6 Steps to Building a Brilliant Paid Search Account Structure


So your boss assigns you the task of building out your company’s AdWords account. Your heart sinks to the bottom of your chest, as flashbacks from high school of sitting in math class attempting to solve problems that appear unsolvable (because you failed to study) re-surface from the back of your mind.

wordstream account structure picture of a math test saying I don't know how to do this 

Hey! Chill out! Building out an account is not as intimidating as it may appear. Yes, the AdWords interface can be a bit tricky to navigate at times, but this step-by-step guide will walk you through everything you need to do to create a well-structured account. Also, remember the structure of your account is not permanent, and will likely continue to change and evolve over time.

Wondering how your account measures up? Find out for free with our AdWords Performance Grader!


Why Is AdWords Account Structure So Important?

Let’s take a step back – what is even meant by account structure and why is it so important?

I’m glad you asked. Put simply, the way you structure your AdWords account allows you to control how you want your ads to be triggered and when and where you want them to appear. Not having a well-structured account is like attempting to drive a car that’s not properly built – accidents are bound to happen. Keep in mind that having a well-structured account will:

  • Ensure that the searches triggering your ads are relevant for your audience.
  • Result in better quality scores, which in turn results in better results and lower prices. Quality score is essentially the scale of how much Google likes you (and trust me, you want Google to love you!).
  • Keep you organized and able to optimize. If your account is a mess, then you’re likely to get lost in the mess, your results will plummet (or never arrive) and optimizing to get better results will be out of the question. So keep in mind organization (and your own sanity) when structuring your account.

adwords account structure cartoon saying "shut up google and take my money" 

The 6 Critical Components of AdWords Account Structure

It’s important to have a full understanding of each component of account structure before even dreaming of getting started, so let’s quickly review the basics

  1. Campaigns: Unless your account is very large, you’ll typically only have a few campaigns that surround broader themes. Each campaign will contain ad groups, which contain keywords that tie to your text ads and direct to your landing page. Typically I recommend deciding on campaign topics based on how you want to divvy up your marketing budget since you set up your budget at the campaign level.
  2. Ad Groups: Under each campaign, you will create relevant ad groups, which will be much more specific. There’s no recommended number of ad groups to have under a campaign, but typically it’s more manageable to not go overboard since this will stretch your campaign budget across so many ad groups, keywords, ads, and landing pages, that results could suffer. Ad groups contain keywords (no more then 10-20 is recommended), these keywords will trigger your text ads (2-3 per ad group), and then direct to a relevant landing page.
  3. Keywords: Keywords will fall under each ad group, and are very important to controlling the way your ad is triggered. When someone types in the search box in Google, that search is called a “search query,” which is then matched with a keyword, which then triggers an ad. Each keyword will have a Max CPC, match type, and quality score tied to it. It’s critical to conduct thorough keyword research, gain a concrete understanding of match types, and spend time refining and optimizing your keyword strategy over time.     adwords account structure diagram showing how a search term matches with a keywords
  4. Negative Keywords: These are vastly overlooked by advertisers, but they’re critical to set up and build upon to avoid spending money on irrelevant searches. Especially if you’re using more broad match and/or modified broad match keywords, you’re highly likely to pull in some completely irrelevant search queries that match with your keywords and ads. Keep building your negative keywords list and checking out your search query report (or QueryStream for WordStream users) to identify new negatives.
  5. Ad Text: This is the actual text that will appear when your ad is triggered. Each ad group should have 2-3 ads per ads per group directing to the same landing page. It’s important to follow AdWords guidelines in order to get your ads approved, A/B test your ads over time, and really highlight the benefits of your offering to one-up your competition in the search results.
  6. Landing Pages: Last, but not least, we have landing pages. The destination where each ad will direct the searcher to (likely a page on your site with an offering or call-to-action). I recommend being very strategic with your landing pages, making sure that each ad directs to an extremely relevant page, which reflects not only the keywords you’re bidding on within that ad group, but also the ad text displaying in the SERPs. Landing page relevancy and optimization are critical to see success with PPC. If you’re unsure of how well your landing pages are built, I recommend checking out the WordStream Landing Page Grader.


 adwords account structure diagram showing the components of an adwords account

Now that we’ve reviewed the basics, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what you need to do when building out your account. If you’re completely new to AdWords, start off by creating an account. This part should be pretty self-explanatory, but follow this guide if you need assistance.

