Talk Is Cheap, But Long Tail Keywords Are Not – The Power of Seeds

By , CEO of Nerds Do It Better


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Long tail keywords have a low cost per click (CPC).


That is what we’re commonly told, but it is not always true. In an effort to lower keyword cost per clicks, you consulted all of the best internet marketing blogs and they all said the same thing – add additional terms to your current seed keywords to transform them into long tail keywords.


A seed keyword is a one or two word phrase, such as “sneakers.” Long tail keywords contain more terms and are variations of the seed keyword. For example, “black running sneakers” or “light weight hiking sneakers.” You are told long tail keywords have less competition, dramatically lowering CPCs. You followed the advice and spent the time to create and implement long tail keywords in your campaigns. However, when launched these long tail keyword CPCs remained the same or were only marginally less expensive.


Even with long tail keywords your cost per click is high, your cost per conversion is unsustainable, and your PPC campaign is eating money like cookie monster at a Mrs. Fields.


These blogs have missed an important aspect.


You Are Not Only Competing With Other Long Tail Keywords


The problem is that your long tail keywords are not only in competition with the exact series of words you are bidding on. While it would seem unlikely that competitors would target your exact long tail keyword – they actually don’t need to.


With the advent of broad match modifier, it’s easy for your competitors to match on all of your long tail keyword searches.


For example, imagine you run an SEO company and you begin your PPC campaign with the seed keyword “SEO Company.” As the campaign gathers data you find that the CPC is prohibitively high, so you decide to try a series of long tail keywords based on your target market (which for the purpose of this example is real estate). You come up with the following long tail keywords:


  • Best SEO Company Real Estate
  • Excellent Real Estate SEO Company
  • Results Based Real Estate SEO Company


You figure there is almost no competition for these long tail keywords since they are so specific. However, the long tail keyword logic begins to fall apart. The other companies don’t need to bid on that exact long tail keyword to match you in the auction.


Competitors that want to advertise can simply have the keyword “SEO Company” in broad match modifier  (+seo +company) and they match you for every single one of the long tail keywords you created. Since so many companies do bid on that keyword, the competition and CPC will always be high.


Your PPC Problem: Your Seed Keywords Are Hotter Than Larry Bird’s Shooting Hand


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Now that you see how easy it is to match on long tail keywords, let’s talk about the issue with the high CPCs and how it relates to seed keywords. When we talk about seed keywords at Nerds Do It Better we define it as the main keyword (or keyword phrase) to which you build your ad group. In the example, “SEO Company” was the seed keyword.


There are seed keywords you do not want to build ad groups around because, just by having these seeds in the long tail keywords the cost per conversion is unsustainable. These are called hot seed keywords (as in too hot to handle). In the example, no matter how long tail you make the hot seed keyword “SEO Company” you want to stay away from it because the competition is so high that your cost per conversion makes the campaign unsustainable.


The Solution: Do Not Be Explicit: Find Non-Obvious Keyword Seeds Your Competitors Missed


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The solution to a lower cost per click is not simply adding more words to your current seed keywords with the hope of making them long tail and unique. The solution is to find new seed keywords that your competition is not bidding on. These seed keywords will be non-explicit keywords that are not obvious to your competitors and because of that will have less competition in the AdWords auction and a lower CPC.



How To Turn Your Campaign Around: Pause Poorly Performing Seed Keywords, Find Non Explicit Seed Keywords, and Optimize Your Campaign For These New Seed Keywords


Step One: Identify the Seed Keywords That Are Too Hot and Pause Them


The first step is to find the seed keywords that are crushing your cost per conversion and pause them. This is going to take some Encyclopedia Brown style detective work. There is no hard-set number to categorize them, but you know your individual campaigns and what is an acceptable cost per conversion.


It is important to note that, just because the actual cost per click is high, it doesn’t necessarily mean a seed keyword is too hot. The cost per click can be high, but if the cost per conversion fits with your business goals, they may be acceptable seed keywords.


Step Two: Create A New Seed Keyword List By Going Beyond the Explicit


To avoid seed keywords that are too hot, you need to find ones that are not as obvious and really do have less competition in the PPC auction. Here are three exercises to find these non explicit seed keywords (we will continue with the example in which a fictional SEO company tries to avoid the hot seed keyword SEO Company).


Exercise One: Find new seed keywords by: Thinking how your ideal customer would search to solve the problem non-explicitly.


The first exercise is to imagine that you are your ideal customer and are looking for a solution to the problem that your business solves.  Think of all of the different angles you could search for a solution. For example the fictional SEO company may conclude that their customers would have search queries for problems such as:


  • How do I increase sales from my online store?
  • How do I get more customers to my website?


Possible seed keywords may include (in broad match modifier):


  • +sales +online +store
  • +more +customers +website


Exercise Two: Find new seed keywords by: Describing the symptoms of the problem.


How would your ideal customer describe the symptoms of the problem they are having? For example the fictional SEO company may conclude that customer symptoms include:


  • Low traffic to my website
  • No visitors to my online business


Possible seed keywords may include (in broad match modifier):


  • +low +traffic +website
  • +visitors +online +business


Exercise Three: Find new seed keywords by thinking about small informational searches.


In this exercise think about and create seed keywords based on the small informational searches your customer may be making.  This is the most extreme of the exercises, but may be necessary if you are in especially competitive verticals. These are very top of the funnel searches and may not even show explicit interest in your business. I typically use a mind map for this exercise where I branch out and think of everything my business touches. For example the fictional SEO company may conclude that their user would search for:


  • What is a keyword?
  • How do inbound links work?


