Using search query reports to optimize PPC campaigns

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When talking about search marketing it starts and ends with keywords.

The concept of understanding the keyword the user is searching for and matching it with what your brand is offering has created one of the most successful and profitable companies of all time.

Recently, we have been having a lot of conversations about keywords and how they should be used. I would categorize these into three strategic discussions:

  1. Specificity: How detailed should any company get in their keyword list? Example; Running shoes for men with flat feet in the summer vs. Running shoes
  2. Campaign Structure: How should these keywords be grouped to be the most effective and map to their corresponding ad copy? 
  3. Brand vs. Non-brand: Should I be bidding on my branded terms? What is the value of non-branded keywords if they are below my ROI goals?

This article will focus on specificity – how to determine the starting point of your keyword list and then how to refine it using available search query report data that is made available by Google.

Getting started

If this is your first campaign you are running, welcome. If not, then you should skip this section.

There are lots of various keyword tools you can use to help set up your account. While they might be slightly different I find that any are good enough to start with.

I typically use Google’s tool. Enter in your website or some base keywords you know you want included and let the tool derive your list.

From there it is all your own intuition. You won’t know just yet what your results will be and there really isn’t a way to know prior to getting real data how deep you should go, especially considering your product set. You just have to start somewhere.

Some common questions are:

  • Are you a local business? If so, including some of those local keyword variations makes sense
  • How big is your budget? Your ability to fund a broader keyword list or target the more expxensive head terms will be informed by your budget
  • How much volume do your search terms get? If you are in a heavy volume area you might see more volume on larger tail terms that make sense to include.

Starting with some grouped structure that keeps your related keywords together and aligns well with your ad copy and landing page. This is important for relevance and quality score.

Don’t try to overstuff an ad group. If a keyword doesn’t belong, put it where it does, even if it’s alone.

Always include at least phase match and negative keywords. Every business knows keywords that don’t align with their business or doesn’t match with their product set.

Similar with phrase match, where you want to be able to have some visibility into what consumers are searching for. This is where the real magic and refinement happens.

Refining your keyword list with a search query report

Once your campaigns are live you start to get actual data on not only the keywords you bid on, but you also get keyword information on the search terms Google matched to your keywords. This gives you the opportunity to refine your list by either adding negatives or bidding specifically on those variants. 

You can access this data from the main keywords menu by selecting ‘search terms,’ or you can access this data by running a search terms report in the reporting reports section. Google provides more details in their help text here.

I prefer the keyword menu in the main interface because you can directly manage the keywords based on the data you see. Below is an example of the option to add as a keyword or negative. 

I like to start by sorting by impressions. This helps me work through keywords I may have missed by volume. The ones that will make the biggest impact on results. I’ll include cost per conversion data as well.

What I’m looking for is pretty simple. If a search term has a lot of volume and is getting conversions, or I feel like is strategic to the account (meaning it may not have conversions yet, but I can optimize the bid or other items to bring value) I will add it as a keyword. If the opposite is true I will add it to the negative list. 

What I find you see often are search term variants that give you some great insight into how consumers are thinking about your products.

You’ll often see search terms that give you insight into things you may have assumed about things like; color, size, location, or price. It can help you understand content or landing pages you may need to build to better answer these queries.

By adding these search terms you didn’t originally consider you can better select the landing page for those keywords, or the ad copy that more specifically speaks to the needs of that term. 

In the keyword section of the menu you can also add a variety of segments in the data that can also be very insightful. The segment menu option is right next to columns, download, or expand in the top row:

You can break the data down by time (day, week, month, etc…), conversions, device, or network (Google vs. Search Partners). These segments can provide deeper insights into consumer behavior and give you some keys to further optimization. 

There is no right or wrong number of keywords to have in your account

It is driven by the category, your budget, and consumer behavior. The key is to use the data to drive your decisions.

The search query report provides excellent insights into search terms to help you build landing pages and content that will help you improve the customer experience, your relevance, and overall conversions.

Keyword research tools are the starting point, but nothing is going to beat your search query report data. 

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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About The Author

Jason Tabeling is the CEO of Airtank and is an accomplished marketing executive and proven leader with over 20 years of experience growing strong and profitable teams, working for and with Fortune 500 companies in a variety of industries.
Prior to AirTank, Jason served as Executive Vice President of Product for BrandMuscle, an enterprise software and services company focused on Fortune 1,000 brands, where he led product innovation and strategy. He earned the company a Leadership Ranking in the Forrester 2020 Through-Channel Marketing Automation Wave.
He also spent 16 years working with Rosetta, Razorfish and Progressive Insurance, leading Paid, Earned and Owned media teams across health care, financial services and retail verticals. He was named a “40 under 40” by Direct Marketing News, has been a judge for the AMA Reggie Awards, and has been published in Forbes and many other publications as a subject matter expert.

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