Did you know you can now have up to 3 million keywords in your Google AdWords account? As of October 2011, Google increased its standard limit for the number of keywords allowed in a Google AdWords count from approximately 50,000 to 3 million.
While this presents an obvious opportunity for large ecommerce websites to create huge automated Google AdWords campaigns based on product feeds and exports, the less obvious opportunity is that for non-ecommerce websites to better capture the long-tail of search.
Electricians, plumbers, property developments, car dealerships, dentists, solar energy suppliers, travel agents, accountancy services, swimming pool manufacturers...the list is endless of types of businesses which could benefit from a comprehensive long-tail Google AdWords strategy to connect with potential customers and clients searching for a wide variety of different themes on Google.
Search Themes Are Not Search Queries
To better understand the long-tail of search, and how comprehensive, well-organised, and efficient Google AdWords campaigns can be created, it is important to distinguish between a theme and a search query.
- A theme is the one or two-word component of a search query which specifies a particular requirement. Examples of themes are colours, brands, sizes, styles, and locations. Themes are words such as 'red', 'sony, 'large', 'modern', and 'melbourne'.
- A search query is a combination of different themes, to form a full string of needs, requirements, and preferences. Examples of search queries are 'modern red bike retailers melbourne' and 'cheap 2 bedroom apartments london'.
Recognising the difference between themes and search queries is the first step to forming the foundation and structure of an efficient and effective long-tail strategy (for a more detailed explanation of themes, you may want to check out this article on qualifying keywords with themes).
The next step is to research those themes.
Researching Search Themes
People searching for your products and services are likely to have different needs, requirements, and preferences, and make a wide variety of different searches.
Someone interested in installing a swimming pool in their garden, for example, might search for descriptive themes such as:
- In ground
Or specify they are looking for a service or company, for example:
They may enter a location into their search, for example:
Or subtlety specify their budget, for example:
People searching for a swimming pool might need some inspiration:
Or have particular preferences on shape or size:
Millions of Possibilities
As you can see with the above examples, there are many different categories of themes, and many different themes within each category which may be relevant to a swimming pool retailer. When you permutate some of these themes together, for example, 'cheap inground fiberglass pools melbourne' and 'luxury backyard in ground pool designs' (all of which exist in Google's autocomplete suggestions are therefore commonly searched for on Google), you start to realise that keyword lists of considerable magnitude are possible by permutating multiple different themes together to form long-tail keyword strings.
PART 1 - Keyword Research Techniques (BEFORE a campaign has started)
So how do you go about researching themes and form the foundation of a long-tail Google AdWords strategy? If you don't have any previous Google AdWords data to work from, you can still build an extremely comprehensive long-tail Google AdWords structure with a combination with the following 3 techniques:
1. Your Own Brainstorming
The ideal place to start on your keyword research journey is your own brainstorming of keyword themes using the content of the website, the products and services being offered, and your own knowledge and experience of synonyms and different ways of saying the same thing. Start building a list and organise them by category (e.g. locations, colours, size, price, service type etc), and expand from there using Google's Keyword Tool.
2. Google's Keyword Tool
Google's Keyword Tool is a great next step to help you expand your list of keyword themes. If the keyword suggestions start to get obscure and irrelevant, try refining the suggestions by ticking the 'only show ideas closely related to my search terms' check box, and entering important qualifying words such as 'swimming pool' and 'swimming pools' in the 'include terms' search box.
Keep in mind that the purpose of the Keyword Tool here is to help you research your own list of themes, rather than researching the keywords themselves, so look for new themes and ignore any obvious word order and plural combinations (for now).
Try also entering your website and the website of a few competitors into the 'website' search box to see whether any new keyword ideas are provided. Depending on the content of each website, you may find your competitors use slightly different terminology, which can very useful for increasing your keyword coverage.
3. Google's Autocomplete Suggestions
As you have seen with the various swimming pool examples above, Google autocomplete suggestions are a great way to uncover keyword themes. Start by typing 'swimming pools...', and see what comes up as the autocomplete suggestions. Once you have a new keyword theme (for example 'cheap'), start typing variations of that theme and see what also comes up next. Work through the alphabet and make a note of any relevant themes.
This technique can be a great way for uncovering very long-tail but very popular question searches such as 'how much does an in ground fiberglass swimming pool cost':
PART 2 - Keyword Research Techniques (AFTER a campaign has started)
Once your campaigns are up and running, they will start to collect search query data. This search query data becomes a gold mine for further keyword research, expansions, and refinement. Below are 4 more techniques to help you research additional themes and expand your keyword coverage once your campaigns have started receiving clicks.
