For many search marketers, identifying opportunities for optimization within paid search campaigns is challenging. Monitoring and maintaining top performing ad groups, keywords, and ads is a standard best practice; but as campaigns grow, keyword lists expand, and creative tests multiply, this approach fails to scale and provide incremental improvements in paid search performance. With so many optimization opportunities hidden in an ocean of data, how can search marketers give the required attention each campaign deserves? Where do you even start?
To help search marketers answer these questions, Marin Software is thrilled to announce our partnership with BoostCTR to offer a free paid search diagnostics tool that not only provides insight into account performance, but also opportunities for optimization. The Account Performance Grader is designed to analyze historical performance across keywords, ads, quality scores, and ad groups for AdWords and Bing Ads campaigns. Simply sign up and enter the required information to receive your customized report.
Among other best practice recommendations, this report will provide actionable insights for pausing poor performing keywords and ads, as well as reveal quality score trends that identify areas where keyword relevance can be improved. With the Account Performance Grader, search marketers can remove the guesswork out of campaign optimization and focus their time on more strategic, high impact tasks.
Sign up here and start optimizing your campaigns today!
Of all the search publisher metrics available, Quality Score seems to always receive the most attention; yet search marketers have the least amount of visibility into how to effectively improve it and its impact on performance. What we do know is that every time a user conducts a search that triggers ads, a Quality Score is calculated based on a number of factors, including:
Notice that the first three factors on Google’s list reference performance history, even though the history of a keyword’s Quality Score is unavailable within the AdWords interface. Instead, rather than showing different Quality Scores across time, Google displays a single Quality Score that provides an estimate of that keyword’s overall quality.
For the most part this is adequate—search marketers analyze Quality Score at individual moments in time to understand keyword relevance and performance issues. However, this one-off-style approach to analyzing Quality Score fails to provide insight into how search marketers’ continuous efforts to optimize campaigns impact Quality Score, either positively or negatively.
Whether it’s testing brand new creative or introducing additional negative keywords, improving a keyword’s Quality Score can lead to a lower cost-per-click (CPC) and a higher ad position. Changes in these two metrics can subsequently impact, among other things: CTR, costs, and return on investment (ROI). Unfortunately, the influence each of those best practices has on keyword Quality Score is frequently lost with time, especially within larger accounts. Imagine having to record the daily Quality Score for two million keywords affected by new creative messaging.
To understand the impact of optimization efforts on Quality Score, search marketers need the ability to trend historical Quality Score, against other performance metrics, over time.
For example, by trending Quality Score and average CPC over a 3 month period, search marketers can understand the exact impact on cost that comes from an increase in Quality Score from 6 to 8. Trends that include other metrics like ROI and conversion rate highlight the indirect impact that Quality Score has on conversion and revenue goals. Though the concept of trending Quality Score over time appears basic, many search marketers are unable to do so.
To see a demo of historical Quality Score and other advance metrics in action, please contact Marin.
Before writing this post, I performed a few web searches to scout out my competition. Based on that research, there appears to be one thing that everyone agrees upon about increasing paid search click-through-rate (CTR), the benefits:
However, given the title of this post, I figured just about everyone has their quick ways for increasing CTR—and I was right. There’s about 20 “quick” ways to increase your CTR, but not all of them are quick. Create granular keyword groupings? Restructuring campaigns and resetting Quality Score is a long term strategy. Give something away for free? Let’s choose to ignore that one. Look for assisted conversions? I personally don’t enjoy swimming in an ocean of data. Include pricing? And if prices change, it’ll be a fun week. Though all of these tactics and more do plenty to increase CTR, my goal today is to present five ways search marketers can increase CTR without breaking a sweat.
1. Implement Ad Sitelinks
This is unanimously the number one way to quickly increase CTR. Sitelinks provides up to six additional deep links to specific and highly relevant content on your site. These links not only expand your search engine results page (SERP) real estate, but they also enable search marketers to point users towards high-value landing pages, such as form fills and store locators. Keep in mind that up to six links can be added per campaign, which was increased from four in 2011. So if you haven’t touched your sitelinks in a while, it’s time to go back and ensure you have six updated links available.
For more information on sitelinks and how to enable them, click here.
