It goes without saying that most PPC management professionals are pretty well versed in how keyword match type settings affect ad display (if not, read up!), but what about the flip side of the information, when a PPC campaign builder or an SEO is doing keyword research in the first place?
Using the Google Adwords keyword tool you can view search volume estimates in three modes: broad match, phrase match, and exact match. Looking at the difference in each type’s search volume can be illuminating, so long as you keep in mind that you’re working in the Google Adwords framework.
When I perform keyword research I like to start with the short tail, and use tools to reveal the medium-tail keywords. Then I rinse and repeat, plugging the medium-tail keywords in and collecting some long tail information. An important part of the process is looking for long-tail opportunities, or overlooked short and medium-tail keywords. Let’s take a look at a wide cross section of short-tail travel keywords and their volume estimates for all three match-types: Not too surprisingly, ‘travel’ tops all three match-type lists. Another phrase at the top of the broad and phrase match columns is ‘travel deals’. People (in Canada) search 4M times per month with the words ‘travel deals’ either alone or in combination with other words, but only 14 thousand times for just the phrase ‘travel deals’ alone. This is a relatively large disparity between exact and other match types, which implies that there are a lot of long-tail keywords to optimize for or bid on beneath this phrase. Compare this with another phrase, one which appears low down in the broad-match list, but high up on the exact-match list. ‘Airline tickets’ is searched for 110 thousand times as an exact phrase, and only 165 thousand times as part of a larger phrase. This is a short-tail keyphrase with very little medium or long-tail beneath it. If you were to dig deeper with the medium-tail phrases beneath both ‘travel deals’ and ‘airline tickets’, gathering long lists of keywords for the sub-key-phrases Adwords provides, you’ll find a much larger list emerging for ‘travel deals’ than ‘airline tickets’. Comparing match-type volume estimates ahead of time helps you narrow your long-tail keyword research efforts to places which might bear more fruit.
The Caveat of Synonyms
There is a small ‘use synonyms’ check-box beneath the field where you input your root keywords on the Adwords keyword research tool. It’s powerful for helping you think laterally about root keyword phrases, but it can cause problems when examining volume estimates of some key-phrases. Google doesn’t mark which phrases are synonyms of others, and incorrectly attributes volume estimates to the real searched-for term. (In Adwords you may have your ad appear when synonyms of your chosen keywords are searched, so Google would argue the tool is not ‘incorrect’, but for general keyword research it is misleading). If you’re looking at volume estimates and trying to come up with real world numbers for an SEO campaign, be sure to compare everything in exact-match, with synonyms turned off. Otherwise, things could appear misleading: Now, it might grab your keyword-aware brain’s attention when you see the phrase “jobs in Los Angeles California” with such a large phrase count – there is no other well known Los Angeles, and so are people really likely to search that much with the state qualifier? It’s not “Jobs in Springfield Ohio” we’re looking at. Comparing the phrase match to the exact match shows a large disparity (extremely large, 165k to under 1 thousand!) – something is wrong with this picture. Sure, you might be inclined to think that there is a lot of medium and long tail traffic on this phrase, after all, it should draw trade-name combinations naturally, but in reality, we’ve just left the synonyms box checked. Uncheck it and the “phrase” we were looking at, “jobs in Los Angeles California”, disappears from the list. The Adwords keyword tool, because of how match types work in the Adwords bidding system, considers Los Angeles and Los Angeles California to be synonyms. So if you’re doing your keyword research with the Adwords keyword tool, remember the volume estimates are a function of the Adwords bidding system and how it matches queries to ads. Be aware that the synonyms option can be quite broad in scope, and affect the volume estimates. Even so, there is still information about the long tail that can be inferred from disparities between match-type volume estimates, as long as you keep yourself grounded with [exact match] terms and synonyms turned off, you can add value to your keyword research process.