Keywords: not the place for the AdWords dabblers to start

A little bit of background today as to how I view search engine pay-per-click advertising (e.g. Google AdWords). This might be helpful if you’re running a campaign in-house and are having to explain what you’re doing to sales or product managers. In particular, I want to talk about the searches where you place your adverts, known as ‘keywords’.

Normally, when sales or product managers want to stick their oar in, this is the first place they start. “We sell this, this and this”, they say, “and therefore those should be our keywords.”

Now, this is fine if you’re selling Justin Bieber CDs online. You probably won’t even have enough money to show up every time someone types in ‘buy justin bieber cd online’. It might be the only keyword you choose. But in business marketing, we need to consider the whole universe of every search being made on Google at any moment, and how we might target those ones which are being made by our prospects. Will they just be the ones which directly reference our products by name?

At this point, I always recall an advertiser about 25 years ago, who was considering using the trade magazine on which I worked at the time. He had really done his research, and told me that he’d narrowed down the magazines where he was going to advertise to just two: ours …and British Airways’ High Life. I remarked that this was an odd place to advertise some very technical software, and he agreed. But although the ad would be wasted on the vast bulk of the readers of High Life, he estimated that it would still get to more of his prospects than any specialist technical software title.

Now, the problem here was that with print advertising, you have to pay for all the wasted readership. Nowadays, with PPC advertising, you don’t. If 100 people a day search for ‘blue widgets’ and you get a 1% clickthrough rate on your ‘blue widgets’ advert there, you get a visit. If a million people search for ‘buy justin bieber cd online’ in the same time, and just one in a million see your ‘blue widgets’ advert there but think: “Hmm, blue widgets, I need some of them too”, you get the same result: 1 visit.

This is an exaggerated example, and there are cost-per-click reasons why you wouldn’t advertise against more outlandish searches. But the important thing for those dabbling in PPC search advertising to understand is this: keyword selection is an attempt to find the web pages where your prospects might be looking. Those pages might not tightly reflect the products that you’re selling. It’s all about testing and finding out, and fortunately today we have the data.

The sales or product managers would be much better off suggesting better wording for the adverts, to ensure the right people are clicking on them. This is rarely what happens though, and it seems to be a very difficult concept to get over to the uneducated.

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