A new visual analysis breaks down the most expensive keyword categories to start the year

Google generated $147 billion from search, display, and video advertising revenue in 2021. This is a massive increase of over $68 billion from just five years ago and shows no sign of slowing down.

As more companies boost their digital marketing budgets, the cost-per-clicks (CPCs) of keywords are driven up across the board.

By reviewing the most expensive keywords, marketers can get a better understanding of what drives up CPCs and how to optimize their own campaigns accordingly. 

This report analyzes the top 5,000 most expensive keywords in January 2022 with a minimum of 300 searches per month on Google in the US (see methodology at the bottom for full details). 

To summarize, the Legal category had the greatest number of keywords in the top 5,000 with 19.4%. And they were by far the most expensive per click on average than in any other category. It’s very expensive to advertise legal services in the US. 

Education had the second most keywords in the top 5,000 with 8.7%.  Insurance is 6.1%, followed by Addiction and Rehab Programs with 4.9% and Loans with just 1.1%. The remaining 60% of the keywords represented a wide range of categories such as business services, specialty consumer services (such as water damage or plumbing repair), bail bonds, and more.

It’s worth mentioning that Covid remained a hot search term for 2021, however, Google restricts advertisements related to Covid, therefore none of those related keywords appeared in this analysis. 

Here are the most expensive keywords in 2022:


Why are some keywords so expensive? 

The short answer is that high CPCs are simply a result of supply and demand. A search term with low search volume, but high interest from advertisers will drive up the price of each click. 

However, there are some additional considerations that can impact price.

Businesses with higher profit margins and expensive services are often able to spend far more per click. For example, for-profit online colleges are hugely profitable with a 19.7% average profit margin and $3.2 billion in pre-tax profits. Students pay approximately $15,780 per year in tuition for these schools and therefore they can afford to spend $100 or more per click for some terms. The “water damage” industry also has profit margins around 75% and can charge fees of $2,500 per basic repair so paying $50 per click may be more easily absorbed by their bottom lines.

The advancement of cookies and online tracking methods has improved significantly over the last decade. This enables advertisers to track the exact advertising keyword a user clicked on to a precise purchase amount and their lifetime ROI. With this confidence, advertisers are often willing to pay even more for highly targeted keywords that have this level of data clarity.  

Speed-to-purchase can also play a role in the high cost of CPCs. In these circumstances, buyers are looking for a fast resolution and are willing to pay a significant amount. For example, a “payday loan” or “working capital loan” is for people who need money quickly. Lenders will bid high to capture those customers at the right time to secure the sale.

Legal Keywords

This category is by far the most expensive today. Lawyers can generate substantial financial windfalls from a single client and are therefore willing to pay significantly for each one. This is especially true for claims related to personal injury or vehicle accidents. 

Historically “mesothelioma” keywords have been the most expensive. Mesothelioma is very valuable to law firms due to million-dollar lawsuit settlements. But today only two of these search terms were in the top 50 most expensive.

The chart below shows how a bulk of the keywords in this category are clustered in the most expensive area and location-based keywords made up the priciest search terms. Phrases such as “las vegas personal injury attorneys” or “Los Angeles truck accident lawyers” reached an astonishing $500 per click.


Education Keywords

This industry has been rattled with high-profile legal battles claiming predatory lending, abusive practices, and low student graduation rates. And regulators continue to weigh greater oversight in the future. 

But despite those challenges, for-profit and online schools remain immensely competitive for advertising on Google. The University of Phoenix, for example, spends an estimated $6 million per month on Google ads alone, according to Spyfu. There are nearly 700 for-profit schools in total with an additional 3,300 public and non-profit schools across the US.

“Online business degree programs” was the most expensive in this category at $110 per click. 


Insurance Keywords

Insurance is a highly competitive industry, however, the enormous consumer search volumes often keep CPCs lower than some other categories.

For example, “health insurance” only averages a $9 CPC since it has nearly 200,000 searches per month. Similarly, “car insurance” has about 400,000 searches per month, which keeps CPCs around only $40 each. 

Insurance keywords, as with many of the keyword categories in this top 5,000 list, were more expensive if they were targeted or had localized search terms appended to them.

“Best car insurance in North Carolina” was the most expensive term in this category coming in at $220 per click.


Addiction and Rehab Program Keywords

In 2018, Google announced a tighter advertising policy for drug and alcohol recovery programs based on reports of harmful consumer practices within the industry. 

That industry was valued at $35 billion in 2017 and experienced a dramatic 96% decline in eligible search volume after the new ad restrictions were put in place. 

Just a few months ago, in November 2021, Google updated its policy to enable qualified addiction treatment professionals to receive a third-party certification that then enabled them to continue advertising.  

As you can see in the chart below, this industry has returned to creating a greatly competitive search environment with high CPCs and search volumes. A simple Google search today from a California or Texas location shows addiction ads posted in every available ad slot.

Search terms with “near me” was an especially noticeable trend in this category, indicating that users were looking for recovery facilities in their local area. CPCs for these terms tended to be on the highest end of the cost spectrum for marketers with “inpatient alcohol rehab centers near me” as the most expensive keyword for the entire category, averaging $185 per click.


Loan Keywords

This category had the lowest volume of keywords in the top 5,000. 

Most center around a variety of “business loans” for small businesses or those in need of working capital. These types of terms are often a reflection of businesses needing funds quickly and they are willing to pay a premium for them. This is what enables advertisers to spend a bit more on their keywords.

Popular terms such as “credit cards” have a perceived high CPC cost, but in reality, it’s only $15 and thus not included in the chart below. Similar to many broad terms in the insurance category, many loan keywords have very large search volumes by consumers and thus CPCs are not as expensive.


Tips to Avoid Expensive Keywords 

As competition for digital ads continues to increase, marketers should consider these practices to help offset the cost of expensive keywords: 

1) Maximize landing page experience: Higher converting landing can reduce the impact of expensive keywords and improve the critical quality scores that can lower CPCs against other brands competing for the same terms.

2) Focus on high-quality ad creative: Keyword research is still important, but it’s less about finding the best keyword than it used to be. Ad copy that breaks through the clutter can improve your overall campaign performance despite high initial CPC costs.

3) Monitor for click fraud: Click fraud is still a concern so each click can have a meaningful impact on performance, especially for industries with high CPCs. So be sure to monitor invalid click behavior regularly or consider using click fraud protection software.

4) Optimize for mobile: marketers continue to forget to optimize for smaller devices. Mobile makes up 61% of all web traffic. A better mobile experience can improve conversion rates and help improve ad efficiency.


Keyword lists and cost-per-clicks (CPC) were provided by Ahrefs, as of January 2022. Categories were selected based on the top 5,000 keywords with the highest CPC, with a minimum of 300 searches per month on Google search in the US only, and then grouped together based on related keywords. Results were lightly edited for typos and minor anomalies. This information should be used only for editorial purposes. Be sure to perform your own keyword research before making advertising decisions.