Already its own specialty of digital marketing and now almost 50% of all online advertising budgets, paid search has fully grown into its own channel. A quick bit of research can quickly uncover a multitude of blogs, books, tools, companies, etc. all focused on the topic and within this channel, there’s even more fragmentation and specialization. From account creation to conversion optimization, paid search has a suite of sub-disciplines to master.
Not all search marketers have equal strengths in every area of the medium. Some SEM pros are great at keyword expansion, managing bids and rules, or analyzing heavy pivot tables for actionable insights. Still others find their talents lay in copywriting the three line text ads. For frequent readers of this column, you know my focus as a paid search marketer has been on the technology that can affect your efficiency, accuracy, and optimization success. I believe that those SEM folks that can fully embrace and leverage the tech of search will be the ultimate winners for their companies and clients.
There are certainly a bunch of tools on the market, but Google is in a unique position as the industry’s eight hundred pound gorilla to provide technology solutions which leverage their giant mass of search data. Certainly Google Analytics, Website Optimizer and Conversion Optimizer are awesome additions to any SEM pro’s tool box, but for today’s post, I’d like to highlight those free Google tools available outside of the AdWords platform.
Gems in the Google SEM toolbox
Google External Keyword Tool (Google Help Center) – This was literally an industry turning point when it was released a few years ago. Finally, to be able to get search volume and trends on keywords! What a concept, right? For years, Google held onto this data like a leprechaun and his gold. Thankfully, though, they opened the doors and let us all in. I’m still not one hundred percent confident in this data, but it’s really the best data we have for keyword volume…and best of all, it’s free!
Here are some advanced tips from the Google Help Center:
- Find keywords based on your site content. Instead of entering your own keywords, try using the Website Content option. It lets you enter the URL of your business website, or of any site related to your business. The AdWords system will then scan your page and then suggest relevant keywords. (This feature is available only in some languages.)
- Create new, separate ad groups with similar keywords. We recommend creating several ad groups in each campaign, each with a small, narrowly-focused set of similar keywords. Use the Keyword Tool to discover relevant keywords, then divide them into lists of 5 to 20 similar terms. See examples of ad groups promoting a single product or service and multiple products or services.
- Identify negative keywords. The Keyword Tool can show you off-topic keywords that users may be thinking about. Suppose you sell cut flowers and you give the Keyword Tool the keyword ‘flowers.’ It may suggest the related term ‘gardens,’ and you may want to add that term to your ad group as a negative keyword. That will keep your ad from showing on searches for ‘flower gardens’ or similar terms. This helps make sure only interested customers see your ads.
- Find synonyms – or not. The Use synonyms box in the Descriptive words or phrases option is always checked by default. (This means it might suggest ‘bed and breakfast’ as a synonym for the keyword ‘hotel.’) If you uncheck the box, the tool will suggest only keywords that contain at least one of the terms that you entered.
- Specify a language and location. If you’re using the Keyword Tool while signed in to your account, you may see an option to tailor results to a particular location and language. If you happen to be targeting Spanish speakers who live in France, make sure you set the Keyword Tool to that language and location.
- Start broad and then get specific. Try broad terms like ‘flowers’ in the Keyword Tool first. Then try specific terms like ‘red roses’ or ‘miniature cactus.’
Google Search Based Keyword Tool aka the “sktool” (Google Help Center) – This tool generates keyword and landing page ideas highly relevant and specific to your website. In doing so, the tool helps you identify additional advertising opportunities that aren’t currently being used in your AdWords campaigns. The tool goes one step further by tailoring the keywords and other data (such as the amount of competition for the keyword, the suggested bid, and more) based on your language or country/territory settings.
Originally, this was an internal tool that the AdWords account team had for years before releasing to the public. The way it was pitched to me was that it found organic search terms that were bringing traffic to your site and compared that list to your AdWords list. Of course, these terms may not be useful to your paid account, but the good point here is that the tool matches these organic terms with the “best landing page”. The fact that Google endorses those pages may be a direct correlation to the keyword/landing page Quality Score criteria as well. If you haven’t used this tool, I highly suggest you give it a try.
Google Insights for Search (Google Help Center) – Google Insights for Search analyzes a portion of worldwide Google web searches from all Google domains to compute how many searches have been done for the terms you’ve entered, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. You can choose to see data for select Google properties, including Web search, Images, Product search, and News search (certain properties aren’t currently available in all countries/territories).
