Everything You Need to Know About Keyword Groups for PPC & SEO

Keyword grouping, or the process of organizing keywords into closely related groups, is an important part of both organic and paid search marketing.

It’s important in PPC advertising because well-organized ad groups contribute to a strong PPC account structure and help you write high-performing ad copy. More effective ad groups yield more relevant ads, which earn you higher Quality Scores and better ad rankings, all at lower costs.

And keyword grouping is important for SEO, too, because it helps you create content that is optimized for clusters of related keywords. This helps your content rank higher in the search results and better meet the intent of your readers, too. That is to say, you’ll be able to provide answers to the questions they’re searching for as well as the questions they didn’t even know they had.

Want to learn how to organize keyword lists into effective keyword groups for your marketing and advertising campaigns? In this article, we’ll show you how.

Of course, you can’t start grouping your keywords until you actually have some keywords! Use our free keyword tool to get the ball rolling.

Keyword groups & account structure

Broken down from the highest level to the lowest, the skeleton of your Google Ads account is pretty simple. Your campaigns are built on your ad groups, and your ad groups are built on your keywords and your ads.

Within each of your ad groups, you have a list of keywords that are associated with a couple unique ads. So, when someone does a Google search that triggers one of your keywords, Google knows to show one of the ads associated with that particular keyword. As you’ve probably intuited, it’s crucial for your keyword and the ads associated with it to be related.

An example is useful here. Let’s say your company sells pet care products and you’re running four Google Ads campaigns: dog food, dog toys, cat food, and cat toys. Within your dog food campaign, you have an ad group dedicated to bone-shaped snacks. The keywords you’re targeting within this ad group include “dog snacks,” “snacks for my dog,” and “nutritious snacks for puppies.” Because these keywords are related, they’re all tied to the same text ads.

Now that we’re clear on how ad groups fit into your account, let’s talk about strategies.

Keyword groups & ad groups

When discussing the hypothetical example of your pet care company, I sort of took for granted that your keywords within the snack ad group were closely related. Why did I do that?

Because grouping together thematically related keywords is essential to the health of your Google Ads campaigns. To uncover why that is, let’s consider an alternative scenario.

We’ll stick with the example of a pet care company. As with the previous scenario, you’re running four campaigns: dog food, dog toys, cat food, and cat toys. Let’s zero in on the dog food campaign again. Whereas in the previous scenario you had broken out this campaign into three ad groups—snacks, kibble, and canned food—in this scenario you only have one ad group within the campaign.

Because you only have one ad group for the dog food campaign, all of the keywords you’re bidding on to promote your dog food products are grouped together. So, everything from “nutritious snacks for puppies” to “best kibble for aging dogs” lives within the same ad group. Although it may seem like these keywords are closely related enough to justify grouping them together, you’re going to run into trouble.

Remember—within an ad group, your text ads are tied to your keywords. When someone searches something that matches to your keyword, one of the ads tied to this keyword is served to the consumer. So, because you’ve restricted your dog food campaign to a single ad group and grouped all of your keywords together, you’ve made it possible for any of your ads to show.

Consider an example. When someone searches “nutritious snacks for puppies,” they could very well see an ad of yours with the headline “Best Kibble For Your Aging Lab.” Because you haven’t grouped together really closely related keywords, you’ve served a potential customer a completely irrelevant ad. Let’s talk about why that’s bad.

Quality Score, Ad Rank, & the Google Ads auction

Google Ads is an auction-based advertising system. Every time someone searches something, Google runs an instantaneous auction to determine two things: 1) whether any advertisers are bidding on a keyword related to the search query and 2) if so, in what order those advertisers’ ads will be served on the search results page.

For a given keyword, the advertisers who “win” the Google Ads auction—that is, earn one of the top ad positions—are the ones with the highest Ad Ranks. Basically, Ad Rank is the metric Google uses to determine where your ad lands on the page and how much you pay per click.

Google uses two factors to determine your Ad Rank for a given auction: 1) your maximum cost per click bid for the keyword and 2) your Quality Score for the keyword. Your maximum cost per click bid—typically shortened to max. CPC bid—is simply the maximum amount of money you’re willing to pay for a click on your ad associated with the keyword at hand. Your Quality Score for the keyword is essentially a measure of how relevant and useful your ad is to the consumer. It’s a bit more complicated than your bid, so let’s dive deeper.

A keyword’s Quality Score is based on three main determinants: the relevance of your text ad, the expected click-through rate (CTR) of your text ad, and the usefulness of your landing page. The more relevant your text ad, the higher your expected CTR, and the more useful your landing page, the greater the Quality Score you’ll be assigned for the keyword. In turn, you’ll perform better in the auction and ultimately achieve a higher Ad Rank.

