With January underway, most search marketers have already made their personal New Year resolutions. Whether it’s better health, spending more time with friends and family, or helping out in the community, we all have high hopes for 2013. For me, and many other search marketers, the motivation to do better each year defines the strategies I hope to execute on in 2013. It all starts with planning and creativity. After analyzing this past year’s performance and factoring in the objectives that have been set, three additional New Year resolutions made it on my list. The following are what I hope to do more of for my paid search program in 2013 and how I plan to get there.
1. Test More of Everything
My testing plans tend to go through cycles of high activity and mild dormancy. Building a test, analyzing results, implement the findings, and building the next test takes time and often loses steam when coupled with a busy schedule. This year, I’m going to test more and test often. This will include not just search landing pages, but also ad creative, conversion pages, and display banners. I’m working with my design team to create an optimization calendar that fits their bandwidth and allows me to prioritize tests across our multiple marketing channels. Testing more will be especially be critical this year as I look to grow leads incrementally without expanding budgets.
2. Re-Organize Messy Campaigns
Though this resolution is much more time consuming and has more long term than short term implications, I believe that it will pay big dividends during critical seasonal periods of 2013. Many times search campaigns are built out with a structure that makes sense at that time. However, as campaigns mature and outgrow that structure, they no longer perform at optimal levels. Aggressive keyword expansion can lead to less relevant creative; and less aggressive negative keyword expansion can result in unwanted clicks. On top of that, as Google and Bing come out with new features and functionality, the account structure may become dated and less productive.
This year, I’m reviewing the structure of my campaigns and groups. Groups that achieved lower than average click-through rates (CTR) in 2012 will be split out into more granular ones. Since keywords under this new structure will vary less within any one group, I can then generate highly relevant creative and leverage more specific landing pages in hopes of increasing Quality Score, CTR, and conversion rate.
3. Prioritize Creative Optimization
I’ve talked about this particular resolution in my previous articles, yet it always seems to fall lower in the pecking order of my daily optimization efforts. Especially among small to medium sized businesses where budgets are tight, creative testing and optimization is critical to incremental growth and improvements in overall paid search performance. In fact, all three of my resolutions for 2013 fall into the category of maximizing performance without increasing budgets. Splitting keywords out into more granular groups will require continuous testing to increase relevance and improve creative performance. To capitalize on the largest revenue opportunities, I’ll prioritize my optimization efforts to groups with high traffic volume, but poor performance. This is likely where I’ll get the most return on my time spent optimizing creative.
The key this New Year is building on the momentum from 2012. There are plenty of new publisher features and tools like remarketing and Product Listing Ads out there to try. Regardless, I’ve decided to rely on these three basic optimization strategies—aligning them with my marketing objectives—to improve my paid search program and increase conversions in 2013.
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.
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 paid search programs mature, it becomes more and more difficult to achieve incremental increases in traffic and revenue. Consequently, search marketers lean heavily on keyword expansion to drive more traffic in hopes of acquiring more revenue. Last week, we reviewed the Google Search Term Report and Google Keyword Tool. Today we will walk through three additional keyword expansion tools and provide best practices for maximizing your keyword expansion efforts.
Organic Search Traffic Report
Keyword expansion opportunities aren’t limited to paid search traffic or existing keyword sets. Organic search traffic provides insight into clicks and conversions occurring outside the scope of your paid search program. Adding converting organic search terms into your account can garner additional clicks and provide incremental increases in conversions and revenue.
The notion that paid search ads cannibalize organic clicks is somewhat unfounded and outdated. Including paid search ads with organic search results can lead to a 50% increase in clicks, even when that ad is accompanied by a position #1 organic search result (Google study).
Conversion tracking solutions, such as Marin Tracker, have the functionality to generate organic search traffic (or search query) reports. Google Analytics is free and provides online marketers with access to such reports.
On-Site Search Term Report
The queries that visitors enter into your site’s search bar provide insight into the products and services that interest them. Mining on-site search term reports for new keywords is a quick and simple keyword expansion strategy.
Keep in mind that your customers don’t use the same words as you when searching for your products and services. Unless the appropriate broad match keywords have been added to your account, these types of words might not be captured by your paid search term report. As you make these reports a regular resource for keyword expansion, you might find that many of your onsite search terms fall outside the reach of your paid search keywords.
Your analytics package should have the functionality to generate on-site search term reports. Google Analytics is free and provides online marketers with access to such reports. For more information on how to set up Site Search for Google Analytics, click here.
Google Insights for Search
Similar to the Google Keyword Tool, Google Insights for Search should be used in tandem with performance oriented keyword expansion tools. Google Insights for Search allows marketers to trend up to five sets of search terms to compare search volume patterns across geographic regions, product and service categories, seasonal time periods and Google properties. Simply copy and paste your new keywords into Google Insights for Search.
Gauging interest using Google Insights for Search allows you to build keyword variations around popular terms and reallocate budget based on interest and demand. For example, search volume for the keyword “mountain climbing” peaks during the summer months. In addition, searches on this keyword are higher in western regions where there is more mountainous terrain. To stay ahead of competitors, you might consider increasing bids on this keyword during the summer and further increasing it across campaigns that target western states.
