A Balanced PPC Diet: Balancing Head Terms with the Long Tail


All too often we search marketers get overly consumed with the concept of long tail keywords. We read about it in blogs and articles and increasingly the long tail is preached as the solution to all your pay-per-click problems. 

Certainly the benefits of the long tail are undeniable; by targeting long-tail phrases we focus our efforts around more targeted search queries and generally find less competition among advertisers. However, as with any diet, we need to remain balanced. By eating only lettuce and vegetables, we’re sacrificing protein and other nutrients that come with fattier foods. Likewise, by only targeting the long tail, we sacrifice the valuable benefits that competing for head-tail terms may provide.

So what are the benefits of head terms? First, these more general terms enable us to broaden our reach and target a higher volume of people. We can’t think of every way someone might search for a certain topic, so setting a head term in broad match helps us get in front of an audience that would have never been targeted with long-tail keywords. 

A second benefit of using head terms is the discovery of the search queries that were matched to the broad head tail. After a couple of days or weeks, we can pull a search query report and discover a decently robust list of search queries. We can then mine this list for valuable keywords to use in ad groups.

That said, we need to make sure that we use the head tail appropriately. We only want the head to attract search queries that cannot be matched to long-tail keyword phrases we’re bidding on. In other words, we don’t want the head to steal traffic from the long tail, which has more appealing, audience-specific text ads.

We have two options to buffer the influence of the head terms. One way to buffer is to simply decrease the bids of the head tail and to have a more prominent bid for the long tail. Secondly, we can simply attach a list of negatives to the head terms that are related to the long-tail keyword phrases. For example, if a long-tail ad group is “green dog collar,” then our head-tail “dog collar” group could have “green” as a negative. This way our head-tail ad would never show up for a search query that should be matched to more specific long-tail ad copy.

Head Terms vs. The Long Tail

When all is said and done, the long-tail is still a very important component to any PPC strategy. But as with a diet, when carefully moderated, we can actually benefit from what we may otherwise consider unhealthy.

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Alan Mitchell
Feb 24, 2010

Completely agree with your second point - that generic broad-match keywords are incredibly useful as a search query generator for new keywords. However, I think if this is used as a stragegy to justify appearing on highly-generic head terms, I think it's essential that search query analysis is carried out regularly to avoid paying over-the ads for a large number of keyword and being penalised with low CTR and low Quality score because of your generic one-message-fits-all head ads.

One method I often use to efficiently find and add new search queries is the 10% Clicks Rule http://www.alanmitchell.com.au/techniques/the-10-percent-clicks-rule/ . By looking only at the search queries for ad groups which receive over 10% of your clicks, and comparing them to the ad group's keywords, it’s possible to quickly and easily identify profitable long-tail opportunities, without spending huge amounts of time researching keywords which will only get a handful of clicks per year.

Guess with any long-tail PPC srategy, a balance is needed between the benefits of running a highly-granular long-tail campaign, and the time and effort required to do so. If we consider the time factor, we could add a third benefit for head terms.

Tom Demers
Feb 24, 2010

Hi Alan,
Interesting take/article on the ten percent rule: I definitely like the premise and I'd agree it's possible to get bogged down in being "too granular" at times.
Thanks Alan!

Feb 26, 2010

Hey Alan,

Great breakdown of a very important topic. For first time PPC users keyword research can be a very scary and intimidating task. It gets worse when you filter in short tail, long tail, phrase match, broad match and exact match keywords. Even for an experienced users for myself I find that the only way to remedy all the data is to have organized systems in place. I agree with adding head terms in your campaigns to increase exposure too! It's hard to find all of the possible long tail keyword phrases your niche is typing in. Great post buddy.

Mar 09, 2010

Great post, I've always found striking a balance between head words and long-tails a tricky job, so, this post was very helpful. I found some great info on long-tails in this article, you should check it out. http://blog.directorymaximizer.com/2010/03/04/the-importance-of-long-tail-keywords/

Jul 31, 2010

This is a wonderful opinion. The things mentioned are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone. -------- 

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