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10 Major SEO Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

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Are you making these SEO mistakes?

If you are, you should be aware. These are big mistakes—ones that could affect your chances of ranking higher on the search engines.

Continue reading to find out if they apply to your SEO and learn how to avoid them:

  1. Not doing keyword research
  2. Not matching search intent
  3. Targeting keywords that are too difficult
  4. Not building enough backlinks
  5. Breaking Google’s Terms of Service when building links
  6. Missing internal link opportunities
  7. Not letting Google crawl your content
  8. Not letting Google index your content
  9. Having an extremely slow site
  10. Treating SEO as a one-time thing

1. Not doing keyword research

Many website owners randomly create content and think they’ll get search traffic. But if nobody’s searching for those topics, then they won’t be clicking through to any pages.

Translation: zero search traffic.

That’s likely one of the reasons why 90.63% of pages get no traffic from Google, according to our study.

Pie chart showing 90.63% of pages get no organic search traffic from Google

Meaning, if you want search traffic, your content needs to be about topics people are searching for.

How do you find these topics? Keyword research.

Keyword research is the process of understanding the language your target customers use when searching for your products, services, and content. It is the only way to figure out what people are typing into search engines so that you can create content around it.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Before you publish any page (for search traffic), make sure the page targets a keyword with search traffic potential.

Here’s how to find these keywords:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter one or a few relevant keywords related to your website or niche (e.g., if you’re selling coffee, then such keywords can be coffee, cappuccino, latte, etc)
  3. Go to the Matching terms report

List of keywords with corresponding data like KD, volume, etc

Here, there are more than 4 million potential keywords you can target. Look through the list and pick out keywords that are relevant and have traffic potential (look at the TP column).

If you’re looking for informational keywords you can create blog posts around, click the Questions tab:

"Questions" tab in Matching terms report

2. Not matching search intent

Google’s goal is to provide users with the most relevant result for every query.

That means if you want to rank high on Google, you need to be the most relevant result for the query. In actionable terms, it means your content needs to align with search intent.

Search intent is the why behind a search query. In other words, why did the person do this search?

Here’s an example. If we look for “best frying pans” on Google, we’ll see the results are mostly blog posts about the best frying pans:

SERP overview for "best frying pans"

Google knows that users searching for this query are looking to compare, not buy. So if you’re an e-commerce store that sells frying pans, Google will likely not rank your category page for this query—simply because it’s not what users want.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Before you create any content, make sure you’re aligning with search intent. And since no one understands search intent better than Google, the best starting point is to analyze the current top-ranking results for the three Cs of search intent:

1. Content type

Content types usually fall into one of five buckets: blog post, product, category, landing page, or video. For example, the top-ranking pages for “nike air jordans” are all category pages:

SERP overview for "nike air jordans"

Searchers are in buying mode. If you want to rank for this keyword, it’s likely you’ll have to follow suit—create a category page.

2. Content format

Content format applies mostly to blog posts, as they’re usually how-tos, listicles, news articles, opinion pieces, or reviews.

For example, the top-ranking pages for the topic “kettlebell swing” are mostly how-to guides:

SERP overview for "kettlebell swing"

3. Content angle

Content angle refers to the main “selling point” of the content. For example, people searching for “how to make fried rice” seem to want the cooking process to be easy:

SERP overview for "how to make fried rice"

3. Targeting keywords that are too difficult

An SEO joke goes like this: “The best place to hide a dead body is on page 2 of Google.”

Hidden within the joke is a kernel of truth—no one clicks beyond the first page of Google. That means for every keyword you want to target, there are only 10 spots for you to grab. (That number is even smaller these days, with Google introducing all kinds of SERP features.)

The situation is ultra-competitive.

Not for every keyword, though. Of course, some keywords are highly desirable, so every website in those relevant niches wants to rank for the keywords. To rank well here, you really need to compete hard, which usually means you need tons of resources. Other keywords are less competitive, so it’s easier to rank for them.

The mistake is thinking you can simply rank for a keyword without considering the competition. Now, I’m not saying you should avoid targeting a keyword because it’s competitive. If a keyword is important to your website and makes you money, you should target it.

