There Is No Perfect Keyword

By Jacob Fairclough | @RealSecretJake | Senior Account Analyst at Hanapin Marketing

Whenever you first heard of PPC, it was most likely followed by “it is so great because of how targeted it is.” Of course, that is part of the appeal. It means no worries about attempting to reverse engineer organic listings or the paranoia that an algorithm is out to get you. At face value it is simple compared to other channels – you choose the keywords, you set bids, and you hopefully gain new purchases or leads.


Keyword selection is crucial to PPC success, but an over commitment to keywords neglects all the other components that go into a successful account. Since keywords are the most direct avenue to auctions, any sort of expansion or account growth may seem like an opportunity to “find more keywords.” In reverse, poor performance may be blamed on “poor” keywords.


Anyone who has handled someone else’s account has heard “we just need the right keywords.” When those keywords are in place there is also the second stage of, “we are bidding on the right keywords – why aren’t we seeing converting traffic?” Or the more dramatic, “I gave you the keywords I want but I’m not seeing traffic, what are you even doing?”


Harvesting Vs. Creating Demand


The largest misunderstanding comes from the nature of PPC and search marketing overall. Search marketing doesn’t generate demand but harvests it. No matter how specific a keyword is to your product or service, if it isn’t searched, your ads aren’t showing.


This is most troublesome for new companies or niche products. The first lacks a market presence and requires you to find the searchers and the second often has very distinct attributes that are unfamiliar to most searchers.


Each requires a different strategy, but neither can be directly accomplished by only putting in “relevant” keywords and calling it a day. If only it were that simple.


Rather than plugging in the keywords and calling it a day, the real job of search engine marketing is finding relevant keywords that are receiving traffic, crafting strong ad copy, and working on other detailed targeting methods such as location or time-based targets.


Instead, traffic must be thought of as a finite resource. You can cultivate and maximize the yield, but there is no way to make more traffic appear. If you’d rather not use agriculture you can also reframe it as actual and potential traffic. All the potential traffic, and quality of that traffic is based on search intent and interests.


Search Intent


By focusing too heavily on keywords that should be relevant, it is easy to overlook search intent. Just because a user searches a certain phrase or term doesn’t mean they are looking for your product.


A great example of this is [motorcycle boots]. Imagine your shop focuses exclusively on motorcycle boots for riders. This appears to be an easy task as you simply bid high on your top terms like [black motorcycle boots]. What happens when your CPAs are high due to lower conversion rates? It’s not the term that is wrong but your expectation.


A quick look through the competitor report and engagement metrics reveals that the most common searchers of these terms may not be looking for riding gear but for fashion boots. While you sell a lot of black motorcycle boots you are actually advertising to and competing against fashion boots. If you can’t fully compete on what are thought to be the most relevant terms, is there another option?


Does Match Type Matter?


While the previous discussion pertained to keyword text, match types can be just as important. When you can’t outbid on competitive terms, you have to throw a larger net. This is where the value of broad match comes into play.


Often you’ll see dramatic shifts in performance between broad and exact. This can lead to overcorrecting and only bidding on exact match terms. This isn’t wrong in any shape or form but can taint our judgments.


After seeing higher returns on exact match keywords, anything in broad match begins to look like a waste. This is when it goes from a PPC error to a business error and the questions start rolling in like “should we even be doing PPC anymore?” If you see consistent 600% ROAS on exact match, should you really bother with 400% ROAS on broad match? That is ultimately a much larger question that we can’t answer here, but I hope it helps you grasp the sentiment.


Although the higher specificity match types tend to bring in more relevant traffic, they don’t represent the bulk of it. For this reason, the motorcycle boot example above might see more success on broad terms. Even though they aren’t as “relevant.”


There is a large chunk of traffic coming from new search queries and variations. It is estimated that about 15% of daily queries are new to Google. Spending time in the search query reports gives you a quick grasp of the diversity of search behavior. Rather than worrying about the perfect targeting, the goal should be robust targeting that allows room for growth.




Rather than focus on ideal keywords, the real work is finding traffic and modifying tactics to make traffic profitable. Even though keywords are the primary targeting mechanism they aren’t the only component in a successful account.


This is why components like bid modifiers, budgets, negative keywords, ad copy, remarketing, and more come into play. These aren’t tasks to try on the side, but tasks that are crucial to account success.


In most cases, this is easier said than done. While PPC offers a wealth of tools to advertisers, it’s still a game of discovery. Not every initiative wins, every test won’t succeed, but over time, if you focus on the correct items, you’ll always be headed in the right direction.