Possible seed keywords may include (in broad match modifier):


  • +what +keyword
  • +inbound +links


Step Three: Customize Your Campaign For These New Keywords


One of the most important (and difficult) step in process is creating an ad and an offer that match the keywords search intent. Since many of the seed keywords that you discover from the three exercises are top of the funnel your offers should reflect that. Don’t try to sell customers when they are just looking for information. Instead be the company who provides the information, and continue marketing to these customers.


For example if you make an ad group around the seed keyword +low +traffic +website than you want an appropriate ad that addresses questions about low traffic websites, and a landing page with an offer such as an eBook about low traffic websites and ways to increase traffic. Design the landing page so the offer can only be attained if the user provides their email and allows for an opt-in email list so you will have the ability to market to them in the future.


What are your thoughts about the current state of long tail keywords?


Image credits:


Larry Bird: Steven Carter via WikiMedia (Creative Commons)
Zebra: via WikiMedia (Creative Commons)
Homepage Featured Image: via (Creative Commons)
Featured Image: author created via Canva


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12 thoughts on “Talk Is Cheap, But Long Tail Keywords Are Not – The Power of Seeds

  1. Richard Best

    First of all – great article, lots of detail very well written.

    However, isn’t one of the key points of building out highly targeted Ad Groups with long tail keywords one of enhancing Quality Score. i.e. it is very much harder to produce a highly relevant Ad when you focus on seed / head keywords using Broad Modified.

    Larry Kim certainly seems to preach about long tail keywords an awful lot – so to some degree this article is pretty controversial, right? {by the way – I love controversial articles, gets people thinking and debating}

    1. Adam LundquistAdam Lundquist

      Hi Richard,
      Thanks for the compliment! Larry Kim certainly does talk about long tail keywords a lot and he is great at what he does (I recommend his mobile PPC webinar). However, from what I have experienced with hot seed keywords, you can have a high quality score and still be paying an extremely high CPC. I honestly wrote this article because I have been told about how long tail keywords are the greatest for a long time, and yet in my actual accounts they stopped being so helpful to me a couple of years ago. What has your experience been?
      – Adam

      1. markkennedysem

        I can attest to this as well. Take a really competitive (and expensive) term like DUI attorney. But let’s say, you don’t bid on that term, but instead you bid on the keywords with all of the towns with “dui attorney”. (eg – smallville dui attorney). And of course you include specific ads and landing pages for each town, and break them out into separate adgroups.

        In some cases, if the town is small and not enough people are bidding on “smalltown dui attorney”, everyone in the auction bidding on “dui attorney” gets thrown in the mix (especially if using DKI) driving up the CPC.

        Or in other cases I’ve seen the tail term not trigger an ad at all, even if competitors do, since they are bidding on the main term. So while your QS may be higher for the keyword due to matching the keyword, ad and LP, it may get slapped with “low search volume” and may not show even though ads do show for that term in a live search. Those that do show are all bidding on the main term.

        On an semi-related note, Google still has some issues with local terms that have dual locations (eg – oakland nj vs oakland ca), but that is another topic 🙂

        1. Richard Best

          Interesting guys – I am going to try this out.

          I am generally not a fan of broad match or DKI – but I can see the benefits here, especially as Google will pull your keyword (and ad) altogether if it has low search volume – I was not aware of this, I simply thought it was Google stating the obvious and saying this keyword has low search volume, not that they were actually pulling it from the auction if it does ever occur!!

          Do you guys use DKI a lot?

          My concern with DKI is a lack of control over specific ad copy – although repeating users search in an ad is a positive thing. I guess people can be quite divided over DKI.

          For instance – if you search ‘worst ppc company’ – and someone is bidding on ‘ppc company’ phrase or broad modi – the headline of the ad would be ‘worst ppc company’ right?


          1. Adam LundquistAdam Lundquist

            Hi Richard,
            I do not use a ton of DKI right not because lately I have been working with companies that have a couple of core products, but with larger eCom clients I have used it in the past.

            Yes you are right that it could backfire on your for example with “Worst PPC Company” or literally everything that eBay was doing ( it is really funny:

            Not surprisingly PPC Hero has a great blog about how to use DKI –

            Please keep me informed how these tips work for you. You can post here if you like or you can always email me

            Thank you,

          2. Richard Best

            Thanks Adam – I have followed you on twitter.

            Love your domain name by the way – nerdsdoitbetter – my wife certainly thinks so lol.


        2. Adam LundquistAdam Lundquist

          Hi Mark,
          Thanks for reading the blog! I know your pain of the “low search volume” (which I think is such nonsense anyway). I feel like you totally get what I am saying in the article.

          I had an interesting call yesterday with another person who works in PPC and they said that they have been moving some of their keywords with extremely high CPC’s to networks like facebook and LinkedIn. He told me he is seeing very high ROI. Have you tried that and if so what has been your experience?

          1. Jarad Collier

            Low search Volume IS nonsense! Adwords maps long-tail queries to 2-word and 3-word keywords instead of attributing properly to long-tail. It’s a bunch of BS. Undoubtedly they design the system like this on purpose knowing it would tax their system if they had to evaluate long-tail keywords across all accounts for a given query… so they go with the shorter-tail words that have SOME impressions and clicks.

          2. markkennedysem

            We do have a few clients on LI and FB, but I haven’t seen that trend (or tested it). My ROI on Google overall is better than these platforms, but it’s not fair to compare as they involve different strategies as well.

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