry about being weighed down by poor performers.  Looking at my example, we saw a 3.04% increase in QS from April to May and then a 6.83% increase from May to June.  Granted this isn't 100% attributed to starting over, but it certainly helped that we got rid of a lot of keywords with quality scores that were negatively influencing that of other keywords.  It made it a lot easier to introduce new pieces to the account and develop quality score rather than trying to fix something that was broken and knowing that there were so many other quality scores that could be affecting results.    

Sofia Rhodes
Jul 04, 2014

I searched many websites, posts to search the information which I got in your post. Katie, You can't imagine how relaxed I am feeling after reading your post. Finally, I got a new way to track my performance and I can even prepare reports of my client's as well. Fantastic...!!!

Barry A
Jul 04, 2014

Well written and thought provoking article. Not something I would have considered before reading. Thanks.

Jul 04, 2014

Thank you for this great post. it is thoroughly documented and backed-up by relevant data. Sometimes you just need to have courage and give up something you have worked on. There is a time when you need to say "stop" and start from scratch. I was wondering though what would be the disadvanatges of deleting you AdWords account. How do you know when an account needs just some "tuning'?

Katie Lyons
Jul 14, 2014

Hi Frank, that's a great question concerning disadvantages of deleting an account versus just working on some tuning.  In most cases you will probably want to keep working in the same original AdWords account because for one it is easier to maintain the same account which is already tied to specific login credentials and two because I believe there is usually some nugget of gold that can be captured from an existing account.  That nugget of gold could be in the form of positive historical performance data that in one way or another could contribute to overall account performance, including newly added items.  Or the gold could simply be in learning from what went wrong; if you are working in the same account you can utilize the data and easily access it within the same account to determine what did not work, what users were searching for, and now how can you build off of that information to craft a structure that performs well. Overall you just need to trust your own judgment and decide whether or not you think there are any salvageable pieces in the existing account.  Sometimes it’s best to take a few steps to see if your efforts can fix things, and then from there determine whether or not it would be easier to start over or continue to fine tune and optimize.  You can always work in pieces too – maybe one campaign is too far gone but another just needs some attention in order to better performance.  

Jul 04, 2014

I think point 2 about tracking your perfomance more effeciently hits the nail on the head of this argument. Why would you want to give yourself so much extra work. Keep it simple and you will actually have time to analyse what is working for you, rather than spending time and money trying to organise and analyse a strategy that could potentially take over much of your day!

Darrell Mott
Jul 10, 2014

Thanks for this post Katie.I'm not entirely sure I understand when you say start a new campaign and bid higher on the same keywords as in the other campaign..I'm not sure why you wouldn't just delete the whole campaign and start with the new one.. doesn't doing it the other way make it even more messy?Also I wonder, if you take over for a new client and run the campaign from your own account, is that not allowed, by Google?Thanks!Darrell   

Katie Lyons
Jul 14, 2014

Hi Darrell.  Your thoughts are definitely quite common as it can be tricky to determine the best method for introducing new pieces to an account.  When I talk about starting a new campaign and bidding higher on the same keywords, this is a method to make the transition a bit more smooth.  If you create something new and bid higher on those new keywords you should be able to take control of where your traffic is being directed to.  This way you start driving more traffic to the new campaign while phasing out the old one; this allows for a transition period rather than simply shutting off an old campaign and then waiting for the new one to catch up.  If you simply start a new campaign and shut off the old one you have to account for the fact that Google has to go through the approval process for your whole campaign, get to know the performance of these new pieces, and then wait for you to start accruing data in order to allow you to be as competitive as some of your previously existing keywords and ads may have been.  It might take a bit more monitoring and strategy to take this approach rather than just deleting and starting over, but it is also more of a safety net to ensure you don't see a large drop off in performance as you wait for the new campaign to sort itself out.As far as taking over for a new client, if you can I would suggest gaining access to their current account and moving forward with managing.  This will allow you to build on existing performance and utilize any positive data that exists in the account.  Adding their account to your MCC or having them provide you access to manage the account is the best scenario.  If this is not an option, just make sure you're not advertising the same thing from two different accounts, as that would violate Google's "double serving" policy.    

