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Keyword Advertising on the Long Tail

Posted on 7.11.2011

There are advantages to leveraging paid search advertising in website marketing. It is efficient, immediate and measurable - these benefits are all very well documented. Paid search and performance-based CPC promotions have forever changed the advertising/marketing landscape and its multi-billion dollar valuation is evidence. 

Paid search has its disadvantages too and not only are they detrimental to advertisers, they are perpetuated by large networks that care less for advertisers with limited budgets (perhaps unknowingly) and more for big brand advertisers spending millions of dollars each month - or more. As someone that buys keyword search traffic you should understand this before portioning budget for CPC ad campaigns as the approach taken will vary by advertiser.

To squeeze every iota of value from search, marketing campaigns need to be well balanced between long tail searches (where the aim is conversion) and short head keywords/phrases which tend to drive the majority of awareness/impressions for advertisers. The distinction is an important one. In a quality score world, understanding each campaign's objective and aligning keywords (and keyword groups) accordingly is of paramount importance. Failure to will never enable advertisers to move the revenue needle from "negative" to "positive".

It is not uncommon for some advertisers (particularly merchants) to have thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of keywords within their accounts. Digging into the data will reveal however that only a handful of keywords are responsible for the majority of clicks. Take a look at your own data to confirm. What you will find is that while these “short head” terms are fantastic at driving awareness (and clicks) they don’t compare to the value that is provided in long tail search terms which do little for volume but possess the ability to drive a significant percentage of actual sales.

The reason is that since these long tail phrases have lower CPC’s (on average) than their high-traffic, short head phrase counterparts, they are capable of driving a significant amount of the profit that can result from advertising upon them. Many marketers will look at this as an untapped opportunity (many already do) and if you’re moving from negative return to a positive one you should too.

Advertising exclusively on the long tail is not always the answer however. Long tail search advertising requires an immense amount of work (made far easier of late with features in CPC networks including DKI - dynamic keyword insertion) and attention to detail than a campaign which focuses on a handful (let’s say a few hundred) search terms. More terms within a campaign often means a greater chance of inefficiency and potential errors. Not only will you need strong systems to generate and maintain compelling, relevant, and targeted ad copy, but you’ll need a rather sophisticated reporting and analytics system to identify gaps and gaffes.

Ultimately, when long tail PPC search advertising is done well and thoughtfully it can provide a significant overall increase in performance. Here are a few suggestions for long tail CPC campaigns:

- Spend Time Defining Bid Rules
Not all clicks are created equal. Just because a keyword/phrase receives a low number of clicks does not mean that you can apply a broad rule to all of them. Keyword research should indicate what if any terms are being used by your competitors so start there. While setting rules can reduce the amount of management time involved, rules set too broadly will prohibit keywords from working their magic - positioning your brand at precisely the right time for precisely what consumers are searching.

- Customize Landing Pages Accordingly
While there are certainly some challenges associated for those PPC accounts with tens of thousands of keywords, all keywords/phrases should be treated equally and that means proper grouping, and directing users to the proper landing pages. As you might image, organization is fundamental to CPC advertising success – particularly when you get into the long-tail.

- Manage Long Tail/Short Head Bids Differently, Patiently
Success in the tail is about aggregation, smart copy management, and aggregation. Success in the short head is about copy testing, match-type optimization, and quality-score improvements (should you use a network that relies on quality score). Long tail queries, by their very nature, may not produce results right away so be patient with these low-frequency phrases.

Managing bids on long tail phrases manually can be an exercise in futility if the wrong approach is taken or taken hastily. The long tail, while not an appropriate approach for every small, medium or large-budget advertiser, can be the catalyst for higher profits and deeper user engagement. Advertisers that take the long tail seriously are advertisers that more easily move from negative to positive.

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