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Query mining – a better approach to PPC keyword build-out

Keywords are the cells of the PPC campaign organism.  If they’re not optimized, it won’t matter how good your campaign structure, ad copy or landing pages are… you’ll be leaving precious ROI on the table.

The keyword discovery and build-out process takes you along an inevitable learning curve.  It’s your job to maximize ROI along the way.

The keyword life cycle of most CPC campaigns looks like this:

traditional keyword build-out for PPC campaigns

These phases are perfectly rational and focus on a mindset of “no missed opportunities”:

  1. The first set of keywords is small, coming mostly off the top of your head.  You may engage in a brainstorming session with colleagues to make this list a little larger.  You launch campaigns knowing that you must be missing tons of great keywords that you can’t think of.
  2. You make use of keyword expansion tools like Google’s keyword tool (and it’s build-it ‘Keyword Multiplier’ in AdWords Editor). As a result, you dump hundreds more keywords into your campaigns, probably also grouping them into many new ad groups.  You may replicate many of the keywords into broad, phrase and exact match, just to see the differences.  You may also include a handful of campaign-level negative keywords from the top of your head.  You want to be sure that no keyword stone is left unturned.
  3. You let your campaigns run for a few weeks with an enormous keyword list.  You start to realize with time that 80% of your keywords don’t receive any impressions at all, 15-20% get clicks but no conversions, and less than 1% of the keywords result in actual conversions.  Lots of fat in need of trimming.
  4. Now, you scale things down drastically, under the assumptions that you should be targeting your spending on only the keywords that are bringing conversions.  The result–you put hundreds of keywords on pause.
  5. The resulting keyword list is what you stick with on an ongoing basis… there is little to no new keyword development left.  You’re more or less convinced that you’ve done your best to test a huge volume of keywords, then scaled the down to the valuable ones.

This process, which could take place over as little a period as a couple of months, will certainly help you eventually hone in on many high converting keywords.  But throughout the process and beyond, your opportunity costs mount, as you will have missed out on several long-tail phrases that neither you nor Google’s keyword tool would have ever thought of.

In reality, most of your clicks come from broad match keywords that are actually triggered by ‘related’ search queries. So, your click ratio based on match type may look something like this:

keyword match type click ratios

This may seem perfectly normal. But 50%+ clicks from broad-match is too expensive.

A better way

What’s missing from this typical process, is what Click Equations, a leading PPC software form, dubs query-mining.  Query mining involves adding exact match and negative keywords daily–from day 1–based on the ‘matched queries’, or the actual search terms that triggered your ads.  These matched search queries can be found within search query reports in your AdWords account, or in the AdWords section of Google Analytics.

Look at this list–sorted by visits–every day, and go through the following process:

  1. Ad exact matches on relevant keywords that you think will reoccur (approximately 20% are unique and unlikely to be repeated). Why? Because exact match keywords are cheaper and more informative.  And even if a word did not convert after several visits, still consider its average time spent on site, bounce rate and other measures of engagement.
  2. Add negative keywords (probably phrase or exact negatives at the campaigns level) on the queries that are not relevant for your business.  Negatives reduce wasted clicks.
  3. Consider splitting off new clusters of keywords into new ad groups once you see that your ad copy no longer sounds right (don’t make compromises here, or your CTR will suffer).
  4. Consider creating new landing pages if your existing ones can no longer adapt well enough and drag down your quality score.

Depending on the volume of clicks you process in a given period, you may want to do this daily, weekly or monthly.  Now, your 3-month keyword build-out looks more like this:

keyword build-out with query mining

By following this ongoing process, you are wasting far fewer clicks and attracting more relevant visits to your pages,  thus earning higher ROI along the learning curve. And when you reach the mature stage of your keyword build-out, your campaigns will be in position to perform better for the long-term.

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Paris's foray into Internet marketing began in 2003, and since then has spanned numerous projects in countries that include U.S., China, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. Paris founded Hop Online in the spring of 2009 with the aim of aggregating the Bulgaria talent potential and establishing a highly qualified search and social marketing outpost in the region. So far, so good.

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5 thoughts on “Query mining – a better approach to PPC keyword build-out

  1. Add negative keywords (probably phrase or exact negatives at the campaigns level) on the queries that are not relevant for your business. Negatives reduce wasted clicks.
    Consider splitting off new clusters of keywords into new ad groups once you see that your ad copy no longer sounds right (don’t make compromises here, or your CTR will suffer).
    Consider creating new landing pages if your existing ones can no longer adapt well enough and drag down your quality score.

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