WordStream users take note – you can build out your AdWords account through the software, but if you have not created an account yet then you must create one in AdWords, pull it into the software, and then you can start manually building out directly through the ‘Manage PPC’ tab in WordStream’s PPC Advisor.

#1: Spend Time Deciding How You Want Your Account to Be Structured

This question arises constantly: What is the perfect account structure? I hate to break it to ya, but there is truthfully no magic recipe for structuring your account, and more than one strategy can prove successful. Luckily, there are a few different methods that work well:

  • Based on the Structure of Your Website: How is your website structured? Do you have different tabs or pages for different products or offerings? Do you value different product pages over others? If your website is well-structured (which it should be), then it makes sense to structure your AdWords account in a similar fashion.
  • By Products/Services Offered: This is likely the same as the structure of your website, but think about your different services or products offered and structure your account in a similar fashion. For example, let’s say you sell tennis gear, you would want to create a campaign for tennis rackets, tennis balls, tennis clothing, etc. Then under the tennis rackets campaign you might create separate ad groups for the brands you sell or perhaps for the size or gender the racket is for. Take a look at your various offerings and decide which ones are most valuable. Is there a very large demand for tennis bags online? Then you might want to a campaign for tennis bags with a higher budget. Spend some time mapping out your products, and deciding how you want to divvy up your budget between campaigns.
  • Based on Locations: Is location important to your business? Maybe you’re a law office that has multiple locations across New England or perhaps you sell development courses in major cities ranging from London to Tokyo. If location targeting is important then structure based on this. For example, create a London campaign to sell your development course to only those in a particular radius of the city. 

adwords account structure images of an airplane 

Of course, there are many other tactics to structuring your account, but it’s all about taking the time to come up with a rational structure that will be easy to manage, track, and optimize to get the best results over time. So take the time to ponder various structuring techniques, and decide on the one that works best for your business. Once you’ve decided I’d recommend actually mapping out the structure on a piece of paper or in an Excel doc to get a full visual of the campaigns and ad groups you’ll be creating.

#2: Conduct Keyword Research

So you’ve drawn out a beautiful account structure with campaign themes and ad group topics. Now it’s time to fill up those ad groups with keywords, but how does one choose which keywords to use? Perhaps, just randomly selecting keywords that sound related? Hmm, not quite the approach I would take. You need to do some thorough keyword research to ensure you’re choosing keywords that aren’t too competitive or that have low quality scores or search volume. 

Start by going through each ad group and keeping an organized list in an Excel document. Then use either Google’s Keyword Planner or WordStream’s Keyword Tool to find relevant keywords for each ad group. Be sure to keep in mind that it’s best to start small with the number of keywords you use per ad group (10-20 max). But, why? Isn’t it best to bid on more keywords to get better results? Picture a party that was way too crowded; the food was eaten up before you could get any, you could barely move without breathing all over your neighbor, and others likely stepped on your feet not even realizing you were there. Google reacts the same way when too many keywords are in an ad group – the party is simply too crowded and the chances of getting traffic and results out of each keyword are slim to none. You’re also going to want to use a variety of match types, bidding higher the more restrictive you go with each match type.

adwords account structure gif of the office saying "there's too many people in this world. We need a plague." 

Once you have a keyword list for each ad group in place it’s time to dive in and start building.

#3: Create Your First Campaign

Now that you’ve spent time mapping out an account structure with a detailed keyword list, it’s time to get the ball rolling and build out your first campaign. Start with the one that is highest priority, and then work down from there. The first thing you’ll want to do is review your campaign settings. This part sounds self-explanatory, but advertisers tend to make careless mistakes, which can cost a huge chunk of marketing budget. Moral of the story, use caution and go through your settings diligently. Double check the following items:

  • Type: You’ll be automatically opted into Search Network with Display Select. This option works well for certain advertisers who are trying to get the most reach as possible, but be aware that this will allow your text ads to show outside of search, on Google’s Display network (i.e. various sites across the web). I typically prefer keeping search and display separate, so I would recommend choosing “Search Network Only.” 