Oh—by the way. As I briefly mentioned earlier, the Ad Rank you’re assigned for a given auction determines both where you land and how much you pay for a click. The better your Ad Rank, the less Google charges you.

Grouping your keywords to win the auction

You’re probably wondering why we took you on what seems like a completely random tangent. Trust us—all of that information is relevant to you.

One of the core determinants of your Quality Score for a given keyword is the relevance of your text ad to the consumer. If Google doesn’t think your ad will be pertinent or useful to the consumer, you’ll suffer from a poor Quality Score and a low Ad Rank. You won’t see positive returns on your investment.

It’ll only get worse, too. Let’s say your low Ad Rank lands your ad at the bottom of the search results page. Because your ad is pretty much irrelevant to the consumer, very few of your (not very many) impressions turn into clicks and your CTR plummets. In future auctions, Google will take this into account when calculating your expected CTR. As your expected CTR falls further, you only perform worse and worse in future auctions.

Sounds like a nightmare scenario, right? Well, it’s what you can expect to happen if you don’t group your keywords in a thoughtful manner. The less closely related the keywords in a given ad group are, the less relevant your ads will be and the worse you’ll do in the Google Ads auctions.

Alternatively, if you create small, tightly related keyword groups, you ensure that your ads are always relevant to the search queries that trigger them and you set yourself up for success.

How to group your keywords

First things first—before you can start grouping your keywords, you need the keywords themselves. If you’ve already assembled a master list, that’s great! If not, check out our Free Keyword Tool. Simply enter a topic, select your industry or niche, select the country you do business in, and boom—you’ve got yourself a list of keywords you can target.

Once you’ve got your master list of keywords, it’s time to start grouping them together. Start by labeling each one according to two characteristics: topic and intent. Although topic is pretty self-explanatory, intent is slightly more complex. Generally, a search query falls under one of these three types of intent:

  • Informational: When the user wants to learn more about a topic.

  • Navigational: When the user wants to go to a specific website or web page.

  • Transactional: When the user wants to buy something.

It’s important to identify the intent behind each of the keywords you’re targeting because you want to make sure you’re delivering an experience that matches the user’s intent. If someone Google searches “baseball,” they probably aren’t interested in buying a $100 Bryce Harper jersey. Instead, they’re probably interested in learning more about the sport or seeing where their favorite team falls in the league standings.

Because the keywords you include in a particular ad group are tied to the same ads, you want to be sure that each one addresses the same topic and meets the same type of intent.

Once you’ve categorized your keywords according to topic and intent, it’s time to assemble some high-level data: search volume and competition. Whereas the former tells you how often the keyword is searched on a monthly basis in the country you’re targeting, the latter tells you how easy or difficult it is to win one of the top ad positions. It’s useful to have this information handy so you know how valuable and viable each keyword is.

Keywords per ad group

When it comes to keyword grouping, there’s one question we get far more than any other: “How many keywords should I include in each ad group?”

According to WordStream customer data, between 10 and 15 keywords per ad group is optimal. Whereas 80% of top-performing advertisers average fewer than 17 keywords per ad group, only 66% of everyone else can say the same. Also, whereas 60% of top performers average fewer than 10 keywords per ad group, only 46% of everyone else can say the same.

Finally, we find top-performing advertisers to be significantly less likely to use ad groups with fewer than five keywords.

Generally speaking, each of your Google Ads campaigns should feature five ad groups or fewer. In turn, each ad group should hold between 10 and 15 keywords and no more than 3 ads.

Keyword grouping & SEO

As mentioned, keyword grouping isn’t only for PPC—it’s beneficial from an SEO perspective as well. Why? Because a web page can rank for more than one keyword. Even if you write a blog post with a single target keyword in mind, Google may still deem it relevant when users search for things that are only tangentially related.

Say you sell gardening supplies. In addition to running Facebook campaigns and selling via Google Shopping, you direct organic traffic to your website by writing keyword-targeted blog posts about topics related to gardening. One day, you notice that the keyword “how to grow tomatoes in your backyard” has some pretty substantial volume. So, you decide to write a blog post about it.

Now, if you don’t do any additional research and focus solely on that keyword, you’ll drive some good traffic. However, you’ll do a lot better if you take the time to find related keywords and target each of them within the same post. For example, amateur gardeners also search for things like “best soil for growing tomatoes” and “best time of year for growing tomatoes.” By including these in your blog post as H2s, you can rank for them in addition to your primary target keyword and direct some extra traffic to your website.

Here’s the takeaway: When you’re looking for keywords to target for organic search purposes, make sure to group together those that are semantically related. Doing so will enable you to write content with greater keyword density, become even more visible in the organic search results, and boost your site traffic even higher.

For more tips and tricks related to keyword strategy, check out our free, comprehensive guide to conducting keyword research!

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