2. Pause Poor Performing Creative
Remember that creative test you were running way back when? Well it’s still running, and one or more of those creative is hurting the entire ad group. As you prioritize ad groups for CTR optimization, be sure to evaluate the performance of existing creative. Though some poor performing creative will be easier to spot than others, be sure to reach some level of statistical significance before cutting ties and pausing those creative. It’s important to remember that poor performing creative represent an opportunity cost. By weeding them out of your account, you can drive more traffic through more relevant and engaging creative.
For additional best practices on creative testing and optimization, click here.
3. Leverage Differentiating Text
There are so many elements search marketers can test when it comes to differentiating their creative from their competitors. Let’s use a short list with simple explanations:
4. Mine for Negative Keywords
Most search marketers know how to mine for negative keywords, but the tune changes when discussing how often. Generating a search query report is simple; with some enterprise class solutions generating them automatically. Identify keywords that have received impressions, but very few clicks. But also take note of irrelevant tokens that appear often in queries. For example, tokens like “free”, “reviews”, and “used” often appear alongside relevant keywords. Add these and those irrelevant keywords to eliminate unwanted impressions and clicks.
For more information on developing an effective negative keyword strategy, click here.
5. Use High Volume Tokens
Keyword tokens within creative will appear in bold whenever they match or closely match a user’s search query. To improve the relevancy of your creative to the keywords within an ad group, include tokens with high impression share within creative text. For example, if users are more likely to include “clothing” in their query, rather than “apparel”, generate creative that includes the token “clothing”, even if both tokens appear in multiple keywords within the same ad group. Using the most relevant tokens within your creative will increase the relevance for a larger share of impressions and help increase CTR.
Incrementally increasing CTR takes testing and continuous optimization of keywords and creative. This involves using both short term and long term strategies. Hopefully, with the tactics I’ve imparted, you can begin increasing your CTR today…quickly and sweatband-free.
Keyword expansion can take many forms. Larger paid search programs that lean heavily on click volume tend to expand on and add keywords in bulk, favoring scale over micro-managing. For smaller programs, or when expanding keywords based on a prioritized list, taking a more methodical approach often makes more sense. To ensure effective keyword expansion and proper search query matching, search marketers should leverage modified broad match keywords, create separate ad groups, and implement a focused negative keyword strategy.
1. Limit Irrelevant Queries with Modified Broad Match
For the longest time, search marketers relied on broad match keywords to capture converting traffic from long tail queries. Historically, this was how a keyword like “hiking shoe” would lead to expanded keywords like “mens hiker shoes” or “black shoes for hiking”. Then Google introduced modified broad match, which provides search marketers with the control of phrase match and the reach of broad match. You can now maintain keyword relevance and scale negative keyword research, without sacrificing the ability to drive conversions through longer tail queries.
To leverage modified broad match, add the modifier (+) to your broad match keywords*. As a result, each keyword token that uses this modifier must appear in the search query exactly or as a close variant; this includes misspellings, plurals, abbreviations and acronyms. Though click and conversion volume may dip slightly compared the same keyword on broad match, clickthrough-rate (CTR) should drastically improve. Furthermore, spend due to irrelevant clicks will decrease as Google will stop matching your keywords to synonyms and “relevant” searches. As always, continue to generate and mine publisher search query reports for irrelevant queries and add them as negative keywords. With modified broad match keywords, you should notice a significant drop in the number of irrelevant queries found in these reports.
*As a best practice, when adding modified broad match keywords, pause existing broad match keywords (rather than delete) and create new modified broad match versions. This will allow you to maintain historical Quality Scores should you need to revert back to broad match in the future.
2. Improve Quality Score with a Separate Ad Group
As you discover new longer-tail, converting queries, add them to new ad groups. For example, if the modified broad keyword “+hiking +shoe” expands to “mens hiker shoes”, add the new keyword on exact match type to a new “Mens Hiker Shoes” ad group. This allows you to generate ad creative specific to men’s hiker shoes, rather than relying on the fairly generic hiking shoes ad creative. Always generate new ad creative and incorporate the keyword into the ad as much as possible. If a higher quality landing page exists, be sure to leverage that as well to improve Quality Score. Introduce new keywords with an aggressive initial bid. A high average position and CTR will go a long way in establishing a strong Quality Score.
