When most companies start building an Adwords account, they proceed in an intuitive fashion by doing the obvious, but in the process, they ignore thousands of highly profitable keywords, leaving them sitting unused like gold nuggets covered in mud.
Even if they know the risk of overusing broad match keywords without a tailored negative keyword list, they’ll still proceed with broad match terms for the products and services that are for sale on the site.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably done that before.
You look at all the pages on the site that have something to sell, and you build campaigns around selling absolutely everything on the page directly. Simple, right? You want people to buy things off of the first click, even if they’ve never heard of your brand before.
The way that Google has designed Adwords by default is to encourage people to chase those immediate conversions that can be easily measured and attributed. People tend to associate AdWords with quick wins, whereas they see its cousin, SEO, as a beast that requires a lot of feeding over a long period of time to provide success.
However, PPC marketers who succeed consistently at designing campaigns that act as an engine of long-term revenue growth use counter-intuitive methods that seem a little crazy on the surface. How do they do it? It takes some long-term planning and a little bit of deep-diving, but no special talents are necessary to put them into practice.
Typically, you’d need to shell out $30, $50, or even $500 to learn these techniques. But because we want the field of search marketing to improve as a whole, we’re sharing today’s lesson for free.
The Trick Coin of Search Marketing
In search engine marketing, the terms ‘head keywords’ and ‘tail keywords’ derive from what’s called a power law graph:
The ‘head’ represents broad keywords that searchers use to begin examining a keyword. They tend to be short in length, and it’s usually impossible to discern what the person is thinking about. An example of a head keyword is ‘flowers.’
A person typing that could be looking for pictures of flowers, flower shops nearby, articles about flowers, information about flower seeds, or gardening tips. They may or may not be looking to buy something.
The ‘tail’ represents longer keywords that tend to have lower monthly search volume but a more readily comprehensible intent. An example of a tail keyword is a query for ‘red roses for valentine’s day same day delivery’ on February 14th in a particular town. You know that most of the people typing that query are probably people looking to buy flowers for their date at the last second, and need them ready in a hurry. For years, florists have bid up terms like that furiously, because ads off of those queries tend to sell flowers reliably to people desperate for a solution and eager to pay immediately.
Tail keywords usually make it easy to read the person’s mind.
Because Adwords is all about throwing Google some cash in order to get qualified traffic for your business, the most intuitive method is to aim to only spend money when you’re confident the prospect is ready to buy right now.
This is a trap in terms of potential profitability. The reason why it’s a trap is because Adwords uses a competitive bidding process to determine ad position. If everyone in the market thinks that a keyword makes sense to bid on, it’ll be an expensive keyword to buy a click for.
The trick coin of keywords in search marketing is that when most people think about SEO (organic search marketing, i.e. trying to get a higher rank on the unpaid results for your website), they think about trying to rank for head terms. If they sell sports jerseys, they want to be #1 for ‘jerseys,’ and get dispirited with their first attempts when the MLB, the NFL, the NBA, and the major sporting goods stores clobber them into oblivion.
The results can look much like what would happen if you pitted a pee-wee football team against the Denver Broncos. The 5th graders just bounce off of those guys no matter how spirited they are.
When the novice sees the coin, they call heads. But it comes up ‘tails’ every time, because Google weights the coin to its own advantage. SEO experts know you need to start a campaign by working on ‘tail’ terms, which are often un-sexy, hyper-specific, and with miniscule traffic volumes.
In paid search, people tend to try to be clever once they learn a few things about it. They say “A-ha! I’ll only bid on tail terms related to the stuff that I sell on my website. That way, I’ll be a millionaire by next month.”
Unfortunately, all of the competitors in a particular space are already millionaires and have pursued the exact same strategy, which causes the keyword prices to converge on just about what everyone needs to break even, make minor profits, or bleed slowly enough to stay alive.
Again, Google, bless those geniuses in Mountain View, have weighted the coin.