But build up to those competitive keywords gradually. Start by prioritizing those keywords that are less competitive and you can rank for with your skills and resources.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

As you’re looking for keywords in Keywords Explorer, you can filter them by Keyword Difficulty (KD).

KD is an SEO metric that estimates how hard it is to rank on the first page of Google for a given keyword. It is measured on a scale from 0 to 100, with the latter being the hardest to rank for.

KD filter in Matching terms report

Which KD range should you set?

The correct answer is it depends on many factors: the authority of your website, your ability to build backlinks, and more.

However, a good exercise you can consider is to look up the KD scores of the keywords that your website is already ranking for.

You can do this by entering your website into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and visiting the Organic keywords report:

Organic keywords report results for Ahrefs' blog

This will give you a nice benchmark. But bear in mind this is just an estimate. It is no substitute for an actual study of the top-ranking pages and factoring in your own SEO skills and available resources.

4. Not building enough backlinks to rank

Links are an important Google ranking factor. Google’s Andrey Lipattsev confirmed it himself:

Excerpt of article talking about Google's top three ranking signals

So, if you find that your pages are not ranking as high as you like, a key reason can simply be that you don’t have enough links.

For example, at Ahrefs, we would like to rank for the keyword “seo.” But if you look at the top-ranking pages for that keyword, they have tons (emphasis on tons) of backlinks.

SERP overview for "seo"

As of right now, our page simply doesn’t have enough:

Site Explorer overview for Ahrefs' beginner's guide to SEO

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Reach out to people who may be interested in your content and persuade them to link to you.

Here’s how you can find these people:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer
  2. Search for your topic

For example, if we search for “french press,” you’ll see around 590,000 pages you can target.

Content Explorer search results for "french press"

That’s probably too many pages to look through, so let’s add a few filters to narrow the results down:

  • Domain Rating score: 30–90
  • Website traffic: 500+
  • Words: 500+
  • Language: English
  • One page per domain – Checked
  • Exclude homepages – Checked
  • Exclude subdomains – Checked
  • Live & Broken – Only live
  • Filter explicit results – On
Content Explorer search results with filters applied for "french press"

This reduces the number of pages to ~16,000 of the best ones. If this number is still too daunting for you, then you can always play around with the filters until you get a number you’re comfortable with.

When you have a list you’re satisfied with, go through each page and see if your article can add value as a resource. If the answer is yes, reach out to the writer or website owner and see if you can persuade them to link to your article.

5. Breaking Google’s Terms of Service when building links

You understand that links are important, so you’re actively building them. But along the way, you discover that some people ask for something in return for linking to your content.

Excerpt of email to Tim asking for something in exchange for a link

You know that buying backlinks is a no-no. But what about giving them something else in return, such as a reciprocal backlink or even one of your products? If it’s not cold, hard cash, it should be fine… right? After all, it’s kind of like giving away a free product to an influencer, hoping that they will give your brand a shout-out on their socials.

Right?

Unfortunately, no. According to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, link schemes include:

  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes:
    • Exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links
    • Exchanging goods or services for links
    • Sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing it and including a link
  • Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking.

So even if you’re not handing over fiat, it’s against Google’s Terms of Service—and you may get your site penalized.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Promiscuous websites that readily exchange something in return for a link will usually leave a detectable footprint, which will sooner or later get picked up by Google and lead to a “link selling” penalty.

Simply put: Don’t offer payments or products when you’re doing your outreach.

6. Missing internal link opportunities

Internal links are important. Why?

  • Google uses them to discover new content.
  • They aid the flow of PageRank around your site. Generally speaking, the more internal links a page has, the higher its PageRank.
  • Google looks at the anchor texts of internal links to better understand the context. (It also looks at the text surrounding the anchor to understand the context.)

Yet, given all of these benefits, internal links are more often than not never prioritized. That’s a major mistake.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Each time you publish a new page or post, do a site: search on your website to find other relevant content so that you can add internal links.

