PPC Targeting by Knowledge: Turning PPC Long-Tail Theory on Its Head

After 7 years running PPC campaigns, I thought I had it sussed. I thought that people searching for specific long-tail searches were further along in the buying cycle than people searching for shorter, generic phrases, and therefore more likely to convert. I thought that targeting long-tail keywords provided a great opportunity to segment different types of searchers, and bid differently depending on how much qualification was contained in their search. I thought long-tail keywords provided a great opportunity to respond to the specific needs and preferences of each searcher, and provide tailored and relevant ad messages which solve their unique problems.

It turns out I may be wrong.

A long-tail PPC strategy, consisting of thousands of keywords and thousands of tailored ad messages catering for a wide range of searcher needs and preferences, can indeed lead to higher click through rates, higher Quality Scores, lower CPCs, and higher conversion rates. It’s a methodology I have abided by for 7 years, generally achieving far superior results than more generic PPC strategies which instead target shorter, more generic searches.

The logic of long-tail theory is sound too:

  1. Compared to shorter keywords such as ‘flooring’, people who make long-tail searches such as ’14mm bamboo flooring melbourne’ are generally more knowledgeable about what they want, are further along in the buying cycle, and are therefore more likely to convert.
  2. Because the searcher has provided signals such as ’14mm’, ‘bamboo’, and ‘melbourne’, you can be more confident they are searching for exactly what you offer, allowing you to bid higher for searches which contain those qualifying words, leading to a higher return on investment.
  3. And because the searcher has been very specific, you can show targeted ad messages which are tailored to ’14mm Bamboo Flooring’, take the visitor to a landing page which showcases your 14mm bamboo flooring range, and be confident that your campaigns will generate fantastic results.

It all sounds great. But we are making one big assumption about one important variable – knowledge.

Knowledge Isn’t Always Good


Long-tail theory assumes that people who make specific long-tail searches are generally more knowledgeable, further along in the buying cycle, and more ready to buy than people who make shorter and less-specific searches.

I still believe this is generally true.

However, just because people who make long-tail searches may be more knowledgeable and more likely to buy, does not necessarily mean they are more likely to buy from you.

If the profitable clientele of your business consists of people who are not knowledgeable, not informed, and not aware of the specifics of your products and services, then even though long-tail searches may closely match your products and services, shorted generic keywords may be more effective at achieving the goals of your business.

Even if you sell 14mm bamboo flooring in Melbourne, receiving 100 clicks from a generic search such as ‘flooring’ may be more effective than receiving 100 clicks from the search ’14mm bamboo flooring melbourne’.

Over-Qualified Searchers


Just like you can be over-qualified for that marketing role you’re applying for, searchers can also be over-qualified. If your business specialises in selling to people who are not knowledgeable about the specifics of your industry’s products and services (perhaps because your target market largely consists of an older generation who tend to search for shorter words such as ‘flooring’ and ‘carpets’), then targeting shorter searches can be more effective than targeting long-tail searches. In this scenario, too much knowledge can actually be a bad thing.

It’s All About Your Target Market


Perhaps I’ve only previously worked with businesses who regard knowledgeable and specific searchers as potentially more valuable than less knowledgeable and specific searchers, with the theory that the more the searcher understands about the products and services of your industry, the greater the opportunity for you to demonstrate you can meet the searchers needs, so the greater the potential for targeted long-tail campaigns and a higher return on investment.

Perhaps I’m missing something.

Perhaps there are some people out there who actually enjoy a pushy sales approach and don’t mind businesses taking advantage of their naivety and lack of knowledge. Perhaps there are successful, profitable, and genuinely honest businesses who add real value by educating (and albeit selling to) this relatively unknowledgeable demographic – a demographic which favours face to face communication more so than the best deal – a demographic which might otherwise have struggled to research the difference between bamboo and laminate flooring if left to their own devices.


how not to sell


Perhaps I’ve been looking at keywords all the wrong way, and ignoring the fact that the lack of information is information itself – that the exclusion of signals is a signal itself. Perhaps I’ve been ignoring the fact that less is sometimes more.




Just because long-tail searches may be beneficial for most businesses, doesn’t necessarily mean it will be beneficial to yours. Depending on how your clientele choose to search (or choose not to search), a long-tail strategy may be either more effective or less effective than a generic keyword strategy.

Although it seems obvious to test different types of keywords to determine which performs best for you, remember that the vast majority of people who visit your website won’t ever convert. It therefore makes sense to consider the knowledge level of your target market even before you set your PPC campaigns live, to maximise your chance of profitability.