It’s not a perfect metaphor, so don’t stretch it too far, but you hopefully get the idea. But in order to go after especially profitable keywords in search, you need to go digging in areas that your competition is too lazy to look at.
Useful Content Amplifies Paid Search Profits
Now that we’ve gone over how Adwords managers usually behave, let’s get into a method for going after the vulnerable underbelly of the intuitive strategy that your competitor is probably pursuing.
I’m going to use a logical argument that you can use to convince your boss to approve an expenditure of time or money that will make your website easier to promote. A little work in the beginning will save a lot of stress later on.
Because everyone guns for the high-intent tail keywords, bidding them to the sky, in order to start beating the other people in your space, you need to target the middle and even the head terms with content. This is counter-intuitive, because it seems a little nutty to pay Google to have someone land on a page that sells nothing directly, but this method can work by:
- Answering searcher’s question better than anyone else.
- Capturing their contact information with a form.
- Recommending other useful information that they might enjoy or find useful based on their query.
- Recapturing their attention using remarketing, newsletters, blog subscriptions, social media subscriptions, salesperson contacts, and other similar methods.
This is especially useful for queries that have:
- Commercial research intent
- Price evaluation intent
- Product quality evaluation intent
The reason why this is a superior strategy from a business perspective is that content development can be done at a roughly fixed cost. Each incremental article or piece of media will usually cost roughly the same as others, and can make use of the same keyword research outlay.
Answering Questions Your Competitors Are Ignoring
If you’ve been in marketing for a while, you’re probably familiar with the acronym ‘AIDA.’ It means ‘Attention -> Interest -> Desire -> Action.’ It’s sometimes represented as a funnel or inverted pyramid. Some people get more granular and break it into 10 different stages or more.
The majority of search marketers target only ‘D,’ attempt to move the visitor to ‘A as quickly as possible, and are willing to spend high to poach the people expressing ‘D’ from people who might have spent a lot cultivating the earlier steps in the purchasing process.
After the initial fixed-cost investment in content is made, it makes the flexible cost of search advertising more cost-effective. An example of an ‘Interest’ keyword would be something like “how to buy flowers for your girlfriend.”
Lo and behold: the major floral advertiser Teleflora has written this exact sort of article and ranks well for it organically. Someone writing that query is probably not ready to buy today. They want to be told how to go about buying those flowers. If they enjoyed the Teleflora article, when it comes time to buy some dead plants to impress someone, they might be more likely to buy from them rather than from their competitors.
Another advantage to this approach is that it will often uncover ridiculously inexpensive clicks depending on what your market is. This includes, yes, penny clicks through Adwords, as difficult as it might be to believe in 2014. When you start going after keywords that help users who are in the research and evaluation process, you can grab them at the beginning, before they even know that you have the solution for them.
Because Adwords is so popular for eCommerce businesses, the people who run the accounts usually focus on their products, and use keywords relating to them accordingly. When you’re looking for highly profitable keywords in the middle, you will often be bidding on keywords related to the problems that searchers are having. The basic design of the Google Keyword Planner encourages this behavior by suggesting keywords based on pre-existing landing pages.
A plastic surgeon might help local people concerned about flab, stretch marks, blemishes, and wrinkles. A plumber helps people with burst pipes and overflowing toilets. A ski equipment vendor helps people understand what they need to ski off-piste.
Often, people don’t know what language to use to articulate the solution that they’re hunting for. These ‘problem’ terms show high eventual purchase intent, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with the ‘product’ terms that most paid search users bid on.
What it often does mean is that the searcher is signalling that they are in your potential market. You make them more likely to become a customer by answering their question better than anyone else.
The major strategic advantage to this method is that it lowers your cost of customer acquisition while improving the customer’s potential lifetime value. If you only snipe searchers who are ready to buy right now, you’re not necessarily cultivating a long-term relationship. If that person is looking to buy again later, they might get sniped by one of your competitors next time.
