Analyzing Short & Long Keywords Using Google Analytics

As a search agency we see many different styles of PPC campaign design, from in-house teams, other agencies, and occasionally running across those from the search engines themselves. Broadly speaking, campaigns can fit into one of two categories:

  1. Those heavy on keywords or phrases made up of low number of fairly generic terms (for the purpose of this article, referred to as “shorter keywords”)
  2. Those using a high number of terms ranging from generic to improbable (or “longer keywords”)

Our approach has always been to go for broke with the number of terms we use in our campaigns. So, we’re better aligned with option two and I know we are not alone.

As spelled out in Convert More New Users Using Advanced Segments, I’m a huge fan of the new advanced segments feature in Google Analytics. This article offers another example of how advanced segments can help us chop up our data into more digestible morsels. My aim here is to show the workings of this type of segmenting and combine it with a custom report to analyze keyword data more efficiently. I finish with a note on applying similar filters and the many possibilities that follow. The goal? To demonstrate that there is now an easy way to measure the reward for the effort of building those keyword lists.

A common misconception

I know some of you are thinking “why not just use “long tail” and “head” instead of saying “shorter” and “longer.” I can hear a lot of experienced search marketers and analysts replying “because they aren’t the same thing!” But then there are some slightly quieter murmurs coming from an unnamed corner of the SEM population. This sounds more like “erm, well, yeah, they are. Aren’t they?”

To clear things up, the “long tail” refers to the hundreds or thousands of keywords sending users to your site which, individually have few visits but collectively form a substantial chunk of your total traffic. The length or number of words in the keyword in this definition is irrelevant.

To make the second group feel better about this situation, I would like to point out that the long-tail often is full of keywords containing 3 or more words. To compound this, we also don’t really have a collective term for these long, ungainly but highly profitable terms. If we did it might prevent this misconception.

Defining “longer keywords” & “shorter keywords”

In the example below, the obvious starting point for defining a “longer keyword” is four words or more because from this point onward, the sum total of all the bars in the chart is less than the total of the previous (three words) bar alone. By that mark, keywords with three words or less become my “shorter keywords.” As a general rule, your “longer keywords” will be between 3+ and 5+ terms. Either go with that or your own analysis.

Distribution of Visits by Number of Keywords

Create the segments

I doff my cap to the Google Analytics Twitter team for publishing this screenshot of a regular expression (regex) filter and to my colleague James Carswell who took the Google regex and made it even shinier.

Now that you have your definitions, add the below regular expressions as in the images. Think about whether there are any other terms or traffic types you might want to exclude at this point.

The longer keywords segment

I have used this segment to specify that we want to see keywords which contain at least three spaces and therefore have four words or more (\s|\+).*(\s|\+).*(\s|\+) (we altered the original Google regex to take into account the fact that occasionally words are separated by “+” signs instead of spaces in Google Analytics).

Advanced Segment - four Keywords or More

The shorter keywords segment

Use this segment or copy from the below image to create a segment which only shows keywords containing three words or less.

Advanced Segment - three Keywords or Less

Build a custom report

This example is taken from an ecommerce website so I have included revenue data. You can equally use goal conversion data or bounce rate and average time on site. I have included source and medium here so that the data is available should you want to take it to the next level.

Google Analytics Custom Report - Keyword Performance Analysis

After applying both the custom report and advanced segment to a keyword report you can start to play.

A small tip here: the maximum number of keywords you can view in one report in Google Analytics is 500. However, when viewing a keyword report you can change the limit by appending “&limit=n” to the url in your browser. Where “n” is the number of keywords you would like to see data for—I believe the maximum value is 20,000. You won’t see any change in the interface but when you download the report as a .csv file you should have all the data you wish.

Go out and play with your segments

There are so many ways we can apply variations of this segment to suit different job roles and business needs. Also, the results really will be different for everybody. Here are some different ways of looking at interpreting the data for this segment.

Value of short vs. long keywords. Try comparing the data for the two above segments. What do you see? Is it worth bidding on those big generic terms anymore?

SEO value. Try charting the rise of visits of your “longer keywords.” Is the situation improving? As above compare the segment with the shorter keyword segment. Are they both going in the same direction?

Campaign cross-pollination. You may be able to segment by paid search, and in turn use the data to inform and help guide your SEO work. Similarly, are there some nice long terms you haven’t got in your paid campaign which are working for SEO?

AdWords optimization. What is the relative CPC of the longer vs. shorter terms? Do you need to come up with different bid strategies for each?

Google ad position. Combine these two segments with a custom report showing overall data for the different ad slots. Do longer terms perform better?

Sussing out the true value of the head vs. the long tail. If you really must define things by long tail and head status then try adding a number of visits quantifier to each segment. A great use for this is to see the shorter terms which are effectively in the long tail in terms of volume. They can often give you great ideas for a whole new array of terms.

Compare the engines. Look at the relative performance of Google, Yahoo! and Bing, segmented by longer and shorter keywords. Which one is doing a better job of bringing in the traffic on longer keywords? How does that affect your strategy on these terms?

Above all, experiment! You might not know something is useful until you try it.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Google: AdWords | Google: Analytics | Search & Analytics


About The Author: is head of product development at UK pay per click specialists Periscopix. When not managing client PPC campaigns or analysing website performance, Ben writes about and runs training courses on Google Analytics.

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  • fortworthtechs

    Thanks for the info. I will have to review my Google Adwords campaign and add some longer keywords.

  • Mieszko – GoalGorilla

    Excellent ideas to make this data actionable, Ben.

    About “campaign cross-pollination”: my experience is that Google AdWords prevents longer keywords triggering ads by giving them the ‘Low search volume’ status ( Any thoughts on this?

    Ps. Check out this SEOmoz article for a similar keyword segmenting approach:

  • Ben Gott

    Mieszko, I agree with you on the low search volume keywords, actually we think these are becoming more common, which is the opposite of what we might have expected.

    Far from allowing and rewarding more detailed, complex campaign design and management, Google seem to be edging towards fewer, broad match terms. This is backed up by what our AdWords reps tell us. We haven’t seen great results when moving in that direction so we’re sticking to our guns on the big long-tail campaigns!

    Thanks for the link, always enjoy what the guys at Distilled have to say.

    P.S come back next Friday I’ll be segmenting and using custom reports to analyse conversion rate by ad position on AdWords campaigns.


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