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Keywords and Quality Score: Tales From the Trenches

  |  June 11, 2010   |  Comments

It's time to take off your SEO hat when thinking about landing pages for PPC search.

Best practices in the areas of keyword research, keyword deployment, ad creative, account structures, and the all-important Quality Score are highly related. This fact was reinforced for me this past week when I presented an advanced session at the Internet Retailer conference in Chicago with co-presenter Chris Kenney, search marketing manager at Vistaprint.com. Interestingly, another session entitled, "Make your keyword list - and check it twice (or more)," and other sessions also contained several references to relevance and Quality Score.

It's clear that Quality Score is something that's always on search marketers' minds, no matter what portion of a campaign we are creating, modifying, or testing.

Quality Score and ad relevance are deeply intertwined for good reason: Google determined that it wanted to move beyond a simple normalized predicted CTR (define) for ads and create a formula that rewarded relevance. Within PPC (define) search, you can't go wrong by striving for increased relevance of your ads to the searcher. For many advertisers, relevance is the currency that allows them to bid high on keywords empowering their campaign success (by delivering click volumes unattainable otherwise). Similarly, failure to properly execute a campaign against a keyword list (regardless of how complete that keyword list is) will result in failure of a campaign to reach the scale that it could with properly sized Ad Groups and ad creative that resonates both with the keyword and the landing page.

During the Q&A for my session, it became apparent that some in-house SEM (define) managers suffer from confusion about the influence of Google's landing page policies on Quality Score. In-house SEM managers who manage both PPC search and SEO (define) programs often find themselves interpreting Google policies about landing pages through "SEO glasses," even when the purpose of those policies is limited to making sure landing pages are sufficiently relevant to meet a minimum standard.

Your PPC landing page need not be "SEO-tuned" for relevance in the same way some people obsessing about meta descriptions or alt-tags might recommend. Your page must simply meet a sufficient level of relevance and a reasonable page load time. Landing page Quality Score issues are mostly punitive and based on triggers such as MFA (Made for AdSense) or other factors correlating with a poor user experience. There is no evidence that small content tweaks to landing pages make any difference to Quality Score as a whole or even that landing page variables are used within the larger Quality Score calculation.

So, take off your "SEO hat" when thinking about landing pages for PPC search. As a matter of fact, consider making PPC-specific landing pages that the robots will never find or - even if they do - use robots.txt to ensure these pages are not indexed, eliminating any concern about duplicate content.

If Flash or images help you sell and convert traffic on your PPC-specific landing pages, go ahead and use the rich media you need to communicate effectively as long as the load time issue is taken into account.

At the conference session, it became clear that some marketers have let their keyword lists go stale. Frankly, there's no excuse for this because the tools in search marketers' toolkits are better than they've ever been. Both Google and Microsoft have several tools available that help freshen your keyword lists, and third-party tool vendors continue to improve on their products, driven to innovate in order to compete against the ever-better free tools. Now might be a good time to revisit your keyword research to ensure you haven't missed anything. Don't delay your research too long; Yahoo's integration with the Bing adCenter is scheduled to occur in September/October (for the U.S.). It's therefore important that you complete not only your keyword expansions and refinements, but also your account and creative work. You'll want your accounts in great shape in both Google and adCenter by Labor Day.

Take a fresh look at your use of match types. Too much broad match can dilute your ability to bid because the traffic from a broad match listing includes a diversity of search terms, some of which will likely deserve their own ad group and own ad creative. Other terms should be negated using negative match.

Remember, breaking out keywords into new Ad Groups can often result in a significantly better Quality Score, thus reducing your need to bid or increasing your position at the current bid. One audience member with a very large campaign had over 10,000 keywords in an Ad Group. Even if the majority of these keywords share a common linguistic root word, it's difficult to imagine that there's no room for improvement with an improved account structure.

Lastly, when reorganizing your campaign or adding new keywords, be sure to prioritize based on the keyword's opportunity to help your business.

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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.

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