In any discussion about Internet Marketing the term “Keyword” is sure to emerge early and often. There is a good reason for this because keywords are the heart and soul of the expression of the business strategy, and while they look simple they are not. The meaning and value of a keyword is driven by the context and the user’s perspective. When you put these variables together with over a million words in the typical English dictionary you can see that this gets real complex real quick.
The term Keyword is technically incorrect most of the time. What we are talking about are Keyword Phrases because the vast majority of keywords will have 2 or more words in the phrase. It is actually rare to find a single word keyword that performs well, the common exception being single word brand names.
No discussion about keywords would be complete without discussing the 9 types of keywords and how they interrelate. The types are broad, phrase, and exact and there is a positive and negative form of each of these. Then there are extended, session matched, and implied. Within Adwords you have limited direct control over second set but you need to know what they are and how they work.
Extended Matched Keywords get a much more liberal match than your typical broad keyword. This happens when the keyword has what Google thinks is a good performance record, but nobody outside of Google knows exactly when this happens. This status is actually a broad range not a simple status and as the word matures the broad keyword jumps to more variations of the root words. This is how broad keywords jump from singular to plural to other forms or tenses of the word. This is often the reason that the quality of the traffic from a set of keywords will change over time. We have seen documented cases of extended match jumping languages and believe it or not it tends to do a good job of this. Extended keywords can jump to entirely new words not in your account and this is probably the source of the broad match’s bad reputation.
Session Matched Keywords have been around for a long time but it is only recently that Google started to report this on the Search Query Report (SQR). In the past we suspected that session matched keywords were part of the dreaded “Other Unique Queries” that made all of us uncomfortable. Session match is when Google connects searches in a session together to create the match. The user performs a search for a city name followed by a search for real estate and they get results for real estate in that city. That is a simple example of a session match.
Implied keywords are most visible in geographically targeted campaigns but they live in other places as well. If the searcher is in New York but they do a search for Hotel LA this will match to a keyword of Hotel in a campaign that is geo-targeted to Los Angeles. Google knows that LA is a geographic region and it adds this to the base keyword of Hotel and treats it like Hotel LA. Now not every city acronym is going to make this jump but major metros like NYC and LA certainly happen. Google will make the jump the other way as well matching a search for Hotel for a searcher in LA and match that to keyword of “Hotel LA.”
Broad keywords are matched to the search using a more liberal match than phrase or exact. In this type of keyword the system will match words in different orders and as time goes along the broad keyword may morph into an Extended Keyword. In the earlier stages it will jump from singular to plurals or the other way around and it will become less sensitive to additional works involved in the match. Using my “Hotel LA” keyword example, in a broad match it will match a query for “Hotel in LA” simply by ignoring the “in” in the search query.
Phrase Keywords are a more restricted type of match and they require that the words be an exact match within the search query. This type of keyword can be very useful when you are trying to really focus in on a specific element of the search query.
Exact Keywords are exactly what they sound like. To get a match from an exact keyword the keyword must exactly match the entire search query with no leading or trailing words.
Negative Keywords are not exactly the opposite of positive keywords although there are broad, phrase, and exact keywords in negatives. What is different is that since negative keywords reduce Google’s revenue the rules are more strictly applied. For example a broad negative keyword will not make the jump from singular to plural or other forms of the words. Negative broad keywords will handle the order of the words and extra words but all of those words have to be in the search.
This really gets to be fun when you start to think through all the various combinations that you can use to tune your keywords. To understand this you need to realize that Google matches to the most specific keyword first so if you have a keyword in broad, phase, and exact. The exact will get the traffic first assuming it matches, then the phrase, and finally the broad. Now if you think about this for a second you will realize that the broad traffic does not match the keyword because the phrase or exact would match first. So by doing this what you end up with in the broad are words out of order, spelling errors, extended forms of the words, and other such items. You will find that you can and will get different results from these different forms of the same keyword.
Now for a disclaimer – Google does not aways follow all of the rules and we have seen situations that seem to indicate that extended, session, and implied rules can and do creep into the phrase and exact match. The occurrence of this is small but it happens and we have seen this in several controlled tests over the years.
This is where the really fun stuff starts because to do a keyword model you need to bring all of these keyword rules together to target your audience. Now you have to start looking at the really complex part of this challenge by examining keyword overlap, keyword intent value, and the competitive landscape.
Keyword overlap is one of the most basic considerations in building a keyword model. Simply stated this is where audiences not related to your business use what you think are your keywords. A simple example of this would be an Automotive Service Center who advertises for “Car Battery.” Automotive Service Center keywords are going to have overlap with DIY (Do It Yourself), Auto Parts, and others. The traffic for “Car Battery” is going to be huge but as a service center this client would not be interested in DIY or Auto Parts traffic. If you go after just the broad word your account will suffer in many ways and most importantly it will probably melt the numbers off your credit card. To solve this problem you need to remove as much of the DIY and Auto Parts traffic as possible without losing any of the traffic looking to have their car battery replaced or serviced.