adwords account structure screenshot showing how to choose search network only

  • Locations & Languages: Make sure you’re targeting the appropriate ones for this campaign!
  • Bid Strategy: Unless you want Google to run the show, I’d recommend bidding manually to have granular control over your budget. You’ll be automatically opted into letting AdWords set your bids, so make sure to change this!

adwords account structure screenshot showing how to bid manually

  • Default Bid & Budget: Default bid is simply the max CPC that will be tied to each keyword you add. This can be easily changed for each keyword, which you’ll likely want to do so just set it to a number that you’re comfortable paying per click. Budget is even more important. Calculate how much you are willing to spend per day on that campaign with the marketing budget you have allotted to AdWords to help you decide. 

WordStream users – you can easily customize your campaign settings through the “Manage PPC” tab within WordStream Advisor. Simply select the campaign on the campaign tree, and then navigate to the dark grey tool bar into settings to make adjustments.

#4: Create Your First Ad Group & Text Ad

To get your campaign running properly you need ads (duh!). As we went over before, ads are tied to a list of keywords within an ad group, so the first thing we’ll need to do is create a new ad group. Under the campaigns tab in AdWords, you’ll see an “Ad groups” tab and a red +Ad Group button. Select that and refer to your previous work to title your first ad group (for example, going back to our tennis example, perhaps this ad group is Women’s Tennis Rackets).

adwords account structure screenshot showing where to create a new ad group in adwords 

Then you’ll need to create your first ad, because of course an ad group won’t be able to run unless there’s at least one advertisement in that group. To get started with ad text creation keep the following pieces of advice in mind:

  • Character limit: Google will easily alert you when you’re going over the character limit, but as a reminder the ad headline can have two 30 character headlines, one consolidated 80 character description line, and you shouldn’t need to worry about your destination URL which is automatically extracted from your final URL (although you can customize the URL path). 
  • Relevance: Your ad text needs to reflect the keywords and landing page text the ad is directing to. If you’re bidding on a general keyword like “tennis shoes” and your ad reads “Women’s Tennis Shoes,” then male searchers are going to be discouraged and not click on your ad. Clearly display your target keywords within the headline and description lines of your ad text.
  • Best Practices: I won’t go through all of the ad text best practices, but there are so many things one can do to get your ad noticed over a competitor’s. For example, adding in special offers with numbers (people love numbers), using a period at the end of description line 1 (this swoops line 1 into the headline when the ad is displayed at the top of the page, and is proven likely to increase CTR), capitalizing each letter, and the list goes on. So check out our various studies and ad text best practice posts – there’s a ton of content out there.
  • Follow Google’s Ad Approval Guidelines: Trust me, you do not want to get your ad disapproved. It’s not the end of the world if you do, but it can negatively affect performance, delay ads from running, and certainly doesn’t make Google happy (remember, you want to be tight with Google). Make sure to read up on the following common ad disapproval reasons, and avoid these like the plague.
  • Direct to the Most Relevant Landing Page: In an ideal world, you’ll already have landing pages created for each ad group running. If not, I would allocate some time and resources to create ad group specific landing pages. This might sounds ridiculous, but if the landing page that the searcher is directed to isn’t relevant to the ad clicked on, then the chances of them bouncing back to Google are high. 

#5: Add the Relevant Keyword List into the Ad Group

On the same screen you’ll see a white box titled “Keywords” where you’ll want to add in the previously created keyword list. As a reminder, this list should be short (no more then 10-20 keywords) and extremely relevant to the ad text and landing page that the users are being directed to. Also keep in mind that by default, new keywords are added on broad match. To specify match types use the designated punctuation; for example use quotations around a “phrase keyword,” brackets to specify an [exact match], plus signs to +specify +modified +broad, and broad keywords can simply be added as is.

adwords account structure screenshot showing where to add keywords

Once you’ve already created an ad group with ads and keywords, if you want to go in to add more keywords, navigate to the ad group in the left sidebar, and then go to the “Keywords” tab and select the red “+Keyword” button.

 adwords account structure screenshot of keywords tab

Once you’ve finished creating your first ad group, ad text, and keyword list, select Save and continue to billing.

