Keyword Phrase Value: Click-Throughs vs. Conversions

We talk all the time about keywords. When the search engine marketing industry talks about keywords, you'll frequently hear the terms "head," "torso," and "tail" to describe the amount of volume that each of the keywords receive.

Head terms are the high volume, more generic and competitive terms. Tail terms are just the opposite.

I've recently had a lot of internal and external conversations around the value of the keyword spectrum. We're asking ourselves:

  • Has Google Instant killed the long tail?

  • Do head terms provide brand awareness, and feed tail traffic?

  • At what point are you done building keywords, and exhaust the long tail?

In order to answer some of these questions I dove into some keyword level data for our clients, and found some interesting stuff.

CTR by Keyword Phrase

Most would broadly define what is a head or tail term by the number of words contained within the keyword phrase. The general thought is you should see a higher CTR when there are more keywords in the phrase because it's more descriptive.

I took data from two different clients (both one name companies), and plotted out the CTR by word count per keyword phrase. In the first example I included both branded and unbranded terms, and in the second example included only branded terms.

CTR by Keyword Phrase Non-brand

In both examples, the CTR peaks with two-word keywords (e.g., "tablet computer"), and trails off as the number of keywords in the search phrase grow.

This was eye opening. If users provide a deeper level of information in the search query, you'd think they'd be more likely to find what they wanted. In these instances, I suspect organic listings, due to their ability to bold more keywords in the search query, are picking up a majority of the clicks.

The search experiences for these longer tail keywords isn't up to par like it is for head terms. Do a search for almost any two-word phrase, and then add two more descriptive terms.

CTR by Keyword Phrase - Brand and Non-brand

Notice how the ad copy isn't as tightly knit? Some of this is due to paid search ad copy limitations, but most of it is probably due to broad matches showing for these terms. That will most certainly impact your CTR.

Conversion Rate

So if the CTR doesn't improve, and the search experience is worse, what's the value of the tail terms? It's in the conversion rate.

Those consumers who are typing longer phrases have a better understanding of the products or services they're looking for. This leads to a better conversion rate.

Indexed Conversion Rate by Word Count

The data shows that keywords with three or greater words in them convert at least two times better. It's also consistently better with additional keywords being added into the phrase. This means a better ROI for your program.

The overall story proves that even with a worse search experience, and less targeted ads, the consumer mindset is so much closer to conversion that long tail terms are worth the effort.

Just imagine if you had the time to actually optimize them, and create custom landing pages for these variations? It would allow for even better performance. Something to consider the next time you have 15 minutes to spend on cultivating your search programs.

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