How many keywords should I have in an ad group?

Ask this on the internet and you’ll get conflicting answers:

  • One keyword per ad group.
  • 15 - 20 matching keywords.
  • All of them.
  • One keyword but use BMM, phrase match and exact match.

It’s not surprising that this is one of the most confusing parts of building your first Google Ads campaign.

It’s confusing because it’s the wrong question. A better question is ...

Why do ad groups exist?

In a perfect world you’d have a bunch of keywords and a bunch of adverts in a campaign. Google would show the right advert when a search matched one of the keywords. We’re not there, yet. You must tell Google which ads go with which keywords.

That’s why we have ad groups. They exist so you can tell Google which ad to show in response to a search that matches a keyword. (Ad groups have a secondary purpose - allowing microscopic control over various settings - but we’ll ignore that for the moment.)

  • At its simplest, an ad group will have one keyword and one advert. When a search matches the keyword the advert will show.
  • An ad group can have more than one keyword. When a search matches any of the keywords in the ad group, the advert belonging to that ad group will show.
  • An ad group can have more than one advert. When a search matches any of the keywords in the ad group, one of the adverts belonging to that ad group will show.

Three ways to group your keywords into ad groups.

Here are some keywords from a campaign I built for a second hand motorcycle dealer.

  • used harley for sale
  • used harley davidson
  • used harley davidson for sale
  • used harley davidson softail classic
  • used harley davidson softail classic for sale
  • used harley davidson street glide
  • used harley davidson street glide for sale

Let me show you three ways of sorting these keywords into ad groups:-

  1. The generic advert approach.
  2. Single keyword ad groups.
  3. The hybrid approach.

1. The generic advert approach.

The keywords in this list are fairly closely related to each other - they all indicate that someone is interested in a used Harley-Davidson. They could all go in one ad group with a generic advert.

This is the fastest and easiest because you only need one ad group and one advert to be up and running.

Here's what my ad group would look like...

Ad group with related keywords.
These keywords ...
  • used harley for sale
  • used harley davidson
  • used harley davidson for sale
  • used harley davidson softail classic
  • used harley davidson softail classic for sale
  • used harley davidson street glide
  • used harley davidson street glide for sale
... trigger this advert

Used Harley-Davidsons for Sale - Wide Range in Stock.

Contact us for great deals on used Harley-Davidsons.

But, it's not perfect. The generic advert is a good fit for the broader keywords:

  • used harley for sale
  • used harley davidson
  • used harley davidson for sale

But, it’s not a good fit for the more granular keywords:

  • used harley davidson softail classic
  • used harley davidson softail classic for sale
  • used harley davidson street glide
  • used harley davidson street glide for sale

Someone looking for a used Harley-Davidson Softail Classic might click on a generic used Harley-Davidson advert but they’re far more likely to click on an ad that talks specifically about the Softail Classic.

Here's the problem...

If you wrote an ad to talk specifically about the Softail Classic for instance -

Used Harley-Davidsons for Sale - Softail Classics in Stock.

Contact us for great deals on used Harley-Davidson Softail Classics.

- it would be a great fit for someone looking specifically for a Softail Classic but it wouldn’t be good for someone searching for a Harley-Davidson Street Glide or someone who hadn’t yet made up their mind which model they wanted to buy.

Although this approach is quick and easy, it usually doesn't perform as well as the other two approaches below. I don't recommend it.

2. Single keyword ad groups. (SKAGs)

In this approach each ad group has just one keyword*. That makes it easy to write an advert that closely matches the keyword.

(* Some variations of this approach have one keyword with different match types. Please ignore that detail for now.)

Your ad groups - one for each keyword in your campaign -  would look like this.

Single keyword ad group.
These keywords ...
  • used harley for sale
... trigger this advert

Used Harleys for Sale - Wide Range in Stock.

Contact us for great deals on used Harleys.