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Google AdWords Sitelink Extensions: How to Find Your Optimum CPC Bid

When you have a finite Google AdWords budget, and your budget is being hit, all other things equal it makes sense to lower your bids until your budget is no longer being hit. That way, so the theory goes, you will get more clicks for the same budget. And since research by Google suggests that there is little difference in conversion rate by position, you could reasonably assume that a higher number of clicks is generally associated with a higher number of sales.

However, ever since Google rolled out sitelink ad extensions, ads appearing in the top positions on Google are no longer similar to ads appearing on the right hand side of Google. Ads with sitelinks now have 3-4 extra links, and up to 100 extra characters text, compared to non-sitelink ads. Although sitelinks are generally well accepted to increase CTR, if your sitelinks go one step further and create additional value (i.e. by pointing out the key benefits or selling points of your business), then sitelinks could also increase your conversion rate.

And if this is true – that the use of sitelinks does increase your conversion rate – then since sitelinks can only be shown when your ad appears in the top positions of Google, we can reasonably assume that appearing in higher positions on Google could increase your conversion rate from Google AdWords.

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Google Display Network: Proof That a Higher CTR is Better For Everyone

Suppose you wanted to run a marketing campaign on the Google Display Network. You upload a set of image ads, specify your targeting options, and let Google serve your ads on publishers which Google believes are relevant to your targeting options.

Let’s say you’re willing to pay $2.00 per click. Your ads receive 10,000 impressions and achieve a click through rate (CTR) of 0.03%, which very typical for a traditional display campaign. This means you, the advertiser, will receive 10,000 impressions x 0.03% CTR = 3 clicks.

Since publishers receive 68% of revenue, total revenue from the 10,000 impressions is split as follows:

  • Publisher: 3 clicks x $2.00 CPC x 68% = $4.08
  • Google: 3 clicks x $2.00 CPC x 32% = $1.92

The revenue received by Google and the publisher is highlighted in the red and green shaded areas below.

Now let’s see what happens if the advertiser were to achieve a 10x higher CTR of 0.3% with more engaging mage ads and more relevant targeting settings. Let’s also assume that the advertiser is now willing to pay only $0.50 per click – only a quarter that of the previous example.

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13 Practical Uses For Your Google Brand Ads

Last month, eBay released a study suggesting that showing paid ads for your brand terms on Google is a complete waste of money.

As an experiment, eBay paused their paid ads for the keyword ‘ebay’, and found that the reduction in clicks from their Google paid ads was made up for by an increase in clicks from their Google organic listings. eBay therefore concluded that bidding on your brand name is a complete waste of money.



Wrong. If, like eBay, you simply provide an ad message for your brand name as a mere navigational link (i.e. so that your simply appear in the paid listings), you will probably notice that any increase in paid clicks from your brand keywords is met with an equal decrease in organic (natural) clicks from your brand keywords, with no added value being created.

However, paid ads for brand terms can create significant value for your business if the execution of your brand ad strategy is more involved than simply providing a mere navigational link, for example:

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3 Advanced Strategies to Extract New Keywords from Your Google AdWords Search Query Data

So you’ve realised your current Google AdWords strategy is missing out on a big opportunity to connect with long-tail searchers who are further along in the buying cycle and more likely to convert. You’ve also realised you’ve collected a wealth of search query data while you’ve been running your current Google AdWords campaigns over the past few months or years. You therefore want to use your search query data to improve your long-tail targeting, reach these searchers at the later stages of the buying cycle, and increase your return on investment (ROI) from Google AdWords marketing.

However, when analysing your search query report, it can all too often be overwhelming. It can be hard to know where to start. You find yourself falling victim to analysis paralysis, and give up without making any tangible improvements to your campaigns. So to help mine your search queries for new long tail keywords, below are 3 techniques I find incredibly useful:

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The Australian Google PPC Opportunity

Back in 2009, I looked at the standard of PPC ads being displayed on Google in Australia, using the Sydney hotel industry as an example. I found that the majority of PPC ads being presented on Google by Australian businesses were poorly targeted and unengaging, and concluded that considerable opportunities exist for Australian businesses who take the time and effort to develop tailored and effective long-tail Google PPC campaigns.

Three years on, despite Google PPC marketing becoming more widespread among businesses in Australia (and arguably more competitive and expensive as a result), there still appears to be very few Australian businesses who provide high-targeted and tailored ad messages which cater from the growing long-tail of search. A huge amount of valuable keyword and search query data now exists for every PPC advertiser, but it appears that most PPC campaigns in Australia still consist of only a few hundred keywords and only a few hundred ad messages.

Due to the increasing popularity of Google, people are now typing a wide range of specific searches into Google, and are expecting more relevant and helpful search results and ads. However, when searching for these specific long-tail phrases, it appears that the general standard of PPC ads in Australia is very poor. For the search ‘sydney hotels near the rocks’, for example, notice how few PPC ads make any mention of The Rocks (a location in Sydney). The searcher has typed a specific phrase where location seems to be an important consideration, yet few Google PPC ads fully cater for their needs and requirements.