For example, I recently published a post about how to create a buyer persona. To find potential internal link opportunities, I’ll do a search on our blog:

Google SERP showing site:search results for term "buyer persona" on Ahrefs' blog

When I click through to our “go-to-market strategy” post, I see there are relevant anchors where I can add internal links:

Excerpt of an article showing potential anchor text

Doing this one by one for every post can be pretty troublesome. So a better way is to run a crawl on your site using Ahrefs’ Site Audit. (It’s free if you sign up for Ahrefs Webmaster Tools.) Once your crawl is done, go to the Link opportunities report.

Link opportunities report results

This report will show you relevant internal link opportunities. Go through the list and add internal links where relevant and wherever it feels natural.

7. Not letting Google crawl your content

If Google can’t crawl your content, it won’t be able to rank the said content.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Make sure you’re not blocking Googlebot from crawling your site.

Do this check by going to your robots.txt (yourdomain.com/robots.txt) and looking for these two snippets of code:

User-agent: Googlebot
Disallow: /

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

Both lines of code tell Googlebot it’s not allowed to crawl any pages on your site. To fix the issue, remove them.

8. Not letting Google index your content

No matter how hard you try, you can’t win if you’re not in the game. If your site or its pages are not indexed by Google, you can’t rank.

That can happen, for example, if you’ve accidentally added a noindex tag on any of your pages. (Or perhaps, you or your developer added the tags during staging and forgot to remove them!)

Gif showing noindex tag that was added to a webpage

How to avoid this SEO mistake

You can use Google Search Console to check whether a specific page is indexed. To do that, paste the URL into the URL Inspection tool.

If the page is not indexed, the tool will state: “URL is not on Google.”

Example of “URL is not on Google” message shown in GSC

Alternatively, you can also run a crawl using Ahrefs’ Site Audit (via AWT). If you have pages that are noindexed, that will pop up as an issue:

Examples of some issues found by AWT

9. Having an extremely slow site

Page speed is a Google ranking factor. So are Core Web Vitals—metrics that are part of Google’s Page Experience signals used to measure user experience.

Not only will a slow site affect your Google rankings, but it will also impact your sales. According to Unbounce, nearly 70% of consumers admit that page speed impacts their willingness to buy from an online retailer.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Run a website crawl using Site Audit (with AWT), and you can see how fast (or slow) your pages are:

Pie charts showing data on TTFB and load time distribution, respectively

You can also use other page speed testing tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights or GTMetrix.

Then follow the guide below to learn the different tactics you can use to improve your page speed.

10. Treating SEO as a one-time thing

SEO is not simply a matter of fixing the above nine mistakes and calling it a day.

Even if you’re ranking in pole position today, there is no guarantee that you’ll be number #1 tomorrow. Ranking high on search engines is a competition. Your competitors will be working hard and investing plenty of resources to knock you off the perch.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

SEO is an ongoing process. You’ll need to make a consistent effort to rank high and grow your search traffic.

That means you need an SEO strategy.

Creating an SEO strategy doesn’t have to be complicated. It just has to be a plan you can execute over and over again. As such, we recommend following what we call the “Orchard Strategy.”

Here’s the process:

  1. Plant trees (pages)
  2. Pick low-hanging fruits (first-page keyword rankings)
  3. Squeeze more juice out of them (optimize)

Read the post below to learn more about how to execute the strategy:

Keep learning

You now have an understanding of what major SEO mistakes you could be making and how to avoid them. If you want to dig deeper and continue learning, check out these resources:

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Google Dials Back AI Overviews In Search Results, Study Finds

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Photo of a mobile device in mans hand with generative google AI Overview on the screen.

According to new research, Google’s AI-generated overviews have undergone significant adjustments since the initial rollout.

The study from SE Ranking analyzed 100,000 keywords and found Google has greatly reduced the frequency of AI overviews.

However, when they appear, they’re more detailed than they were previously.

The study digs into which topics and industries are more likely to get an AI overview. It also looks at how the AI snippets interact with other search features like featured snippets and ads.

Here’s an overview of the findings and what they mean for your SEO efforts.

Declining Frequency Of AI Overviews

In contrast to pre-rollout figures, 8% of the examined searches now trigger an AI Overview.

This represents a 52% drop compared to January levels.

Yevheniia Khromova, the study’s author, believes this means Google is taking a more measured approach, stating:

“The sharp decrease in AI Overview presence likely reflects Google’s efforts to boost the accuracy and trustworthiness of AI-generated answers.”

