The difference between ad campaigns and ad groups in PPC advertising

October 13, 2023

In this article, we break down the difference between ad campaigns and ad groups, explaining what each one means and how they function. Plus, we’ve included some inspiring quotes and expert insights so the focus of your next campaign is laser-sharp.


Reading Time - 11 min

The difference between ad campaigns and ad groups in PPC advertising

“We will focus on this ad group in our next campaign.” Do these words sound familiar? For many of us, the terms “ad group” and “ad campaign” are thrown around without really knowing their definitions.

Some other familiar words we often hear at Channable come in the form of a question: “How do I structure my ad account?”

Answering this correctly will go a long way to ensuring your ads are triggered by searches relevant to your audience, your quality scores are higher, and you have greater control over where your ads appear.

We’ve put together the below guide on PPC advertising to break down ad account terms, explaining what each one means and how they function. Plus, we’ve included some inspiring quotes and expert insights so the focus of your next campaign is laser-sharp.

Campaign hierarchy: Who is the king?

“Ignoring online marketing is like opening a business but not telling anyone,” explains KB Marketing Agency.

Similarly, ignoring the importance of your ad campaign hierarchy is like recognizing the value of online marketing but having no structure to support it.

Your ad account hierarchy provides this structure and is always the same in terms of order and influence. The level above always influences the one below.

For example, whatever is included at the campaign level influences your ad groups. Ranking the hierarchy of an ad account’s structure is as follows:

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Ads account hierarchy: The difference between ad campaigns vs ad groups

Now we have visualized an ad account structure, let's break down the structure of campaigns and ad groups further.

Your account’s campaigns consist of one or more ad groups. An ad group contains one or more ads, which share a set target of keywords and bids. The biggest difference is that ad groups are one level below campaigns in the account hierarchy.

Campaigns directly control the goal and budget, while ad groups oversee the bids/CPC, audience/targeting, placement, and delivery options chosen to capture the audience.

  • Ad campaigns = strategies, goals, budget

  • Ad groups = bids, targeting, placement

Ad campaigns vs groups

Ad campaigns

To understand what sort of journey you want to take your customers on, you first need to create a definition for the campaigns in your account.

“At its very core, marketing is storytelling,” explains Melinda Partin, senior director of marketing and digital strategy at UW Medicine.

“The best advertising campaigns take us on an emotional journey.” Most companies want to start this journey with a search campaign, so let’s use that as an example.

Search campaigns can potentially create the most awareness, but display campaigns are also widely used.

Alternatively, perhaps a call-only campaign creates the business you need. Whatever you choose, the goal is to be found via all relevant searches directing individuals to your website and converting them into a sale/customer.

All campaigns are created with a goal - to sell something, boost web traffic, increase brand awareness, etc.

The campaign sets the budget, location, and targeting of that goal, so you can focus on achieving results.

Other settings that are affected under the campaign hierarchy are the set of ad groups, ads, keywords, and bids to reach your goal.

In the US, Forbes Magazine demonstrated the power of an effective PPC campaign, boosting subscriber numbers, introducing two new ad channels, and increasing PPC traffic by 102%.

Video content was a major part of Forbes’ increased appeal, as was a focus on a broader age range for the magazine’s target audience. Collectively, Forbes was able to leverage the benefits of PPC optimization to enhance its subscription figures.

Your account can have one or multiple campaigns running at the same time. For instance, you can create separate ad campaigns to run similar ads but in multiple locations using different budgets.

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Tip: Once a strategy and a goal are chosen for your campaign, it is time to think about the settings

  • Target location
  • Target language
  • Budget
  • Bid strategy - automatic (AI learning) or manual

What is an ad group?

Ad groups may contain one or more ads that have a similar target. It’s your decision how you organize an account but often within ad groups, a separate ad is defined and created by the different types of services or products that are offered.

“Ad groups are an essential component of pay-per-click marketing,” reads a recent blog post by marketing company WordStream. “Creating effective ad groups can help you to drive more traffic and leads at lower costs, while increasing the number of conversions on your site.”

Ad groups contain and control the following functions:

  • The structure of each campaign
  • Separate and organize each theme or product
  • Control keyword/ad association

How big should my ad group be?

There is, of course, no set limit but a few guidelines are:

  • Six to 10 ad groups per campaign
  • +/- 20 keywords per ad group
  • Around two or three ads per ad group

Ads, keywords, and negative keywords

At this level you have your actual ad, targeting potential customers with your chosen keywords.

As a company that functions in six languages, Channable knows the importance of search volume and choosing the right keywords. Make sure your research confirms that the keywords you are choosing have search volume!

“With the right focus, keyword research will help you create content that reaches the widest possible audience, generates more traffic, and converts better,” says Stoney deGeyter, CEO of Pole Position Marketing.

“All it takes is looking at your keywords, not merely as search words but as information about the searcher.”

Here in the hierarchy, the information/keywords provided are connected directly to your product data feed.