Kurt Henninger
Jul 14, 2014

Great info here and thanks for posting about the case study here. Question for you.  While I did notice you talked about decreased cost overall, I noticed that total conversions went down from March (933) to June (747).  I'm assuming that the client was good with that?  I've dealt with clients who were indeed "skittish" about an almost 20% drop in conversions, even if the CPA went down as well.How did you deal with that part of the conversation?

Katie Lyons
Jul 14, 2014

Hi Kurt, I'm glad you pointed out the drop in conversions!  One big thing with determining goals in AdWords is that you really need to decide which goals and metrics are most important to your business because it's likely that you won't be able to achieve the very highest success in all areas.  If you want to maintain a target CPA, sometimes number of conversions does need to be sacrificed.  It certainly is a tough conversation because no one wants to see a drop in conversions, but the reality is that this client was essentially paying his customers to have the product, which doesn't make sense from any business standpoint.  We had conversations around this topic numerous times and ultimately it came down to the fact that fewer conversions meant a lower CPA, which meant getting closer to breaking even.  From a business standpoint it made more sense to work towards actually seeing a return on products being purchased rather than continuing to pay an excess amount in order to see a sale.  It's really all about identifying what the most important goal is and realizing that compromises sometimes need to be made in order to achieve goals.  Everyone wants high conversion numbers with a low CPA, but you need to recognize what is realistic to achieve based on the industry, competition, and bandwidth of the business.  

Jul 24, 2014

Great article on a very common problem.  I too, am like the client you've illustrated in this case study.  The difference for us is a drop in conversions would be disastrous.What advice would you give me to mitigate my exposure to such a drop?

Alok Bharti
Jul 27, 2014

Hi Johnny,I am AdWords certified and work as an account manager with a leading PPC agency in London.One way to mitigate your risks could be to transition your move. If you'r moving to a new account, you might want to move just a couple of campaigns while pausing the old ones from the old campaign. Notice how long it takes for the history to build up and you can then start moving the rest of the campaigns.Another thing is that when your start off a new campaign, raise your bids in the inidital days to gain a higher ad positioning. This increases your CTR which in turn raises your quality score and decreases your CPC. Let it run for a coupla of days before slowing the bids down or taking appropriate action.If you are creating new campaigns within the same account then you can create a new campaign and pause the corresponding old one. Transition the move across days or weeks depending on the size of your account and the way new campaigns perform.Should you have any qyestions drop me an email at alok@digitalacadamy.in Hope this helps. Alok

Oct 04, 2014

Our company has recently hired an adwords management company to work on our ad campaigns. The company is a google partner, so that was something that appealed to us, plus they have a lot of customers. Pretty large firm. They insisted on creating a new account right from the start and had us turn all campaigns off on the existing account. Is this typical practice? Our numbers are terrible right now, with CPA at around $200, and average CPC at $3. How long can we expect to wait before we see improvement? It has almost been three weeks since the new campaign started running. Thank you!

Ryan @WebEminence
Oct 06, 2015

I've run into this a few times? Why not just pause/remove the old campaigns and create new ones within the same account? I've done that multiple times rather than creating new accounts. It's faster, and then I can reference old data. It can get messy at times since Adwords really never deletes anything for good that I can see.

I wonder about 2 things already mentioned:

1. Account history built up over time.
2. Adwords policy on multiple accounts with same domain. Not sure what it is and if you could just cancel old account.

May 20, 2016

Just ran across this... it would be great if the writer or another expert would reply Ryan's comments above.

He suggested pausing/removing old campaigns and creating new ones within the same account. Or does poor account history hurt new campaigns even if they have good quality scores?

My account launched in 2005. It did well for our small company until April 2012. At that time I had a representative from Trada (now defunct) convince me to pause all my campaigns and let them try. They were terrible and 3 months later I turned my campaigns back on. However, my old campaigns never performed as well as they did before the pause. I'm wondering if I should create a new account with the data I have or create new campaigns within the same account.

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