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How to Make Money With SEO

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How to Make Money With SEO

SEO isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme—it often takes years of hard work to make a living from it. The great thing, though, is its versatility. There are many ways to monetize SEO skills, which all suit different people.

Want to know some of the best ways to monetize your SEO skills?

Let me show you how.

1. Selling productized SEO services

Selling productized SEO services or, in other words, creating standardized versions of services sold as products is a great way to make money with SEO. 

The advantage of this method over providing full-service SEO is that it is faster to deliver, which means you’ll generally get paid more regularly.

Productized SEO services can include but are not limited to:

  • SEO audits
  • Keyword research
  • Link building

So who is making money doing this?

Glen Allsopp has blogged extensively about how he made six figures from providing SEO audits, which shows how lucrative this particular method can be. 

Gaps' Glen Allsopp making six figures with video audits

Another advantage of productized SEO services is that they can be sold on freelancer websites, where buyers search for specific SEO tasks rather than a fully managed SEO service. 

Here’s an example of a productized service for Google My Business I found on a popular freelancing site.

Productized service GMB example via People Per Hour

As we can see from the description below, everyone gets the same format of audit, which means it should be relatively easy to scale.

Same audit for everyone; productized service details via People Per Hour

So what are the most popular forms of productized SEO services you can sell? 

SEO audits

It might not look like much, but this seller below has 1,000+ sales and charges £125 (~$155) per audit. This means that he has sold ~$155,000 worth of SEO audits. 

Detailed SEO audit example, via People Per hour

SEOs have different methods for completing audits, but if you want to start providing them as a productized service, you should check out our SEO audit post first. 

In that post, you can see that the core elements of an SEO audit have been broken down into different checks, which you can use as a basis for your audit.

They are:

  • Check for manual actions
  • Check organic traffic
  • Check for HTTPS-related issues
  • Check that you can only browse one version of your website
  • Check for indexability issues
  • Check for mobile-friendliness
  • Check page speed
  • Check Core Web Vitals
  • Check for broken pages
  • Check for sitemap issues
  • Check basic on-page elements
  • Check for declining content
  • Check for content gaps
  • Check for other technical issues

You may want to add further checks yourself, but this gives you a framework to start providing SEO audits as a productized service and start making money.

Keyword research

Another productized SEO service you can sell is keyword research. The basic process for creating a keyword research document is simple: You research the relevant metrics for a given keyword and then report them back to the client.

There is no shortage of SEOs on freelance sites who have made decent money by providing keyword research as a productized service.

We can see from the example below that if we multiply the sales by the product cost, the seller has made ~£12,000 from selling keyword research in this particular gig.

Keyword research productized service, via People Per Hour

To start making money with keyword research as a productized service, you must focus on what website owners want. 

They will most likely want to know the best keywords to target. You can provide this to them by identifying low-competition keywords.

Using Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, you can easily find 20 low-competition keywords and charge $XX for this.

Recommendation

If you want to brush up on your keyword research skills, start by watching our Sam Oh’s video:

Let’s look at how we can identify low-competition keywords related to “macbook air.”

First, go to Keywords Explorer and plug in the keyword “macbook air.” The overview will show the keyword’s difficulty, search volume, traffic potential, global volume, and even popular questions around the topic.

Overview for the keyword "macbook air," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

This information can help clients determine whether or not to target a particular keyword as part of their overall SEO strategy.

To identify low-competition keywords in this topic, we need to click on the Matching terms report and filter by KD from 0 to 25. 

Matching terms report for "macbook air," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Once we have done this, we can see that the demand for used MacBook Air models is high—this alone may be an interesting insight you can share with your client.

Now we have a list of the lowest competition keywords to target for this keyword. To download this report, click the Export button in the top right-hand corner. Then review and format the data in your template before sending it to your client.

Link building

Links are still considered one of the most important Google ranking factors. If you can help acquire them for a client’s website through outreach or by creating content that attracts links naturally, this can be a valuable skill.

Returning to our freelance site, some charge £750 (~$927) for five DR 40 guest blogs via blogger outreach.

Guest post example, via People Per Hour

If we multiply the product price by the sales, we can see that this person has had 67 sales, meaning they have made ~$62,000.

When it comes to link building, it is not the most straightforward service to productize, but you can take the following approach: 

  • Create a service along the lines of: “I will land 10 guest post placements for $1,000 for your website.” 
  • Assuming you get a ~20% hit rate, it will mean that you will have to find and pitch 50 sites for this to work—quite achievable.

If you want to know the exact process of how to build links, the best way to do this is to check out our updated link building guide.