Single keyword ad group.
These keywords ...
  • used harley davidson
... trigger this advert

Used Harley-Davidsons for Sale - Wide Range in Stock.

Contact us for great deals on used Harley-Davidsons.

Single keyword ad group.
These keywords ...
  • used harley davidson for sale
... trigger this advert

Used Harley-Davidsons for Sale - Wide Range in Stock.

Contact us for great deals on used Harley-Davidsons.

Single keyword ad group.
These keywords ...
  • used harley davidson softail classic
... trigger this advert

Used Harley-Davidsons for Sale - Softail Classics in Stock.

Contact us for great deals on used Harley-Davidson Softail Classics.

Single keyword ad group.
These keywords ...
  • used harley davidson softail classic for sale
... trigger this advert

Used Harley-Davidsons for Sale - Softail Classics in Stock.

Contact us for great deals on used Harley-Davidson Softail Classics.

Single keyword ad group.
These keywords ...
  • used harley davidson street glide
... trigger this advert

Used Harley-Davidsons for Sale - Street Glides in Stock.

Contact us for great deals on used Harley-Davidson Street Glides.

Single keyword ad group.
These keywords ...
  • used harley davidson street glide for sale
... trigger this advert

Used Harley-Davidsons for Sale - Street Glides in Stock.

Contact us for great deals on used Harley-Davidson Street Glides.

A few years ago I helped train about 1300 small business owners to use AdWords. We forced them to use single keyword ad groups instead of allowing them to group the keywords into ad groups. It improved click through rate (CTR) more than anything else they did. It was a contrarian move at the time but I’m pleased to see that it’s widely accepted practice now.

I've given you the simple version. It works well as is. There is a more complex version involving exact match negative keywords. We'll ignore it for the moment.

The biggest problem with SKAGs is that you have to write lots of adverts. If you have 300 keywords you need 300 adverts. That's hard work if you're writing them by hand but it normally pays off in good ads with a high clickthrough rate.

3. The hybrid approach.

The hybrid approach leads to fewer ad groups and adverts but keeps the close match between the keyword and the advert.

It works by grouping keywords that are identical except for a few unimportant words.

Consider the keywords:

  • used harley davidson softail classic
  • used harley davidson softail classic for sale

These keyword phrases differ only by the words “for sale”. In my mind, the words “for sale” aren’t materially important in this context.

Both keywords are well served the same advert:

Used Harley-Davidsons for Sale - Softail Classics in Stock.

Contact us for great deals on used Harley-Davidson Softail Classics.

Here are our hybrid ad groups.

Hybrid ad group
These keywords ...
  • used harley for sale
  • used harley davidson
  • used harley davidson for sale
... trigger this advert

Used Harley-Davidsons for Sale - Wide Range in Stock.

Contact us for great deals on used Harley-Davidsons.

Hybrid ad group
These keywords ...
  • used harley davidson softail classic
  • used harley davidson softail classic for sale
... trigger this advert

Used Harley-Davidsons for Sale - Softail Classics in Stock.

Contact us for great deals on used Harley-Davidson Softail Classics.

Hybrid ad group
These keywords ...
  • used harley davidson street glide
  • used harley davidson street glide for sale
... trigger this advert

Used Harley-Davidsons for Sale - Street Glides in Stock.

Contact us for great deals on used Harley-Davidson Street Glides.

I use this approach 99% of the time. It takes a little work up front to sort the keywords into tight groups but it means writing fewer ads and managing fewer ad groups.

Which approach is best for your campaign?

Don't use the generic advert approach with all your keywords in one ad group. It's quick and easy but you'll pay for that with low clickthrough rates, poor quality score and higher costs.

Use single keyword ad groups if you have fewer than 200 keywords in your campaign. You can probably write 200 adverts without tearing your eyes out. Any more and it's easy to get sloppy in writing the ads because the work is so repetitive.

Use the hybrid approach by grouping closely related keywords if you have more than 200 keywords. The time spent grouping your keywords will be saved when writing the ads.

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