How to structure your Google Ads for the best performance

An effective structure for small and mid-size accounts

Charlotte Wammes
7 min readMay 22, 2019

TL;DR: Get to know the basics of Google Ads and how to work towards your growth goals without needing a big budget and a structured set-up. Find out how to set up your account via the alpha-beta structure in 3 steps.

Sidenote: This article contains content that requires some knowledge of Google Ads. It is expected that the reader is already aware of the basic principles of Google Ads.

71% of consumers start their journey on a search engine and 5.6 billion searches happen per day on Google every second and this offers plenty of opportunities for the advertiser and online entrepreneurs.

There are many ways to familiarize customers with your brand, and Google Ads is one of them. Nowadays we see that it is becoming increasingly difficult for businesses to be easy to find within the search engine. Due to the increasing competition, constant changes within Google and the high costs, many advertisers are leaving Google Ads for other advertising networks. But by using a solid structure from the start your budget will be allocated more wisely and work towards a positive ROI.

As Johan Cruijff, a celebrated Dutch football legend, once said: “I have never seen a bag of money score a goal.” According to Cruijff, it is possible to defeat richer clubs, providing that the ‘football part’ is better put together. And this rule does not only apply for football but can also be stated for Google Ads. As long as you have a structured set-up in Google Ads, you can outsmart the richer accounts. So, let me introduce you to the alpha-beta campaign structure coined by David Rodnitzky which we apply at clients at Off The Record.

The alpha-beta structure

The alpha-beta structure is used within the discovery and focus phase to discover new growth opportunities. By implementing this structure, it will let you discover step-by-step the most valuable keywords for your business.

The alpha-beta methodology uses a strategy where you start with setting up beta campaigns which will use broad match keywords to discover top-performing keywords and then put these performing keywords within your alpha campaigns. The alpha campaign only exists out of exact match keywords (SKAG’s) to leverage them for maximum performance. SKAG implies a “Single Keyword AdGroup”.

Via this structure, you won’t overspend or waste money with keywords that won’t bring out profitable results. The more beta campaigns, the more you’re looking for new growth opportunities. The more alpha campaigns, the more you’re generating net profit at a stable pace.

How to set up your Google Ad account

Set up your account structure in 3 steps

Step 1. Keyword research

To start this process, you need to think about 3–5 themes which relate to your business. After you have set the themes, fill those with relevant keywords. Try using different tools such as the Google Keyword Planner or Semrush to help you find relevant keywords.

Let’s take an online Dutch course platform, where you can book several online courses, as an example.

Theme 1: Dutch courses
learn Dutch online
learn online Dutch courses
book Dutch courses

easy beginner Dutch lessons online
Dutch lessons for beginners
improve speaking Dutch

Secondly, you need to check the search volume per keyword via the Google Keyword Planner. The keyword search volume is the number of times (or volume) searches are conducted for a certain keyword for a specific time-frame. Search volume is important to your strategy since high-volume terms tend to be more competitive which means they are more expensive. Logical, right?

Keyword meanings

Below you will find a matrix where you can plot all your broad match keywords (15–30) based on high intent, low intent, short tail, and long tail.

Plot your keywords

The idea of using this keyword matrix is deciding which keyword strategy works best for you. Take a look at the four keyword strategy examples.

  1. If you have a bigger budget and you need to sell your product real fast, start with all the keywords plotted on the right sight of the matrix: the high intent / short tail keywords. You will compete with similar companies within Google Ads which will result in spending more budget faster.
  2. If you don’t have a big budget, but you do need to sell your product within weeks, focus on only a few high intent keywords and long tail keywords. The longtail keywords are less competitive and may be cheaper.
  3. Time to set up your Google Ads structure, but you have a low budget? Start with the cheaper keywords, often low intent or longtail keywords.
  4. And number four, do you have both enough time and enough budget, I suggest starting with a combination of high intent keywords and low intent keywords.

