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4 Tactics for High-Quality Backlinks That Move the Needle [+ Examples]

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Many popular link building tactics produce low-quality links that don’t improve SEO performance.

Even if these techniques make an impact, it’s often for a short time, and Google can easily devalue them down the line. 

Here are four tactics for building high-quality links that help you stay ahead of your competition, expose your brand to new audiences, and are less likely to be devalued in future algorithm updates. 

Digital PR is the process of creating content that appeals to journalists and promoting it to them. 

If they like the content, they’ll write a feature about it or include it in a piece they’re writing. This can land you many high-quality backlinks from big sites and news publications for free.

Examples

In the months following ChatGPT’s release, Fery Kaszoni and his team at Search Intelligence compiled statistics about Open AI’s popularity since launching ChatGPT and compared it to other popular platforms like Instagram and TikTok. 

The result? 60+ free link placements, including mentions on Yahoo News (DR 92), The Wrap (DR 84), and Time magazine (DR 92). 

A few examples of backlinks earned by a piece of content about Open AI’s popularity since launching ChatGPT

In another campaign, Fery and his team calculated how much money beloved video characters would earn in real life. This campaign earned 20+ free links including a DR89 link from British newspaper, The Daily Express. 

Example of a high-DR like from Daily ExpressExample of a high-DR like from Daily Express

How to do it 

Successful Digital PR requires some creativity, but this is the process in a nutshell: 

  1. Find a trending topic 
  2. Create relevant newsworthy content around that topic 
  3. Tell journalists about it 

For example, AI has been a major topic of conversation in all industries since it launched. Any new data or insights about it would go well in news cycles while it remains a topic of interest. 

Once you have a topic, you need to come up with interesting content ideas that are relevant to your business.

The best topics for digital PRThe best topics for digital PR

This is the hard part. It’s really a case of brainstorming ideas until you land on something you think could be interesting. 

For example, here are a few random content ideas for a company that sells furniture online: 

  • Have AI refurnish rooms from popular TV shows in new styles. 
  • Have AI design a new item of furniture, create it, and sell it. 
  • Ask 100 interior designers if they’re worried about AI taking their jobs, share the data. 

After you find your winning idea, create the content, give it an attention-grabbing headline, and write a press release about the most interesting insights. 

Then, promote your content to journalists. You can try services like Roxhill or Muck Rack to find journalists who might be interested in your content. 

You can also use a tool like Ahrefs’ Content Explorer to find sites that have recently published content about your topic and reach out to them. 

Here’s how to do that: 

  1. Enter your topic into Content Explorer 
  2. Filter for pages published in the last 90 days 
  3. Filter for pages on DR70+ websites (big sites that you probably want links from) 

For example, if we do this for the topic of “chatgpt,” we see thousands of well-known websites that have recently published about ChatGPT including Business Insider, Tech Republic, and Wired. 

Finding websites that recently published about a topic with Content ExplorerFinding websites that recently published about a topic with Content Explorer

Data journalism is a way of enhancing or creating newsworthy content by analyzing unique data sets. It can fall under digital PR, though it typically requires more detailed research. 

This technique works because reporters love a good statistic they can either quote or write an opinion piece about. Be the source of such data, and you can earn many high-quality links anytime your data becomes relevant to trending news topics. 

Examples

Data journalism can be quite simple. For example, in another case study from Search Intelligence, Fery’s team used Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer as a data source for a cybersecurity PR campaign. 

The study reveals the top UK banks where customers seek help with fraud, allowing journalists to report on which banks are more secure than others. 

The data fuelling these insights is keyword search volume. That’s it. 

Ahrefs' data that fuelled a cybersecurity PR campaignAhrefs' data that fuelled a cybersecurity PR campaign

This method doesn’t take very long, doesn’t need a data scientist and can very easily be replicated in other industries where search popularity can unearth interesting insights. 

In another example (and perhaps one of our all time favorites), marketing firm Yard created a data study comparing the CO2 emissions of various celebrities and ranking the worst offenders. 

Data study on the C02 emissions of celebritiesData study on the C02 emissions of celebrities

If you follow celebrity news, there’s no way you missed reports of Taylor Swift’s private jet emissions being among the highest compared to other celebrities. 

Just a few of the thousands of posts about Taylor Swift's jet emissions following a successful data journalism campaignJust a few of the thousands of posts about Taylor Swift's jet emissions following a successful data journalism campaign

Every single one of these news stories originated from the data study. 

When the study was first released, it went viral and earned links from almost 2,000 referring domains within the first month. 

But that’s not all. 

This topic trended in news cycles again when rumours spread that Taylor Swift attended a Jets game to bury the original negative publicity about her private jet usage, earning Yard a well-deserved second round of links. 

Google Trends data for "taylor swift jet" Google Trends data for "taylor swift jet"

Today, this post has 1,861 links from 1,155 referring domains, 77% of them are dofollow, and 38.4% are higher than DR 60. 

DR distribution of backlinks to the celebrity C02 emissions content pieceDR distribution of backlinks to the celebrity C02 emissions content piece

Talk about drool-worthy results! That’s high-quality link building done right. 

How to do it 

Successful data journalism is similar to digital PR but relies on the intriguing, data-backed insights you can unearth. 

In a nutshell, the process looks like this: 

  1. Find a data-driven content angle that gets links and media attention 
  2. Gather data to provide new or updated insights on the topic 
  3. Tell journalists about your findings 

Start by considering “your money or your life” content angles that everyday folk care about. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking too narrow or pitching ideas only a small demographic may understand. 

