Successful Search Engine Marketing – 1. Selecting and Organizing Your Keywords

Many of you will know that Chris Howard leads the European eBay Partner Network team, but what you may not know is that in a previous life he spent five years running eBay UK’s Search Engine Marketing team.  In this article and in subsequent posts, he will be sharing some of his top tips for optimizing SEM traffic to your site. When speaking to publishers, one of the questions we are asked most frequently is how people can improve the quality of traffic they are sending to eBay.  While there are a number of ways in which you can do this, one of the most important things you can do is to optimize the traffic to your own site.  We know that Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is one of the main sources of traffic to many of our publishers’ websites, therefore we thought this would be a great opportunity to blog about some SEM best practices.  The tips are a mixture of basics and some more advanced techniques, so hopefully there will be some information of value for publishers of all levels of SEM experience. 

I have divided the tips into six main areas of focus and I will cover off the first of topics here, with the others following over the course of the next few weeks. 

1. Selecting and organizing your keywords 2. Creating appealing ad text 3. Landing Page design and optimization 4. Where to buy your traffic 5. Deciding how much to pay for your traffic 6. Optimizing for success

1.  Selecting and organizing your keywords

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the most crucial aspects of running a successful Search Engine Marketing campaign is choosing the correct set of keywords to purchase.  Within this, there are three different elements that you should consider: creating your keyword list; targeting your keyword list; and organizing your keywords to maximize their chances of success.

Creating your keyword list

The most important factor here is to make sure that the keywords you are purchasing are relevant to your site.  Untargeted keywords are likely to get a very low Quality Score from the search engines.  Not only will this mean that you have to pay a high minimum CPC for these keywords, but it can also have a negative impact on the performance of more targeted keywords you are purchasing.  Though all search engines operate slightly differently, in most cases keywords for which you do not have a large amount of history have a Quality Score assigned to them based on the performance of other keywords in the same AdGroup, or, if there is still not enough data, all keywords in the same account.  In other words, large numbers of untargeted keywords can undermine all of your other SEM efforts.

When generating your keyword list, make sure that you do not just use high volume, generic terms.  For example, if you have a site offering CD reviews, don’t just focus on buying keywords such as ‘CD reviews’.  Longer, more specific keywords – for example, ‘Green Day album reviews’ or ‘21st Century Breakdown CD reviews’ – often convert better and normally have fewer other advertisers bidding for them, meaning you can drive traffic from them at a lower CPC. 

There are many different ways to generate good quality keywords to help send traffic to your website – here are a few of our favorites: • If you have search functionality on your website, look at your query logs to see what terms people are searching for.  If people are using a keyword to search on your website, the chances are that an ad for your site on a search engine targeted at the same or similar keywords will generate some interest from search engine users. • If you have product catalogs on your site, the names of these products can often prove to be good keywords.  Likewise, if you integrate eBay listings directly onto your site, you may be able to use the listing titles to generate relevant terms. • If you track the organic traffic coming into your website from search engines (otherwise known as traffic from Search Engine Optimization, or SEO), look at which keywords this traffic has come from.  These keywords can be very valuable in SEM as well, especially if searching for them does not bring your website up on the first page of organic results. • Search engines offer you a variety of tools to help you generate keywords relevant to your site.  For example, Google offers the Keyword Tool which provides ideas for keywords based on generic terms you enter (e.g. ‘CD reviews’) or the content of your pages.  Google also offers the ‘Search Query Performance Report’, which shows you the raw user queries that generated an impression for your keyword ads (see the section on ‘targeting your keyword list’ for more details). • There are also a number of ways for you to access data on the best performing keywords on eBay for your particular area.  For example, the Pulse, Bestselling Artists, Popular Keywords and Popular Products pages all give lists of keywords and products users regularly search for and purchase on eBay.  For more detailed data, Terapeak offers a wealth of information about the most successful keywords on eBay whatever categories you are looking to promote.

Targeting your keyword list

Once you have decided which keywords you want to purchase, you need to decide how closely a search engine user’s query needs to match the keyword you have bought in order for your ads to show – in other words, which ‘Match Type’ you want to use.  Most search engines offer three different Match Types for your keywords: Broad, Phrase and Exact.