Longer AI Overviews

Although the frequency of AI overviews has decreased, the ones that do appear provide more detailed information.

The average length of the text has grown by nearly 25% to around 4,342 characters.

In another notable change, AI overviews now link to fewer sources on average – usually just four links after expanding the snippet.

However, 84% still include at least one domain from that query’s top 10 organic search results.

Niche Dynamics & Ranking Factors

The chances of getting an AI overview vary across different industries.

Searches related to relationships, food and beverages, and technology were most likely to trigger AI overviews.

Sensitive areas like healthcare, legal, and news had a low rate of showing AI summaries, less than 1%.

Longer search queries with ten words were more likely to generate an AI overview, with a 19% rate indicating that AI summaries are more useful for complex information needs.

Search terms with lower search volumes and lower cost-per-click were more likely to display AI summaries.

Other Characteristics Of AI Overviews

The research reveals that 45% of AI overviews appear alongside featured snippets, often sourced from the exact domains.

Around 87% of AI overviews now coexist with ads, compared to 73% previously, a statistic that could increase competition for advertising space.

What Does This Mean?

SE Ranking’s research on AI overviews has several implications:

  1. Reduced Risk Of Traffic Losses: Fewer searches trigger AI Overviews that directly answer queries, making organic listings less likely to be demoted or receive less traffic.
  2. Most Impacted Niches: AI overviews appear more in relationships, food, and technology niches. Publishers in these sectors should pay closer attention to Google’s AI overview strategy.
  3. Long-form & In-Depth Content Essential: As AI snippets become longer, companies may need to create more comprehensive content beyond what the overviews cover.

Looking Ahead

While the number of AI overviews has decreased recently, we can’t assume this trend will continue.

AI overviews will undoubtedly continue to transform over time.

It’s crucial to monitor developments closely, try different methods of dealing with them, and adjust game plans as needed.


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10 Tips on How to Rock a Small PPC Budget

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10 Tips on How to Rock a Small PPC Budget

Many advertisers have a tight budget for pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, making it challenging to maximize results.

One of the first questions that often looms large is, “How much should we spend?” It’s a pivotal question, one that sets the stage for the entire PPC strategy.

Read on for tips to get started or further optimize budgets for your PPC program to maximize every dollar spent.

1. Set Expectations For The Account

With a smaller budget, managing expectations for the size and scope of the account will allow you to keep focus.

A very common question is: How much should our company spend on PPC?

To start, you must balance your company’s PPC budget with the cost, volume, and competition of keyword searches in your industry.

You’ll also want to implement a well-balanced PPC strategy with display and video formats to engage consumers.

First, determine your daily budget. For example, if the monthly budget is $2,000, the daily budget would be set at $66 per day for the entire account.

The daily budget will also determine how many campaigns you can run at the same time in the account because that $66 will be divided up among all campaigns.

Be aware that Google Ads and Microsoft Ads may occasionally exceed the daily budget to maximize results. The overall monthly budget, however, should not exceed the Daily x Number of Days in the Month.

Now that we know our daily budget, we can focus on prioritizing our goals.

2. Prioritize Goals

Advertisers often have multiple goals per account. A limited budget will also limit the number of campaigns – and the number of goals – you should focus on.

Some common goals include:

  • Brand awareness.
  • Leads.
  • Sales.
  • Repeat sales.

In the example below, the advertiser uses a small budget to promote a scholarship program.

They are using a combination of leads (search campaign) and awareness (display campaign) to divide up a daily budget of $82.

Screenshot from author, May 2024

The next several features can help you laser-focus campaigns to allocate your budget to where you need it most.

Remember, these settings will restrict traffic to the campaign. If you aren’t getting enough traffic, loosen up/expand the settings.

3. Location Targeting

Location targeting is a core consideration in reaching the right audience and helps manage a small ad budget.

To maximize a limited budget, you should focus on only the essential target locations where your customers are located.