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4 PPC Tracking Essentials for Small Businesses

All too often I see small to medium-sized businesses spending considerable amounts of marketing dollars on PPC campaigns without having implemented even the most basic of tracking solutions. Other businesses seem to accept that Google’s Conversion Tracking is as good as it gets, and have yet to realize the benefits of having more detailed (but still very simple) goal, event, ecommerce, and custom variable tracking in Google Analytics.

Google AdWords and Google Analytics provide fantastic free of charge functionalities for tracking, measuring, and evaluating the performance of your PPC and non-PPC marketing campaigns, helping you to make more informed decisions about how to improve your return on investment (ROI) from your online marketing activities.

Here we will explore 4 tracking opportunities, which could help you better understand and improve the return on investment (ROI) of your online marketing activities. Depending on your website, all 4 tracking methods may not be relevant, but most websites should look to implement at least two of the below.
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3 Million Keywords

Google last month increased the maximum number of keywords allowed in a standard Google AdWords account from approximately 50,000 to 3 million. Yes, that’s right, you can now have up to 3 million keywords in your Google AdWords account.

And while most pay per click (PPC) advertisers are probably already doing a fair job at targeting a large number of relevant searchers through their existing keyword lists, there are massive opportunities for PPC advertisers who take the time to research thousands more keywords than their competitors.

Let’s find out why.

1. More Impressions

To illustrate the first reason, let’s consider Google’s phrase match for a moment. By bidding on the keyword ‘sony bravia tv’, and setting it to phrase match, you are essentially saying to Google:

“Show my ad whenever someone mentions the word ‘sony bravia tv’ in their search query”.

The job of phrase match is to show your ads for searches that mention your keyword phrase. You might therefore think this will enable your ads to appear whenever someone mentions the phrase ‘sony bravia tv’ in their search query.


Just because you have chosen to bid on the keyword ‘sony bravia tv’, does not mean your ad is guaranteed to show for any search containing the phrase ‘sony bravia tv’. You are competing with thousands of other advertisers for Google’s search results page real estate, and Google can only show a finite number of ads at any one time (10-12).

When deciding which ads to show, Google will display the ads that are most likely to generate a high click through rate (CTR), and those that have a relatively high Quality Score.

So when someone searches for ‘sony bravia 50 inch tv black’, PPC advertisers who have chosen to bid on a keyword close to ‘sony bravia 50 inch tv black’, and are able to display an ad which is relevant to Sony Bravia 50 inch TVs, is more likely to be awarded the chance to appear on Google’s search results page, than your generic keyword ‘sony bravia tv’, which triggers a more generic ad message.

The percentage of impressions your keywords receive for all ‘available’ searches is counted in Google’s Impression Share metric. The higher your Impression Share, the higher the percentage of available searches in which your ads appear.

The crucial point is this – by researching thousands of relevant keywords, all other things equal, you are more likely to show for a greater number of relevant searches. By researching thousands of keywords, your impressions and click volume will increase considerably.

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4 Practical Ways to Lower Your AdWords CPCs

WordStream last week carried out some fascinating research on Google AdWords CPC prices of different sectors. One key finding was that the finance industry carried high CPCs of up to $54.91, while other service-related sectors such as education, law and health also exhibited expensive CPC prices of over $30.00.

It’s All Relative

Since CPC prices are often closely linked to the potential profitability of a sale from that keyword, the CPC price is often a mute point. A ‘bad credit history remortgage’ could be worth $15,000 profit to a remortgage broker, so having CPCs in excess of $50.00 can deliver a strong return on investment.

On the other hand, the keyword ‘New York weather’ has little commercial intention, so keywords such as this tend to benefit from low CPCs.

While this relativity of CPC prices makes CPC comparisons across sectors rather meaningless, most PPC advertisers would jump at the chance to pay lower CPCs. So below are 4 strategies I’ve found useful for achieving lower CPCs, while still maintaining a strong conversion rate.


Source: Wordstream

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3 Tips for AdWords Ad Scheduling Success

Ad scheduling – an advanced feature of Google AdWords – allows PPC advertisers to set different bids for different days of the week and different hours of the day. If your business is closed on weekends, you can pause your ads on weekends. If most of your sales come through on weekday mornings, setting higher bids on weekday mornings can result in higher profitability.

But while ad scheduling in Google AdWords can be extremely powerful in boosting campaign performance, it is essential that ad scheduling decisions are reliable and informed. Since so many internal and external factors can bias your day of the week analysis, advanced ad scheduling strategies are best reserved for mature and relatively stable PPC campaigns with a large amount of conversion data.