Congrats! You’ve successfully created your first campaign, ad group, text ad, and keyword list, but you’re not out of the woods quite yet…

#6: Create One or Two More Ads in Your Ad Group & Adjust Ad Settings

Now that everything’s up and running in your first ad group, you need to create at least one or two more ads. You want to run at least two or three ads in each ad group to compare performance. Your ads should be similar, but just worded slightly different – perhaps putting the call-to-action in a different place or highlighting a different key point in each ad. This will allow you to test your ads and see what resonates with your audience. Keep in mind that you still want to follow the bullet points listed in #4 regarding creating ad text, but just made each ad ever so slightly different.

To create a new ad, first make sure you’re in the “Campaigns” section of your AdWords account, on the left hand side of the page select the ad group which you just created, and navigate to the ads tab. From their select +Ad and start creating your new text ad.


adwords account structure screenshot showing where to add an ad 

Once all of your ads are created for that ad group, you’ll want to navigate to the Campaign settings, by selecting the campaign on the left hand sidebar, and then selecting settings. From there you’ll notice “Delivery method” – this specifies how you want your ads to be delivered on the SERPs. Make sure your ads are being delivered on standard delivery to not spend your budget too quickly throughout the day.

adwords account structure delivery method settings 

One last setting to adjust is your “Ad delivery.” This setting specifies how your ads will be rotated. I would recommend rotating your ads indefinitely so you can evenly compare them to each other to see which ad text resonated more with your audience.

adwords account structure rotation settings  

What’s Next?

Don’t kick your feet up just yet! It’s time to rinse and repeat. As explained above, you’re going to want a few ad groups per campign to spread out the relevant keywords to the subsets of the campaign theme. Refer back to your account map that we created at the beginning of the build-out, and keep building upon your stellar account structure.

What strategies have you found successful when building out an AdWords or Bing account?

Feel free to leave your comment, questions, and concerns below. I’m here to help!


Mar 08, 2015

What an in-depth guide ... thanks for taking the time to spell out this complicated process in an informative and entertaining manner ... cheers!

Margot da Cunha
Mar 09, 2015

Anytime Kyle! Happy you found it useful.

Mar 09, 2015

Awesome Post! I am working on this very thing right now with a new client. Good Timing :)

Margot da Cunha
Mar 09, 2015

Thank you Nidhi! I'm happy that worked out. If you have any questions during the process let me know.

Mar 11, 2015

Thanks for the informative post! Is it best practice to have various match types for each keyword? Or do you start with phrase then migrate to exact for a lower bid and higher quality score? Any direction on match type is appreciated. Thank you!

Margot da Cunha
Mar 12, 2015

Hi there, no problem!

I typically recommend having a variety of match types per ad group, but it's not necessary to add every match type for every keyword when starting out. I think having a full understanding of how match types work will give you an idea of which ones to choose for which keywords. Keep in mind that as match types get more expansive (so broad match and mod. broad) there's room for more irrelevant search queries to your ads, but these match types also allow for higher visibility then more restrictive match types, like phrase and exact. With broad match, modified broad, and even phrase, you'll want to ensure that you have negative keywords set up to block irrelevant searches.

I'd recommend using a tiered bidding strategy (as in having all match types for one keyword) for only keywords that are high priority or high performing. In these scenarios you'll want to make sure to bid higher the more restrictive you get (about 20% higher; so you'll bid the highest on exact, then phrase, then mod. broad, etc.).

I hope that all makes sense! Feel free to leave a follow-up question if necessary.

internet marketing
May 06, 2015

Hi, always i used to check blog posts here early in the morning, for the reason that i enjoy to find out more
and more.

Mar 12, 2015

You have used All Match for One KEYWORD like.... + modifier , Phrase and Exact

Should not we use only One MATCH for KeyWORD

Margot da Cunha
Mar 12, 2015

Hi Arun,

You can use all match types for one keyword, but will want to bid higher the more restrictive you get. For example, you'll bid 20% higher on exact then on phrase, and 20% on phrase then on modified broad. Take not that you don't need to have all keywords on every match type - just the ones that perform very well and/or are of high importance to your business.

May 10, 2015

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you're just extremely great. I actually like what you have acquired here, certainly like
what you are stating and the way by which
you say it. You are making it enjoyable and you still care for to stay it wise.
I can not wait to read far more from you.
That is really a tremendous website.

