How Does Google Make Money? The Most Expensive Keywords in AdWords

How does Google make its money? On the heels of Google's blow-out Q2 2011 earnings announcement last week, we wanted to find out the most expensive keywords - what keywords demand the highest costs per click and are most competitive in terms of high search volume.

Since the vast majority of Google's profits come from AdWords advertising, these high CPC keyword categories are responsible for a large part of Google's profits. The results of our research are illustrated in an infographic of the most expensive keywords. (Click the image to enlarge the google adwords keywords infographic.)

The 20 most expensive keywords categories with the highest search volume (i.e. the most used keywords) and highest costs per click, thereby netting Google the most money, are:

  1. Insurance (example keywords in this category include "buy car insurance online" and "auto insurance price quotes")
  2. Loans (example keywords include "consolidate graduate student loans" and "cheapest homeowner loans")
  3. Mortgage (example keywords include “refinanced second mortgages” and “remortgage with bad credit”)
  4. Attorney (example keywords include “personal injury attorney” and “dui defense attorney”)
  5. Credit (example keywords include “home equity line of credit” and “bad credit home buyer”)
  6. Lawyer ("personal  injury lawyer," "criminal defense lawyer)
  7. Donate ("car donation centers," "donating a used car")
  8. Degree ("criminal justice degrees online," "psychology bachelors degree online")
  9. Hosting ("hosting ms exchange," "managed web hosting solution")
  10. Claim ("personal injury claim," "accident claims no win no fee")
  11. Conference Call ("best conference call service," "conference calls toll free")
  12. Trading ("cheap online trading," "stock trades online")
  13. Software ("crm software programs," "help desk software cheap")
  14. Recovery ("raid server data recovery," "hard drive recovery laptop")
  15. Transfer ("zero apr balance transfer," "credit card balance transfer zero interest")
  16. Gas/Electricity ("business electricity price comparison," "switch gas and electricity suppliers")
  17. Classes ("criminal justice online classes," "online classes business administration")
  18. Rehab ("alcohol rehab centers," "crack rehab centers")
  19. Treatment ("mesothelioma treatment options," "drug treatment centers")
  20. Cord Blood ("cordblood bank," "store umbilical cord blood")

We found that that 97% of Google's revenue comes from advertising on Google sites. In the last four quarters alone (Q3 2010-Q2 2011), Google brought in $32.2 billion in total advertising revenue.

Google CPC: Google's Highest Cost Per Click Keywords

Google AdWords is a dynamic, auction-based marketplace where advertisers bid on keywords to compete for top ad placement. The minimum bid per keyword is 5 cents, but this research shows that in highly competitive categories, Google can make up to $50 per click from PPC keyword bids. Despite a diversified product portfolio, advertising on Google sites accounts for the vast majority of its billions in annual revenue.

The keyword categories with the highest volumes and costs represent businesses with very high lifetime customer value – in other words, these industries can afford to pay a lot to acquire a new customer. These most expensive keywords comprise businesses such as lawsuits, mortgage applications, and server hosting. Some high-volume keyword categories have lower CPCs because advertisers have slimmer margins to expend on PPC advertising.

You can find CPC estimates for keywords using a keyword tool like Keyword Planner or our own Free Keyword Tool.

The Most Expensive Keywords: Survey Methodology

We compiled data from our own trillion-keyword database and the Google Keyword Tool to determine the top 10,000 most expensive English-language keywords over a 90-day period. This keyword list was then organized into categories by theme, such as "Insurance." The largest keyword categories were determined by weighting the number of keywords within each category, as well as the estimated monthly search volume and average cost per click for each keyword.

Tips for Bidding in a Super-Competitive, Expensive Google Adword Key word Niche

If you or your client are struggling to compete in a high-volume, high-CPC keyword category such as the most expensive keywords identified in this study, the PPC best practices are the same as always, except of course, the stakes are 1000x higher if you’re paying on average $50 per click vs. $0.05 per click. Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Quality Score: High Quality Scores can help lower your average Google CPC. Tools like the Keyword Niche Finder and Keyword Grouper to break up larger keyword lists into smaller, more targeted lists which will enable you to write more targeted ad text and landing pages which should help improve relevancy and Quality Score.
  • Be Specific: Target specific, 3-5 word keywords. Use a keyword tool to generate specific keyword ideas, and use keyword match types to ensure you’re only paying for keywords that are very specific to your business.
  • Use Negative Keywords: Use a negative keyword tool to help figure out what kinds of words you’re likely to be matched against and weed out keywords that aren’t relevant to your business.
  • Be Relevant
  • Landing Page Optimization: The average conversion rate for just about anything on AdWords is around 2%. But we often see landing pages converting at the 20% or even 30% range. The key to landing page optimization is to keep trying out different types of offers and testing how people respond to them.
  • Grade Your AdWords Account For Free: Use the AdWords Grader to get a free, instant audit of your AdWords Account to see how your AdWords account stacks up to the competition.

More AdWords PPC Keyword Bid Info

Visit the "Where's Google Making Its Money?" infographic for the full list of the top 20 most expensive Google CPC keyword categories and to embed the graphic on your own site.

Update (July 22, 2011): Check out the follow-up article to this study: Where's Mesothelioma, What Is Cord Blood & Other FAQs About Our Most Expensive Keywords Study.

Update (July 27, 2011): Click here to download a PDF version of this infographic.

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