5 Basic Steps To Improve PPC Targeting And Lower Costs

By Kaitlyn Smeland Dhanaliwala | Aug 12, 2010
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Pay-per-click advertising is all about targeting.  The main reason it is such an attractive channel to all sorts of companies is that it allows advertisers to show their ads only to consumers who are actively searching for the products they sell.

As a search engine marketer who has  managed PPC campaigns for all sorts of industries, my philosophy is that a PPC account can always be more targeted.  Not only will good targeting allow you to serve the right marketing message to each market segment, but it will also indirectly affect your overall Google-assigned Quality Score (thereby affecting your minimum bid).  So remember that there are tangible cost implications here, too.

Even when an account generates an acceptable ROI , even maintaining that level of targeting takes work.  The five steps below outline my approach to improving targeting in a PPC account- but remember that these steps should be part of an ongoing management process.

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1.  Watch Your Account Structure! The mantra is “Think small.”  Create a lot of small ad groups composed of relatively few keywords, all organized into many different campaigns.  Then go back and granulate those ad groups even further.

There are three different reasons for this approach:

Improving Click-Through Rate.  One key metric to always keep in mind is click-through rate (CTR).  CTR is the percentage of people who see your ad and then click on it.  And CTR is one of the factors that affects your Quality Score.  In general, the higher your Quality Score, the lower your costs.  Creating a granular ad group structure can help you increase CTR because ad copy is set at the ad group level. If you have five very similar keywords in an ad group (as opposed to 100), you are more likely to be able to craft a message that will appeal to that small segment and compel them to click.

Improve Relevance of Ad Copy to Keywords. Another factor that Google takes into account when calculating your Quality Score is literally how similar your ad copy is to the keywords in an ad group.  If you only have five similar keywords in an ad group, it should be pretty easy to include some of the same phrasing in your ad copy.  If you have 100 different keywords in an ad group…not so much.

Keep Control of Your Budget. Budget limits are set at the campaign level, so separating your ad groups into many campaigns means that you’ll be able to identify the areas which are performing best and then allocate more budget to them.  If you’ve got too many ad groups under one campaign, you lose that control and Google will distribute your campaign budget for you (usually to the ad groups with the most expensive keywords- not necessarily the best performance).

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2.  Watch Your Match Types! There are three main match types you can use for each keyword in your account: broad, phrase, and exact.  In most cases, you will want to start with all three match types for each keyword.  You’ll also want to make extensive use of negative keywords.

If you’re a beginner, you can read more about how the three main match types work over at Google.  But for our purposes I just want to mention that, in general, the exact match type costs the least.  So you always want to have an exact match version of each keyword in your account.  If someone searches on exactly the phrase you’re bidding on, it will come in under the cheaper exact match type.

Negative Keywords. You can add negative keywords at the campaign or ad group level; negative keywords ensure that your ad does not show for any search query that contains that keyword.  A common negative keyword is “free,” as most retailers don’t want to show ads for their goods to people looking for a free resource.  UPDATE: See our post on the recently released Modified Broad Match type. It could make your life easier!

However, you should also use negative keywords at the ad group level to “sculpt” which search queries come in under which ads.  When you use the broad match type, it is possible for Google to match a search query to a keyword in another ad group besides the one you’d like.  To protect against this, you can add to an ad group exact match negative versions of all the keywords in other ad groups.  So let’s say you have three ad groups, each with a couple keywords:

Ad Group 1 (Keyword 1a, Keyword 1b)

Ad Group 2 (Keyword 2a, Keyword 2b)

Ad Group 3 (Keyword 3a, Keyword 3b)

To protect against overlap between these ad groups, you would add the following exact match negatives to Ad Group 1:

-[Keyword 2a], -[Keyword 2b], -[Keyword 3a], -[Keyword 3b]

3.  Watch Your Ad Copy! Now that you’ve done the basic account setup with Steps 1 and 2, Step 3 moves into the management side of things.    Ad copy has the potential to drastically impact your CTR.  So test it often!  You should also test different offers with different ad groups; a whitepaper may resonate with one segment, while a webinar performs better with another.

Just remember to be consistent!  Make sure the message/offer carries through from the ad copy to the landing page.  In fact, try to make sure the user’s search query carries through to the ad copy and the landing page.

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4.  Watch Your Budget! Although you set budget limits at the campaign level, you can adjust bids at the keyword level.  Bid management can be an extremely complex activity, but you should do it regularly- at whatever level you can.

Start by sorting all the keywords in an ad group by CTR.  If one match type has a lower CTR than others for the same keyword, examine the search queries coming in under each match type.  You may eventually decide to pause one match type.  If a keyword has a really high CTR, bid it up until you get to the ideal average position on the page.  (You will also definitely want to go through the same process, sorting by conversion rate and cost-per-conversion).

Paying attention to the under-performing keywords in an ad group will also give you clues about which keywords may need their own ad copy.  Don’t hesitate to pull under-performing keywords out into a separate ad group.  This will isolate the low CTR from other healthy keywords, and you can test even more targeted ad copy in an effort to fix the issue.

5.  Watch Your Search Queries! On a regular basis, run a Search Query Report (SQR).  This report is a HUGE help in targeting your traffic.  It will tell you exactly which phrases users typed into the search box in order to be shown your ads.  This report is especially useful in evaluating the effectiveness of your broad match type keywords, which may show ads for phrases other than the exact keywords you’re bidding on.  If you find new phrases that are pretty targeted, add them as new keywords to your account in the appropriate ad group!  If you find phrases that are un-targeted, add them as negative keywords in order to exclude future traffic from them.


NOTE – These steps all address the PPC advertising process before and up to the click.  Post-click activity (i.e.- conversion rate optimization) is a whole other can of worms.  But by following the steps above, you will create the solid framework you’ll need in order to tackle the performance of your landing pages.

So start with the basics- make sure you’re reaching out to the right segments effectively (and cost-effectively).

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