For more information regarding Google Insights for Search, click here.
As paid search programs mature, it becomes more and more difficult to achieve incremental increases in traffic and revenue. Consequently, search marketers lean heavily on keyword expansion to drive more traffic in hopes of acquiring more revenue. Subscription-based keyword expansion tools can provide a quick way of generating new keywords, but still require manual effort and often lack granularity. These shortcomings make free keyword expansion tools very attractive. This two part blog series will walk through five free Google tools and provide best practices for maximizing your keyword expansion efforts.
Google Search Term Report
The Google search term (or search query) report is one of the most dependable keyword expansion tools available. Benefits of this report are twofold: marketers can add new keywords based on search terms that are relevant to and perform well in a marketer’s paid search program. Conversely, they can add negative keywords based on search terms that are irrelevant and result in unwanted clicks.
Keep in mind that your current keyword set already captures queries appearing in the search term report. As a result, a new bidding strategy, creative or both, should accompany newly added keywords.
For example, the query “mountain rock climbing” appears in your report as a top search term. It’s currently being captured by the broad match keyword “mountain climbing”, which exists in your account. Simply adding [mountain rock climbing] into your account won’t likely shift performance in one direction or the other. To properly expand into the keyword [mountain rock climbing] and analyze its performance separate from “mountain climbing” you must:
For newly added keywords, strategies like the one above can help increase Quality Score and click-through-rate (CTR) while decreasing CPC. As a best practice, use conversion tracking, in addition to cost metrics, to prioritize your keyword expansion opportunities. Just because a search term receives clicks, it doesn’t mean that it results in revenue. Enterprise-class solutions, like Marin Software, seamlessly integrate conversion tracking data with publisher click data to help marketers scale, prioritize and automate their expansion opportunities.
AdWords Help provides a quick walkthrough of how to run a search term report.
Google Keyword Tool
The Google Keyword Tool is a great way of determining potential traffic and competition for new keyword ideas. However, keep in mind that it’s in Google’s best interest for you to add any and all suggested keywords, since this tool favors quantity of keywords over quality of keywords. As a best practice, the Google Keyword Tool should only be used in conjunction with more robust and performance-oriented keyword-expansion tactics such as leveraging organic and paid search query reports.
Before adding a new set of keywords with Google Keyword Tool, utilize some of the tool’s more advanced features:
Consider the Competition, Monthly Search volumes and Approximate CPC when adding new keywords and see if they align with your expansion objectives. For example, did you expect a particular keyword to receive more monthly search volume or cost less than $2 per click? 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. Use the Approximate CPC as a benchmark when setting your new keywords’ max CPCs. Enterprise-class tools, such as Marin’s keyword expansion tool, automatically combine Google’s keyword estimations with converting organic and paid search query data, providing marketers with smarter, revenue-driving expansion opportunities.
AdWords Help provides a quick walkthrough of how to use the Google Keyword Tool.
Read Part 2 of our series for three additional Google keyword expansion tools.
In a post late last year, we briefly explored the importance of match type parity—expanding broad match keywords to phrase and exact match—to not only improve keyword efficiency, but lower CPCs. Today, we’ll broaden our discussion to review additional strategies for maintaining keyword parity across match types and publishers. This post will help identify where potential keyword gaps reside and provide the necessary tools for filling them.
As campaigns mature, keywords evolve from experiments to proven revenue drivers. These proven revenue drivers often perform similarly across publishers. If a newly added Google keyword achieved 100 clicks with a 5% conversion rate at a 200% ROI over the last two weeks, it makes sense to test the same keyword on Bing. Unfortunately, many advertisers fail to maintain keyword parity across publishers, even when the failure to do so can result in missed revenue opportunities.
Identifying where these keyword gaps reside can prove to be a daunting task. To promote engine parity, implement tracking when engaging in keyword expansion. (Third-party solutions, like Marin Software, can help track and report on these changes at scale.) Take detailed notes on where, when and why these keywords were added to the account. These notes are not only essential to analyzing performance, but are critical when copying top performing keywords across publishers. To retroactively assess parity, download a sorted keyword performance report and apply an Excel vlookup to compare publisher keyword sets. Take note of where the gaps are for top performing keywords.
Copying exact and phrase match keywords to broad match type is a simple strategy for reaching a larger audience and discovering additional keyword opportunities. However, an increase in traffic doesn’t always correspond to an increase in performance. When introducing broad match keywords, be relentless in your efforts to find appropriate negative keywords.
Driving improvements in keyword efficiency often requires the use of phrase and exact match keywords. Expanding broad match keywords to phrase and exact allows for effective segmentation of keyword traffic and performance metrics. A keyword on broad match only captures the traffic for its phrase and exact match counterparts. Consequently, the clicks and conversions are aggregated to a single keyword. With the same keyword on broad, phrase and exact match, clicks and conversions can be segmented based on match type and precise optimization strategies can be implemented for each keyword.
