Time for a pop quiz! What do the following have in common? You have 30 seconds to give your answer. Ready? Go!
- Sam Adams
Did you figure it out? If you said “they’re all famous people,” you’re right. But only partially right.
All the names above are ambiguous. They have more than one meaning. Think about it: Madonna could be the singer, or the Mother of Christ, or a college, or a statue.
When you say Tesla, do you mean the man, the band, or the coil?
Prince and Washington have probably 100 meanings between the two of them. And so on.
In normal conversation, ambiguity is often eliminated by the context. If you’re talking about concerts you saw this summer, and you mentioned Madonna, it’s pretty clear who and what you’re talking about. Same thing goes for Tesla.
In PPC, though, the context is in the mind of the searcher. When we search for something, we know what we mean – but the search engine may not. As a result, especially with one-word queries, you fall into the ambiguity trap. You might be paying for visitors who weren’t searching for Madonna concert tickets – they were interested in information about the local Madonna University.
Celebrity names aren’t the only ambiguous search terms out there. In a recent conversation about ambiguous keywords on the PPC Chat hashtag on Twitter, Bryant Garvin pointed out the fact that all of the Choice Hotel brands have fairly generic names:
- Comfort Inn
- Comfort Suites
- Quality Inn
- Sleep Inn
- Cambria Suites
- Mainstay Suites
- Rodeway Inn
- Ascend Hotels
Now, this is by no means a dig at Choice Hotels. They’ve built great brands that are recognizable and familiar to travelers across the US. Still, every single brand name except maybe Econolodge has multiple meanings – and that’s where the challenge for PPC’ers comes in.
Fortunately, there are several techniques for clearing up ambiguity in PPC.
Don’t Bid on One-Word Keywords
This is going to be your best bet for steering clear of those irrelevant and ambiguous meanings. Just don’t do it!
Make sure you’re bidding on long-tail phrases. Tighten up your match types so you don’t get broad-matched to the irrelevant searches by accident. Don’t give the search engines the chance to show your ad on ambiguous searches!
But let’s do a reality check. I know there are times where bidding on single-word keywords is a must. Maybe it’s your brand name (e.g., Madonna, Tesla, Prince). Maybe your CEO is insisting that you show up for that one word, no matter the cost. Maybe a lot of people really are looking for you when they search for that word. Let’s talk about some ways to rein in the ambiguity.
Find Out All the Other Meanings of Your Keywords
This may seem obvious, but I’d be willing to bet that nearly every PPC professional has stumbled across new meanings for their keywords that they weren’t aware of. Just today, for example, I learned that “spice” is a slang drug term. Who knew?
Here’s where your keyword research tools come in. Scan through the list of results to see if any weird ones show up.
Google the term and see what appears in the SERPs. Ask your friends and coworkers if they’re aware of other meanings for the word. Go old school: get out your good old dictionary (or go to dictionary.com) and look up the word. Urban Dictionary is another great resource for alternative meanings of words and phrases.
Add the Irrelevant Meanings as Negatives
When you’re bidding on ambiguous terms, a huge negative keyword list is a must. Take all the irrelevant meanings of the word you can think of, and add them as negative keywords. Then add more.
A great source of common negative keywords can be found here. Add every single negative that doesn’t apply to you, so you can be sure to capture only the most relevant traffic.
You’ll also want to get into the habit of running search query reports. You may even want to run them daily (this can be automated – here’s how), at least at first. Relentlessly add every single irrelevant search query as a negative keyword.
Make Your Ad Copy Crystal Clear
Clear, concise ad copy is a best practice no matter what keywords you’re using. But with ambiguous terms, it’s vital to the success of your campaign.
Now is the time to go overboard with repetition. Repeating your keyword in context will go a long way in deterring irrelevant clicks on your ads.
For example, if you’re selling Madonna concert tickets, your ad could say:
- Madonna Concert Tickets
- Get Madonna Concert Tickets Here
- Buy Madonna Concert Tickets Online
I know it looks and sounds ridiculous; but it will really drive home the fact that you’re not advertising about the Mother of Christ, college, or anything but Madonna the singer.
As with all PPC ad copy, testing is crucial. Test the ad above against another, more “normal” ad. See which performs better. Then test again.
With careful planning and testing, you can indeed eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, ambiguity in PPC.
What techniques have you used?
Author’s Note: Special thanks to #PPCchat participants Dennis Petretti, Bryant Garvin, Chris Kostecki, Luke Alley, and James Zolman for inspiring this post.