Keyword Intent Value is the next thing to look for in your keywords. Intent value is what it sounds like you are trying to qualify the traffic that has an expressed intent to do what you want. Staying with my auto example, a search query for “Car Battery Installation Cost” has a much higher intent value then “Car Battery Installation” because installation by itself might be DIY traffic looking for a how-to article, while the “Cost” qualifier implies that the person is looking for someone to do this for them. On the Auto Parts side of this “Car Battery Cost” is more likely a person looking to buy the part but “Installation Cost” is probably the most focused of the keywords.
Keyword types can be confusing because there are two types of types. There is broad, phase, exact as matching types and “Root” and “Qualifier” as structure types. In the example “Car Battery Installation Service” the root keyword is “Car Battery” and the qualifier is “Installation Service”. When building keywords the qualifiers are repeated for each root keyword and it is the combination of the root and qualifier that builds the keyword used in the system. There are exceptions to this keyword structure approach but in most cases this will create 90% or more of your keywords. This approach will make your keyword list much shorter and easier to work with. This also will generate some dumb keywords from time to time so you do need to pass this though a common-sense filter before putting this into the system. That filter is, of course, a smart person.
Order of Words is important in broad and critical in phrase and exact. While battery car and car battery seem like the same search they do produce different results. In an account with a good reputation in Adwords the word order on a broad keyword would match both of these but this is not always the case. If the account is less trusted with lower quality scores the broad keyword might not make the jump to a different word-order.
Research versus Procurement is the second part of intent value and you have to understand how the reading zones of people change as the searches morph between these uses. In the research phase the searcher is looking for information and they are more likely to be looking at the organic results. This is not to say that Adwords is not important, but clearly in the research phase the person is most often clicking on organic not paid results. However when the person shifts into buying mode they know that the ads are related to their search and that these are directed to sites that provide the products they have been researching. Let’s face it when you are researching the car you want to buy you probably visit sites like Consumer Reports and the manufacturer, but when you want to get a quote for that really cool new ride your eyes go to the ads. People are not dumb, they know exactly how the two sides work and most know how to use each of these based on what stage they are in. Search terms also change as they go through this transformation.
Quality and Quantity is the next major issue in keywords. As a general rule the higher the quality the lower the quantity, and the balance of these two is what drives the most complex decision making processes in keywords. Car Battery is going to have a great deal of traffic and it is going to be expensive because of the volume, but the quality is going to be poor because it is polluted with lots of DIY and Parts traffic. One useful tool in getting to understand the purity of your keywords is Google Insights for Search
Here is what our example produced in this tool:
This shows us that the more qualified term of “Car Battery Installation” is so small you almost cannot measure it. There is some traffic, but to put this in perspective it is less than 1% of the volume of the broader “Car Battery” keyword. So if you go after “Car Battery” right out of the gate 99% of the searches are not related to your business and it gets worse. If you go to “Car Battery Installation Cost” the volume is less than 1% of that 1%. If you do this same inquiry matching “Car Battery Installation” to “Car Battery Service” you find that the volumes are about the same. Now does it surprise anyone that the typical click through rate on a keyword is around 1%?
Competitive Landscape is the next issue in this conversation and it is also very complex. So far we are down to .01% of the total traffic and now we have to fight with our competitors to get our unfair share of this pie. One thing I try to get my clients to understand is that they do not need to beat their competitor in Adwords, but they do have to not lose to them. What I mean by that is that your prospects are going to shop your offering, and the key to success is being high enough on the list to make it to the short list. If your typical shopper visits 10 sites to select the 3 they are actually going to consider then your need to be on the first short list of 10. Getting to the second short list of 3 is the job of your web site and it is largely based on the web experience you engineer for that visitor. At that stage in the process your Adwords are simply no longer important.
Networks count too and they add one more dimension to this discussion. Networks are where your ads are going to serve. In a broad sense the networks are either “Search” or “Content” in structure. The search is what most people think of and this is where the person proactively put a search query into Google looking for relative results. Content on the other hand works by matching to the content of the page and the person there is reading content so the theory is that they have a passive interest in your keyword. Just to stay with our car battery example in search we want very specific keywords with a high intent to act value. However in content we want to have a placement that is somehow related to the profile of our audience. In other words we are trying to model keywords that are likely to exist where our audience profile hangs around. Not to be sexist, but for our Automotive Service Center we might want to test fashion and home decorating keywords since these have a very high percentage of women and women are less likely to be in the DIY Auto audience. Conversely if we are working with an Auto Parts client we might want to target automotive how-to keywords since reading a how-to manual is a strong indicator of interest in purchasing parts and tools. .
As you can see from these very simple examples the challenge is not in finding your keywords, but figuring out how to not infringe on others. The secret is, as always, in the details and it not the positive keyword but the negatives and other restrictions that get you the traffic you really want. While “Car Battery” applies to the Auto Service Center, DIY, and Auto Parts industries the negatives and extended qualifiers are quite different.