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

April 3, 2015

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.