Use PPC to Capture the Search Curve Tail

A search curve is a graphical representation of the number of times a given query is searched within a given period. A curve’s tail is amazingly long and flat. To understand this concept and to see the curve’s shape, check out the Yahoo (Overture) Keyword Selector Tool. Though the tool returns only 25 queries for one head term, many millions of nearly unique searches are performed every month in nearly every industry vertical.

These unique searches can be difficult to predict with certainty, but online tools provide a reasonable basis for researching how the search curve looks for your business during each season.

Yahoo’s tool shows in April, for example, there were 2,107,085 searches for “MP3,” a generic term that doesn’t reveal whether the searcher wants MP3s or an MP3 player. Farther down the curve, 66 people searched “free online mp3 music download,” a much more specific query. Clearly, the tail is quite long, meaning some very diverse, unique searches occur every day.

The key to strategically capturing the search curve tail lies in the following best practices:

  • Determine when to alter copy for different searches that share a similar intent.

  • Identify the best structure in Google to tune copy and landing pages as you move from generics to specifics.
  • Use tracking, metrics, and strategy to determine the best bids for each point down the search curve, including accounting for positive user behaviors that will eventually result in sales and (more important) profit.
  • Know when to use additional features, such as Google’s ad automator and Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI).

Let’s cover the copy-tuning process. Tuning copy is labor-intensive, so you don’t want to do it unless there’s a reasonable chance the investment will pay off, particularly if you should consider other, higher return on investment (ROI) activities. Depending on the lead’s or sale’s value, you may want to continue tuning ad copy and message much farther down the tail.

Use your true reserve bid price, along with conversion rate, combined with the projected keyword search volume, as an indicators of importance. Your true reserve price on a bid should reflect the click’s value (even if the current bid is much less). That way, you can tune ad copy from the areas of highest opportunity first, then move down.

Google’s broad match is an easy way to cast a wide net; broad match delivers clicks on a basket of terms. It isn’t the most effective way to reach the tail efficiently. Instead, break out the most important phrases into new Ad Groups when landing pages and creative could be improved for those searches. By re-categorizing a Google campaign, you can get the same click for less cash because the tuned creative in a new Ad Group often gets a higher AdRank (after an initial testing period to determine your ad’s AdRank).

Yahoo also has an advanced match type, but it’s far better to think of words that may be searched and bid on them separately. Exact match always trumps advanced match in position.

Use tracking data to develop a campaign that doesn’t focus myopically on immediate conversion. All advertising has the potential to influence future purchase behavior. Not being there to influence later on- or offline behavior isn’t optimal. (Building media models will be covered in a later column.) Use whatever on- or offline data you have to understand how search influences behavior at every stage of the buying process. Know how your site fits into that process, too.

Engines, including Google, are rolling out campaign settings specifically designed to help marketers reach further down the tail. Google’s DKI works great for short queries but loses effectiveness for long searches due to limited space. Similarly, with ad automator you can create a linguistic link between the search and your product.

Millions of searchers use millions of almost unique search phrases to find what they want. Capitalize on their needs and behaviors as they create the tail of the search distribution, or your competition will beat you to it.

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