If you are choosing to focus on more high intent keywords, you need sales pages (e.g. sales form- or product pages were people can book a class directly). If the high-intent keywords don’t generate any conversions, you might have some work to do on your product/market fit.

But if you are focussing more on low intent keywords, you need to build more educational landing pages (e.g. educate/inspire about ‘7 ways to learn Dutch fast and easy’). This strategy may take longer to eventually generate sales.

Step 2. Structure your campaigns

2.1 Start with the beta campaign
Set up beta ad groups with the 5 –10 chosen broad match modified keywords grouped, in different themes.

Campaign [ S_NL_BETA_Dutchcourses ]
(search campaign, NL targeting, beta campaign, theme)

Ad group 1: Learn Dutch Online
+learn +Dutch +online
+learn +to +speak +Dutch

Ad group 2: Online Dutch Courses
+learn +online +Dutch +courses
+best +online +Dutch +courses etc.

Ad group 3: Beginner Dutch Courses Online
+easy +beginner +Dutch +lessons +online
+online+Dutch+lessons +for +beginners etc.

Step 3. Find winner and loser keywords

When you have filled your ad groups with broad match keywords, you need to set success criteria. From here onwards, you will determine within the search term report if your keyword is a winner or a loser

So you have set your success criteria. For example, the CPC belonging to a winner keyword needs to be lower than ¢0.90 or the keyword needs to generate at least 3 conversions. You can also think about metrics such as click-through-rate or conversion rate.

3.1 Start with finding the winners
We dive into the search term report of ad group 1: Learn Dutch Online. You see the query [Dutch lessons for beginners weekly] was triggered by +Dutch +lessons +for +beginners and matches your success criteria since it generated 3 conversions last week.

Create a new campaign with a Single Keyword Ad Group (SKAG).

Campaign [ S_NL_ALPHA_Dutchcourses ]
(Search campaign, NL targeting, alpha campaign, theme)

Ad group 1: Dutch Lessons For Beginners

[Dutch lessons for beginners]

By pairing your keywords into their own unique ad groups, you can make sure that the keywords you’re bidding on match the search terms you’re paying for.

Make sure you exclude the exact search query in all of your running beta campaigns, so your exact keyword is only triggered within the alpha campaigns. Do not forget this last step, or otherwise, your campaigns will compete against each other to show both search queries.

Another benefit of the alpha/beta structure is that by implementing this structure, you have the ability to make your ad copy more specific and relevant for your audience, which will eventually contribute to a higher quality score.

3.2 Loser keywords
If the search term: “how to learn Dutch private” is eating all the budget and you actually can’t provide any private Dutch lessons add “+private” to the general negative list.

3.3 Not enough data?
If you don’t have enough data take an in-depth look at your set-up to determine if you need to make any changes. Are the queries being triggered by other keywords? Do you need more time to get more results in or is the target CPA maybe too low?

Google Ads Budget

Whilst setting your budget, you can choose to grow aggressively by adding most of your budget to your broad campaign. Therefore, your campaign will use its budget by looking for new growth opportunities.

Or you can decide to keep the net profit at a stable pace if you set most of your budget on the alpha campaigns. By taking this approach, you won’t be looking for new growth opportunities.

So, now you have read about how to set up your Google Ads account for the best performance via the alpha/beta structure. Monitor your account closely by diving into the search report and check how your new set-up has affected the performance. Using this structure will assure you to reach your goals effectively and I’m sure you will rock your Google Ads account.

Are you struggling with your Google Adwords account by setting the right alpha-beta structure or do you need help monitoring and optimizing your Google Ads account? Let’s chat! ☕️

P.s. We organize learning cafes for early-stage start-ups or scale-ups every Friday afternoon in our Amsterdam office 🍻. For more information click here.



Charlotte Wammes

Growth Marketer where I lead and execute on all aspects of performance marketing. Looking for digital growth? Send me a message :)