Posted on Feb 19, 2013 in Digital Marketing, More Visitors: SEO & SEM | 1 comment

In my previous post I wrote about the importance of competitive analysis as part of a Search Engine Marketing campaign. This post will discuss tips for keyword management, including targeting, scheduling, negative keywords, and multivariate ads. (In part 3 we’ll discuss analytics and performance tuning, conversion monitoring, and weeding out expensive under-achievers.)

Both Google AdWords and Bing enable you to run multiple campaigns, each targeted toward a different purpose, product, or demographic. Each campaign can have its own budget and targeting options, including options for time of day, language, geographic areas, and search publisher networks.

The publisher network extends your reach beyond the main Google and Bing search sites, adding sites that also display pay-per-click results relevant to their content and audience. For Google, the search network includes Google sites like Gmail, YouTube, Blogger, and Google Finance; for Bing, it includes sites like Facebook and MSN. The extended networks include many thousands of independent publisher sites, including mobile.

Google AdWords dashboard

Google AdWords dashboard

Each campaign contains individual ad groups, and ad groups can have multiple ads, in a few formats, with text ads being the most popular and familiar. The targeting options mentioned above can be set at the campaign or ad group level. I won’t give you a full tutorial on how to use AdWords and Bing (good ones are easily found), as I want to focus on the work of making your campaigns effective. I’ll be using examples from AdWords, a system I’ve used for 10 years, but Bing uses essentially the same terminology and paradigms.

Once you create your ad campaign and ad group and set your campaign budget, remember to also set targeting options. These can improve the response rate of your campaigns and will dramatically improve how your SEM budget is spent. For example, my company iMedia Revenue sells newsroom systems in the US, Canada, Ireland, and the UK, so we only run ads in those countries. After all, why pay for clicks from places we don’t serve?

If your target audience tends to search from work, then you can set the ads to run from 9am-5pm in your targeted geography. You can even target mobile. If you sell pizza and beer, you can improve campaign performance by targeting the 5pm to midnight crowd (and if you can, avoid healthy living ad network publishers).

Next, load the keyword list you created into the SEM system (see my previous post for tips on compiling a competitive keyword list). You can load them manually or many at a time via a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet upload is handy for long lists that contain combinations of broad and exact matches, with different bid prices for each keyword, especially if you did your homework on negative keywords and variants.

There is an art and science to keyword management. First, for each keyword consider whether you will use broad match, exact match, or phrase match. The chart below is from Google AdWords, and illustrates the different types of keyword matching:

Use this match type… With this punctuation… To trigger your ad on… Example
broad match none synonyms, related searches, and other relevant variations adopt kittens chicago
broad match modifier +keyword close variations but not synonyms or related searches +adopt +kittens +chicago
phrase match “keyword” a phrase and close variations of that phrase “adopt kittens” chicago
exact match [keyword] an exact term and close variations of that exact term [adopt kittens chicago]
negative match -keyword searches without the term -puppies

Broad match is the Google default, and includes common misspellings. Remember to include any negative keywords, as these are critical in reducing the number of budget-eating clicks that do not deliver results (conversions), because they are bringing in traffic that is not relevant to your business.

You can set budgets and bidding options at the ad group level, but not all keywords are equal, so you might want to increase or decrease your budget (and keyword position) for individual keywords. Note that you do not always need to be in “position 1,” and in fact, I consider that to be a potential blind spot, and often a costly one.

A big part of the art of SEM is of course the design of compelling ads. I strongly recommend using the actual keywords in the heading of your ad (since you’re trying to match what the user typed into the search engine), but of course you’ll want to test out variations. Part of the fun is in getting your message across in a compelling way in just a few words.

Start with several variants of the ad (this is called multivariate testing), and don’t be afraid to experiment: SEM systems have optimizers that will do the testing for you. These will reduce the number of times bad performing ads show up in the ad rotation, and eventually you can turn them off. It’s always a good idea to try out new ads every few weeks to see how they perform against your historic top performers. Also try A/B testing: when you get a good performer, try to optimize it by tweaking the wording in a second version, to see if you can improve performance further.

Now you see why it’s both an art and a science. You can easily get a bit obsessed with testing and tuning, which is probably a good thing if you rely on SEM for a good part of your marketing budget. And you will certainly come to rely on it more if you take the time to make it work.

Once you have your well-targeted campaigns set up with terrific ads running against a comprehensive list of keywords, it’s time to add a bit more science to the art of SEM.

Next up: SEM Analytics and Performance

It’s important to know how your keywords are performing. Many SEM managers are delighted with their high click-through SEM traffic, only to discover that they are paying for keywords that don’t convert. Don’t pay for the wrong traffic!