This is a guest post from Dionte Pounds, Account Manager at
Digital marketers love automation. No secret there. With as many different target markets and key metrics as we have to monitor, any rules or reports that we can automate to save a few minutes here and there add up over time and help us breath easier.
Bidding is one area that’s seen great improvements in automated technology. There are tons of new strategies and technologies to implement automated bidding (with Marin’s bidding folders being a fantastic option).
That said, there are times when you still need to roll up your sleeves, get a little dirty, and crank out some manual adjustments. To make that process less stressful, here are four tips for getting the most out of your manual bid adjustments.
Generally speaking, I make adjustments once a week using a seven-day lookback period. This allows me to view keyword performance since the last time I made adjustments and see if the adjustment had the desired effect. If I happen to make large-scale adjustments in between those two seven-day periods, I pull my data from the date of the last adjustment.
The purpose of using consistent date ranges and pulling from the date of the last adjustment is to keep your data “clean.” If you’re making multiple adjustments and using inconsistent date ranges, it makes it much more difficult, if not impossible, to understand how certain adjustments affect keyword performance.
This is because you’re viewing data from both before and after the last keyword adjustments. Ultimately, you could end up pushing your bids too far up or down and not achieve the CPA you want. So, for simplicity, keep your date ranges consistent and make sure there’s little overlap.
This is very simple: don’t boost bids for keywords in the top position. When bidding, it’s better to boost keywords in lower positions than keywords at the top, because only the former will lead to increased impression volume. Raising the bids for top positions will only increase costs, not improve performance.
Once, I worked with an ecommerce client who had struggled for some time to get non-brand search CPA and conversion volume. Their account wasn’t helped by the multiple budget-capped, non-brand campaigns this client had active.
After some thought, I decided to increase all non-brand keywords with quality scores (QS) of 9 or 10 while pausing low-QS keywords. I especially pushed those keywords that had been struggling with below-first-page bids. As a result of the adjustments, non-brand conversion volume took off.
Why? Well, Google wants to serve keywords with high QS. Therefore, when I pushed up the bids for my top QS keywords, impressions greatly increased even though I paused a ton of poor keywords that were eating up spend. Not every top QS keyword will be a home run, but make sure the bids for these terms are always competitive and that low QS terms don’t make up the bulk of your spend.
Bleeders are keywords that have little spend on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, but add up to large costs over time. Because of this limited spend, the bids for these keywords are often left unchanged during normal bid adjustments. If left unchecked, these can cause CPC/CPA to stagnate. Every so often, use an extended lookback period to identify and bid down or pause bleeders.
With just a few adjustments, you can be on your way to improved performance and more clicks. Happy manual bidding!
Last Thursday, Google announced that exact keyword match will now include close variant keywords as well. Many of you may be wondering what this means for your campaigns and what action is required on your part. We’re here to assure that there is no reason to panic!
For some background, advertisers currently have two options when it comes to matching ads to search queries: 1.) Only show the ad when the query exactly matched the keywords they set up in AdWords, or 2.) Allow Google to also match the ad to keywords and phrases that are very similar to the original one, including variations like plurals or misspellings. Starting in late September, the first option is going away and Google will always automatically include all of these close variants when it tries to match an ad to a search query. Today’s announcement only applies to what Google calls the “phrase match” and “exact match” options. As the name implies, exact match only shows the ad when the query exactly matched the keyword (e.g. “women’s hats”), while phrase match also shows it when the query includes other words (e.g. “buy women’s hats”).
While this change may initially be perceived as burdensome to Google advertisers who prefer tight control over their exact and phrase matched keywords, it does offer some benefit to advertisers. Namely, following the September update, Google advertisers will no longer have to build long lists of misspelled, abbreviated, and other close variations of keywords to get the coverage they want. Therefore, this update can help Google advertisers better manage keyword complexity across large Search programs.
Although Google is marketing this change as a benefit to advertisers, Marin recommends that our advertisers closely monitor their campaigns to determine how the September changes will impact their overall performance.
Farnell element14 is a high-service distributor of technology products and solutions for electronic system design, maintenance and repair in Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific. We are happy to have their business, and thank Farnell element14 for allowing us to share their story in one of our newest case studies.
Farnell element14 stocks over 500,000 products from over 3,000 industry leading suppliers. It also operates in 30 European markets with 27 different language campaigns. Managing their search campaign at this sort of scale presented many challenges including a huge number of keywords and difficulty increasing spend while maintaining ROAS.
Since choosing Marin Software, Farnell element14 has taken advantage of Marin Dimensions to “tag” campaign elements for segmentation and analysis; this ability provides key insight right down to the keyword level. The team also uses Marin’s predictive bidding algorithm to automate keyword level bidding, maximizing financial performance while still maintaining ROAS. Farnell element14 has seen great results including a 29% increase in revenue, 66% increase in CTR, and 38% increase in conversion rates. To learn more and read the full case study, click here.
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.
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.
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.