While that seems obvious, you should also consider how to refine that to direct the limited budget to core locations. For example:

  • You can refine location targeting by states, cities, ZIP codes, or even a radius around your business.
  • Choosing locations to target should be focused on results.
  • The smaller the geographic area, the less traffic you will get, so balance relevance with budget.
  • Consider adding negative locations where you do not do business to prevent irrelevant clicks that use up precious budget.

If the reporting reveals targeted locations where campaigns are ineffective, consider removing targeting to those areas. You can also try a location bid modifier to reduce ad serving in those areas.

managing ppc budget by location interactionScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

4. Ad Scheduling

Ad scheduling also helps to control budget by only running ads on certain days and at certain hours of the day.

With a smaller budget, it can help to limit ads to serve only during hours of business operation. You can choose to expand that a bit to accommodate time zones and for searchers doing research outside of business hours.

If you sell online, you are always open, but review reporting for hourly results over time to determine if there are hours of the day with a negative return on investment (ROI).

Limit running PPC ads if the reporting reveals hours of the day when campaigns are ineffective.

Manage a small ppc budget by hour of dayScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

5. Set Negative Keywords

A well-planned negative keyword list is a golden tactic for controlling budgets.

The purpose is to prevent your ad from showing on keyword searches and websites that are not a good match for your business.

  • Generate negative keywords proactively by brainstorming keyword concepts that may trigger ads erroneously.
  • Review query reports to find irrelevant searches that have already led to clicks.
  • Create lists and apply to the campaign.
  • Repeat on a regular basis because ad trends are always evolving!

6. Smart Bidding

Smart Bidding is a game-changer for efficient ad campaigns. Powered by Google AI, it automatically adjusts bids to serve ads to the right audience within budget.

The AI optimizes the bid for each auction, ideally maximizing conversions while staying within your budget constraints.

Smart bidding strategies available include:

  • Maximize Conversions: Automatically adjust bids to generate as many conversions as possible for the budget.
  • Target Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): This method predicts the value of potential conversions and adjusts bids in real time to maximize return.
  • Target Cost Per Action (CPA): Advertisers set a target cost-per-action (CPA), and Google optimizes bids to get the most conversions within budget and the desired cost per action.

7. Try Display Only Campaigns

display ads for small ppc budgetsScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

For branding and awareness, a display campaign can expand your reach to a wider audience affordably.

Audience targeting is an art in itself, so review the best options for your budget, including topics, placements, demographics, and more.

Remarketing to your website visitors is a smart targeting strategy to include in your display campaigns to re-engage your audience based on their behavior on your website.

Let your ad performance reporting by placements, audiences, and more guide your optimizations toward the best fit for your business.

audience targeting options for small ppc budgetScreenshot by Lisa Raehsler from Google Ads, May 2024

8. Performance Max Campaigns

Performance Max (PMax) campaigns are available in Google Ads and Microsoft Ads.

In short, automation is used to maximize conversion results by serving ads across channels and with automated ad formats.

This campaign type can be useful for limited budgets in that it uses AI to create assets, select channels, and audiences in a single campaign rather than you dividing the budget among multiple campaign types.

Since the success of the PMax campaign depends on the use of conversion data, that data will need to be available and reliable.

9. Target Less Competitive Keywords

Some keywords can have very high cost-per-click (CPC) in a competitive market. Research keywords to compete effectively on a smaller budget.

Use your analytics account to discover organic searches leading to your website, Google autocomplete, and tools like Google Keyword Planner in the Google Ads account to compare and get estimates.

In this example, a keyword such as “business accounting software” potentially has a lower CPC but also lower volume.

Ideally, you would test both keywords to see how they perform in a live campaign scenario.

comparing keywords for small ppc budgetsScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

10. Manage Costly Keywords

High volume and competitive keywords can get expensive and put a real dent in the budget.

In addition to the tip above, if the keyword is a high volume/high cost, consider restructuring these keywords into their own campaign to monitor and possibly set more restrictive targeting and budget.

Levers that can impact costs on this include experimenting with match types and any of the tips in this article. Explore the opportunity to write more relevant ad copy to these costly keywords to improve quality.

Every Click Counts

As you navigate these strategies, you will see that managing a PPC account with a limited budget isn’t just about monetary constraints.

Rocking your small PPC budgets involves strategic campaign management, data-driven decisions, and ongoing optimizations.