Sidenote.

You must know at least the SEO basics before attempting to sell productized SEO services. If you are knowledgeable about SEO and provide genuine value to your customers, you will stand a better chance of growing your business.

If you enjoy writing, creating content for websites may be one of the fastest ways to make money. There has always been a constant demand for high-quality content writers in SEO, and that trend looks set to continue based on the search volume trend below for the phrase “content creator.”

Keyword overview of "content creator," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Out of all of the methods here, this one has the lowest barrier to entry. So long as you are a reasonably good writer, you can make six figures writing content.

Six figures may sound like a lot, but it is achievable. For example, Elise Dopson, a freelance content creator, managed to build a six-figure writing business from scratch, all by the age of 21.

So how can you find a content writing job and start making money?

To find content work, you have several different options: 

You can search popular freelance sites, join a content agency, or even just check out popular Reddit threads such as /r/hireawriter, /r/forhire, and /r/freelance—where you can share your content writing services.

Recommendation

Always read the subreddit rules before sharing your content services. Otherwise, the mods may delete your post if you fall foul of the rules. For example, in /r/hireawriter, they have the following rules.

To show you how easy it can be, I set up a basic advert on a popular freelance site to “write an engaging 500-word article on any topic.” I didn’t include any information about qualifications or include a portfolio of my work.

Content writing service, via People Per Hour

After 177 views of my advert, I got an offer of work:

Offer of work for writing content, via People Per Hour

And then another…

Offer of work for writing content, via People Per Hour

Hopefully, this shows how straightforward it can be to start making money by writing content.

If you are new to SEO, you may wonder what a “niche site” is. This phrase is SEO jargon for “a blog about a particular topic.” 

Here are two examples of niche sites that focus on a particular topic:

So how do you make money with a niche site?

The first thing is to build traffic to your site. Once you have some traffic, you can start to monetize it. One of the easiest ways to do this is using Amazon Associates, but it’s worth noting that the commissions have been fairly low in recent years.

The amount of money that you make with a niche site can vary from month to month. But it is clear that if you stick to it, the income can be significant in the long term.

Here are two examples from Flippa of sites making decent money from their respective niches.

Example of data on niche sites, via Flippa

Let’s take a look at a few niche site examples in more depth:

1. Coffee Detective

Coffee Detective screenshot, via coffeedetective.com
  • The website offers common-sense tips, guides, and reviews to help you make coffee at home.
  • If you can’t live without coffee, then you may find this an easy topic to write about.
  • In terms of monetization, Coffee Detective is monetized by Mediavine and Amazon Associates.

Let’s use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to get an idea of how much organic traffic it is getting and the value of that traffic.

Overview for coffeedetective.com, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
  • In the overview, coffeedetective.com is getting an estimated 17,700 organic monthly traffic and has an organic monthly traffic value of ~$11,100. 

If we go to the Top pages report, we can see that ~18% of the traffic comes from just two articles. 

Top pages report for coffeedetective.com, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Using Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar, we can see that the top page has fewer than 1,000 words of content—showing that you don’t always need thousands of words of content to rank well on Google and get traffic.

Word count for coffeedetective.com page, via Ahrefs' SEO Toolbar

Let’s take a look at another example.

2. Get Busy Gardening

Get Busy Gardening screenshot, via getbusygardening.com
  • This site has a variety of posts on a wide range of topics related to gardening, such as growing food, garden care, and gardening techniques.
  • If you know a bit about gardening, this can be an excellent topic to write about.
  • In terms of monetization, Get Busy Gardening is monetized with Mediavine and Amazon Associates.

In Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, let’s take a closer look at the estimated organic traffic and its value.

Overview for getbusygardening.com, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
  • We can see that getbusygardening.com is getting ~438,000 organic monthly traffic and has a value of ~$105,000.

Let’s go to the Top pages report. We can see that 5.1% of the site’s traffic comes from a single article.

Top pages report for getbusygardening.com, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

These examples show that even a simple idea, such as making coffee at home or gardening tips, can provide a life-changing income. 

However, if we look closer at both sites, they started being active around 2016. So it has taken them at least six years to build up to these organic traffic levels. 

So while creating a niche site can be financially rewarding in the long term, it’s not the quickest way to make money with SEO.

4. Create an e-commerce or dropshipping site

Both e-commerce and dropshipping are well known for their six-figure case studies. A quick browse of Flippa shows us that many sites are changing hands for six figures or more.

List of sites already sold for six figures, via Flippa

Here’s an example of an e-commerce website, Code and Quill. According to Flippa, it has a monthly profit of $2,576/mo.

