Keyword Relevance Versus Search Intent

Everybody knows the importance of keyword research when launching any new PPC campaign. But there’s one huge mistake that I have seen time and time again regarding selection. Lots of folks try to determine whether or not a keyword is relevant to their products before they add it to their campaign. That’s fine, but you also need to get behind the relevance to find the search intent behind the keyword.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re launching a new e-commerce store that sells luxury fountain pens. You put the term “fountain pens” into the Google Keyword Tool and get a list of keywords back. You follow Google’s suggestions and dump the entire keyword list into a new AdWords campaign. You’re done, right? Hell no!

If you were to follow that exact scenario, you’d probably waste a lot of money before you figured out that some of those suggested keywords weren’t going to give you a good return on ad spend. Sure, those keywords are relevant to the subject of “fountain pens,” but they’re probably not focused enough to represent your target customer’s search intent.

Let’s back that up a bit. Once you get your keyword suggestions from whatever research tool you’re using, you should do a sanity check on each keyword to see if it’s truly relevant to what you offer. Not just generally relevant to your product, but specifically relevant to your target customer’s situation, demographics, and budget. If you run a Google Keyword Tool report for “fountain pens,” you’ll get the following suggestions (among many others):

fountain pens
fine writing instruments

These are ordered in terms of search volume, highest to lowest.

The first term, “pens” is definitely relevant to the subject of “luxury fountain pens”. But, someone using this search term could be looking for cheap ballpoint pens for office supplies, promotional pens for giveaways, or even pens for livestock. It’s generally relevant and gets a lot of traffic, but you’re going to have a hard time converting this broad traffic for your niche product.

The term “fountain pens” is better, but still a little broad. This term narrows the search intent down to only people who are looking for a specific type of pen, but they could still be looking for cheap pens for calligraphy. You could probably get away with using this word as a main traffic driver, but your cost per conversion is likely to be high due to the still-ambiguous search intent and the potentially high traffic.

Finally, “fine writing instruments” is spot on. Someone who uses this term is looking for quality. Heck, they’re looking for something so fancy that it no longer qualifies as a pen – it’s a “writing instrument.” This keyword has the lowest search volume of the three, but it’s the term that is most closely relevant to a consumer of luxury fountain pens. They want quality, and they are willing to pay for it – that’s the subtext behind this keyword.

If your’e still unsure about whether a keyword matches your customer’s search intent or not, it’s easy to get an estimate – just use Google. Type in that query in Google and see what shows up in both the paid and organic results. If your competitors are showing paid search ads for that term, they could be making money on it – that shows that you could too. The organic results are going to give you a better idea of search intent. Google takes into account user-driven factors like click-through rate in their organic search ranking, so if a lot of people click on a search result that has specific meaning when it could mean other things, chances are most people in the search landscape have that specific meaning in mind when they were searching. For example, searching for “pens” on Google delivers a mixture of search results relevant to office supply pens, promotional pens, and fine writing instruments. But, the top result (at the time of this writing) is a seller of promotional pens and most of the paid search results deal with promotional pens as well. Chances are this is what most people are looking for when they search for “pens” on Google.

Digging in to search intent takes some extra work, but it will really help you get a better ROI out of new PPC campaigns. It’s better to do your homework at the outset than waste your budget over the first few weeks of your campaign.

About Shawn Livengood

Shawn Livengood is a search engine marketing professional based in Austin, Texas. He has extensive experience managing pay-per-click ad campaigns for clients in various industries, from small home-based businesses to large international companies. You can connect with Shawn on Google+.
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