As more keywords convert, and are expanded upon and placed into their own ad groups, the original modified broad match keyword will become less and less profitable. Keep this in mind as part of your bidding strategy. Set appropriate goals for these modified broad keywords and continue to leverage them more for keyword expansion rather than hitting business targets.
3. Shape Traffic with Exact Match Negative Keywords
The most critical step when adding expanded keywords to a new ad group is remembering to add the exact match negative of that same keyword to the original ad group. In our example above, the new exact match keyword “mens hiker shoes” was added to the new “Mens Hiker Shoes” ad group. As a result, the exact match negative keyword “-mens hiker shoes” should be added to the original “Hiking Shoes” ad group. This forces Google to match the query to the exact match keyword, rather than the modified broad match keyword. In other words, a search for “mens hiker shoes” will match to the “mens hiker shoes” exact match keyword, and not “+hiking +shoe”. If the exact match negative keyword isn’t added to the old ad group, it’s possible that Google will incorrectly match queries to modified broad keywords based on a number of factors, including max cost-per-click (CPC) or Quality Score.
For additional best practices on keyword expansion and how to maximize keyword opportunities, click here.
For an introduction to competitive keyword analysis, click here.
Last month I highlighted the importance for SEM and SEO managers to communicate their findings to one another during keyword research and analysis. By keeping the lines of communication open and providing positive feedback, both teams can benefit from more aggressive, but mutually beneficial, strategies. When implemented correctly and optimized effectively, the two strategies that I mentioned—leveraging SEM keywords to drive traffic to SEO-challenged landing pages and using SEO to absorb the cost of expensive SEM keywords—can pay big dividends.
Addressing SEO-Challenged Landing Pages
For certain pages on a website, like product pages or conversion pages, even the most die-hard attempts at SEO fail to drive traffic. For example, deeply buried product pages, which often lack linking and original content, are notoriously difficult to deliver organic traffic. However, with the proper paid keywords and ads, SEM managers can help their SEO mangers drive their target audience to these pages. Not only does this increase traffic, but allows both managers to capitalize on the increased relevancy and higher conversion rates associated with landing customers on product pages. Furthermore, the ability to report on and analyze performance provides SEM and SEO managers with the transparency needed to fine-tune keyword lists, polish ad creative, and optimize campaigns to achieve business goals and objectives.
To begin building out a list of potential SEM keywords, generate an on-site search report. This analytics report is a quick and easy way to begin discovering SEO-challenged landing pages. In many cases, an on-site search report can reveal the pages your customers are searching for that they couldn’t find either through a search engine or your website’s navigation. Keep in mind that any new keywords added to your SEM campaigns should have an appropriate and specific landing page—the goal here isn’t necessarily to find new keywords, but to drive additional traffic to the deeper and less visible pages of your website.
Subsidizing Expensive SEM Keywords
Expensive SEM keywords are typically characterized by high competition and heavy search volume. These are the popular keywords that everyone wants to rank organically on and are more than likely already a part of your SEO strategy. However, there are plenty of SEM keywords out there that consistently generate clicks and conversions, but at an unprofitable cost per click (CPC). These keywords should be presented to SEO managers as secondary, or “nice to have”, keywords within the overall SEO strategy. It’s important to back up each keyword suggestion with performance metrics, such as impressions, clicks, average position, average CPC, conversion rate, and revenue per click. Keywords with higher values should be prioritized for SEO.
But let’s be honest, ranking on the first page for these “nice to have” keywords is easier said than done and is fairly difficult without the SEO machine supporting them at 100% capacity. However, if optimizing only a handful of keywords results in an increase in organic traffic, both SEM and SEO managers benefit. As increases in organic clicks occur, more SEM budget is freed up to purchase less expensive keywords or test new ones. When leveraged appropriately, these previously unprofitable SEM keywords will allow SEO managers to increase organic traffic and acquire more revenue.
