Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Keyword Research - The Building Blocks of your PPC Campaign

The skill and expertise involved in creating and managing an efficient paid search campaign are often overlooked. It takes quite a unique blend of talents to cope with the number-crunching, copy-writing, in-depth analysis and general stress levels associated with PPC.

One of the most undervalued and under-appreciated tasks in the whole PPC process is keyword research. There are literally thousands of Adwords accounts out there that contain no more than a handful of keywords, and yet the advertisers are surprised when CPCs and high and ROI low. I've seen accounts that contain a single ad group with just a dozen keywords - and yet they are advertising six or seven different products. This advertiser was appearing for around 70% of relevant search phrases, which on the surface seems ok - however, when you consider that their CPCs were inflated almost three times above those of their competitors, and the CTRs were around half the industry average, the failings become more clear.

At the outset of a campaign, creating a comprehensive keyword list, organised into small, relevantly themed ad groups is crucial to good future performance. Including keyword variations, plurals and misspellings will help you reach even more of your target audience and, because these "secondary" phrases are less competitive than your more obvious, core keywords, you'll get clicks at a cheaper cost. Also, because secondary phrases tend to be more specific than your primary, core phrases, they'll convert better, too.

As an example, consider a credit card company. Primary, core phrases for this campaign would be "credit cards", "visa card" and "apply for a credit card". These phrases are big, big traffic drivers, but are also competitive. The volume of traffic they drive is partly responsible for the high level of competition, but it's also the fact that these phrases are very "obvious". If you ask a non-savvy internet user what you might type in to get a credit card, they'd likely tell you "credit cards" or "apply for a credit card". As such, every advertiser in the market is going to have these phrases in their accounts. And, due to the auction nature of the PPC system, prices go up as the number of advertisers goes up. You're likely to pay £7-8 ($12-13) for a click on the term "credit cards" and £6-7 ($11-12)for the term "apply for credit card". With CPCs this high, you need to be converting visits into leads at a pretty high rate to keep your campaign profitable.

At the other end of the keyword spectrum you have less competitive, less generic keyword that, although driving less volume, are more targeted and cheaper to appear for. By including a high number of these "keyword tail" phrases, you can drive quite substantial volumes of high quality traffic at a fraction of the cost involved with more generic terms. In the example above, longer tail phrases like "apply for a credit card online" or "get best deal on credit cards" will have far lower CPCs than generic terms, and will likely convert better due to their more targeted nature. Throw some branded terms in there - both your own brand and, if possible, some competitor brands - and you'll bring your average CPC for the account right down, and your conversion rates should rise too.

Here are some useful tools for compiling your PPC keyword list:

Yahoo's Keyword Assistant tool (free)
Google Adwords' Keyword tool (free)
Wordtracker (fee)
Keyword Discovery (fee)

Yahoo's tool is very good.....when it works. It's lack of reliability is a major problem though - it will work at times, but other times you won't even be able to find the site. The figures are reliable, as they're based on actual Yahoo search volumes from previous months. Google's tool is reliable in terms of functionality, but its figures are highly dubious. We've seen results come in at 50% below actual figures, and this is not uncommon. Both Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery are good tools, but obviously you need to pay for those :s

The process of good keyword research is long and tedious, but done properly can provide the foundations for a rock-solid campaign. The key is to start with generic phrases (you'll always need these in your campaign for traffic volume, branding and general visibility purposes), and then expand the list out to cover all long tail variations. So, say I'm the credit card company above, I would start my research with the most obvious phrases ("credit cards", "visa cards" "apply credit card", "credit card online" etc) and then see what secondary phrases arise from these. By inputting these keywords into the tools listed above, hundreds of variations should come to the surface. These "seconary" phrases can then be categorised into targeted ad groups, in which you can place a highly targeted advert (so in this case you might have a "Credit Card - Online" campaign, inside which you'd have the ad groups "Apply", "Gold", "Silver", "Platinum", "Low Interest", "0% Interest" etc). Try and keep high volume, generic phrases within their own ad groups - this will help both with the management of these phrases and overall performance tracking of the campaign.

Take time over the above process. Explore all phrase variations, and don't forget your plurals and your misspellings. By the end of the research you should have a number of campaigns laid out, with themed ad groups full of a mix of high traffic, generic phrases and specific, highly targeted tail phrases. If you don't, go back and see what you've missed!

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