Top 5 Search Marketing Coping Mechanisms


Despite the billions of dollars invested in paid search technology over the past decade, managing a paid search campaign is a time-consuming process. To deal with the limitations of scale inherent in traditional keyword management, it’s no surprise that SEMs regularly employ coping mechanisms to make their jobs a bit easier. These coping mechanisms, however, invariably limit campaign performance.

Here are the top 5 SEM coping mechanisms we see most frequently and the negative impact they can have on your business.

1)  Relying on head keywords/Not mining the long tail

We still regularly find SEM campaigns consisting of only a few thousand (or, worse yet, even a few hundred) head keywords. What’s wrong with that?

The bang for buck in mining the long tail often isn’t there.  Long-tail keywords have very low impression and click volume — that is to say, they have diminishing marginal bang. At the same time, an SEM’s workload scales with the number of keywords in their campaign — i.e., the marginal cost associated with adding a tail keyword remains constant.

Campaigns that are overly-dependent on head keywords (1) probably aren’t as profitable as campaigns that have healthy dose of long-tail keywords and (2) typically have more volatile performance — because head keywords are more competitive, it’s easier to go negative when your margins are thinner.

2)  Over-dependence on broad match

Too often, we find campaigns that have a majority keywords permanently on broad match.

Broad match is popular because it maximizes a marketer’s exposure with seemingly minimal SEM effort. But it has several dark sides.

First, most obviously, broad match can drive unqualified clicks and depress your ROAS.

Second, broad match makes your bids less competitive. If all of your competitors mine the long tail and pursue exact match strategies, they’ll be able to bid higher on higher-converting keywords, leaving you more competitive on the bad keywords.

Third, broad match makes your ads less relevant. If your competition mines the long tail, they can show ads that are targeted to those long-tail keywords. With a broad match keyword, your ad can only target the broad match keyword, which may be only tangentially related to the user’s query.

All SEMs should reduce their reliance on broad match by mining their search query reports and promoting converting broad match keywords into exact match keywords.

3)  Letting ad groups become too large

We regularly see ad groups with hundreds of keywords in them.

Ad groups are the critical foundation of relevance in your SEM campaign. When ad groups become too large, ads become less relevant. For example, an ad group that contains dog, cat and fish food keywords can have, at best, ads targeting “pet food.” A much more targeted ad group — such as one that has only dachshund dog food keywords — can have more targeted ads.

Creating ad groups is a highly subjective task. If there’s an opportunity to serve a more targeted ad to a subset of keywords in an ad group, split the ad group into 2 or more ad groups.  Start with your largest ad groups and work your way down.

4)  Relying on Dynamic Keyword Insertion

Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI) helps SEMs make their ads more relevant to by inserting the keyword into the ad. DKI is a convenient way to customize an ad to the user’s query.

We regularly see ads that use DKI in the first line of an ad, followed by very generic second and third lines, like “Buy it now cheap!  Everyday low prices!”  DKI is a crutch for SEMs to quickly improve ad relevance.

Using DKI in the first line of an ad does not mean that the second and third lines should be generic. SEMs should strive to make the entire ad as relevant as possible. Additionally, using DKI might not always be appropriate. Keywords with misspellings, poor grammar, or non-standard syntax could make your ads look bad and perform poorly.

5)  Not updating keywords with product catalog changes

When SEMs can’t keep up and with regular product catalog changes, they end up advertising products that are no longer carried. This leads to frustrated consumers, and, worse yet, wasted CPC and lower campaign ROAS.

Manually keeping up with product catalog changes is a difficult problem. SEMs should consider investing in commercial technologies that can automatically synchronize a marketer’s keyword campaign with their product catalog.

SEMs have a tough job, and they need maximum efficiency. At the same time, SEMs need to be aware of not only the coping mechanisms they most frequently use, but also the potential impact these coping mechanisms have on campaign performance.


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