As I mentioned last month, SEM and SEO managers must continuously provide results and feedback on recommendations to remain successful. Don’t be afraid to proactively seek out feedback. Understanding what works and what doesn’t will help limit losses and open the door to capitalize on opportunities. When implemented correctly and optimized effectively, the two strategies I presented here can pay big dividends and enable SEM and SEO managers to acquire more revenue.
Yesterday, I shared a story I commonly refer to whenever I talk about how SEM managers using keyword research and analysis can help their SEO counterparts. As I discussed, the knowledge share of mutually beneficial keywords is typically absent not because there’s a shortage of keywords, but rather because the value of sharing isn’t often realized. As part of my Roundtable Forum discussion at SES San Francisco last month, I’ll continue exploring the importance of communicating the findings between SEM and SEO managers during keyword research and analysis.
What Does SEO Offer SEM?
Natural search query reports provide an incredible amount of insight into the keywords that result in natural search clicks and conversions. Typically, since short tail keywords across a website are already leveraged within an SEM program, the keywords of interest within these reports are longer tailed. And in the spirit of storytelling, I’d like to share another one about my experiences working with a pet supply retailer.
Due to an expanded monthly budget, I was tasked with building out an extensive list of keywords that had to hit an aggressive return-on-investment (ROI) goal. Working with my SEO manager, and reviewing extensive natural search query reports, we discovered several keywords that drove an incredible amount of natural search traffic and conversions to a product page embedded deep within the website. Based on our findings, I decided to add these keywords into my SEM campaign. Because SEM competition already existed on these keywords and the cost-per-click was relatively low, the heavy influx of paid clicks and conversions was entirely incremental and highly profitable. In other words, after turning on these new keywords there was no decline in natural search performance, and I was able to hit my monthly ROI goal.
Keywords like the ones I’ve described above often fly under the radar of even the most disciplined SEM manager. Keep in mind SEO managers are constantly working within natural search query reports as well as analyzing high volume and top performing landing pages. To continue moving the needle, SEM managers need to integrate these SEO reports and insights into their keyword research and analysis.
As with any mutually beneficial relationship, positive feedback is critical in promoting continuous success. If a new SEO keyword is found to perform well for SEM, it’s important that the performance metrics and analyzes are shared with the SEO manager. Don’t be afraid to proactively seek out feedback. Keep in mind that keyword research and analysis is just one of the many mutualistic strategies that SEM and SEO managers can engage in. Keeping the lines of communication open and providing positive feedback can lead to more aggressive but mutually beneficial strategies, like leveraging SEM keywords to drive traffic to SEO-challenge landing pages.
Last month at SES San Francisco, I was posed a question during my Roundtable Forum discussion about the sometimes non-existent relationship between search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) managers. In the case of keyword research and analysis, this is often the case. However, the knowledge share of mutually beneficial keywords is absent not because there’s a shortage of keywords, but rather because the value of sharing isn’t often realized. Today and tomorrow, as part of that roundtable discussion, I’ll be exploring the importance of communicating the findings between SEM and SEO managers during keyword research and analysis.
What Does SEM Offer SEO?
About three years ago I was managing the SEM program of a large motorcycle retailer and actively bidding on the keywords “dirt bikes” and “motocross bikes”. For SEO purposes, the landing page I was leveraging for SEM had been optimized for the keyword “motocross bikes”, since motocross was how this retailer described this particular type of motorcycle. After a couple months of keyword research and analysis, I discovered that the keyword “dirt bikes” received over twice as many paid clicks and conversions than the keyword “motocross bikes”. As a result of my findings, I submitted a keyword report to the SEO manager in an attempt to shift the SEO strategy on the “motocross bikes” landing page.
To generate more natural traffic and conversions on their “motocross” landing page, the SEO manager needed to leverage the more popular keyword, “dirt bikes”, throughout the page tags and content. Prior to implementation, this landing page had never appeared within the first five pages of natural search results for the query “dirt bikes”. A couple months after implementation, it was appearing within the top three positions on the first page of natural search results. As a consequence, natural search traffic and conversions drastically increased across this landing page.
I commonly refer to this story whenever I talk about how SEM managers can help their SEO counterparts. Sometimes SEO strategies can be limited by how businesses think about their own products (i.e. motocross bikes), rather than how customers think about their products (i.e. dirt bikes). The ability to continuously implement and test new keywords for volume and profitability enables SEM managers to discover SEO worthy keywords. When leveraged correctly, these insights allow SEO managers to increase natural traffic and acquire more revenue.
