Keep Your Edge on Competitive PPC Keywords

By Joseph Kerschbaum

Staying competitive for your most sought-after keywords requires diligence, persistence, and a strategic utilization of the tools and reports that are available to you as a pay-per-click (PPC) manager. Improve and preserve the performance of your highly-competitive keywords by following these strategic guidelines.

Optimize Your Account Structure
To manage your highly-competitive keywords, it is helpful to separate them into their own ad groups. Any well-structured ad group should contain no more than approximately 25 terms (on average), allowing you to group your keywords tightly by theme and user intent. However, with keywords that need constant monitoring and optimization, consider very small ad groups; some with perhaps only one keyword in order to focus intensely on that term.

PPC trends move fast. Segregating your competitive terms will save time when it comes to reporting and analysis. You can run a series of reports for these tightly structured ad groups and get the data you need quickly, rather than running reports for numerous ad groups then needing to hunt down specific terms. If you want to stay ahead of your competition, agility is crucial - especially when you are analyzing and reporting on mission-critical terms.

This tactic can help improve your Quality Score as well. Most paid search programs - including Google, MSN and Yahoo! - take into consideration your ad group structure when evaluating your account. When done correctly, you will see a difference - you might see your cost-per-click (CPC) decrease, while ad position increases.

Write Targeted, Benefit-Driven Ad Text
Restructuring your account will streamline reporting, save account management time, and enhance your Quality Score. And, with this strategy you'll be able to write more relevant ad texts. This is at the core of creating a successful paid search campaign: keywords and ad text.

An entire series of articles could be written on successful PPC ad text, but to remain ahead of the competition keep in mind relevancy and benefits. First, your ad text has to be relevant to a user's query otherwise your ad won't get a sideways glance. Second, you not only need to convince users that the ad is relevant, you need to show why they should disregard everything else on the search engine results page (SERP) and click on your ad.

It's not difficult to prominently display your keywords within ad text if you have only one or two terms per ad group. And you need to make sure to include awesome benefits, calls-to-action, and any special deals you have to offer. This will make your ads more relevant and convincing that you have the best solution for their query.

Don't forget to regularly review others' ad text as well - this is competition, after all. See what they are saying, and how they are positioning themselves. Then think of new and better ways to connect with your shared audience.

Utilize Your Match Type Options
Once you have optimized your account structure by moving your most competitive keywords into their own ad groups and have written ad text that is highly-targeted and benefit-driven, you can then properly utilize the various match types for these terms.

For your core terms, incorporate each of the available match types: broad, phrase, and exact match. PPC managers can overlook this tactic easily. These match types may be derivatives of the same keyword, but they will generate different results. If you focus solely on broad match, you might be casting too wide of a net, while only focusing on exact match may be limiting your growth potential. Remember, each match type is going to perform differently and you should analyze and manage them accordingly.

Use Negative Keywords for Positive Impact
After you decide to also use phrase and exact match keywords, Google AdWords' Search Query Report can sharpen the focus of your highlycompetitive terms.

To narrow the focus of these keywords, strip away all search queries that are not relevant to your needs. These irrelevant queries can decrease click-through and conversion rates. The search query report shows the raw search queries for which these keywords are displayed. This report is most useful for broad and phrase match keywords.

You might discover that a highly-competitive term displays for queries that are not relevant to you, your business or the particular campaign. You can add these irrelevant terms to your negative keyword list. This prevents your ads from displaying for these searches. This will enhance your ad group's focus and maximize your ROI.

Diversify with Long-Tail Terms
Separating your most-highly trafficked, most-competitive keywords into their own ad groups does not mean you should neglect the longtail variations of these competitive terms.

As you optimize your account structure and write better ad text, continue building your long-tail keyword list. These terms may have lower search volume but they can also have a lower CPC and higher click-through rate (CTR) - therefore boosting your campaign's overall performance. Also, increasing your keyword list outside of your core terms will help diversify your account, lessening the reliance on your most competitive terms.

A quick way to create new ad groups for long-tail variations can be as simple as adding "purchase modifiers" to your core terms, such as: buy, find, purchase, seller, manufacturer, etc. Here is a quick tip when building out a long-tail list: Only use phrase and exact match within these ad groups. This way, you're ensuring the purchase modifier is included in the search query.

Implement the Right Bidding Strategy
Your main objective with PPC is to execute a bidding strategy that will generate the highest ROI. If your sole focus is targeting the first ad position, prepare to spend a huge portion of your budget on users who are "just looking." Remember, you are in this for the long haul. Monitor your performance closely and bid to the position that generates the best CTR, conversion rate, and ROI - don't get into a bidding war.

Each of these strategies will help you optimize your account, enhance your performance, and remain as competitive as possible in this ever changing, always challenging paid search landscape. All of these tactics are on-going - you need to continually look for new ways to make your PPC campaign work better.

This is exactly what your competition is doing. In fact, they're probably doing it right now.

About the Author: Joseph Kerschbaum is a member of the PPC Hero team, a blog that discusses PPC strategy, as well as SEO Boy, a blog that focuses on SEO strategy - but with a heroic flare. Kerschbaum is a senior paid search marketing consultant for Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing/development firm based in Bloomington, Ind.