This article will go through the most fundamental part of SEM, keywords. We’ll walk through the different types of keywords and think about the different use cases for them.
The most fundamental part of paid search, or SEM, is keywords. The bids you place, the ads you show, and almost everything else in paid search revolves around keywords. A search query is the text that a user types into a search engine, and the “keywords” in this context, refers to the words or strings of words that you, the advertiser, would pay to show ads for. For example, if you are selling notebooks online then you might pay to show ads for the keyword “notebooks online” and things related to that so that when someone searches something related to buying notebooks online your ad will appear.
Broad Match Keywords
There are various types of keywords, but we’ll focus on a couple of important types to start. The first is what is referred to as broad term keywords or broad match keywords. These are like the “catch-all,” wide-net keywords you set up to make sure you show up in as many related auctions as possible. In the example above the term “notebooks” would be a catch-all keyword. We would put this as one of our keywords as a broad match term “+notebooks”, where the plus sign signifies to the search engine that it a broad match keyword and therefore should show an ad for any search query that has notebooks included like “buy notebooks online” or “shop for notebooks.” While this may seem like an easy solution so our ads show up all the time, broad match keywords will often be quite expensive per click because of their breadth as well as the frequency of your ads showing up. For example, having the broad notebooks keyword would mean your ads also served when someone was looking for digital notebooks, which you may not even sell. That leads us to the next topic, negative keywords.
Negative keywords are a bit more complex and serve a great purpose especially when using broad match terms. Negative keywords are phrases that you input that tell the search engine to not show up when those keywords are present. In our example above with notebooks, if we do not in fact sell digital notebooks then we may want to add the word “digital” to our negative keywords list. This lets the search engine know that even though notebooks is one of our terms we do not want to show up when the word digital is also in there. Using negative keywords can be a huge cost saver and help you avoid the pitfalls of using broad match terms. You can find the negative keywords tool within the Google Ads platform or whatever platform/engine you are using. This tool allows you to make multiple lists of negative keywords and apply each list to specific or all campaigns. An example of a negative keyword list you might want to apply to all campaigns is a “Brand Reputation List” which prevents you from showing an ad when someone searches something like “YourBrand bad product” or YourBrand with expletives.
The opposite of the broad match keyword is the exact match keyword, usually signaled using brackets like [shop for notebooks]. Exact match keywords let the search engine know that you would only like to show up when a specific word or set of words show up together in the same order. This leaves very little flexibility and allows you to know exactly what search query you are showing up for. As you build knowledge about your searches you will build a better list of exact keywords and having those keywords split out will enable you to evaluate the performance of different keywords. For example, the exact match term “notebooks” will probably have a lower conversion rate than the exact match term “buy notebooks online” due to the specificity and nature of the search. Over time you understand the intent of the search based on these exact match keywords to further optimize your campaigns.
The last type of keyword we’ll dive into in this article is the long-tail keyword. As the name suggests, these are keywords that are longer in nature and have a “tail,” or a string of words before and/or after the main word or phrase that makes it a lot more specific. In our notebooks example, a long-tail keyword might be “black spiral notebooks online.” While a keyword like that will have a lot less search volume than “notebooks,” it is a lot easier to tailor your advertisement to those searches and they are often a lot less competitive. Knowing that there are a handful of searches for that black spiral notebook you create a campaign-specific for that keyword and related ones that show ad copy related to black spiral notebooks and you can better serve the searcher by making a landing page for that term. You will likely see a lower cost-per-click and higher conversion rate with a good strategy for long-tail keywords.
Key Takeaways for Your SEM Strategy
Use broad match keywords as a catch-all net early on to see what types of things people are searching
Make sure to keep negative keywords list up to date to save money and avoid paying for terms that aren’t relevant to you
As you build knowledge in the space, move most of your budget towards exact keywords that convert well for you
Look to leverage long-tail keywords both in SEO and SEM by creating distinct landing pages and ad copy tailored to those keywords
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