Target potential clients by using keywords with intent. In general, broad terms have low intent, e.g. sport shoes, and do not have a high click-through rate. Focused and specific words, also called long-tail keywords, usually have higher intent because the buyer knows more about what they want, e.g. Nike air max 270.

Keyword match types

This may be preaching to the choir, but (search types) or match types are the ways keywords and phrases can be configured to match up to searches within your campaigns.

There are four query match types recognized by Google and Microsoft Advertising

  • Broad match: As the name suggests, this is the broadest term your ad can be matched against, including synonyms for your keywords. An example would be if you used 'discount running shoes' as a broad keyword. In this case, your ad may be displayed when a potential customer uses the search term 'sports shoe sale'.

  • Modified broad match +: This is a bit more restrictive and the ads will only activate on the keywords you have set, but they can be in any order. An example would be a search for ‘sale sport shoes’ when your keyword is ‘sports shoe sale’.

  • Phrase match “ ”: A phrase match must include keyword terms you are bidding on in the same unbroken order. There can, however, be words before or after the keyword.

  • Exact match [ ]: An exact match will only trigger when the exact keyword is searched for.
    A little side note: Google has begun restructuring what it considers an exact match. This now means that word order and function words like “the”, “for”, and “to” will be ignored, along with plurals and close variants of the chosen word.

What does this change mean to your account strategy?
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Google’s exact match modifications have meant that modified broad match has become the most popular choice for most campaigns. This is because it's strict enough to stay relevant, yet still offers enough flexibility to catch interested buyers.

“Using the right keyword match type ensures the money you spend on Google Ad campaigns helps you bring in the right type of traffic, which makes you more likely to attract a new customer, drive a sale, and maximize ROI,” notes Flori Needle at Hubspot.

What are negative keywords?

An effective PPC strategy depends on constantly refining your keyword matches.

It also brings negative keywords into play. Negative keywords allow you to exclude certain search terms from your campaigns, ensuring that your ads are only shown in response to the most relevant search queries.

“Also known as a negative match, negative keywords make sure that certain words or phrases don't trigger an ad being shown on a SERP search engine results page or website,” a recent blog post from HubSpot explains.

“This improves targeting: When you prevent keywords from being associated with an ad, you can be more certain that it will be shown to the right audiences.”

Let’s say you are trying to advertise those Nike air max 270 shoes we mentioned earlier, but they are part of a new campaign that is specifically targeting women.

Using negative keywords you can prevent your ads from appearing in less relevant searches for terms like “men’s trainers,” or “kid’s shoes,” ensuring that your campaigns are more targeted to your desired audience.

In choosing your keyword strategy, it is useful to create two to three long-tail keywords and try to avoid single-term keywords. That being said, your campaign goals are always your own and a different strategy might yield better results to meet your needs.

What are you willing to pay per click?

Let’s talk about bids and choosing a max CPC (cost per click), starting with your quality score. Your quality score is made up of keywords, landing page quality, and relevant content. Quality scores, along with your max CPC, help determine your ad rank.

More specifically, your maximum CPC bid multiplied by your quality score helps determine your position and therefore, cost per click, bringing everything together.

There are two options when choosing your bidding strategy: manual or automatic.

  • Manual bidding - Manual bidding gives you complete control. When starting a new campaign it might be a good idea to look at Google's “Page #1 CPC”, and “Top of Page CPC” metrics to give you a good idea of what your max bid should be. These two metrics are both estimates Google creates for each keyword.

  • Automatic bidding - This gives Google control to play around with your ad spend, using Google's AI to find the optimal price for you to be bidding on. This strategy can be helpful when starting a new campaign and if you don't have an idea of what a reasonable price would be for your ads. One potential option would be to play around with the ‘Maximize Clicks’ feature within Google AdWords.


Google will then try to get as many clicks as possible with your ad spend. An important note on using this feature is to set a Max CPC bid limit so that Google does not exceed your limits or budget.

However, this strategy may not be ideal in the long run and should be checked after a few weeks to determine a good price per click vs conversion.

Plus, it’s not the only strategy available to you. Maximize Conversions and Enhanced CPC represent just a couple of the other potential automated bidding strategies. Selecting the right one for your campaign depends on your goals.

As Avinash Kaushik, a digital marketing evangelist, says, “Never let ads write checks your website can’t cash.”

Automating your ads

With all this information, you should be ready to tackle optimizing your ads account structure and get those ads rolling. If handling all these campaigns and ad groups now sounds like a daunting task, there are data feed management and PPC tools to help manage your workflow.

Channable is a platform that can combine your data feed directly with your text ads, making automation and campaign management easy.

How about some final words of advice from someone that has done more than most to change the face of online advertising, Mark Zuckerberg: “Advertising works most effectively when it's in line with what people are already trying to do.” You don’t have to change your goals; just use Channable to make sure you achieve them.

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Jacob JørgensenTeam Lead Country Marketing

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