Managing The Very Short Tail: 9 Tips To Manage A 10 Keyword Account

Everybody loves the long-tail and diversified PPC accounts. However, sometimes these ideals just aren’t possible. Some accounts inherently have only a short tail.


This applies heavily to lead gen advertisers that measure post-lead activity to determine actual profitability. Are the insurance quote requests turning into policies? Are the edu inquiries turning into students? Are the mortgage loan applications turning into loans? Let’s call these final post-lead conversion points “Revenue Conversions.”

What most single-service lead generating companies find is that they have a very short profitable tail. In fact, most have about 10 or 20 non-brand queries that consistently produce meaningful lead volume and consistently produce the “Revenue Conversions,” too.

For an MBA program, it will be “MBA,” “MBA program,” “MBA programs,” etc. For an auto insurance provider, it will be “auto insurance,” “car insurance,” “auto insurance quotes,” etc. There may be one competitor brand name in your profitable keywords; but aside from that, if you are in a highly competitive lead gen industry, I can probably tell you what your profitable keywords are off the top off my head.

With compelling copy and good landing pages, you can get leads for an MBA program — cheap ones, too! — with keywords like [career advancement] or [business school rankings]. But getting those low- or medium-intent leads to commit two years and $100,000+ is near impossible.

Only the high-intent ones, ready to pull the trigger, committed to earning an MBA and searching for [MBA programs] will eventually enroll at any meaningful volume. If you need that extra lower-intent lead volume anyway, you are better off investing in social or content marketing which are generally less expensive than paid search.

So, we have ~10 core exact-match keywords that are profitable, 9 of which your competitors have discovered are their profitable keywords, too. Aside from starting a nuclear bidding war that drives CPCs past the profit point for everybody, what’s a paid search person to do?

1. Advertise On Bingbing-logo-white-diagonal-1200

Most advertisers don’t focus nearly as much on Bing as they do on AdWords. This can work to your advantage. The CPCs are less for almost all keywords, and you can sneak into top spots without typically being noticed and starting bidding wars.

For small business and finance lead gen, Bing is even more valuable. Why? Because Yahoo has a tremendous amount of content — and users that spend significant time in their finance and small business products and content. People surfing in the Yahoo ecosystem are more likely to search within it.

2. Segment By Geography

You may only have 10 exact match keywords, but that doesn’t mean you only have 10 keyword instances. Geography should be the first segmentation you attack. Start by splitting your campaigns by state. If you have meaningful volume at a state level, do all 50 (and don’t forget DC).

If your per-state volume is sparse, consider breaking out only your top performing profit and volume states and then blending “the rest.” Create isolated auctions you are participating in for top states, instead of just a single blended one. You’ll discover regions that your competitors are less aggressive in, or don’t advertise in at all.

Bidding to the economics of each important state garners more efficiency and more impressions where you can afford to be in top spots. Geo bid modifiers are not enough here; you want standalone campaigns to test ad text and landing pages by regions and to set bid modifiers on household income levels and devices based on regional performance and profitability.

If you have enough volume to geographically segment on a more granular level, do it.

3. Load On The Extensions

Use every single extension that you can. This will both differentiate your ads and take up real-estate, pushing your competitors down. And, with recent updates to the Quality Score (QS) algorithm to include extensions, this can give you a QS bump that can work to your advantage.

Pay special attention to the star rating extension. It takes a bit more heavy lifting to implement than some others, but it’s also the only extension that shows up on the right rail. Invest in garnering more Google+ followers to bolster your social annotation, as your competitors probably aren’t.

Also, keep at the review extensions till you get at least one through the editorial process; there is lower adoption of it due to editorial challenges.

4. Say You Are #1

Over the years, Google has loosened policies on using superlatives in ads. You can say you are #1. It might not be the most clever and nuanced messaging, but it sure stands out in crowded search engine results pages (SERPs).

Quicken Loans making good use of tips 3 and 4

Quicken Loans making good use of tips #3 and #4

5. Competitive Scheduling

Beyond your own internal scheduling metrics, track competitors over time via the Auction Insights reporting downloaded with a time segment. Look for trends — do competitors drop out of the auctions towards the end of the day, on the weekends, towards the end of the month, the end of the quarter, fiscal year, calendar year?

Many companies in lead gen have very prescribed budgets, and when the money runs out, they go dark. If you can identify the patterns, you can play against them, turning up your aggression when you know your competitors are going dark.

Another way to “reverse engineer” competitor activity is to look at your own lost impression share by rank and average positions with various time segments. You’ll see your lost impressions by rank going down and your average position getting higher when overall competitive activity softens.

6. Be An Early Adopter

When new channels and betas emerge, jump on them immediately. There are first-to-market advantages when you hit on something that works. Be prepared for some tests to be failures; but if you can hit your metrics in a new engine like Gemini or with a new targeting type, the first-to-market advantages often last for years to come.

7. Invest In Your Mobile Strategyshutterstock_122145442-mobile-search

You may have some anxiety about being behind the curve with your mobile strategy. Relax — most everybody else is behind the curve, too. As such, there are a huge amount of low-competition, high-quality mobile impressions in just about every industry that are essentially being wasted.

It’s not just about your mobile landing page, either. You want to create a real mobile “funnel” that works. Consider shortening your form to just 1 field. Collect an email address or phone number via SEM, then move users to the next steps via drip campaigns, remarketing and nurturing.

Additionally, you should be focused on driving inbound calls via your mobile SEM campaigns. They are the warmest leads; they are the least expensive; and because they are calling you, you divert TCPA and any other telephone-based regulations in your industry.

From an implementation standpoint, make sure you are using mobile preferred ads (with less than 60 body characters) and mobile preferred sitelinks (with less than 15 characters) that go to mobile responsive pages. This will maximize your mobile ad real estate, ensure your messaging is fully displayed (without any awkward “cutting off”) and hopefully get a Quality Score boost. Note: Google recently made clear QS is calculated on a per-device basis.

8. Find Your Profitability Threshold

Once you’ve identified your special 10 keywords, you may find that, as positions and CPL rise, CTR and lead volume does, too. That relationship is fairly easy to understand.

However, there is often a less intuitive relationship between increasing CPCs and rising revenue per click. A couple factors are at play. As positions rise, CPCs rise, but you are showing dramatically more impressions with lots of informative sitelinks attached.

You also are getting clicks from the highest intent, ready to “go for it,” un-wishy-washy segment of users. To put it another way, as CPL goes up, Cost Per “Revenue Conversion” often goes down. Test this for your business and know the highest CPC and average position threshold you can reach before profit sinks.

9. Use RLSA Exclusions For Nurtured Leads

For many lead gen companies, as many as 25% of leads are duplicates. Since most lead industries have heavy post-lead nurturing cycles via phone calls and email, it doesn’t make sense to pay for any more clicks from a user that is “within” your nurturing cycle.

Create a remarketing audience for converted leads and apply it as a negative campaign level audience on all non-brand search campaigns to avoid incurring unnecessary costs. I’ve seen advertisers that reallocated hundreds of thousands of dollars via this method to attaining new acquisitions rather than incurring costs for duplicate entries in their CRM.

Final Thoughts

Though these tips are designed with larger accounts in mind, with some tweaks,  the same principals apply to many local advertisers (think zip code instead of state), as well. So, whether you want to profitably dominate the insurance vertical in North America, or dominate the plumbing vertical in Poughkeepsie, these can help you get that competitive edge even if you have a short little tail.

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