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Paid search can be hypercompetitive. In order to drive growth, you hope to catch consumers’ eyes with an ad on the same page as a series of other ads. But even if your ad is compelling, it might not get that many clicks because of its placement. The competition could be so hot for your keywords that your ad might not show up on the first page — that, or the search queries just don’t match your choice of keywords.
Believing you can’t compete in the paid realm, you do what many other brands do and abandon the effort. But you’re wrong. Your paid-search strategy is all about finding the right people with the right type of content through testing, iterating, and testing again. Think of it as hypertargeting, often on a limited budget.
Finding the Right Words
It’s important to allot some advertising dollars to paid search because you need to test keywords. You might not know the exact search term that’s going to convert the best.
There are a million ways to describe a product or service. But by bidding on various keywords, you can actually find the words. Some will be more profitable and less competitive than others (meaning they’ll cost less). Without going through the process, however, you may have never arrived on the word or phrase that drives the quality traffic.
One would think all brands do this, but many spend large sums of money on keywords that drive irrelevant traffic to their sites. This is partly because of confusion around those keywords, search terms, and settings in Google Ads. Instead of seeing a return on investment, the effort falls flat. The ultimate goal here is to be strategic with your keyword selection and find the right match for your search terms.
The following are some of the best practices:
1. Understand Keyword Match Types
Google matches your keywords to users’ search queries based on keyword match types — the parameters used to control which search terms or strings of words trigger ads. You’ll have four options to choose from:
- Broad match is the default setting and offers the widest reach. Whenever a search query contains your keywords or words related to your keywords (i.e., synonyms), your ad will appear. Even misspellings will trigger the ad. For example, men’s shirts as a broad match setting might reach users looking for men’s jerseys, men’s turtlenecks, women’s shirts, women’s blouses, etc. As long as the query mentions men, shirt, or a related term, the search page will list your ad.
- Broad match modified allows you to add restrictions to search terms. All it takes is a plus-sign modifier. Any keyword with a plus sign in front of it tells Google that this term must be in the query — in whatever order. Adding a modifier to both keywords (+men’s +shirts) would then reach users looking for men’s dress shirts, men’s flannel shirts, shirts for men, etc. Queries for women’s shirts or women’s blouses would no longer trigger your ad.
- Phrase match places even further restrictions on the search terms. Instead of plus signs, you put a string of keywords in quotation marks, telling Google that search queries contain these terms in that particular order to trigger a match. A phrase match setting of “men’s shirts” would reach users searching for men’s shirts, obviously, as well as organic men’s shirts, fitted men’s shirts, men’s shirts in Chicago, etc. Queries can have additional words before or after the phrase, just not in between.
- Exact match is the most restrictive setting, but it also provides the most relevant reach. You’ll replace quotation marks with brackets, telling Google that this string of words must appear in search queries — no more, no less. If you were to set [men’s shirts] as the exact match, you’d reach only users looking for men’s shirts or men’s shirt. Only exact searches or close variants would trigger your ad.
2. Negate General Terms
Branded traffic coming in under generic keywords is often problematic. It can inflate conversions, causing you to make the wrong bidding decision on keywords. You need to negate branded terms from nonbranded, general terms.
For example, XYZ manufactures widgets. “XYZ” is a branded term and should be added to its negative keyword list in nonbranded widgets campaigns, which would include nonbranded keywords like “buy widgets,” “new widgets,” and “best widgets.”
That way, you can identify the most profitable keywords and avoid paying for clicks with low returns. It’s a way of refining your keyword strategy and expanding your selection of words based on the quality of traffic — without the lift of branded terms.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t bid on branded terms. In fact, sponsored results account for nearly 65% of clicks. You may even want to consider bidding on a competitor’s branded terms. Chances are good your competitors are doing the same.
Worst-case scenario? No one clicks on the ad. But you improve brand awareness, as the ad is showing up in different search results. If someone does click, you swipe a competitor’s lead for a bargain. Branded terms often cost less.
The question then remains: What about nonbranded terms? As expensive as they can be, you still want to bid on them. If you’re a small brand with little presence, no one will find you without nonbranded terms. It’s all about testing and adjusting to find the right fit.
3. Consider Google Search Partners
With pay-per-click campaigns, you have two options: Run ads only on Google’s search engine results page, or open it up to its search partners. Actually, the default is opt-in to display network and search partners, and most brands disable the display network for a PPC campaign.
The choice really comes down to whether you use the search partner network. Doing so can increase the reach of your ad, but there’s also much less control. You can’t split search partners out on their own.
Because you’re paying for every click, you want to make sure you’re bringing the right people to your site. The beauty of Google Ads is that it’s one of the most effective platforms for testing and adjusting a campaign. You’ve got to walk before you can run, after all. This is the opportunity to do just that until you find the perfect equation.
Janielle Denier is the CEO and founder of Rainfactory Inc., an award-winning full-service digital marketing agency that provides go-to-market strategy and advertising for growth-stage startups. Denier is an expert in devising action-driven conclusions based on video attribution.
This article originally appeared in Growth Hackers on January 27, 2020.
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