Consider the following dilemma. A keyword running on Google across all three match types has a broad match bid that exceeds the phrase and exact match bids. As a result, the broad match keyword cannibalizes traffic that should otherwise be captured by the phrase or exact match keywords. To effectively expand keywords from broad to phrase to exact match types, and segment performance based on match type, you must implement match type silos.
Match type silos not only promote match type parity but, with appropriate negative keywords, guarantee proper query-to-keyword matching. (For more on match type silos, read our whitepaper on managing negative keywords.)
Be mindful of publisher and match type gaps. Once these keyword gaps have been filled, remember to optimize. Researching negative keywords, setting appropriate keyword bids and generating relevant ad creative are just a few tasks to keep in mind. Implement these strategies and share your results with us.
Excited to introduce Marin Next, an innovative recommendation engine we designed to help advertisers uncover new areas for optimization. We realize advertisers have only so much time in the day and developing new creative, testing new target audiences, etc. is probably a better use of energy than spending hours crunching numbers to discover areas for optimization or expansion. So, leveraging a proprietary methodology based on our experience with hundreds of successful online advertisers, we developed Marin Next to help assess the state of campaigns and make optimization suggestions.
Marin Next is the first of its kind, providing advertisers recommendations in the areas of budgeting, bidding, creative optimization and campaign structure across search, display and social campaigns. Based on the actual performance and structure of their marketing programs, with Marin next marketers will gain insights previously hard to identify or prioritize.
Our recent whitepaper, “Taking Paid Search Performance to the Next Level” describes Marin’s optimization methodology and provides examples of the types of recommendations provided by Marin Next. Contact your Marin Online Marketing Manager for more information on leveraging Marin Next on your campaigns.
Keyword expansion is a generalized term for increasing the keyword count for a search ad campaign. There are many tools for generating keyword expansion recommendations including Adwords, Adcenter, and Marin’s own proprietary keyword expansion tool which has the additional functionality of being able to track conversions associated with raw queries to provide better insight into whether keywords make sense to be added based on their post click success.
Keyword expansion is one of few optimizations that has the opportunity to increase volume while decreasing CPC’s. Keyword expansion can be used to increase reach, improve campaign efficiency or both. The impact of keyword expansion, whether to increase efficiency or volume, is generally determined by whether expansion is being done on existing keywords or new keywords. Existing keywords can be optimized by expansion of more efficient match types; this strategy is effective in increasing campaign efficiency. New keywords can be created through keyword expansion to capitalize on increased reach; this strategy is effective in increasing campaign volume and can also increase efficiency.
Expansion of existing keywords through the use of match type parity is typically executed to channel click traffic from less efficient, broad and/or phrase match types, to more efficient, phrase and/or exact match types. As broad match keywords can bring in more irrelevant and unknown queries than phrase or exact match counterparts they also tend to have lower conversion rates. The more targeted match types are also likely to display ad copy that has increased relevance to the captured query which should result in increased CTR’s, better quality score and lower CPC’s.
As new campaigns are created this practice of match type parity can be used proactively to achieve efficiencies immediately.
If a keyword is running in a Google campaign on all three match types Adwords will still drive queries to broad match keywords if the broad match bid exceeds that of the phrase and exact match types of the same term. For this reason, when expanding keyword match types in Google it is recommended that separate groups be created for each match type so that negative keywords can be used guarantee queries be driven to more efficient match types.
Expansion of new keywords can be used to generate additional volume by increasing a campaigns reach or can identify phrase and/or exact match keywords that can be added to improve efficiency.
Keyword expansion of broad match terms can be coined as “exploratory spend,” this term signifies that increased spend can be applied through the expansion to identify opportunities that are not currently being taken advantage of. Exploratory spend can be applied to head terms (low token count) or tail terms (high token count) depending on the desired results.
Either keyword expansion option should be further refined by mining raw query reports to determine what queries are effective which can be added as more efficient match types. Queries identified as inefficient represent opportunities for negative keywords that can be used for further refinement and efficiency.
As the addition of broad match keywords could significantly increase traffic and spend it is often advisable to create and exploratory spend campaign so budgets can be managed separately from normal traffic. It is recommended advertisers account for match type parity when implementing keyword expansion for exploratory spend to realize any potential efficiencies immediately. This exploratory spend can be an effective way to increase spend and clicks as budgets increase, or explore potentially more efficient keywords while maintaining budget levels.
Keyword expansion of phrase and/or exact match terms provides similar opportunity to the match type parity explained above. Similar to the recommendation of having a broad match keyword paritied to phrase and exact match types, all search queries (or converting search queries) that are generated by a broad match keyword represent an expansion opportunity. Broad match queries can be added to a campaign as a phrase and/or exact match keyword(s) to ensure future traffic generated by the query will be channeled through the more efficient and relevantly targeted match type(s).
As existing campaigns progress through their lifecycle of optimization and refinement, advertisers should expect to see an increased percentage of ads spend transitioned from broad match keywords to their more efficient counterparts. Below is a list of common keyword expansion strategies:
Keyword Expansion Opportunities
• Geographical targeting
• Category keywords
• Business name keywords
• Brand keywords
• Seasonality keywords
• Jargon keywords, nicknames, and acronyms
• Question keywords