As with any mutually beneficial relationship, positive feedback is critical in promoting continuous success. If a new SEM keyword is found to perform well for SEO, it’s important that the performance metrics and analyzes are shared with the SEM manager. And don’t be afraid to proactively seek out feedback. Keep in mind that keyword research and analysis is just one of the many mutualistic strategies that SEM and SEO managers can engage in. Keeping the lines of communication open and providing positive feedback can lead to more aggressive, but mutually beneficial strategies like using SEO to absorb the cost of expensive SEM keywords. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at how SEM managers can benefit from the keyword research and analysis conducted by their SEO counterparts.
Competitive keyword analysis should play in integral part in your paid and organic search optimization strategy. As paid search activity continues to grow, so will the number of businesses you compete against within the search landscape. Understanding who your competitors are and the keywords they’re optimizing for is critical to staying relevant, competitive and profitable in your pursuit to acquire more revenue. In this post, I’ll be walking through several quick and easy tips for conducting competitive keyword analysis and how to apply your findings to your own optimization strategies.
Meet Your “Neighbors”
If you don’t know who your competitors are, there are a couple simple tools you can use to find out who they are. The easiest way is to search on the keywords that best describe your product or service offering. Both the organic and paid search results will give you an initial list of the visible competitors in your space. You might be surprised as to who shows up.
Another popular tool is SpyFu. In addition to providing a detailed list of your top paid and organic competitors, this search keyword tool also provides the top paid and organic keywords, the daily budget, the average position as well as the paid and organic click volume of your competitors. Simply enter a domain or keyword and start spying away.
Go Behind Enemy Lines
Now that you have a list of competitors, it’s time to start learning more about them and the keywords they use to define your space. The best place to start is their website. Go to the homepage, right click and “View page source”. Search for “<title>”, “meta name=“description”” and “meta name=“keywords””. The content in these lines of source code will give you the best idea as to what keywords your competitors are optimizing for. In addition to the homepage, view the source code for each of your competitor’s product or category pages and begin compiling a list of potential keyword opportunities.
Expand Your Territory
Though there are plenty of free keyword expansion tools available, we’re going to focus our attention on the Google Keyword Tool. This easy-to-use tool is great for determining potential traffic and competition for new keyword ideas. Take your compiled list of keyword opportunities (via SpyFu and page source) and paste them in manageable quantities into the Google Keyword Tool. Click here for a walkthrough on how to use the Google Keyword Tool.
Consider the Competition, Monthly Search volumes and Approximate CPC (when logged into your AdWords account) metrics when exploring new keywords. Low-volume, low-competition keywords will likely come with lower CPCs, but may not result in many clicks or conversions. High-volume, high-competition keywords will likely achieve the opposite. The ideal would be high-volume, low-competition. Though you probably won’t discover the holy grail of keywords, you might discover a new set of keywords that perform well at a lower cost-per-click compared to the rest of your keyword list.
Explore Your Margins
Remember when I mentioned that you might be surprised as to who shows up in your search for the keywords that best describe your product or service offering? That’s because many of these businesses compete with you at the margins of your business. That is, they only compete against a subset of your overall product or service offering. For example, if you’re a sports equipment retailer, these competitors might only sell snowboarding apparel or basketball shoes exclusively. Since they are specialized in what they offer, these competitors can be a good source for unique, inexpensive and long tail keyword opportunities. Leverage their SpyFu and page source keywords to the extent that your product or service inventory allows.
Look In the Mirror
Apply your keyword findings to your own website. Keep in mind that your customers don’t always use the same keywords as you when searching for your products or services. If you discover a new keyword that performs exceptionally well during your competitive analysis, make it a part of your SEO strategy. Justify your decision to optimize for these new keywords based on click and conversion data and build them into your website to improve your landing page relevancy and organic search ranking.
As always, when adding new keywords to your paid search program, remember to optimize. Researching negative keywords, setting appropriate keyword bids and generating relevant ad creative are just a few tasks to keep in mind.
