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.

Capturing less relevant search traffic and achieving a good return on investment involves 3 crucial steps – separation, qualification, and persuasion.

1) Separation

“Keywords of differing levels of qualification should be separated into their own campaigns”

Start with your most relevant and highly-qualified keywords. These are your cream of the crop keywords in terms of relevancy. If you are selling luxury apartments in New York, for example, keywords in this highly relevant campaign may include a descriptive qualifier (e.g. ‘luxury’ or ‘exclusive’), a property qualifier (e.g. ‘apartments’ or ‘real estate’), a purchase qualifier (e.g. ‘for sale’ or ‘buy’), and a location qualifier (e.g. ‘New York’). People searching for ‘luxury apartment for sale in New York’ would be an extremely high quality of visitor, so these keywords must be kept separate in their own campaign.

In your next campaign, create keywords which are slightly less relevant. Keywords in this campaign might contain a descriptive qualifier (e.g. ‘luxury’ or ‘exclusive’), a property qualifier (e.g. ‘apartments’ or ‘real estate’), and a location qualifier (e.g. ‘New York’), but not a purchase qualifier (e.g. ‘for sale’ or ‘buy’). Keywords such as ‘world class property NYC’ is still relevant, but since it does not contain the words ‘for sale’ or ‘buy’, they need to be kept separate so they can optimized separately.

Next, create a campaign for keywords which do not contain a descriptive qualifier (e.g. ‘luxury’ or ‘exclusive’) not a purchase qualifier (e.g. ‘for sale’ or ‘buy’). Keywords such as ‘New York property for sale’ or ‘buy an apartment NY’ are still somewhat relevant, but since they don’t contain any descriptive or purchase qualifier, they need to be kept separate.

Then create yet another campaign for keywords with a descriptive qualifier (e.g. ‘luxury’ or ‘exclusive’) and a purchase qualifier (e.g. ‘for sale’ or buy’), but without a location qualifier (e.g. ‘New York’). This campaign will include keywords such as ‘exclusive apartments to buy’ or ‘prestigious real estate for sale’), which although are somewhat relevant, do not contain any mention of location so need to be kept separate. To increase the relevancy of keywords in this campaign, you might want to geo-target the campaign to a particular geographic area (e.g. searchers located in New York).

Keep creating campaigns, each with keywords of slightly less relevancy, until you start getting very generic and ambiguous keywords such as ‘New York apartments’. By now you should have a few different campaigns, each identifiable by the amount of qualification their keywords contain. Your campaigns may look something like the following:


As you move from one campaign to the next, keywords in your campaigns become less qualified and more ambiguous.

Now comes the exciting part – qualifying your ads.

2) Qualification

“Ad messages should be qualified to cater for different types of searchers”

While showing your best performing ads might work for your highly relevant keywords, using the same ads for less relevant keywords will have very different results. Using the same ‘tried and tested’ ads for less relevant keywords is a major reason why many PPC advertisers complain about the poor profitability of less relevant keywords. It’s not the keywords which are to blame; it’s the poorly qualified ads.

To achieve a strong return on investment from less relevant and more ambiguous keywords, such as ‘apartments in New York’, you need to qualify your ads. The less relevant your keyword, the more qualification is needed in your ads. When a user searches for something generic and ambiguous like ‘apartments in New York’, you are not able to tell whether she is looking to buy or rent an apartment in New York, nor are you able to determine the type of apartment they are seeking (whether it’s luxury, spacious, cheap etc). You therefore need to qualify your ad messages, providing clarity on the crucial missing information your searcher failed to include.

For your keywords which do not include a purchase qualifier (e.g. ‘buy’ or ‘for sale’), make it clear you are selling apartments (rather than renting apartments) by including words such as ‘buy’, ‘for sale’, ‘now selling’, or ‘from $3.5m’. When a searcher sees a price or a purchase qualifier in your ad, they will immediately know you are selling apartments (rather than renting apartments), which will reduce the number of rental seekers clicking on your ads.

Similarly, for your keywords which do not include a location qualifier, make your location extremely clear in your ad messages to minimize wasted clicks from people searching for properties in irrelevant locations. And for your keywords which do not contain a descriptive qualifier (e.g. ‘luxury’ or ‘world class’), ensure the searcher understands you are selling high-end property by using words such as ‘luxury’, ‘world class’, and ‘from $3.5m’ in your ads. This will help to filter out first time buyers or property seekers looking for low cost properties.

Qualifying your ads need not be a difficult task. One of the main reasons why you separated your keywords into different campaigns in step 1 is to make ad qualification all the more easier. By keeping keywords of differing levels of qualification spate, you should be able to quickly and easily create ad messages with the appropriate amount of message qualification.