In the dynamic landscape of paid search advertising, every click counts, and with the right approach, every click can translate into meaningful results.

More resources: 


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What Are They Really Costing You?

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What Are They Really Costing You?

This post was sponsored by Adpulse. The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor’s own.

As managers of paid media, one question drives us all: “How do I improve paid ad performance?”. 

Given that our study found close variant search terms perform poorly, yet more than half of the average budget on Google & Microsoft Ads is being spent on them, managing their impact effectively could well be one of your largest optimization levers toward driving significant improvements in ROI. 

“Close variants help you connect with people who are looking for your business, despite slight variations in the way they search.” support.google.com

Promising idea…but what about the execution?

We analyzed over 4.5 million clicks and 400,000 conversions to answer this question: With the rise in close variants (intent matching) search terms, what impact are they having on budgets and account performance? Spoiler alert, the impact is substantial. 


True Match Vs. Close Variants: How Do They Perform?

To understand close variant (CV) performance, we must first define the difference between a true match and a close variant. 

 

What Is a True Match? 

We still remember the good-old-days where keyword match types gave you control over the search terms they triggered, so for this study we used the literal match types to define ‘close variant’ vs ‘true match’. 

  • Exact match keyword => search term matches the keyword exactly. 
  • Phrase match keyword => search term must contain the keyword (same word order).
  • Broad match keyword => search term must contain every individual word in the keyword, but the word order does not matter (the way modified broad match keywords used to work).   

 

What Is a Close Variant? 

If you’re not familiar with close variants (intent matching) search terms, think of them as search terms that are ‘fuzzy matched’ to the keywords you are actually bidding on. 

Some of these close variants are highly relevant and represent a real opportunity to expand your keywords in a positive way. 

Some are close-ish, but the conversions are expensive. 

And (no shocks here) some are truly wasteful. 

….Both Google and Microsoft Ads do this, and you can’t opt-out.

To give an example: if you were a music therapist, you might bid on the phrase match keyword “music therapist”. An example of a true match search term would be ‘music therapist near me’ because it contains the keyword in its true form (phrase match in this case) and a CV might be ‘music and art therapy’.


How Do Close Variants Compare to True Match?

Short answer… poorly, on both Google and Microsoft Ads. Interestingly however, Google showed the worst performance on both metrics assessed, CPA and ROAS. 

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

1718772963 395 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

Want to see the data – jump to it here…

CVs have been embraced by both platforms with (as earlier stated), on average more than half of your budget being spent on CV variant matches. That’s a lot of expansion to reach searches you’re not directly bidding for, so it’s clearly a major driver of performance in your account and, therefore, deserving of your attention. 

We anticipated a difference in metrics between CVs and true match search terms, since the true match search terms directly align with the keywords you’re bidding on, derived from your intimate knowledge of the business offering. 

True match conversions should therefore be the low-hanging fruit, leaving the rest for the platforms to find via CVs. Depending on the cost and ROI, this isn’t inherently bad, but logically we would assume CVs would perform worse than true matches, which is exactly what we observed. 


How Can You Limit Wastage on Close Variants?

You can’t opt out of them, however, if your goal is to manage their impact on performance, you can use these three steps to move the needle in the right direction. And of course, if you’re relying on CVs to boost volume, you’ll need to take more of a ‘quality-screening’ rather than a hard-line ‘everything-must-go’ approach to your CV clean out!

 

Step 1: Diagnose Your CV Problem 

We’re a helpful bunch at Adpulse so while we were scoping our in-app solution, we built a simple spreadsheet that you can use to diagnose how healthy your CVs are. Just make a copy, paste in your keyword and search term data then run the analysis for yourself. Then you can start to clean up any wayward CVs identified. Of course, by virtue of technology, it’s both faster and more advanced in the Adpulse Close Variant Manager 😉.

 

Step 2: Suggested Campaign Structures for Easier CV Management  

Brand Campaigns

If you don’t want competitors or general searches being matched to your brand keywords, this strategy will solve for that. 

