Can You Have Too Many PPC Keywords?

As many of you know, I started doing PPC in 2002, right at the beginning of Google Adwords. A couple years into the game, around 2004, the concept of the long tail was all the rage. Articles on Search Engine Land and Search Engine Watch extol the virtues of the long tail.

I agree that PPC accounts should not be filled with 1 and 2 keyword phrases (commonly considered “short tail” terms. However, is it really all that important to find every possible variation of a search phrase and fill your PPC account with them?

In my experience, the answer is no. There really is such a thing as too many keywords.

Case in point: 2 years ago, we inherited a large PPC account from another agency. The account had over 20,000 keywords in it – all set to broad match. Granted, the client has a broad base and a lot of campaigns and ad groups. That said, the number of keywords was virtually un-manageable, and performance was lackluster (thus leading to the agency switch). To get a grip on things, I started digging into account stats.

What I found was this: over 90% of the keywords had generated 0 impressions in the previous 90 days. Furthermore, about 98% of the client’s conversions were coming from about 2% of the keywords. Yes folks, the vast majority of conversions were coming from just 400 keyphrases.

The lesson here is, you can indeed have too many keywords – especially if you’re using broad or phrase match. What Google (and Yahoo and Bing) ends up doing is finding the keyphrase that is both relevant AND makes the PPC engine the most money per click. Usually this is a head or torso term. The keyword matching technology sends most or all of the impressions to this handful of phrases – and 0 to all of your lovely long-tail terms.

Does this mean that keyword research is a waste of time? Absolutely not. There are always new gems out there that you probably didn’t think of, and that your initial research didn’t reveal – you should always add these phrases to your account and see what happens. This is especially important if you’re using primarily exact match, since your ads won’t show on related searches.

What is a waste of time, though, is adding tens of thousands of broad-match, long-tail terms to your account. It’s just not worth it.

Instead, I recommend finding the most relevant keywords, and using broad match (or phrase match, depending on the situation) at the outset – and then watch performance like a hawk. Review your search query report data – which most of you know you can access right in the Adwords interface. Be ruthless in adding negative keywords, and adjusting match types if you’re getting too many irrelevant queries. Don’t hesitate to kill keywords that just don’t perform. Lather, rinse, repeat.

With this process, you’ll ultimately find the handful of phrases that generate the bulk of your conversions, and save yourself a TON of account management time in the process.

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Comments

  1. You're absolutely right and I've heard that loads of keywords with no activity could also have a negative effect on quality score, so maybe more serious than most think…

  2. I agree, Hannah – and I've seen that happen with more than one client. Too many keywords does indeed affect quality score.

  3. To Robert who commented earlier – can you post your comment again? I deleted it by accident – sorry!!!

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