A keyword is a word or phrase that guides our understanding of user search intent. As search marketers, we use keywords to uncover trends within society and interpret consumer behavior to meet their demands. Keywords are important to search engine marketing because they encompass the entirety of our pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns and serve as a benchmark to track our progress in ranking organic web content (SEO).
Both PPC and SEO campaigns will either utilize head keywords (1-2 words) or long-tail keywords (3-more words) depending on their vertical, content, and competition. Head keywords are rather general keywords, such as “hair salon”, while long-tail keywords become more specific, such as “sport cuts for men.”
While keywords are not mutually exclusive to either field, they play a vastly different role in how we conduct PPC and SEO campaigns. Keywords may serve similar ends in both spheres, but the way we use them to achieve those ends is very different.
PPC Keyword Research
Users who click on an advertisement are more likely to make a conversion than an organic result. This leads PPC campaigns to focus on transactional keywords or what’s going to lead someone closer to a purchase. These keywords often suggest an end goal and are more likely to feature branded keywords and product names.
Advertisers bid on keywords in order to achieve higher ad placements. A keyword’s effectiveness will be determined by its competition and cost-per-click (CPC). The more competitive a keyword, the higher the cost paid for a return click.
PPC keyword research has a very small margin of error. Since users pay for ad clicks, an ineffective keyword often results in a loss. The manpower required to analyze an effective paid ad campaign can become very costly as well. You’ll often ask yourself if the means justify the ends (e.g. the ROI).
Your keyword rank will depend on your bid, as well as the number of ads with spots for that keyword and the amount of advertisers who also bid on that keyword. A keyword’s CPC will be determined by how competitive a keyword is.
Ad groups are modeled around specific keyword phrases in order to trigger specific ads during a relevant search. Keywords are then applied to all aspects of the ad group, such as the ad copy, the landing page, and every title. This establishes your Quality Score, which helps predict your expected ad rank in the auction process. Ad rank is calculated by your bid plus your Quality Score and the expected impact of ad extensions and formats.
Keyword Match Types
In PPC campaigns, webmasters choose which match type they’d like their ads to drive impressions for. There are four match types: broad match, modified broad match, phrase match, and exact match.
Broad match keywords will trigger your ads for semantically similar search queries, even if the search terms don’t appear in your keyword list. Broad match keywords drive more volume than other match types and will allow you to spend less time doing keyword research and to pick out the keywords that work.
Webmasters who use broad match types also utilize negative keywords so that ads featuring specific terms are not displayed in a search result. For example, if your business sells all types of shoes and you develop an ad specifically for sneakers, you could type boots into your negative keyword list so that that ad isn’t displayed when users search for boots.
Exact match keywords are more strict and will only trigger ads when that exact keyword phrase is searched by itself. On the other hand, exact match keywords drive more relevant traffic and permit more control over the keywords you wish to target. Exact match keywords are effective for bidding on head keywords and branded keyword phrases.
Modified broad match keywords and phrase match keywords provide a more comfortable middle ground in match types. Modified broad match keywords and phrase match keywords will trigger ads even when a specific phrase is searched, with the addition of other search terms. However, phrase match types will only trigger ads when the phrase is searched in the correct order, while broad match keywords must contain the same keywords, but order doesn’t matter. For example a search for “black combs” will trigger both a phrase and modified broad match ad, but a search for “combs in black” will only trigger a modified broad match ad.