Search query mining in 5 steps

Although the terms are more or less interchangeable, there is a difference between a keyword and a search query. In PPC, a keyword is a term you're already bidding on, whereas a search query is the actual string of words that a Google user types into the search box in order to trigger your ad. By keeping an eye on the real search queries that lead to impressions and clicks, you can expand and improve your keyword research as well as more cost-effectively execute your AdWords campaigns.

In this article, we'll walk through a five-step process for analyzing the data in your PPC search query reports to make further search marketing gains.

Step 1: Use broad match to find new search queries
If you're bidding on broad match keywords, it's key to monitor your search queries to learn what your ads are matching against. If you skip this step, you're probably wasting a lot of money on terms that aren't relevant to your business. You could also be missing out on long-tail keyword opportunities and emerging trends in your market.

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If you're not using any broad match keywords, you're also leaving opportunities on the table. The phrase match and exact match options give advertisers more control, but the broad match option allows you to find new queries that are relevant to your offerings. Using broad match and monitoring your search queries helps you accomplish two goals:

  1. Keyword expansion: Find new, high-intent keywords to bid on in your campaigns.
  2. Negative keyword discovery: Filter out traffic from undesirable sources to save money on clicks.

The next steps will demonstrate how you can carry out these two tasks:

Step 2: Pull the necessary reports in AdWords
Once you're racking up search queries through broad match, the next step is to pull some reports so you can analyze the data. These are some of the questions you'll want to be able to answer about search query performance:

  • Which search queries have high impressions but no clicks?
  • Which search queries have resulted in a conversion?
  • Which search queries have a below average click-through rate?
  • Which search queries have an above average cost per conversion?
  • Which search queries are duplicates of existing exact match keywords?

To start getting some answers, you'll need to pull the following three reports:

  1. A 90-day search query report (you can pull this through AdWords or the MMC reporting center)
  2. An ad group report that should cover the same time period and campaigns as the search query report
  3. A keyword account structure report that allows you to copy your exact match keywords from AdWords into Excel

Gather these three reports into an Excel workbook, with one worksheet for each report.

Step 3: Format your data in Excel
Next you'll need to format your data in a table with columns for:

  • Word count
  • Search query peer CTR
  • Search query peer conversion rate
  • Search query peer cost per conversion 
  • Needed impressions 
  • Needed clicks
  • Enough impressions
  • Enough clicks 
  • Low CTR 
  • Low conversion rate 
  • High cost per conversion

You'll also need to flag duplicate queries. For more details on formatting your data, click here.

Step 4: Analyze your data for insights
Now you can begin to look for potential new keywords to target as well as negative keyword candidates. In terms of keyword expansion, you'll want to find the search queries that are performing well -- meaning they are driving either conversions or a significant number of clicks -- such that it would be worth paying more attention to them (creating targeted ads, adjusting your bids, etc.).

For negative keyword candidates, you'll want to look for search queries that have:

  • A below average CTR for their ad group
  • A below average conversion rate for their ad group
  • An above average cost per conversion

You can find these data sets using filters (click here to learn more about filtering the data in Excel).

Step 5: Act on your data
Finally, to start seeing results, you'll need to act on your new insights by incorporating them into your AdWords campaigns.

For your keyword expansion activities, you might want to group your new keywords before adding them to AdWords, making use of a grouping tool like WordStream's free keyword grouper. You can then create these as new ad groups or map them into existing ad groups in your campaigns.

Your negatives can be added directly into AdWords, though you may want to adjust settings for individual negative keywords.

Once you have your spreadsheets set up, you can repeat this process on a regular basis, continuing to grow your campaigns and weed out underperformers.

Elisa Gabbert is the content development manager at WordStream Inc.

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