Set up one ad group with your exact brand keyword/s, and another ad group with phrase brand keyword/s, then employ the negative keyword strategies in Step 3 below. You might be surprised at how many CVs have nothing to do with your brand, and identifying variants (and adding negative keywords) becomes easy with this structure.

Don’t forget to add your phrase match brand negatives to non-brand campaigns (we love negative lists for this).

Non-Brand Campaigns with Larger Budgets

We suggest a campaign structure with one ad group per match type:

Example Ad Groups:

    • General Plumbers – Exact
    • General Plumbers – Phrase
    • General Plumbers – Broad
    • Emergency Plumbers – Exact
    • Emergency Plumbers – Phrase
    • Emergency Plumbers – Broad

This allows you to more easily identify variants so you can eliminate them quickly. This also allows you to find new keyword themes based on good quality CVs, and add them easily to the campaign. 

Non-Brand Campaigns with Smaller Budgets

Smaller budgets mean the upside of having more data per ad group outweighs the upside of making it easier to trim unwanted CVs, so go for a simpler theme-based ad group structure:

Example Ad Groups:

    • General Plumbers
    • Emergency Plumbers

 

Step 3: Ongoing Actions to Tame Close Variants

Adding great CVs as keywords and poor CVs as negatives on a regular basis is the only way to control their impact.

For exact match ad groups we suggest adding mainly root negative keywords. For example, if you were bidding on [buy mens walking shoes] and a CV appeared for ‘mens joggers’, you could add the single word “joggers” as a phrase/broad match negative keyword, which would prevent all future searches that contain joggers. If you added mens joggers as a negative keyword, other searches that contain the word joggers would still be eligible to trigger. 

In ad groups that contain phrase or broad match keywords you shouldn’t use root negatives unless you’re REALLY sure that the root negative should never appear in any search term. You’ll probably find that you use the whole search term added as an exact match negative much more often than using root negs.


The Proof: What (and Why) We Analyzed

We know CVs are part of the conversations marketers frequently have, and by virtue of the number of conversations we have with agencies each week, we’ve witnessed the increase of CV driven frustration amongst marketers. 

Internally we reached a tipping point and decided to data dive to see if it just felt like a large problem, or if it actually IS a large enough problem that we should devote resources to solving it in-app. First stop…data. 

Our study of CV performance started with thousands of Google and Microsoft Ads accounts, using last 30-day data to May 2024, filtered to exclude:

  • Shopping or DSA campaigns/Ad Groups.
  • Accounts with less than 10 conversions.
  • Accounts with a conversion rate above 50%.
  • For ROAS comparisons, any accounts with a ROAS below 200% or above 2500%.

Search terms in the study are therefore from keyword-based search campaigns where those accounts appear to have a reliable conversion tracking setup and have enough conversion data to be individually meaningful.

The cleaned data set comprised over 4.5 million clicks and 400,000 conversions (over 30 days) across Google and Microsoft Ads; a large enough data set to answer questions about CV performance with confidence.

Interestingly, each platform appears to have a different driver for their lower CV performance. 

CPA Results:

Google Ads was able to maintain its conversion rate, but it chased more expensive clicks to achieve it…in fact, clicks at almost double the average CPC of true match! Result: their CPA of CVs worked out roughly double the CPA of true match.                 

Microsoft Ads only saw slightly poorer CPA performance within CVs; their conversion rate was much lower compared to true match, but their saving grace was that they had significantly lower CPCs, and you can afford to have a lower conversion rate if your click costs are also lower. End outcome? Microsoft Ads CPA on CVs was only slightly more expensive when compared to their CPA on true matches; a pleasant surprise 🙂.

What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

ROAS Results:

Both platforms showed a similar story; CVs delivered roughly half the ROAS of their true match cousins, with Microsoft Ads again being stronger overall. 

 

1718772963 395 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

Underlying Data:

For the data nerds amongst us (at Adpulse we self-identify here !) 

1718772963 88 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024


TL;DR

Close variant search terms consume, on average, more than half an advertiser’s budget whilst in most cases, performing significantly worse than search terms that actually match the keywords. How much worse? Read above for details ^. Enough that managing their impact effectively could well be one of your largest optimization levers toward driving significant improvements in account ROI. 


Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Adpulse. Used with permission.

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