One of the more useful aspects of Adwords is the ability to see which search queries triggered your adverts, generated clicks and spent your money. By looking at a search query report, you can improve your keyword list over time, adding relevant variations on your existing keywords, and adding inappropriate variations as negative keywords.
Whilst this functionality has been available via the Adwords interface for a long time, up until November 2010 there was one irritating limitation – rather than reporting on all search queries, Google grouped a number of ‘low-volume’ keywords into one, reporting them as ‘4 other unique queries’ or something similar.
This changed when the reporting process was updated, and no longer do advertisers see ‘other unique queries’ in their search query reports.
Over the years, I’ve performed account appraisals for hundreds of potential clients, and one of the errors that irritated me more than almost any other was misuse of the search query report. The process described above shows how the report should be used – you look through the search query report and add any searches with any significant volumes as keywords in their own right, or as negative keywords (so that your adverts didn’t show). However, lazy advertisers found the process of actually reading the keyword lists too time-consuming and just bulk-uploaded the whole list into the account.
The tell-tale sign that this had happened was, of course, the unique queries – any time that you found the keyword ‘2 other unique queries’ or similar, you could be fairly sure that the search queries were being uploaded without anyone actually reading them.
This issue was effectively resolved when the ‘other unique queries’ disappeared from the search query report. So the days of ‘other unique queries’ in advertisers’ keyword lists have passed, then…
Well, not quite.
Out of a sense of curiosity, I ran a few searches this morning, to see whether any adverts appeared for these keywords. I was a little surprised by the results!
Clicking on the first advert, I found myself on a website clearly aimed at the American market – it seems unlikely that they were even intending to advertise in the UK. The second advert has a misspelling in the advert – not a sign of careful account management.
Other searches provide similar search results:
Australian flower shops, scooter specialists and another advert for Smart Destinations. This last one is interesting, as it shows that they are using dynamic keyword insertion, which conclusively proves that they are bidding on this specific keyword (well – they are bidding on ‘5 other unique queries’, using Broad Match).
A few years ago, I found adverts like these irritating, but for them to still be showing now is genuinely shocking – consider for a moment what must have happened for these adverts to be showing now – 20 months after ‘other unique queries’ disappeared from the search query reports.
Firstly, a lazy PPC analyst has added the complete contents of the search query report into the keyword list without bothering to check whether it’s relevant. In the intervening 20+ months, at no stage has anybody read the keyword lists and noticed the error. Basically, the keyword lists for these accounts aren’t being managed at all.
I sincerely hope that this is a case of unqualified people managing these accounts in-house, and being too busy to do the job properly, though I fear that at least some of these advertisers are paying an agency for this shoddy level of service.
Now, you may think that this doesn’t really matter. After all, who (aside from me) searches for ‘6 other unique queries’? And if they did, they aren’t going to click on many adverts and spend a lot of money. Also, it’s not a problem going forwards; it’ll only affect a handful of old keyword lists.
Sadly, this misses the point completely. If keywords that are completely irrelevant were slipping the net before, they are still slipping through now. And if you use dynamic keyword insertion in your adverts, you’re turning a small problem into a very large one – you’re claiming to sell/offer whatever these keywords say that you do.
One of the accounts I appraised recently sold children’s clothing. Naturally, they were advertising ‘girls dresses’, and were bidding on this on Broad Match. This meant that they also appeared for ‘dress up games for girls’ – but this wasn’t a massive problem, since their advert still said they sold girls dresses, so there were relatively few clicks.
Until they added the contents of their search query report into their campaigns.
This still wouldn’t have been a problem, had they not been using Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI). The adverts would still have advertised dresses, and wasted relatively little money. But they were using DKI, and as a result, they were advertising the fact that they had dress up games for girls.
Nobody else was advertising on this keyword (or similar ones), and there was a lot of traffic – they were spending around ten per cent of their entire budget on this one keyword, in fact!
Their previous agency hadn’t noticed this, as they didn’t bother looking at their keywords – and as a result, the client was pouring money into a keyword that didn’t deliver anything. To make matters worse, in order to keep their cost per order at acceptable levels, the bids on the things that DID work were too low, so they missed out on profitable sales as well!
The bottom line is this: adding search queries to your keyword list can improve your performance significantly in the long term, but only if you do it properly. Done carelessly, the performance of your account can deteriorate from this, particularly if you’re using DKI. So unless you’re willing to spend the time and effort of going through the keyword lists properly, you may be better off leaving your keyword lists alone.
This also highlights the importance of keeping tabs on what your agency (or internal analyst) is doing. It doesn’t take an expert in Adwords to log in and sort the keyword list by click spend, and I’d recommend that everybody hiring an agency logs into their account from time to time, just to see where their advertising budget is really going…