Code and Quill's profile on Flippa

Here’s another example of a dropshipping site, Barbell Standard, which according to Flippa, has a monthly profit of $20,496/mo. This site is only two years old.

Barbell Standard's profile on Flippa

If you want to make money with e-commerce or dropshipping, you will first need to identify at least one product you can be reasonably sure will sell online. 

In my opinion, the simplest way to do this is to:

  • Find a site selling products in the category you are interested in.
  • Plug it into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.
  • Check the Top pages report.

Check out the example below of me doing this.

Top pages report for thetoyshop.com, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Once I plugged a website into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, the keyword “fidget toys” caught my attention.

Let’s click on “fidget toys” and go to the overview to take a closer look at this keyword.

Overview for "fidget toys," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

A quick five-second check shows that this sharp peak occurred in April 2017 and again in May 2021. It’s clear from the trend graph that this is not a great product to create a store around at the moment. 

Recommendation

It’s vital to sense-check your keywords because, sometimes, your perception of a keyword’s popularity may differ from the data.

In a different example, let’s say you wanted to set up an e-commerce site selling popular variations of hoodies. You can easily find all the variations of the most searched for hoodies using Ahrefs.

To do this, enter “hoodies” in the search bar of Keywords Explorer and click on the Matching terms report in the sidebar. 

We can now see the most popular hoodie variations, allowing us to position our e-commerce store effectively.

Matching terms report for "hoodies," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

The keyword “anime hoodies” sounds interesting—let’s take a closer look at this keyword by clicking on the link. 

Overview for "anime hoodies," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Once you have clicked the keyword, you should see the overview screen again. We can see that this keyword’s trend varies quite a lot, but it has been relatively positive over the last few years.

If you want to maximize your profits in e-commerce and dropshipping, you will need to consider the current trend of the product, its Keyword Difficulty, and Traffic Potential.

So what exactly is “website flipping?”

In simple terms, website flipping is the process of buying a website, improving it, and selling it for more money. 

Website flipping can be particularly lucrative if you have a few years of experience working in SEO already.

For example, here’s a case study where a website was flipped for $136,000 in just 16 months. 

Website flipping case study, via Empire Flippers

Here are some key points to remember when flipping websites for money:

  • When purchasing a website, you want to look for one with good links but where the content can be improved. You can use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to help you decide on this.
  • According to Flippa, returns for flipping websites can be more than 50X its average monthly earnings. In other words, if a website has average earnings over the last 12 months of $1,000 per month, it can be worth ~$50,000.
  • Once you have a rough idea of how much the site is worth, you will need to choose a broker. Empire Flippers provides such a service and is one of the most trusted platforms where you can buy and sell websites.

Website flipping can be lucrative, but you must understand what to look for when purchasing a website. It also helps to have at least a basic knowledge of SEO

Once you have gained several years of experience in SEO, you may feel that your skills are better used to help others learn the skills you have acquired. 

Authority Hacker did just that to build a six-figure business. 

Premium SEO training landing page, via Authority Hacker

You can do this as well by creating high-quality SEO courses for in-person or online coaching. You can sell these courses and training materials through your website, Gumroad, Udemy, Teachable, or any other platform.

To get set up selling your course, you will first need to decide what format it will be in. 

Here are a few examples of ways you can sell your course in different formats:

  • Provide free video lessons on YouTube and monetize with ads
  • Provide premium video lessons on a paid platform (Udemy, Teachable)
  • Create templates or instructions for specific tasks and sell on Gumroad, e.g., site speed optimization for WordPress
  • Set up an expert online community and charge a monthly subscription fee
  • Create a documented course and provide one-to-one training in person or remotely

If you have a background in teaching, this method could be an excellent way for you to make money.

It may not be the most exciting method to make money with SEO, but providing SEO consulting services is one of the most tried and tested approaches for making money—it’s how many SEOs make their living.

It’s challenging to verify the amount SEOs are making from consultation, but our survey suggests over 25% of respondents charged ~$101–150 per hour, with some charging ~$750 per hour. 

How much do SEOs charge per hour

If you want to get started with SEO consulting, check out our how to get a job in SEO post. It will give you a good overview of what to expect when looking for SEO jobs and following a more traditional SEO career path. If you are determined, you can get to a senior role in just a few years. 

Final thoughts 

SEO can be extremely lucrative—but it does take time, effort, and a bucketload of determination to make the big bucks.

It’s worth remembering that the people making the most money in SEO are not always the most well-versed technical SEOs. Crucially, however, they know how to leverage their skills to make money. 

Maybe you can too? 

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter.



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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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