Keywords are one of the false gods of PPC. There’s really no reason to get to hung up on keywords.
The goal of our campaigns is to have our text-ads matched with the most appropriate search queries. Keywords are just the tool we use to get to the most qualified queries.
With that in mind, it’s my opinion that the world of keyword selection and expansion is quite broken.
Keyword selection in PPC – broadly and generally as I’ve seen it practiced and promoted by both ‘experts’ and tools providers – is about finding every possible word and phrase related to the category or topic at hand.
This is a great strategy if you’re a paid search engine looking to make money from way too many clicks with way too little targeting.
It’s not really to your advantage if you’re an advertiser looking to maximize returns.
Waiting For Your Keywords To Bark
Bryan and Jeffery Eisenberg wrote ‘Waiting For Your Cat To Bark‘ several years ago, as one of several books covering their Persuasion Architecture process (now built into their OnTarget offering), and it remains a book I don’t think any online marketer should miss.
Among the many brain-tingling discussions in ‘Bark’ is the idea that people come to the web with a very specific idea in mind, a personality all their own (but categorically like a lot of other people), and a situation that they’re in along with a goal they’re trying to achieve.
This bundle makes up their buying process. I’m a massively geeky tech freak with a strong need to fit in and a brother whose birthday is Saturday so I MUST order something for him today.
You’re online trying to sell stuff. Your mind is on the great price you offer on the new ‘Widget9000′ and the free shipping program you just launched.
I’ll let the Eisen-brothers tell you how to solve this mis-match (ok, a clue: align your selling with their buying, the other way around isn’t going to happen.)
But what does this have to do with keywords?
Up With People
Traditional keyword development and expansion is all about saturation bombing a category or topic. The suggestion tools and brainstorming techniques we’ve all relied on toss in (or try to) anything contextually relevant.
This is too low resolution and comes at the problem from the wrong direction.
Let’s think about it the other way. (IOW: What would Bryan do?)
Imagine a specific person, in their full psychological glory, in a specific situation who wants/needs/is curious about your product or offering. What are they likely to search for? Build the list of words and phrases that capture their needs given the details you’ve assumed.
Start with the most specific and detailed versions of what they might ask, and then slowly narrow it to queries that at least lean in their general direction.
Break down the components of the query – how might they reflect their product desires? How might they reference their urgency? What clues might appear to show that they prefer well-liked and popular products?
Stepping through the range of queries you can imagine, from deeply personal and unique out towards general queries that anyone might do. Taking this deliberate step adds another layer of clarity to each keyword. Some are deeply targeted and precise. Others are vague and broad. Shouldn’t your measurement, bidding, expectations, and text-ads align with these attributes?
Repeat this process for other kinds of people, or other reasons people might have, for visiting your site or buying your products/services. (By now you’ve gone and read the book and have built a full set of user persona’s right?)
Of course, most users won’t load their query with clues to every aspect of their needs, personality, and situation. But some will and more importantly this exercise creates the beginning of an intelligently tiered keyword list we can use to evaluate our campaigns and keywords with a new level of precision.
SEO your PPC
The idea of really thinking hard about the specific queries people are likely to execute is central to good organic paid search optimization.
In the organic world, where broad-match doesn’t exist, a page can only rank for a limited number of keywords, and there is a content+effort cost for each rank, the spray-and-pray approach isn’t practiced and certainly isn’t effective.
Never thought I’d say it, but when it comes to keywords, PPC folks can learn a lot from the SEOs.