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What are keywords, and how do they work in PPC?

Keywords are the foundation of all your PPC campaigns. They are used to determine who will see your ads when they search. If you understand how keywords work in PPC – then it’s much more likely your business will be ahead of the digital marketing game.

It’s not quite as simple as bidding on a word relevant to your brand and generating traffic as a result. In order to reach out to the right customers, you’ll need to understand the type of keyword to bid on, depending on things like your industry, service and objectives.

Here, we’ve outlined the different types of keywords you can bid on, and how they might benefit your ads:

What are the different keyword types?

Keywords are not straightforward and, of course, there’s not only one type that you can bid on. We’ve listed your options below along with a brief summary. A keyword can be one of the following, or, it can fall into more than one category – there is no ‘either-or’ rule. 

  • Generic keywords – They’re generic in the sense that the user is not searching for a specific brand but instead has a need or a question to be answered. For example, “running clothes” or “hairdressers in Glasgow”, because the searcher is in market and has not yet decided who they’re going to buy from. For this reason, this is the most important and competitive space for brands.
  • Branded keywords – Keywords which include a company name, for instance; eBay or ASOS. These people are already down the funnel, as they know whose site they want to visit and probably have a specific goal. This is an important space to protect from competition, as some brands compete in the space to try to poach customers who are about to buy from the competition
  • Transactional keywords – Keywords that have a purchase intent – in other words, keywords or phrases which users search for to find the services or product they want to use or buy. For example, “buy Adidas training shoes” or “Cheap plumbing services.” The user is clearly looking for something specific. 
  • Long-tail keywords – These are keywords that include more than 3 or 4 words (e.g., “Dress for wedding guest”). They are usually more transactional than other keyword types, meaning they tend to have a higher conversion rate. Because they are often very specific they tend to be lower volume, but are often highly valuable
  • Informational keywords – These are keywords where people are searching for specific information about a particular topic. This could be anything from directions to a ‘how-to’ question. This is an interesting space to play for brands, it’s higher up the funnel but can provide an opportunity to gain visibility at a very early stage of someone’s path to purchase.
  • Location keywords – These are often used for home or mobile services – but are useful for any company who have a physical store or offer services to customer homes in a particular location. The user can search a location or use their current location to find nearby services, for example, “Digital marketing agency in London” or “Marketing agency near me”.

Keyword Match Types

Keywords also have different match types – which will affect how it performs or behaves. There are four match types. The difference between them comes down to how restrictive you want Google to be when matching your ads to user searches. In other words, you have the option of informing Google how specific a search must be to your keyword. We’ve outlined the four choices below, in order of least to most reach: 

Broad match 

Broad match is the default match type – Google will match your ad against the highest number of related queries. So, if you bid on the word “shoes”, your ads might be displayed when people search for phrases such as “Cheap shoes” or “Wedding shoes”. Your ads could also show for similar searches – for example, “footwear for weddings” or even “what to wear to a wedding.” 

What are the benefits of broad match?

  • Your ad has the chance to appear when a user’s search includes spelling mistakes or keyword variations. 
  • Broad match keywords tend to receive more impressions than other match types.
  • User searches can bring long-tail keywords that are high-converting to your attention.
  • You can discover keywords you may not have considered in the past

What are the cons?

  • More searches and clicks lead to higher costs.
  • You might be losing money as a result of irrelevant searches.
  • There’s a lack of control.

Broad Match Modified

These are slightly more specific than broad match. Google will only display your ads when your keywords or close variants appear in a user’s search query. For example, if you bid on +electrician, only queries including the word “electrician” will trigger your PPC ad. To add a keyword in broad match modifier, you write the words following a plus sign: +electrician +electrics. 

The benefits:

  • More control of which search queries you want to trigger your ads.
  • Will help you find more high-performing long-tail keywords.
  • Not influenced by word order or the number of words in a search 

The cons:

  • The search volume is lower than broad match.
  • There is still a chance that irrelevant searches will trigger your ad.

Phrase Match

With phrase match, Google will only display your ad when a user searches for your full phrase, and in the correct given order. Your ad can still appear if there are other words in the query before or after your keyword phrase. For example, “Neck message” and “Neck message in London”, would both be valid searches. To add a keyword in phrase match, write the phrase within quotation marks: “neck message”. 

The benefits:

  • A higher level of control.
  • An effective way to display your PPC ad from a specific sentence – meaning a user is likely to be interested in your product or service when they find it. 
  • You’ll avoid more expansions and potential irrelevant searches. 
  • You reduce the chance of spending money on irrelevant clicks. 

The cons:

  • Your search volume will be reduced. 
  • More restrictive and could miss out on potential clicks and conversions. 
  • Less likely to discover new keywords

Exact Match 

With exact match, Google only displays your ads only when a user searches for your exact keyword or keyword phrase, or a very close variant with the same meaning. Exact match is the most restrictive match type. To add a keyword, you use open and closed brackets, for example, [gym wear]. 

People often believe Google can only match queries that are word for word, but this is not the case. For example, your PPC ad for keywords [gym wear] could also potentially be triggered by “activewear” as Google recognises that it is such a close variant. For this reason, it’s as important with exact match as it is will all the other match types to monitor the search query report, to ensure you are displaying your ads to relevant queries.

The benefits:

  • Greater Control.
  • You know what users have searched so can easily evaluate how your keyword is performing.
  • Ideal for monitoring high-converting keywords.

The cons:

  • Lower search volume than other match types.
  • Less opportunity to discover new keyword variations or long-tail keywords.
  • You miss out on “one-time searches”. 

What next?

You can find out more information about our PPC services, or if you have any other questions, just get in touch.

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