4. Google AdWords Search Query Report
A search query report in Google AdWords shows the search queries people typed into Google before clicking on one of your ads. Because you are look at actual phrases searches by actual people, the search query report can provide a considerable amount of insight, and help you uncover new keywords themes which you may have previously overlooked.
If you're a travel agent, for example, are people specifying their desired travel dates (e.g. 'fiji holiday packages october 2013') or hotel preferences (e.g 'sydney hotels with balcony')? By sorting your search queries from highest to lowest by clicks, you can quickly identify a large number of new themes for further keyword expansion.
5. Organic search data (Google Analytics)
Your organic search query data can be extremely useful for expanding your paid search presence. Once you have identified a theme (for example 'fiberglass'), type this into the search filter box when viewing your organic searches in Google Analytics, and you'll see all organic searches which contain the word 'fiberglass'. This can be great for identifying the various ways people are searching for fiberglass pools.
Google Analytics is also a great way to determine the relative performance of different types of search queries. By assessing how a particular theme (such as 'fiberglass') has performed at engaging visitors (e.g. views of the contact page, online enquiries, returning visits, high browse time etc), you can be more strategic in your keyword strategy, excluding poor performers or giving them lower bids.
6. Broad match generation
Broad match generation is a technique which uses your broad match keywords as generator of new search queries, which can then be added as exact, phrase, or negative keywords, depending on their relevancy. As a search query is uncovered and a new exact and parse match keyword is added to your campaigns, exact and phrase match negative keywords are added to broad match generation campaigns. The process continues in an endless cycle of search query generation and keyword expansion.
7. Theme analysis
All that search query data can become rather overwhelming. Theme analysis is a great way to pick themes from your search query data, and compare their relative performance. Using theme analysis, you can determine whether people who search for 'fiberglass' convert better than people who search for 'in ground', and whether people who search for 'luxury' convert better than people who search for 'cheap'.
Permutating Your Themes
Once you have researched an extensive list of keyword themes, you will need to permutate some of those themes together to form logical keyword combinations.
However, not all themes should be permutated with all other themes. For example, it is unlikely that a large number of people will search for obscure long-tail phrases such as 'luxury rectangular in ground fiberglass swimming pool manufacturers sydney'. Having thousands of extremely long-tail phrases such as 'luxury rectangular in ground fiberglass swimming pool manufacturers sydney' will unnecessarily bloat your account, making efficient analysis and optimisation difficult and time consuming. And since your ad messages are restricted to 25-35 characters, having such obscure long-tail phrases will not provide any further opportunity for tailored ad messaging. Shorter ad messages will have to be shown anyway.
On the other hand, having too conservative a keyword permutation strategy will ignore the considerable opportunity to connect with the searchers who specify a bit more detail in their search (as you can see with the swimming pool examples above, a large number of people are making long-tail searches).
Finding A Balance
A balance therefore needs to be achieved between having a comprehensive long-tail coverage and a manageable campaign structure.
Exactly where this balance lies depends on the numerous factors:
- The product or service being sold (swimming pools will naturally have more search variation than a bingo website)
- The geographical coverage (a worldwide campaign for a pizza delivery company will naturally need more location keywords than an independent one-location pizza delivery company)
- The extent of location searches (people tend to search for gyms, dentists, and property by suburb or location, but tend to exclude the location when searching for non-geographic services such as 'stock broking software')
- The size of the market (popular services such plumbing will naturally have considerably more search variation compared to less popular services such as tree cabling and bracing)
Finding the right balance between having enough long-tail coverage, but not too much, requires your own judgement and professional opinion, and is one area of Google AdWords management where extensive experience managing multiple Google AdWords campaigns can be extremely valuable.
Effective keyword research is all about balance. For your Google AdWords campaigns to achieve their full potential, you need to research, target, and connect with people searching for your products and services in a huge number of different ways, while at the same time providing a campaign structure which is efficient, manageable, and practical. You need to reach people with a variety of different needs, requirements, and preferences, while at the same time building a well-organised strategy to allow powerful analysis and optimisation.
Achieving this balance is by no means easy, but it's part of the fun.
Alan Mitchell is the founder of Calculate Marketing, helping businesses of all sizes improve their return on investment from PPC marketing with comprehensive long-tail keyword strategies and intelligent campaign analysis.