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Choosing Appropriate Search Terms

By now, your marketing staff should have some experience choosing targeted keywords and phrases, as they supplied those for your web site's <META> tags. But a half-dozen keywords that target your organization's message are not enough for a strong SEM campaign. Choosing your keywords—or, in the language of SEM, your search terms—is the first and most important step in establishing a PPC marketing campaign. There are three key issues related to the search terms that your marketing staff must consider for your SEM campaign:

  • Number of searches for the term

  • Relevancy of that term in relation to your product or services

  • Cost (the bid amount you're required to spend for that term)

How can your marketing staff choose good search terms—and how many should they choose?

The best strategy is to find the search terms that web surfers already use. There are two free keyword tools that your IT staff should keep in its bag of tricks to help your marketing staff:

  • Overture's Search Term Suggestion Tool. Enter a search term related to your site; the result shows both related searches that include your term and how many times that term was searched in the previous month. This tool is quick and easy to use and doesn't require any download or installation.

  • Good Keywords. This free Windows program (which you must download and install) helps you find the perfect set of keywords for your web pages. Good Keywords is more than just a search-term suggestion tool, and goes far beyond what Overture's tool provides. Good Keywords helps you to think like a customer, analyze the competition, and monitor the progress of your SEM campaign. Very useful for both your IT and marketing staffs.

With these or comparable tools ready, it's time to choose those search terms. Here are some tips:

  • Focus on specific terms that are pertinent and specific to your market. Using broad-based terms such as software or office supplies could bring in a large unqualified audience that may or may not be looking for your particular product or service.

  • If the primary search terms you want to use are outside the marketing department's PPC budget—that is, the bid amount for the term is too high—build your list of search terms using secondary terms that reflect your product, service, or market niche. For example, instead of software, which is a very popular term and therefore very expensive, closely match your search term to your product or service: accounting software. Better yet, consider accounts receivable accounting software, accounts payable software, or professional accounting software. For the PPC campaign, you'll need 30–60 search terms. The composite traffic of many secondary terms could match or exceed the traffic of the most popular term for your market niche. In this way, you get the same traffic as the most popular and expensive terms (or more), while paying—on average—far less.

  • In the major PPC search engines, your PPC listing should appear within the top three positions. The top three positions are the most important with Overture because they feed most major search engines and directories as sponsored listings and appear at the top of the search results. And being "above the fold" on the search results page of Google's AdWords will give you the most visibility. (The marketing term above the fold refers to having your listing appearing in the part of a web page that's visible without scrolling.) Does that mean that if you're not in the top position, your site won't garner substantial traffic? No. If you must bid on a term, it isn't necessary to be in first position to attract profitable traffic. Being second or third can be just as effective and sometimes far less expensive.

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Last Update: November 17, 2020