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A Blueprint From Beginner To Advanced

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A Blueprint From Beginner To Advanced

There isn’t a standard way to learn search engine optimization (SEO). Ask anyone working here at SEJ how they started in SEO, and you’ll get lots of different stories.

It can be frustrating because if your business has any online presence at all, you need to know at least some SEO.

Maybe you’ve just launched that amazing new website and want Google to rank you on the first page.

Or maybe your existing website isn’t getting the traffic you want. Or you just want to start a new, in-demand career.

Whatever the reason you want to learn SEO, you’re in the right spot.

Right now, some of you are probably a little bit intimidated. All this talk of search algorithms and keyword research and reciprocal links sounds complicated.

Relax, despite all the technical jargon, SEO isn’t that hard to learn, even for a complete beginner. You just have to be willing to put in the time and effort.

This article will give you a step-by-step blueprint you can follow to build your SEO skills from scratch or enhance your existing knowledge.

And while we can’t promise you a top ranking in Google, we promise that if you do the work, you’ll see results.

Your Guide To Learning SEO

Before we dive into the first step on your path to becoming an SEO Jedi, let’s take a quick look at what exactly we mean by search engine optimization.

According to Google’s developer’s guide:

“Search engine optimization is the process of making your site better for search engines.”

In other words, it’s figuring out exactly what changes you need to make to your website to make it more relevant to search queries.

The elements of SEO fall under two main categories: on-page and off-page.

As you might expect, on-page SEO elements are the parts that are on your website. These include:

  • Crawlability and indexability, i.e., how easy it is for search engines to find and map your content.
  • Content quality and keyword usage.
  • Usability factors such as loading time and responsiveness, known as Core Web Vitals.
  • Mobile responsiveness.
  • E-A-T: expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.
  • Images.
  • Tags.

Off-page SEO elements, on the other hand, are the ranking factors that come from outside your domain. This primarily focuses on link building and getting other high-quality websites to link to your content.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive into the step-by-step process of mastering SEO.

Step 1: Master The Basics

One of the best things about Google is its extensive amount of available information. While they won’t give away the secret sauce of what exactly drives its algorithm, the search engine giant is surprisingly forthcoming about what does and doesn’t get factored into rankings.

And even better, they’ve provided an extremely helpful SEO starter guide for people just starting in the field. This is a high-level view of how search engine optimization works, including definitions of common terms and the basics of getting ranked.

If you’re starting your SEO education completely from scratch, this is the perfect place to start.

It will tell you how to get your site on Google, the best ways to control crawling so the search engine can find your content, and indexability, which will help it understand what your content is about – and what sort of queries it will be a good fit for.

Every year at SEJ, we produce multiple ebooks on various SEO and digital marketing topics. One such ebook is our SEO For Beginners Guide, a comprehensive starter guide and how-to for many common SEO tasks.

Step 2: Dive Deeper Into The Technical Side

Once you feel confident that you have the fundamentals of SEO down, it’s time to move on to more technical concepts.

Once again, Google has provided several excellent resources for your educational purposes.

One good spot to further your education is the webmaster guidelines for maintaining your site’s SEO. It can help get you started with intermediate to advanced techniques for boosting your ranking or dealing with other SEO issues.

This includes information on how to deal with duplicate content and canonical pages, using robots.txt files to tell Google which pages to crawl and index, building and submitting sitemaps, and other ways you can help Google better understand your site.

Depending on what type of content you have on your site, you may need to use different strategies to maximize its exposure.

For example, videos are a popular form of content requiring extra SEO work to ensure they rank as highly as possible.

If you’re using anything outside of plain text (and you should be – no one wants to scroll through a wall of text), make sure you check Google’s content-specific guidelines.

Step 3: Create An SEO Process

By this point, you hopefully have a reasonably good understanding of what SEO is and how it works.

And now, it’s time to put that education into practice by developing and implementing your very own SEO process.

If you’re working on an existing site, the very first thing you need to do is perform an SEO audit. This is a fairly extensive undertaking, but once again, Search Engine Journal to the rescue!