Ken Botelho
Mar 12, 2015

Very well done! AdWords Search 101 explained simply.

Margot da Cunha
Mar 27, 2015

Thank you Ken!

H Bondar
Mar 14, 2015

This is a really well done introduction to the end-to-end AdWords process. I am so impressed with the quality of the information coming from WordStream. It's so smart of you to provide high quality information for free because this "education-based marketing" encourages conversion to your subscription-based software. Keep it coming! :)

Margot da Cunha
Mar 27, 2015

Thank you! We'll make sure to keep it coming your way.

Andre Hospidales
Mar 23, 2015

I would add that each ad group should be focused on selling one product only, and all of the keywords in an ad group need to be relevant to each other and to any ads contained in the ad group. If you cannot write an ad that is relevant to all of the keywords in any ad group, any keyword that is not relevant to the ad needs to be moved to another ad group. This is the most effective way to increase quality scores.

Margot da Cunha
Mar 27, 2015

Great advice, thanks for sharing Andre.

David Warne
May 13, 2015

Great information . Thanks heaps.
my question: My target market is business owners in Sydney. How do i identify keywords that i want to put my ad on. My target market are not searching for my unique service because they dont know it exists. Business owners actively seeking outsourcing company are a very small audience. Have you got any ideas on this ?

Jun 29, 2015

This is a great and simple to follow guide indeed. I am planning to go through PPC 101, PPC 102 and Advanced PPC to prepare for Adwords Certification Program. Do you think is this sufficient?

Jan 29, 2016

Useful article for better campaign.

Thanks for sharing

Apr 25, 2016


Is it a good AdWords practice, creating competitive keywords list and bidding on them?


Apr 26, 2016

It's good explantion of adword & good guidance is also provided here.

Stefan Wermenbol
Apr 27, 2016

Hi Margot,

Many thanks for all this great, free content. I have learned so much from this site, and I feel like it will help me a great deal with launching a new website I am planning.

Margot, I have heard suggested elsewhere that it is wise to create an adgroup p. keyword. This allows you to target specifically with ad copy etc. every keyword search specifically. In some businesses that might be difficult, because they sell many different things. I only sell one thing, solar panel installations. The ways in which people in Holland query solar panels on Google are limited. I am down to about 300 granular keywords wich to my mind are reasonably likely to lead to conversion. I have the time, energy and dedication to give every searcher the exact thing theyre looking for, using the adwords level keyword approach, including setting up specfic dynamic keyword insertion landing pages. However, I havent researched the downsides of this method and I dont want to waste my time.

What have you got to say on the subject of this method of structuring ones account?

juliet margot
May 26, 2016

Nice tips and very easy to implement!

carl turner
Jun 14, 2016

Great article, according to me http://coalitiontechnologies.com/ also follows the same practice, Coz I am now able to handle the account structured by the hired company flawlessly.

Mohamadi SEO
Jan 25, 2017

I am 100% agree that Paid advertisement is a good and the best way to go when you are starting a new Businness. But it's also importante that we consider Organique traffic and SEO

Apr 11, 2017

Just found this, and your site, thoroughly impressed and will be purchasing agency software as will be using for multiple clients digital marketing. Just a quick question around bidding price.....how do you decide what price you should be bidding on different keywords?

Aman Sinha
Jun 17, 2017

I was trying to search some basic content to learn about ads and campaign and i found this blog content, such a super informative content, I also bookmark this site and also recommend other people too.

Sep 11, 2017

I've really enjoyed the articles so far in Wordstream's PPC U, but some information needs to be updated! AdWords text ads are now comprised of H1 (30 characters), H2 (15 characters), and description text (80 characters).

Elisa Gabbert
Sep 12, 2017

You're absolutely right, we'll update this page ASAP :)

Nov 14, 2017

You recommend rotate ads indefinitely. But in best practices Mark recommends to use optimize for clicks/conversions. Which is better currently?


Feb 27, 2018

This was a great guide, thank you so much for posting this. Since this was published Google adwords as changed around its dashboard though. I suggest adding some updated images. I'm currently in the process of coming up with an adwords budget proposal for a business that was asking me how do to do it. I don't want to lose their money by throwing it at ads that won't give any results.

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