On the results page, you’ll see:
- A graph with the search volume, indicating interest over time (GMT) for your terms, plotted on a scale from 0 to 100; the totals are indicated next to bars by the search terms (read more about how we scale and normalize the data)
- A breakdown of how the categories are classified
- Lists of the top searches and top rising searches
- A world heat map graphically displaying the search volume index with defined regions, cities, and metros
Keep in mind that Insights for Search uses data aggregated over millions of users without personally identifiable information, and is powered by computer algorithms. Additionally, it only shows results for search terms that receive a significant amount of traffic, and enforces minimum thresholds for inclusion in the tool.
Google Trends (Google Help Center) – With Google Trends, you can compare the world’s interest in your favorite topics. Enter up to five topics and see how often they’ve been searched on Google over time. Google Trends also shows how frequently your topics have appeared in Google News stories, and in which geographic regions people have searched for them most.
Google Trends for Websites (default site is “wikipedia.org”) (Google Help Center) – With Google Trends for Websites, you can get insights into the traffic and geographic visitation patterns of your favorite websites. You can compare data for up to five websites and view related sites and top searches for each one. When you enter the address of a website into the search box, Trends for Websites shows you a graph reflecting the number of daily unique visitors (the number of people who visit a website) to that website. You can see these numbers on the graph after you’ve signed into your Google Account. Under the graph, you’ll also see a list of regions where visitors originated from, other websites that they have also visited, and terms they have also searched for.
Google Ad Preview Tool (Google Help Center) – The Ad Preview Tool (APT) enables you to view your ads as they would appear on a regular Google search results page, without accruing extra impressions for your ad. I’m still shocked that the other search players haven’t created a feature like Google’s APT that allows you to see your ads even if they appear outside your geo-targeted area.
In the offline world, when a campaign runs in a magazine or newspaper, those ads are actually cut out and sent to the advertiser as proof the ads ran. Our agency normally takes screenshots of ads to send to our clients and sometimes, when we run on Yahoo or MSN outside of our home base of Chicago, we end up sending an email to everyone in the agency to see if they have friends or family in those areas that can trigger our ads and send us screenshots. The problem is, if you don’t use the APT, when you search for your ad multiple times on other engines, it can affect your ad position by racking up many ad impressions and lowering your click-through rate (CTR).
Google Traffic Estimator (Google Help Center) – The Traffic Estimator is designed to give you keyword search traffic and cost estimates at a glance. (The estimates are for search on Google and search partner sites only; they don’t include estimates for the number of clicks your ads might receive on placements you choose or on the rest of the content network.) This was once only available inside the AdWords platform, but now can be accessed even without an AdWords account. It’s had the reputation as not the most accurate tool in the world, but it can be quite handy when you need some quick insight into how much volume and cost would be associated with a short keyword list.
I found an interesting post by Seer Interactive in which they tested the accuracy of the Traffic Estimator and found it actually had some good results.
Google Ad Planner (Google Help Center) – Google Ad Planner is a free media planning tool that can help you identify websites your audience is likely to visit so you can make better-informed advertising decisions.
With Google Ad Planner, you can:
- Define audiences by demographics and interests.
- Search for websites relevant to your audience.
- Access aggregated statistics on the number of unique visitors, page views, and other data for millions of websites from over 40 countries.
- Create lists of websites where you’d like to advertise and store them in a media plan.
- Generate aggregated website statistics for your media plan.
For use with Adwords, you can filter the sites you discover with the tool to help uncover ideas for new Content or Placement targets. As well, the Ad Planner provides a ton of competitive data. For example, you can “reverse engineer” the data to help find ideas for messaging if you know that the sites in your category are skewed male not female or 18-24 not 34-50.
Google Alerts (Google Help Center) – Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic. Google Alerts currently offers 6 variations of alerts – ‘News’, ‘Web’, ‘Blogs’, ‘Comprehensive’, ‘Video’ and ‘Groups’. Although Google Alerts isn’t specifically a search marketing tool, I urge all SEMers to setup alerts for their clients’ head terms and top branded keywords. Part of being a great search marketer is understanding your client’s business and industry. Remember, SEM is not in a vacuum. If a new competitor enters the landscape, you need to know. If new terms are introduced into the marketplace, you’ll probably want to add them to your list.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.