Next comes the interesting part that is crucial to achieve profitability from less relevant keywords – persuasion.

3) Persuasion

“Ad messages should make it clear you are not offering the product or service the user has searched for, but provide clear messages as to why they should consider you as a substitute”

If you are an artificial grass manufacturer, for example, and you wanted to show ads for ‘real grass’ or ‘buy grass seed online’, you need to persuade searchers why they should change their mind and consider purchasing artificial grass instead. Messages such as ‘Grass that never needs watering’ or ‘Find out why you should go artificial’ might do the trick.

Similarly, if you’re a 4* hotel in Manhattan, New York, and want to reach people searching for hotels in the close by Midtown, New York, don’t just bid on the keyword ‘4 star hotels midtown’ and show a generic Manhattan ad. Don’t just include the word ‘Midtown’ in your ads either, as that would mislead potential customers, and result in wasted clicks and few conversions. Mention the word ‘Midtown’ in your ad, but instead point out how far your hotel is away from Midtown. An ad such as the following would do nicely.

example google adwords adYou’ve made it clear your hotel is not in Midtown, but clearly suggested why they should consider you anyway. You will filter out those people who must stay in Midtown, but encourage people who are flexible to consider your hotel. And since you’ve pre-qualified your ad messages, you’ve set their expectations at the right level which will help to deliver a strong conversion rate.

Relevancy Is Still King

While separation, qualification and persuasion can help to deliver strong profitability from slightly less relevant keywords, relevancy is still essential for paid search success. There is little point bidding on the keywords ‘apartment decorating’ or ‘the apartment film review’ to sell New York apartments, so keywords must still be somewhat relevant to your offering.

That said, if it’s approached intelligently, the three-pronged attack of separation, qualification, and persuasion should enable you to target less relevant keywords and still achieve a good return on investment. Separation allows you to keep your different keywords separate, qualification helps you reduce wasteful clicks, and persuasion helps you increase your conversion rate. Use all three strategies together, and they can be extremely powerful at increasing conversion volume within your cost budgets.

Are you a fan of the mid-tail? Have you found it possible to achieve a good return from slightly less relevant keywords? Share your thoughts and comments below.

Alan Mitchell

Alan Mitchell is a Google AdWords PPC specialist, based in Melbourne, Australia, with a proven track record at improving return on investment (ROI) from Google AdWords. Find out how Alan can help your business.

  • Chad Summerhill

    Great post, Alan! There is a lot to gain from structuring your accounts appropriately. When reaching for less relevant keywords you definately have to qualify with your ads and be prepared for lower quality scores.

    I like it: Separation, Qualification, & Persausion.


  • Alan Mitchell

    Thanks Chad. You’re right – Quality Scores can be lower from less relevant keywords due to lower CTR.

    But I guess if better qualification in ads means higher conversion rates, then doing so can make up for the reduced Quality Scores and higher CPCs.

  • Rob McCance

    This looks like a reasonable method to break it down.

    I also recommend just going crazy with very specific landing pages this helps with the QS ratings and CPC.

  • Alan Mitchell

    You’re right Rob, dedicated landing pages would also help to increase conversion rates from less relevant keywords.

    If you consider landing pages as a natural extension of the ad, and tailor your landing pages by…

    1) Making it clear you are not offering the product / service the visitor has searched for, and

    2) Making it clear why they should consider your product / service as a substitute

    …then there is no reason why a good return on investment can’t be achieved from less relevant keywords.

  • Mick Higgins

    Hey Alan,

    Great post. I really enjoyed it. This method is ideal for reaching people not neccessarily as far down the buying cycle. Really well written and explained.


  • Alan Mitchell

    Thanks Mick,

    Glad you found it useful. I think the middle ground with PPC is understandably a grey area, so it definitely needs to be approached with a different mindset to more typical PPC keyword targeting.

    After all, by going after the ‘mid tail’ you are reaching people who are still largely undecided as to their purchase intentions, so it makes sense that you need to do some convincing and persuasion in your ad messages.


  • Robert Brady

    Alan – your strategy is sound and I’m sure it produces better results. A company or individual would just need to weigh the administrative cost of this structure (creating, monitoring and optimizing so many different campaigns, ad groups, keywords and ad versions) against the benefit it provides. I know that this would likely be overkill for many SMB advertisers.

  • Alan Mitchell

    Hi Robert,

    You’re right – it can be time-consuming to set up and manage, and may be impractical for some advertisers. But I think if this structure is taken into consideration from the initial campaign setup, then it can provide a useful and practical way to organise a PPC account.

    It makes sense that different types of keywords which would perform very differently should be kept in separate campaigns, and we already see this with the separation of brand vs. non-brand. I guess my approach is taking it one step further, providing a basis for more informed keyword analysis and optimisation.