What is a Paid Search Restructure, Anyway?

Paid search campaign restructureMany paid search advertisers turn over the keys of their campaign to an agency to manage it and don’t typically get under the hood too often to see how the campaign is structured. There is a lot of minutia in the search tools, and if someone is not a regular, taking a look now and again exposes a world that is potentially too complex from which to draw any meaningful, actionable conclusions.

However, there is much industry buzz right now around the campaign restructure and the belief that it could be the magic bullet that improves paid search performance. For people who don’t know whether or how to get on board with this, how true is it really in terms of a restructure being a strategic imperative?

The answer is that it can be very true or not so true depending on the shape of the current campaign. That said, the emergence of this as a strategic imperative is no different today than it was three years ago. Best practices change constantly with paid search and incorporating best practices is the heart of what the the restructure discussion is about. A campaign that was perfectly structured a few years ago today may need to be totally revamped.

If a search campaign is currently incorporating best practices, then a restructure is unnecessary.   There is always the opportunity to find gains here and there, but if all best practices have already been employed, a restructure won’t do much to move the needle.

On the other hand, if a campaign is not currently employing best practices, a restructure can give performance a really big lift. If an advertiser is looking for a magic bullet from a restructure, it’s possible but only if the existing structure of the campaign is currently poor.

To demystify what a paid search restructure really is, it is a compilation of best practices consisting of lots of minutia that together can add up to a lot. The key elements of a restructure consist of campaign structure, keywords, bid strategy, match types and negatives, ad copy and landing page assignments. These elements haven’t changed in years, but the execution of them has. This is where incorporating best practices becomes extremely important.  There are newer elements in the equation now, too, mostly pertaining to extensions and mobile, which also need to be layered in competently.

Because paid search management is so complex, brands and retailers need to rely on experts to advise on how to bring a paid search campaign up to speed. Having an outside party conduct an audit of the search campaign may be necessary if the brand or retailer senses not much has changed with the campaign for the past few years.

As far as audits go, an honest and competent assessment is key. Outside parties can always find something wrong, but qualifying the extent of wrong is very important. There are ambitious agencies who may imply that a campaign is worse than it actually is in order to win the business. There are also agencies who may not know the best practices themselves, so a brand or retailer may receive a heartfelt, albeit, incorrect assessment. The most critical part of this exercise is choosing the agency wisely. A best practice for auditing the auditor may be to involve Google and reality check any suggestions from the audit by them.

There is a third category for which, ironically, the term “restructure” most aptly fits, but the current lexicon doesn’t necessarily mean them, per se. These are the (many) search campaigns which have had multiple owners and/or strategy shifts over the years. These campaigns have likely become a discombobulated mess consisting of many active and paused campaigns, ad groups, and keywords with no consistent pattern of why the structure currently exists or existed differently in the past. Often the best course of action for these type of campaigns to simply blow them up and start from scratch. Focus on where conversions are coming from and build up from there.

Restructure buzz aside, it is always sensible to regularly audit a paid search campaign, especially if the same team has been managing it for a number of years and in that time, no apparent big shifts in strategy are evident or have been discussed. One idea is to have another team at the current agency look at the account (preferably the one who regularly does the paid search audits for new business pitches or the A Team — there is always an A team) or work with an outside consultant or bring in another agency to have a look.  With the term “restructure” being code for not being up on best practices, it is always better to ensure that a paid search campaign is up to speed given the sizable investment of media dollars that fund it.

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