Evolution of the Keyword – Is it Time to Consider Alternative Solutions?

Keyword research, strategies and buildouts have always, and continue to be a core ingredient in the discipline of search marketing. But given the dynamic nature of the Google search engine, in addition to the multitude of ad formats we work with today, our understanding of keywords and the overall value they bring to our programs should also perhaps evolve.

What kinds of programs am I talking about? For the typical modern-day search engine marketer, the landscape now comprises non-brand, brand, product listing ads (PLAs), dynamic search ads (DSAs) and remarketing for search ads (RLSAs), among other opportunities across search. The expansion into these different programs has had definite implications on budget distribution, as brands dig deeper to deliver on more relevant, intent-based marketing strategies, all while effectively leveraging the mobile environment. Despite the evolution, over-emphasis is still being placed on the Non Brand keyword program, which has been replaced in a lot of cases by the success stories of PLAs and DSAs. While they may still hold a significant level of value for upper funnel strategies, last click conversion needs are now being serviced by other areas outside of the familiar keyword text ads.

Changing Processes

A few years back, prior to the proliferation of PLA programs, non-brand keywords held a fairly healthy proportion of the overall paid search budget. Keywords were really the bread and butter of our approach, but the buildout process was manual and monotonous, and the management even more challenging. Nonetheless, it gave a ‘human’ touch to keywords, meaning that marketers were taking the time to manually comb through pages and content on their websites to best predict the most intuitive and relevant words searchers might use. It also allowed marketers to build a concrete understanding of the site and products.

Fast forward to 2015, and the times of anticipating search behavior, and spending hours creating exhaustive keyword lists that incorporate match types, plurals and gender modifiers isn’t as crucial these days, as the many more “acronym” options have proven to generate stronger ROI, and are smarter and easier to manage. If you’re still convinced about grasping onto the old processes of non-brand keyword buildout, take a look at this pie chart with data from a sample account, provided by WordStream:Keywords Blog

The visual is staggering, to say the least. With that many keywords resulting in no impressions, let alone orders or assist conversions, it’s no wonder that strategies and budgets are shifting. It’s also been proven that dormant keywords can actually hurt the account in a number of other ways. With budget spread across underperforming areas, it creates an unmanageable environment and ultimately brings account quality score down.

Better Opportunities

At the 2015 SXM Advanced Conference, VP of Google Product Management, Jerry Dischler, explained, “Selecting 250 million keywords can be painfully time-consuming…There’s a huge advantage to structure-based data rather than keywords.” Dischler of course alludes to shopping ads (PLAs), where marketers can upload a merchant feeds instead of relying on a list of thousands of keywords. With the development of DSAs, or dynamic search ads, the cumbersome task of managing keywords is erased completely from the equation – unlike typical search ads, DSAs are triggered based off your site content through organic crawling by Google. And more recently, Google took more control out of the existing keyword process by removing certain match type restrictions, like misspellings, accents, singular/plural forms, acronyms and abbreviations.

Keywords Meme

Is There a Future for Keywords?

Google itself has demonstrated drastic changes in the way it sees keywords, and the role of the keyword in its overall vision for the search landscape. Search today is no longer about predicting the one word or phrase someone might type into a box; rather it’s much more about following the natural path of a conversation. Is the keyword entirely doomed? Only time (and Google) will tell, but to create the hyper-relevant, seamless experiences for customers that ultimately turn stronger ROI, it may be time for us to reconsider what other strategies are out there.

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