The Secret Truth Series #2 – Why Keywords Are Over-Rated

This series of blog posts goes ‘behind the scenes’ to extend and expand on the content in our free ebook ’21 Secrets of High-Resolution PPC’. Request your copy here.

Keywords are over-rated.

One of the underlying themes of High-Resolution PPC is that the popular notion of how paid search works is wrong. Or more accurately, that it’s vastly over-simplified in a way that harms those who believe it.

Keywords are a great example. As promoted by the search engines and most of those who talk about them, keywords are the center of paid search. Keywords define your targets and attract your prospects. Keywords take your bids, costs are hung on them, and they collect the statistics used to judge performance.

All of this is reasonable. And a few years ago when prices were lower, competition was relatively tame, and the resulting profits were high, it was good enough.

Not anymore.

What keywords really do is act like magnets. They attract people who execute searches based on certain search queries. The strength of their magnetism is based on the match types that are applied to them. Exact match keywords only attract search queries that are identical to the keywords, but the more prevalent phrase and broad match keywords attract – or might attract – a huge range of queries.

In the simple and traditional discussion of paid search, search queries do not exist. Keywords are their proxies. Keywords are as specific as the conversation gets.

In that version of the world, the focus is on keyword performance (such as click-through rates) and results (in things like return on ad spend). By looking at these numbers, people make important judgments and decisions. Ultimately keywords are deemed ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

But while all this is happening, something much more important is going on, and being ignored. Before every click, the keyword is matched to a search query. Keywords that aren’t using exact match are seeing traffic from dozens or hundreds of different search queries.

For each keyword, some of these search queries deliver excellent performance and results while others are complete wastes of time and money.

By looking at these queries, and how they perform, our judgments and decisions can be far more accurate and effective. We can cut waste, double-down on winners, and even more importantly setup our campaigns and ad groups to much more effectively answer the questions that the searchers we’re paying for are actually asking.

That’s why search queries are far more important than keywords.

It’s easy to demonstrate why you have to look past keywords and focus on search queries.

  • Suppose you have a keyword that’s performing terribly. It has very few clicks, a low quality score, and a terrible ROAS. Your inclination might be to pause or delete it right? But what if you looked at the search queries and found that out of 87 different queries you’ve paid for thus far, every single conversion came from just one variant – and that query seemed to convert every time it was clicked. You’d want to save that query wouldn’t you? Killing the keyword would have thrown that baby out with the bathwater.
  • Or suppose you have a keyword that is killing it. It has a huge CTR and is making tons of genuine profit. All’s well right? Until you look at the queries and find that there are ten or so relatively frequent queries, all of which share a common root phrase, that almost never convert. Adding that phrase as a negative would cut costs and boost profits even higher. Ignoring queries in that case is like a great team that allows one weak player to ride along and lower the stats. Why do that?
  • And lastly, much of what you’ll learn by putting search queries first isn’t that one keyword is good or bad, but that the questions being asked are not being well answered – the alignment of queries and ads (questions and answers) is off due to organizational problems in your campaigns. And when you fix these we’re not talking about boosting the performance of one or two keywords but rather the chance to radically shift (meaning improve) the performance of your entire account. But if you don’t look at the queries there is no way to know that they contain questions that aren’t being answered.

The only downside of moving from keyword management to search query management is that it takes time and effort. This is true. But it’s an iterative process, it can be managed on a clearly prioritized basis (ie you don’t have to do all of it at once), and the fact is that if you don’t do it you’re just wasting tons of money and foregoing a lot of sales and profit. There is no way around this.

If our job is to answer questions, then search queries have to become the center of our attention.

What do you think?

This blog post is a companion to our free ebook ’21 Secret Truths of High-Resolution PPC’.

It will be available for download later this month.

Reserve Your Copy Today


Acquisio Admin

Acquisio Admin

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