Home  › Search › Paid Search

Relevance Signals for PPC Search

  |  October 2, 2009   |  Comments

Failure to be relevant can have devastating consequences in paid search.

Practitioners of SEO (define) talk a lot about the signals search engines use to determine whether one page or site is more relevant than another. Although this topic is rarely discussed with respect to paid search, it should be considered when planning and executing your own search campaigns as well as when evaluating your competitors' campaigns. By understanding relevance all the way through the search experience -- from the moment the searcher starts filling out that search box till the time she leaves your site (assuming she got there at all) -- you can put yourself in the shoes of both the search engine and the consumer.

Search engines care a lot about the consumer experience and have editorial policies in place to set a baseline for ad relevance, as well as algorithms that use signals to determine if the ad is in fact relevant to the search query. Failure to be relevant can have devastating consequences in paid search. You might think that you are getting free branding if your ads are not clicked or your landing pages hawk a solution that doesn't match the keyword. However, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft all have their own versions of the Quality Score assigned to ad-keyword combinations as well as at the ad group, campaign, or account level.

Today, let's look at some signals the search engines probably -- or definitely -- use to determine the relevance of your paid search ads for specific search queries.

Normalized Predicted Click-Through Rate

Obviously, ads with high positions are more likely to get the highest CTR (define), but the search engines need to grade, compare, and score ads on a level playing field. So they use various normalization tables and formulas to normalize your predicted CTR. In one of Google's iterations to its Quality Score formula (which isn't shared publicly), Google announced that it calculates a new Quality Score for ads on a query-by-query basis. To illustrate this fact:

  1. Log into your Google AdWords account, and drill down to the keyword level within an AdGroup that contains broad match keywords.

  2. On the right side, above the graph, is a "Filter and Views" pull-down menu. Select this pull-down and select "Segment by search terms match type" to see the CTR and other data by match type.

You'll see that the position of your ad is often higher on exact match than phrase or broad match. This is because your ad is more relevant for that exact query.

Keyword Use in the Ad

One reason exact match CTRs are high is that a well-crafted AdGroup makes use of the exact match term in the ad creative, reinforcing the searcher's belief that she have found a good match. Search engines may simply rely on historical CTR data (which bakes in the benefit of keyword use in the ad) or attribute an even higher score to well-crafted ads.

Domain Affinity to the Search Audience

Does your domain name have brand value? I certainly hope so, because your predicted CTR is higher when your brand both is recognized and has an affinity to the keyword. So big brands get a leg up here. But a descriptive domain or prefix to a domain can help the CTR, and then you can factor in either directly or perhaps as a signaling data point for the engines.

Click-Back Rate or Bounce Rate

Engines know that consumers unsatisfied with a landing page or site often click back to the SERP (define). So do whatever you can to engage consumers on your site. It's win-win.

Landing Page Triggers

Google has listed the landing page as a factor in its Quality Score algorithm for some time. Unless your landing pages are heavy in rich media, it makes sense for you to include body copy that resonates with your ad.

If the search engine toolbar policies permit the use of aggregated data or if the search engines were to buy data from large panel-based research firms, the search engines could add further signals to their relevance scores. For example:

  • Site engagement: Is your site sticky?

  • Transition percentage to secure mode: Did consumers start a shopping or information exchange transition?

  • Visits to a success page ("thank you" or "contact us" page): Pages of your site may be categorized and classified based on keyword, semantic, and behavioral use.

It's in your best interest to optimize around these relevance score drivers regardless of whether search engines are paying attention or not. When you construct and optimize campaigns, think about relevance and all the ways it can be measured and optimized. Your bottom line will grow right along with your ad relevance.

What do you need to know about real-time bidding (RTB) to start using it? Join us on Thursday, October 15, 2009, at 1 p.m., for a free Webinar on the basics of real-time bidding to help advertisers and their agencies understand RTB's capabilities and advantages.

ClickZ Live Toronto On the heels of a fantastic event in New York City, ClickZ Live is taking the fun and learning to Toronto, June 23-25. With over 15 years' experience delivering industry-leading events, ClickZ Live offers an action-packed, educationally-focused agenda covering all aspects of digital marketing. Register today!

ClickZ Live San Francisco Want to learn more? Join us at ClickZ Live San Francisco, Aug 10-12!
Educating marketers for over 15 years, ClickZ Live brings together industry thought leaders from the largest brands and agencies to deliver the most advanced, educational digital marketing agenda. Register today and save $500!


Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee, Didit cofounder and executive chairman, has been an acknowledged search engine marketing expert since 1995. His years of SEM expertise provide the foundation for Didit's proprietary Maestro search campaign technology. The company's unparalleled results, custom strategies, and client growth have earned it recognition not only among marketers but also as part of the 2007 Inc 500 (No. 137) as well as three-time Deloitte's Fast 500 placement. Kevin's latest book, "Search Engine Advertising" has been widely praised.

Industry leadership includes being a founding board member of SEMPO and its first elected chairman. "The Wall St. Journal," "BusinessWeek," "The New York Times," Bloomberg, CNET, "USA Today," "San Jose Mercury News," and other press quote Kevin regularly. Kevin lectures at leading industry conferences, plus New York, Columbia, Fordham, and Pace universities. Kevin earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1992 and lives in Manhattan with his wife, a New York psychologist and children.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Search newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!



Featured White Papers

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce
This Magic Quadrant examines leading digital commerce platforms that enable organizations to build digital commerce sites. These commerce platforms facilitate purchasing transactions over the Web, and support the creation and continuing development of an online relationship with a consumer.

Paid Search in the Mobile Era

Paid Search in the Mobile Era
Google reports that paid search ads are currently driving 40+ million calls per month. Cost per click is increasing, paid search budgets are growing, and mobile continues to dominate. It's time to revamp old search strategies, reimagine stale best practices, and add new layers data to your analytics.




    • GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator
      GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator (British Consulate-General, New York) - New YorkThe GREAT Britain Campaign is seeking an energetic and creative...
    • Paid Search Senior Account Manager
      Paid Search Senior Account Manager (Hanapin Marketing) - BloomingtonHanapin Marketing is hiring a strategic Paid Search Senior Account Manager...
    • Paid Search Account Manager
      Paid Search Account Manager (Hanapin Marketing) - BloomingtonHanapin Marketing is hiring an experienced Paid Search Account Manager to...