We’ve created an ebook that will walk you through the entire process of evaluating your current SEO efforts using a helpful checklist.

After you’ve understood where you stand now, it’s time to build a strategy. If only there were another helpful ebook you could use to guide you through that process – oh wait, we have one.

This is a step-by-step guide (plus a template) to building your year-long SEO strategy, with month-by-month guidance to help you measure results and improve your rankings.

And regarding monitoring performance, Google Search Console gives you a ton of analytics and information you can use to improve site traffic. It would greatly behoove you to become familiar with this tool.

Step 4: Optimize Your Content

It is impossible to overstate how important your website’s content is. Content is what drives people to your site, encourages them to take action, and is the entire reason for your site to exist in the first place.

So, after you’ve done the backend, technical and strategic work necessary to boost your ranking, it’s time to focus on your content.

Your content strategy should have been a big part of your overall strategy, as discussed in the last step, but this is where the rubber meets the road.

This is where you’ll create the keyword-rich (but not overstuffed) copy, build a solid structure that’s easy for bots and humans to read, and improve your overall content experience.

For detailed information on how to perform this, watch this webinar.

Step 5: Build Your Backlinks

This has been touched on already, but it warrants its own step.

Your incoming links tell Google a lot about how trustworthy your site is.

For example, if you fall for one of those link farms, pay-per-link scams (which, of course, you never would), Google will probably ignore those links.

On the other hand, if the Chicago Tribune is directing people to your page, Google may well view that endorsement in a good light and consider that link valuable.

But how exactly do you build links? Did you really expect us to ask that question and then not have another great ebook that answers that question in-depth?

Download and read this for everything you need to know about building and maintaining a fruitful link-building campaign.

Step 6: Don’t Forget About Humans

With all the technical parts to search engine optimization, it can be really easy to forget about the primary purpose of your website: to provide value for actual people.

And lest you think Google search is entirely comprised of a variety of computer programs, don’t forget actual humans are verifying the algorithm’s work.

These people are known as Search Quality Raters. They follow an extensive guide to determine how well Google search results meet the needs of the querier and evaluate your pages’ quality.

So, always keep that in the back of your mind – that even with all the title tag and image optimization and responsive design work you’ve put in, at the end of the day, SEO is all about people.

Step 7: Never Stop Learning

Whew, that was a lot. Now you can just sit back and relax, enjoying your new title of sixth-degree SEO black belt, right? Not even a little.

Search engine algorithms are constantly undergoing changes.

Some of these are so small you won’t notice, while others make a big change in the kind of returns queries generate. And this constant state of flux means the last thing you can do is rest on your laurels.

But where do you go from here?

Luckily, there is a vast ocean of SEO resources out there, including this very website, where you’ll find all the news, as well as regular updates and blog posts on a variety of topics related to search engines.

But we’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you about some of the great online courses to help you take your search engine optimization skills to the next level.

For your convenience, we’ve provided a select list here, and you can check out some of them in more detail in this post about SEO certifications.

Free SEO Courses For Beginners

Coursera’s Search Engine Optimization Fundamentals: This 13-hour, 4-module digital course (created by the University of California, Davis) is designed to help you understand how search algorithms affect organic search results. It covers everything from building an effective strategy to analyzing and optimizing your existing website.

Ahrefs’ SEO Training Course: This program, presented by SEO tools software provider Ahrefs, consists of 14 lessons split into four modules, comprising two hours in total length. It will teach you the fundamentals of SEO, including how to perform keyword research, technical SEO, and link building for beginners.

Shopify’s SEO Training for Beginners: The ecommerce platform Shopify offers a 30-minute course designed to help online entrepreneurs get up to speed on the fundamentals of SEO fast. This course will give you a repeatable framework you can apply to help improve your business’s search engine ranking.

Yoast’s SEO for Beginners Training: Another SEO tools provider, Yoast’s beginner’s course in SEO features two hours of instructional videos, PDF files, and quizzes to train you in what you’ve learned.

