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Search Query Conversion Analysis

One of the most useful ways of optimising Pay Per Click (PPC) activity is through search query conversion analysis. You really cannot be more accurate than to establish which keywords are driving profitable conversions on your site.

Yahoo and Bing (Microsoft Adcenter) only offer Keyword Performance reports, so you cannot be quite as precise with these engines at present, but if you apply the same principles of analysis to keyword performance you will still be able to refine your campaign for better performance and return on investment.

But yes, you guessed it, Google is way ahead on this and has made the process of search query conversion analysis remarkably simple; it has its own Search Query report, and even allows you to see this data on the fly within the Adwords interface.

In writing this article I am making an assumption that you have previously implemented conversion tracking successfully and accurately, and have mature data from which to make this analysis.

NB. Just so we are absolutely straight on what we are talking about, below is a quick glossary of the terminology that comes into play for this reporting:

The word or phrase that you are bidding on in your account
e.g. flights to france

Long Tail Keyword
Describes longer, very specific keywords
e.g. cheap flights to france from stansted

Search Query
The keyword phrase a user actually types into the search engine, which your ads get matched to, if you are using phrase or broad matching.
e.g. the keyword you are bidding on is flights to france

the user types in cheap flights to france from stansted, and your advert is delivered for this search because it is set to broad match.

Setting up a Search Query Report in Adwords

For those who haven’t discovered this report yet, log in to your Google Adwords account, select the green ‘Reporting’ tab and on the drop down select ‘Reports’. Select ‘Create a new report »’ and ‘Search Query Performance’ is listed as one of the report types.

If you don’t want to blind yourself with a haze of numbers on your first time looking at this report, make it easy on yourself by applying the following attributes to the report you are creating. The default settings for Level of Detail and View (Unit of Time) are fine to leave as is, for date range you want to see a decent amount of data, so why not look at ‘Last Month’. If you have many campaigns, just look at one to start with (select ‘Manually select from a list’ under the Campaigns and Ad Groups option and pick one of your campaigns to look at).

Under the Advanced Settings (Optional) area, click on the Add or Remove Columns; very often you don’t need all these pieces of data to optimise your campaign, all you need to look at are the key performance indicators (KPI’s… a lot of people in marketing love this acronym).

I quite like to look at keyword conversion reports with enough data as will be meaningful, but not all, as I can’t stand seeing twenty columns of data swimming before my eyes…so how about this to start you off…

Leave these attributes ticked:

Ad Group
Ad Id (this one isn’t optional for some reason, so you have no choice here)
Search Query
Search Query Match Type
Conv. Rate (1-per-click)
Cost/Conv. (1-per-click)

Click ‘Save and Run Report’ to generate the data, and for the purposes of slicing and dicing it, exporting into Excel is always favourite with me.

Analysing the data

Once you have the report in excel, it will make it easier if you take out the automated title that Google includes, and the totals at the bottom. You are now ready to sort to sort the data.

Segregate Brand Terms

If you are making use of brand terms (literally…keywords which have your brand name in them) it is a wise idea to analyse these separately, as they will inevitably produce a greater rate of return and can skew results making overall performance look as if it is far better than it really is.

Remember, if you are bidding on any terms which you appear for high up in the natural search listings, you may want to remove or reduce spend on these terms as it is possible you are paying for clicks that you could be getting for free. This is true of non brand terms as well.

Identify Wasted Clicks

Sort the data by cost per conversion, and sub-total figures and averages for the converting and non converting search query terms. This will very quickly show you what percentage of your budget is being spent on wasted clicks.

For all search queries that have not generated conversions, sort the data and establish which ones are costing the most. Keywords that are costing a lot of money without generating conversions can be manipulated for better performance (reduce bid price, change match type, change landing page, create new adverts more specific to the term, etc) or can be removed from the account.

Keywords which are generating conversions, but whose cost per conversion is too high can be also be optimised – using the same tools and techniques mentioned above – to see if effective conversions can be achieved at a lower cost.

Be aware that sometimes you may find that you end up steering away from terms that seem highly relevant, don’t be precious over this process, ‘the numbers don’t lie’ as they say.

Find Negative Keywords

Search query analysis will also highlight traffic you are receiving off the back of keywords set to broad or phrase match, which are not relevant to your business. If you find phrases that describe something you do not offer, start building a list of negative terms to add into your account. Bear in mind that this does not mean taking the entire phrase and adding it as a negative keyword, it means taking the individual work in the phrase that denotes its irrelevance on its own, and adding it e.g.

Scenario – You sell fine quality pine bedroom cabinets and your search query list looks like this:

white bedroom cabinet¹
bedroom wall cabinet
bedroom storage cabinet
cheap bedroom cabinets²
oak bedroom cabinet³

cabinet for bedroom
bedroom wall cabinets
bedroom cabinets uk
bedroom side cabinets
cabinets for bedroom

The phrases in bold are not relevant to your site because 1) you don’t sell painted furniture 2) your products are not cheap and 3) your products are only pine, not oak. If you add each of the entire phrases as your negative you will only block traffic for phrases they relate to. However, if you add the words white, cheap and oak as individual negative keywords on broad match you can eradicate any searches that include those words.

Find New Keywords

Search query data can also help you identify new keywords which are generating sales, again through searches that you are not at present specifically bidding on, but that are being generated as the result of long tail searches against broad match/phrase match terms. By adding these into the account you can start being more efficient in targeting precisely the right phrases that will get you great return on investment.

Optimise carefully, and across smaller selections of terms at a time until you get used to the process and it becomes more intuitive. Also, make sure you do not make significant en-masse changes as it will not make it easy to track the success of your work, you may detrimentally impact the performance of the campaign as a whole by doing too much at once.

NB. If your advertising also drives significant offline conversions (e.g. telephone calls) you will have to be mindful of this with your optimisation. You may find that whilst keyword conversion analysis improves online results, the number of phone calls you receive drops. At present telephone call tracking has not reached keyword level, so your changes will have to be influenced by a qualitative assessment of the calls coming through.

You will never be able to eradicate all wasted traffic from your account, because there will always be fluctuations in the account, and over different time periods, which cause performance to change, but you should find that you can radically reduce wastage by making a few simple changes.


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