Below are three tips for getting the most out of ad scheduling, and suggestions to help you make reliable and informed decisions to take advantage of this powerful feature of Google AdWords.

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5 Common PPC Optimisation Mistakes

You’ve researched hundreds of long-tail keywords, organised them into granular ad groups, and crafted ad messages which closely match the ad group’s keywords. You then set your Google AdWords campaigns live.

But after a while, you realise your PPC campaigns are not delivering the desired return on investment. You start making changes to bids, budgets, and keywords. Still no improvement, so you make more changes.

And so on.

It’s not long until you’ve lost track of what’s working and what’s not. Your keywords and ad groups become disorganised, your Quality Scores start to fall, and you start paying excessively high CPCs to chase after visitors and sales.

If any of this sounds familiar, perhaps you need to take a step back and review your campaign optimisation strategy. Are you making intelligent and informed decisions based on reliable, insightful, and unbiased data? Or are your bids being changed and keywords paused in a random and haphazard fashion in a drastic effort to improve results?

Below are 5 optimisation mistakes I’ve found myself guilty of from time to time, and some tips on how to avoid these common pitfalls.


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The Art of Keyword Qualification

Advertisers looking to promote their products or services through Google AdWords often face a difficult challenge when deciding which keywords to target. Some keywords will naturally be more relevant than other keywords, so where do you draw the line? When researching keywords in which to show your ads, how do you decide which keywords to use and which to avoid?

Unfortunately, there is no definitive rule on the types of keywords which are relevant (which you should show your ads), and which are  not relevant (which you should avoid). After all, what’s relevant to a large advertiser may be irrelevant to a small niche advertiser. This lack of a boundary can make it extremely difficult to decide where to draw the line when researching possible keywords.

But as long as you consider the principle of keyword qualification, everything will be fine! If you understand how different keywords in your AdWords account naturally have different levels of qualification, keyword research and ad group organisation become a whole lot more effective.

Let’s see how.

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How to Strike Gold in Google’s Search Query Report

Google’s search query reports provide PPC advertisers with two fantastic opportunities to improve the performance of their AdWords campaigns:

  1. Identify irrelevant keywords which can be added as negatives
  2. Identify new keyword opportunities for keyword expansion

The difficulty, however, is efficiently and reliably pulling out trends and insights from a raw search query report. According to Google, 25% of searches made each day are completely unique, and 70% of searches lie outside of Google’s Keyword Tool. While this suggests that the large majority of your search queries will have received only a handful of clicks (making trend-spotting extremely difficult), it also presents a great opportunity for identifying new keywords outside of the Keyword Tool.

This article will explore the techniques which can be used not only to identify negative keywords from a search query report, but also identify new opportunities for practical keyword expansion.

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3 Steps to Mid-Tail PPC Profitability

The beauty of pay per click marketing is that it allows you to choose keywords which are highly relevant to your business. By only showing ads for search terms which closely match the products and services your business offers, you can ensure a high degree of relevancy and strong return on investment from paid search.

PPC advertisers have abided by this relevant approach since the dawn of PPC, knowing that to maximize PPC profitability, ads should be shown for highly-relevant keywords, and not for irrelevant keywords. If you are a synthetic grass manufacturer, for example, you should only show ads for highly-relevant searches such as ‘artificial grass’ and ‘synthetic grass suppliers’, but not for less relevant searches such as ‘real grass’ or ‘buy grass seed online’. Showing ads for these less relevant keywords would achieve a low conversion rate and yield a poor profit.

Or so the theory goes.

But maybe there is a way to still achieve great results from these less relevant keywords? Maybe there is a way to reach a greater number of potential customers, while still achieving a strong profitability?

There is. But it involves a different way of thinking. It involves a different approach to simply bidding on a range of keywords, showing your best performing ads, and waiting for the sales to come flooding in.

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Modified Broad Match – How To Increase AdWords CTR and Reduce CPCs

Back in July, after 2 months of successful beta testing, Google rolled out a much awaited improvement to their often notorious AdWords broad match. Modified Broad Match – or the Broad Match Modifier – allows Google AdWords advertisers to place plus signs in front of their keywords to better control the types of searches which trigger their ads. Since every word in the keyword which contains a preceding plus sign must be included somewhere in the user’s search query, modified broad match provides advertisers with an extra level of control over the search queries which trigger their ads.

While this extra degree of control was largely welcomed by PPC advertisers, modified broad match no doubt adds an extra degree of complication to Google AdWords management. However, as we will see from four seperate modified broad match experiments, if modified broad match is used correctly, it can be extremely effective in significantly increasing click through rates (CTR) and lowering cost per click (CPC) prices of Google AdWords campaigns.

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