WP Courses’ Intro to Search Engine Optimization: This free course is designed to teach you how to improve your site for both search engines and human visitors. It covers the basics of SEO, including performing keyword research, creating great content, and optimizing your site for maximum ranking and traffic.

Bruce Clay SEO Training: Bruce Clay is known as the programmer of the first webpage analysis tool. Now, he runs a search marketing company (Bruce Clay, Inc.) that provides a wide range of digital marketing services. This online course will teach you how to improve your website’s ranking with an emphasis on E-A-T. It includes more than 15 hours of instruction across 48 videos.

Next.js’ Introduction to SEO: This text-based course offered by production framework Next.js provides a quick, four-page overview of SEO. It covers search systems and robots and web performance topics, emphasizing using them alongside Next.js.

Hubspot’s SEO Training Course: This short course offers free certification and focuses on the business impacts of SEO. With six lessons built around 22 videos and three quizzes, it uses Hubspot’s blogging strategy as its core example when explaining how SEO works.

Intermediate To Advanced SEO Resources

Got the fundamentals down and are ready to move on to more advanced topics? There are plenty of great resources out there, including:

Semrush Digital Courses: Online visibility and content marketing SaaS provider Semrush has put together one of the best libraries of SEO content available anywhere. These free lessons, which generally run one hour in length, are hosted by various experts and cover nearly every aspect of digital marketing you can think of – including a dozen on search engine optimization.

Ahrefs’ Advanced Link Building Course: This 14-lesson course can be completed in under two hours. It’s designed to equip you with strategies for building links at scale – that go beyond traditional backlinking tactics. It will teach you how to structure and distribute outreach emails, validate campaigns, and manage your link-building team more effectively.

Coursera’s Advanced Search Engine Optimization Strategies: This free 25-hour course focuses on technical, mobile, and social strategies for improving your website’s traffic. It will teach you more advanced SEO skills like improving site architecture, evaluating competitors, and developing global strategies.

LinkedIn Learning: Formerly Lynda.com, the educational portion of the social networking site LinkedIn offers a variety of SEO topics, from beginner to advanced. It offers a free trial but then costs $19.99 per month for unlimited access. LinkedIn Learning has 86 SEO-related videos, many of which specialize in one particular aspect, for example, SEO for ecommerce sites or structuring data for web crawlers.

Advanced Technical SEO: A Complete Guide: You didn’t really think we were going to make this list and not include another of our ebooks, did you? Maybe we’re biased, but this free downloadable ebook will teach you everything you need to know about technical SEO, including finding the best hosting company, structuring your site to be web crawler-friendly, and best practices for pagination, alongside a wealth of other useful information.

Google Analytics Academy: While strictly speaking not an SEO course, if you’re serious about SEO and improving your skills, this certification is well worth earning. This free course will help you better understand the content and digital marketing industry while ensuring you get the most out of the tools the search engine giant makes available.

Stay Up To Date And Get Optimizing

As you can see, there’s quite a lot that goes into search engine optimization. And even experts are learning new things every day.

Hopefully, by this point, you’ve learned a bit about SEO basics and where to learn more about them.

And after you’ve perused some of the linked materials, then it’s time to put your new knowledge into action.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results immediately – remember, search engine optimization is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes, it can take months for your changes to start showing up on search engine results pages (SERPs).

Just remember, this is a constantly shifting environment, and what worked yesterday may not work today. This is partly because of shady SEO specialists who gamed the algorithm through things like keyword stuffing and article spinning (i.e., recreating content with different words).

But the main reason you must stay on top of SEO is Google’s unending quest to provide better, more relevant results.

Currently, this means focusing more on search intent than keywords, but who knows what it will mean tomorrow?

The only way to stay on top is to keep working once you get there. Because if you kick your heels up, it won’t be long before your hard-earned ranking goes away to a harder-working, savvier optimizer.

Don’t ever stop learning, and now get out there and get to the top of search results!

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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.

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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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