How To Maximize The Impact Of Your Top Performing Keywords

Not all keywords are created equal. The Pareto principle states that roughly 80% of effects will come from 20% of the causes. Search is no exception to the rule. In fact, search marketing efforts often exhibit an exaggeration of the principle because it’s very common to observe 1% of the keywords in a given account driving 50% of the cost and even more of the revenue.

So, what does this mean? Behavior is unique for these high volume/value keywords and as a result, steps need to be taken to make these terms more visible for daily account management and analysis. The first step is to identify and isolate these top terms to help prioritize where to focus.

Here’s a simple exercise to identify the top terms in an account:

  1. Run a keyword report and sort the data by cost.
  2. Filter out branded terms, as these terms should be isolated in a unique campaign.
  3. Filter out terms that constitute the top 50% of the non-banded cost.

Typically this keyword set is very small, but accounts for the same cost as the remainder of the account. It’s important to note that the top terms as I have defined them only refer to top spending terms. If your SEM effort is ROI focused, at this point, take the opportunity to identify if there are terms that are in this keyword set that do not drive revenue.

Now we’ve got this keyword set comprised of the most significant keywords in an account. What to do with it? It has been rumored that isolating a keyword in a unique AdGroup will increase quality score. While this is not necessarily true, it highlights the reason why it’s important to have an organized account: control. By placing each of these top terms in a unique AdGroup, you can create keyword/ad/landing page associations that are more relevant—effectively increasing Quality Score, clickthrough rates (CTR), and subsequently driving down cost per click (CPC). While it seems logical to do this for all terms in an account, it’s not a scalable solution for an account with thousands, if not tens of thousands or more terms. Thus we have identified a small sub-section of terms, our “top terms,” that have a very significant effect on the account. Because this set of terms is a cross-section of the account, we can take successful elements, such as ad copy and landing page combinations, from the top terms and apply them to similar terms in the rest of the account to increase CTR and Quality Score.

As I mentioned before, another important set of terms to isolate and manage independently from the rest of the account is brand terms. Brand terms generally have very high Quality Scores, are cheap, have great CTRs, and observe the best conversion rates, often making them the most efficient terms in an account.

As a result, you can maximize the impact of brand terms by activating them on all match types: exact, phrase and broad (for more on this, see my earlier post Best Practices For Auditing An SEM Account). The same rules for optimization apply: isolate high volume terms into unique AdGroups within the brand terms campaign, create relevant ad copy, and make sure landing pages are as relevant as possible.

Side note: Josh Dreller has been posting articles recently about ways to use excel for SEM analysis beyond standard reporting. In his first post in this series, How To: Excel at Excel for SEM Applications, Part 1, he outlines a process to create a catalog system for keywords so you can pivot your data to display in various ways. Building on his catalog concept, you can set up a label (column) for these top keywords, allowing rolled-up reporting on top terms vs the rest of the account. Furthermore, you can build a second label for Brand and Non-Brand terms. Now you can analyze brand vs. non brand as a sub-set of top keywords vs. the rest of the account. Very cool.

Identifying top terms in both brand and non-brand keyword sets will create a very controlled environment to test and optimize ad copy and landing pages. Small changes in quality score and subsequently CPC will have a very significant impact on the account and the best practices identified in the top terms effort can be rolled out across the campaign.

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | How To: PPC | Search Marketing: Search Term Research


About The Author: is the Vice President of Performance Marketing and Analytics at SellPoints and is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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  • alanmitchell

    Great post Benny.

    Looking at the top 50% non-brand keywords by cost is a simple and effective technique to identify those keywords which could benefit most from your time and effort. Although, as you mentioned, this can be impractical for an account with may thousands of keywords and more of a long-tail focus.

    One similar method I use to identify which parts of campaign need the most focus is the 10% clicks rule. Where you look at keywords that make up 50% of cost, I look at ad groups which make up 10% of broad and phrase match clicks. Since only a handful of ad groups are likely to have more than 10% clicks, it makes campaign management very targeted and focused.

    Completely agree though that it comes down to control. A well thought-out and organized account with closely grouped keywords, relevant ads and landing pages, will make ongoing analysis, testing and optimisation all the more easier in the long run.

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