How to Design a Killer Keyword Strategy for Paid Search

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Sarah Goliger
Sarah Goliger



keyword-strategy-for-paid-search_0The following post is an adapted excerpt from our free ebook, An Introductory Guide to Paid Search.  To learn more about paid search, download the free ebook here!

One of the most important and challenging components of a successful paid search campaign is having a strong keyword strategy. When it comes to determining when your ads are displayed, you don’t just want to pick a certain list of keywords and have the ad shown only when those keywords are entered into the search engine. Since there are an infinite number of ways people can actually search for one term, Google has keyword match types that you can use to give them more specific instructions for when to display your ads.

Keyword Match Types

Google's 3 keyword match types are: exact match, phrase match, and broad match.

Exact match: Let’s say, for instance, someone searches for the term ‘red men's tennis shoes with Velcro.’ A keyword set to 'exact match' will only display your ad if the search term includes that exact keyword, with the words in that exact order. So, for example, if I have the keyword ‘red men's tennis shoes’ on exact match, and someone searches for ‘red men's tennis shoes with Velcro,’ my ad will not be displayed, since there were other words included, preventing it from being an exact match. My ad would only be displayed if the search query was exactly ‘red men's tennis shoes.’ Exact match keywords are surrounded by brackets, such as:

exact match image resized 600

Phrase match: A keyword set to 'phrase match' will display your ad if the search term contains the same order of the words, but it can also contain additional words. So if I have the keyword ‘red men's tennis shoes’ on phrase match and someone searches for ‘red men's tennis shoes with Velcro,’ my ad will appear. However, if they search for ‘men's red tennis shoes with Velcro,’ it will not appear. Phrase match keywords are surrounded by quotation marks, such as:

phrase match image resized 600

Broad match: Lastly, a keyword set to 'broad match' will display your ad when the search term contains any or some combination of the words in your keyword, in any order. Your ad could also show for other variations of the words, such as singular/plural forms, synonyms, etc. If I have the keyword ‘red men's tennis shoes’ on broad match, my ad could appear for the search terms ‘red men's tennis shoes with Velcro,’ ‘men's red tennis shoes with Velcro,’ ‘tennis shoe laces,’ ‘women's red shoes,’ and so on. Broad match keywords are not surrounded by anything, and would just be left as:

broad match image resized 600

Additionally, Google allows you to set keywords to a negative match type to help refine them. This allows you to avoid having your ad displayed when a given search term is entered.  For example, if I set the keyword ‘used’ to negative match, my ad won’t show for any searches that contain that word, such as ‘used tennis shoes.’ Negative match keywords are preceded by a minus sign, such as: -used.

The Key to a Killer Keyword Strategy

So you have these keyword match types that you know can somehow help you optimize your campaign strategy – but how do you know which ones to use, and when? There are multiple strategies for setting match types, and there is no one correct solution. We’ll discuss some general practices, but keep in mind that you’ll have to check out your own performance metrics to determine what’s working for your campaign and what isn’t.

Don't Start With Only Exact Match

The value of setting keywords to exact match is that you can target a very specific search audience. However, if you’re only bidding on exact match keywords, you’ve very narrowly defined your target, which sharply limits your reach, so chances are you’re not going to get a lot of traffic. This is because there’s no way to know exactly what terms people are going to search for, and if you try to guess at a list of exact keywords, even if it’s a long list, you’ll likely be missing out on tons of potential leads and customers that are using different search terms.

Broad Match Drives Traffic, But Be Careful...

To avoid the issue of missing out on potential leads using different search terms, a popular strategy is to start with all keywords set to broad match, which opens up the floodgates to traffic. Now, a high volume of traffic may be a good thing, but you have to make sure that it is qualified traffic. In other words, say, for example, someone searches for ‘Velcro,’ and your ad for ‘red men's tennis shoes with Velcro’ appears. The viewer may click on your ad, but because the search term that sent him to it was so general and vague, the likelihood that he will convert into a lead on your offer is significantly lower. This is because the likelihood that he was actually looking for red men's tennis shoes with Velcro is much lower than it would be for someone who searched for that term, or something closer to that term.

Many people are easily misled by the quantity of the traffic they drive with broad match keywords, and they don’t look at the reporting to evaluate quality. Oftentimes, they’re ranking on totally irrelevant keywords and driving unqualified traffic from them, which just wastes their money.

This is why it’s extremely important, if you set your keywords to broad match, to closely monitor what search queries are coming through. Don’t forget: you can use negative match to add negative keywords when necessary.

So What's the Best Approach?

A good keyword strategy is to use broad match and phrase match to drive traffic. Then use the Search Terms report to find the keywords that convert well and make sense for your business, and set those to exact match, because they’ve been proven to work.

The best thing to do to figure out your match type strategy is to just keep testing. Use your performance metrics to optimize your keywords, which could include adding and deleting keywords or changing their match types. It’s an ongoing process. Keyword performance will change over time, and your campaign strategy should change with it.

To learn more about paid search, including how to set up an account for your business, the best strategies for structuring and optimizing your account, and how to measure your results, download the complete free ebook here!


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