For instance, cybersecurity is not a sexy topic journalists or their readers will likely care about. There’s also not a high degree of literacy about the topic among the general population. 

But everyone cares about whether their bank is secure and how safe their money is. 

This concept needs no explanation and that’s exactly why data that helps answer the question “how safe is your bank?” worked exceptionally well as a link building tactic in the example above. 

You can also use Content Explorer to gather more ideas like: 

  • Evergreen yet stale topics that you can update with more recent data 
  • Data you can visualize better or repurpose into a different content format 
  • Trending angles in other industries you can apply to your industry 

For example, on the topic of ChatGPT, we found Rand Fishkin’s post claiming usage has declined 29% between May and August 2023 and that 30% of its usage is by programmers. 

Finding content ideas in Content ExplorerFinding content ideas in Content Explorer

You don’t need original ideas to succeed. If you’ve got the data to back it up, you can easily take the angles of a “useage patterns” or “most popular audience segments” and apply them to popular tools in your industry. 

Some decent data sources you can start with include: 

  • Search data: Like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer for uncovering interesting search patterns. 
  • Historical data: Like Google Trends for highlighting growth or decline patterns over time. 
  • Scientific research: Like on Google Scholar or in specific research journals. 
  • Public niche data: For instance, Yard’s study used the CelebrityJets Twitter page. 
  • Proprietary data: From within your (or your client’s) organization. 

When you find an interesting insight or pattern worth sharing, write a press release about it and share it with journalists who frequently report on the topic. 

Statistics pages are curated lists of facts and figures in a particular industry. These pages attract evergreen links for as long as the statistics remain relevant. 

It’s one of our favorite link building tactics. Here’s how we’ve used it quite successfully over the years. 

Example

We first launched a detailed list of SEO statistics in 2020 and it has been naturally earning high-quality links ever since. 

Backlinks over time to our SEO statistics pageBacklinks over time to our SEO statistics page

Currently, the page has: 

  • 5,787 backlinks
  • 2,282 referring domains 
  • 82% “dofollow” links 
  • 37.7% from DR 60+ websites

While we used some outreach techniques in the early days, most of the success has come from the page’s ability to maintain top position rankings for competitive keywords.

Rankings for our SEO statistics pageRankings for our SEO statistics page

Do it right, and this tactic remains wildly effective for earning links naturally for many years. 

How to do it 

Start by entering a few broad topics related to your website into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer. For example, we might enter the following for Ahrefs: 

  • SEO
  • Content marketing
  • Link building

Then navigate to the Matching Terms report and apply the inclusion filter for things like stats, statistics, facts, or figures. Make sure your filter is set to include any of these phrases. 

Then it’s just a matter of checking out the results to find a relevant topic you want to write about. 

We went for “SEO statistics”: 

Finding statistics keywords in Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerFinding statistics keywords in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Once you pick your topic, it’s a just matter of curating linkworthy stats and publishing them on a page. 

While you can earn some seed links with early outreach efforts, long term success comes down to keeping your content updated with the latest data. That’s the best way to compound performance year on year, earning many high-quality links with no ongoing outreach needed. 

Relationship-based link building prioritizes long-term relationships with journalists, writers, and editors. 

It is an effective addition to digital PR campaigns as you can shortcut the time it takes to find the right people to distribute your content. 

Better yet, you can be a journalist’s first point of call when they write a story on topics you or your clients are experts in. 

Example

Imagine having journalists contact you asking to feature your clients in upcoming stories. That’s exactly what growth marketing firm, EngineRoom, has achieved.

A journalist from Mamamia (DR 78) made a call out on Sourcebottle, the Australian equivalent of HARO, seeking expert advice on immigration law. EngineRoom’s link building expert, Don Milne, responded and won the story along with a high-quality link. 

Example of a backlink built with relationship-based link buildingExample of a backlink built with relationship-based link building

Then, the real magic started. 

Instead of ending things there, Don also shared a client list with the journalist in case they ever wanted to collaborate on future stories again. 

Sure enough, a few weeks later, the journalist reached out, asking to connect with another client in the drug rehab space to develop a story on heroin addiction. The client is featured in about 30% of the completed article with detailed quotes from the founder and (of course) a link back to their website. 

Example of a backlink built with relationship-based link buildingExample of a backlink built with relationship-based link building

No pitching. No outreach. Just a genuine partnership and collaboration now earning multiple high-quality links for their clients. 

How to do it 

This technique is all about the follow-up after you collaborate on your first story with a journalist. 

If getting the first foot in the door is where you’re stuck, you can check out our detailed guide on relationship-based link building by Irina Maltseva, the former Head of Marketing at Hunter. 

Once you get that first story, make sure you keep the relationship going. 

If you have a list of websites or clients you represent, create a professional document with a mini bio about each client. Make sure it’s also easily searchable for writers in a hurry and makes your contact details clear and easy to access. 

Then, share it with journalists, writers, and editors you collaborate with so they can refer to it in the future if they need an expert on a specific topic for their content. 

Final thoughts

Earning high-quality backlinks can be much easier than many people realize and cheaper too! All the examples shared in this post earned free link placements on high-authority websites and with minimal outreach. 

These techniques have more staying power. They are also far less likely to be seen as “link manipulation” or devalued in future Google updates. 

And, if you get your content angle just right, they also have the potential to be earning links many months, if not years, down the track! 

Got questions? Ping me on LinkedIn.

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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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