As keyword lists expand, they sometimes out-grow the groups that were initially created to contain them. For example, a group may have started out with a single keyword, “running shoes”. However, after some time and a little keyword expansion, that same group now contains the keywords “running shoes”, “womens running shoes”, “jogging shoes” and “black running shoes”, among others. The original creative that were generated to match “running shoes” queries are now less relevant to the newly expanded keywords. As a result, the overall click-through rate (CTR) of this group has declined. This decline in group CTR, as keyword count increases, leads to a useful metric that should be considered when optimizing creative: keywords per group.
Groups with a higher number of keywords often have lower CTRs and lower Quality Scores than groups with a concise and focused set of keywords. This is because the creative within densely populated groups can only leverage a subset of its keyword’s tokens for maintaining relevance. In our example above, the creative leveraged the token “running” rather than “jogging” to maintain relevance to “running shoes” queries.
To identify and prioritize groups for creative optimization, generate a data table containing the number of keywords, CTR and cost of each group in the account.
Then create a bubble chart to plot the relationship between the three metrics.
Take note of the larger circles in the lower right hand corner of the bubble chart. These groups should be prioritized for optimization. Locate and break out less relevant keywords within these groups into new groups that contain more relevant creative. In our example, “jogging shoes” should be split out into a Jogging Shoes group with creative that utilize the term “jogging” rather than “running”. Executing on these best practices will lead to improvements in CTR and Quality Score.
Keep in mind that Quality Score will reset for the keywords that are split out into new groups. Allow an initial burn-in period for these new keywords to establish their own Quality Score before evaluating performance. As a best practice, check the status of each keyword and ensure that its bid is set above the first page minimum. Give these bids an initial boost to increase ad position. A higher ad position promotes a higher CTR, which remains a significant factor in improving Quality Score.
To help generate the data table and bubble chart above, Marin users can leverage the Active Keywords metric under the Advanced group column category. Be sure to tag the split keywords and affected groups with Dimensions to monitor performance. Finally, don’t forget to optimize the newly created groups; setting appropriate keyword bids, generating relevant creative and researching negative keywords are just a few strategies to in mind.
If you’ve ever browsed through your AdWords account, you’ve most likely encountered Google’s pesky keyword status, “Below first page bid”. This estimate is based on your keyword’s Quality Score and competition, and is the bid you’ll likely need to set in order for your creative to show on the first page of search results. Though these keywords are active, they’re most likely missing out on a large chunk of impressions, and potential clicks and conversions. Since this first page bid is directly linked to Quality Score, marketers that regularly experience high first page bid estimates will likely benefit from improvements to their keyword’s Quality Score. Today we’ll review two strategies for decreasing your first page minimum bid.
When adding a new keyword, you’ll notice that Google automatically assigns an initial Quality Score. Whether that score is high or low, it’s determined by the keyword’s historical performance for other advertisers who have targeted that same keyword. As a result of this assigned Quality Score, your initial keyword bid might be below the first page bid estimate. As a best practice, be sure to check the status of all your newly added keywords and ensure that you’ve set appropriate bids that are above the first page minimum. It’s critical that marketers do this, since a keyword’s initial performance will dictate whether or not its Quality Scores move above or below the assigned score. Give your keyword bids an initial boost to help facilitate a higher ad position. A higher ad position promotes a higher click-through-rate (CTR), which remains one of the most significant factors in improving Quality Score. Once your keywords have established their own Quality Score, hopefully better than what was inherited, reassess your bids. With higher Quality Scores, your first page bid estimates will have dropped, allowing you to bid less for the same ad position.
For keywords that have an established Quality Score, decreasing the first page minimum bid can be a long and difficult task. In addition to setting an appropriate bid above the first page minimum, marketers must take the necessary steps to increase keyword relevance to promote higher CTRs. Create an organized campaign structure that promotes granular groups containing a highly focused set of keywords. In addition, generate relevant and engaging creative to support your keyword set. Finally, assign appropriate landing pages that focus on providing the best customer experience. These tried and true best practices not only ensure that relevancy is maintained from impression to conversion, but will result in Quality Score improvements and decreases to first page minimum bids.
For additional best practices on improving Quality Score, click here.