So, if you need to get your boss to sign off on an initial investment in content, you need to credibly project that the fixed cost of investing into relevant material will reduce the overall costs of customer acquisition. Not every business knows those numbers. It’s a good idea to establish them if you’re running a disciplined marketing operation. Once you do, you can figure out which keywords are worth building content for and paying for clicks to drive traffic to.
The way that you can grind your competitors into dust over a long period of time is to go after the parts of the decision making process that they’re ignoring. If you’ve ever wondered how your competition can possibly be turning a profit when they’re bidding tail keywords so high, this is how they might be doing it.
They could also just be crazy and spending themselves into bankruptcy while making life irritating for everyone in the market by bidding up prices. It happens. But you can handle it if you take this approach.
These kinds of keywords can often be more safely set to phrase or even broad match, because searchers will often use unusual phrasing in a similar manner. Additionally, because the goal will usually be to drive secondary conversions like lead generation rather than immediate purchases, you can afford to be more flexible with the language you permit ads to trigger on.
The Hidden Tail
We’ve gone over the under-used head and middle. Now, let’s look at what I call the ‘hidden tail’ keywords that will often be buried deep on your keyword lists and that may require some time, effort, and pouring over reports to build.
An enormous portion of new searches put in through Google have never been made before. Keyword tools are inherently backwards-looking: they can only tell you what people have searched for in the past.
To find these, the best method is to devote a budget to ‘discovery campaigns’ with deliberately chosen phrase and broad match keywords closer to the head terms for your business. The point of these campaigns is not necessarily to drive conversions (although you should find appropriate pages for them to land on). It’s to find ideas for other campaigns that your competitors may be ignoring. An ongoing SEO campaign will also generate paid search ideas if your site begins to rank for terms closer to the head.
You have to permit, as a cost of doing business, that many of the searches that come in through the discovery campaigns will be totally irrelevant. The purpose of this is to build out your negative keyword lists so that you can better filter traffic while still using broad, modified broad, and phrase match keywords in your ad groups.
This helps you to develop ad groups around the ‘hidden tail.’ It’s called ‘hidden’ because these queries can’t show up in keyword tools, because they haven’t happened yet. If the majority of your competition doesn’t even know the terms you’ve found because they’re not being served up hot and ready by the keyword tool, they can’t bid on them directly, either.
Now Go Out and Chase Those Obscure Opportunities
To tie it together, the way to select keywords with enormous profit potential is to find relevant ones to your business that your competitors are too hidebound to pursue. While these methods require some up-front investment to take advantage of, they also act as a multiplier for the rest of your marketing efforts.
Most paid search marketers will discard countless keywords without immediate purchase intent as too risky to pursue. They’re not actually as risky as they seem: they just need to be handled in an intelligent manner that guides the site visitor into becoming a customer at the pace they’re comfortable with. Most advertisers look at those keywords and think of them as if they were waste products, especially if media companies and wiki pages make them too expensive to compete with in a purely organic search marketing effort. But you can turn those keywords that your competition is throwing out into revenue.
Similarly, there are special opportunities based on precise geographic targeting, weather, time, localization to foreign languages, and creating buzzwords unique to your brand: all of which require more space than a single article can contain.
You pay once to build a good base of content with a minor expense for ongoing maintenance. That investment makes the flexible cost of Adwords spending more effective. The investment in a paid search effort that goes after the entire marketing funnel also generates benefits for everything else that you’re doing.
Now that you’re equipped with a superior strategic approach, apply what you’ve learned to go after thousands of low cost and highly profitable keywords to grow your business and dominate your competition.
JC Hewitt is a conversion consultant at Hagbard Group, a new company that develops custom marketing solutions for entrepreneurs with a focus on PPC advertising. He began working primarily in search marketing as a freelance copywriter in 2007, mostly for startups and small to medium businesses. He also consulted on the launch of the First Round Review, telling true stories about how companies like AirBnB, Uber, and Mint succeeded.