• Broad Match is the default option. If you purchase the keyword 'CD reviews,' your ad could appear when a user's search query contained either or both of the words ‘CD’ and ‘reviews’ in any order, possibly along with any other words – for example, a user query for ‘review Green Day CD’ could trigger an impression for your ad. • Phrase Match is selected by entering your keyword in quotation marks – for example, “CD reviews”.  More targeted than Broad Match, your ad can show when a user search includes the words ‘CD reviews’ in that order, possibly along with other words.  For example, your ad could be triggered by a search for ‘Green Day CD reviews’, but not by a search for ‘reviews of Green Day CD’. • Exact Match is selected by entering your keyword in square brackets – for example, [CD reviews].  In this instance, your ad can only be triggered by a user searching for the words ‘CD reviews’ in that order, with no other words before or after. 

There are pros and cons of each of these Match Types.  While Broad Match gives your keywords the most extensive coverage and is therefore likely to generate more traffic for you than Phrase or Exact Match, the traffic you receive will probably be less targeted, since your ad may show for some less relevant queries.  One way to reduce the impact of this on Broad and Phrase Match Types is through use of another Match Type, Negative Match.  By putting keywords preceded by a ‘-‘ symbol into your AdGroups or Campaigns, you can prevent irrelevant user queries from triggering your ads.  For example, if you own a site about golf equipment, you may want to purchase the keyword ‘golf’.  In this case, it would be a good idea to add negative keywords such as ‘- courses’ and ‘- volkswagen’.  You should also use Negative Match to comply with your merchant’s Terms and Conditions – for example, when purchasing keywords for your websites you should always include the word ‘eBay’ and misspellings on Negative Match.

Conversely, using Exact Match will give you lower traffic volumes, but the traffic you do receive is likely to be more targeted.  The revenue you will make on each click from a keyword in Exact Match also tends to be more predictable since you know in advance exactly what a user will have typed into a search engine to trigger the ad.  Similarly, if you are inserting the keyword purchased into your ad text, an Exact Match ad will normally perform better than a Broad Match ad since the language used in the ad will match perfectly to the user’s query (for example, when a user searches for ‘CD reviews’, he or she would see an ad featuring the words ‘CD reviews’).  In order to achieve a high level of traffic when using Exact Match, building out a large list of less-generic keywords is crucial.  One method many advertisers use is to purchase more generic keywords on Broad Match at a low CPC in order to generate new, long-tail keywords to buy on Exact Match.  If your tracking system supports it, we would also recommend that you track the conversions coming through from each user query that triggered one of your Broad or Phrase Match ads, and compare these with the clicks for each of these queries in your Search Query Performance Report.  This will tell you which queries will be valuable to add as Exact Match keywords and which should be added as Negative Match keywords.

Organizing your keywords

Once you have decided which keywords you want to buy and which Match Type(s) to use for those keywords, the next step is to organize these keywords into logical ‘Ad Groups’.  The way in which you structure your keywords is important for a number of reasons.  Firstly, most search engines store your ads at an Ad Group level.  What this means in practice is that the ad text a user sees will be largely the same for all the keywords you have put into the same Ad Group.  For example, if you have an entertainment site divided into two sections, CDs and DVDs, you should have at least two Ad Groups, one for CDs and one for DVDs, in order that you can tailor your ad text specifically for the relevant keywords.

The second reason that it is important to structure your keywords logically into Ad Groups is that, as mentioned above, most search engines store some component of their ‘Quality Score’ evaluation of each advertiser at the Ad Group level.  One of the main inputs to this Quality Score is the Click Through Rate (CTR) for ads in that Ad Group.  Since this can impact the amount you must pay per click for all keywords in that Ad Group, it is important to keep keywords of a similar theme in the same Ad Group in order to make your ad text as targeted as possible, thereby increasing your CTR, Quality Score and hopefully reducing your CPCs!

A third reason that the structure of your Ad Groups is important is that looking at your data at an Ad Group level can be a useful, manageable way to analyze the performance of your traffic.  If SEM constitutes a large proportion of the traffic into your site, we would recommend that you structure your SEM Ad Groups and eBay Partner Network Campaigns along similar lines.  This will make it significantly easier for you to tie together how much it costs you to drive traffic to your site and then on to eBay Partner Network with how much you will earn for this traffic.  This information is crucial for optimizing which of your keywords you should continue to purchase, as well as all other aspects of Search Engine Marketing that we will cover in the blog posts over the coming weeks!

Chris Howard