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.)

Most Expensive Keywords

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.

Google CPC

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.

Find out how you're REALLY doing in AdWords!

Watch the video below on our Free AdWords Grader:

Visit the AdWords Grader.

Jul 18, 2011

The keyword [Mesothelioma] is consistently above $75/click for any real volume. I know that Google says it's only about $30/click, but believe me, it's more like $60, despite your quality score.

Larry Kim
Jul 20, 2011

Hi tony - thanks for your note. this study was looking for expensive, high-volume keyword categories. Mesothelioma is definately a expensive keyword, and search queries containing the word "Mesothelioma" were represented in several of the other categories, such as #19 "treatment" which included "Mesothelioma treatment". Also, keywords containing the word Mesothelioma also appeared in the "lawyer" and "attorney" categories. Mesothelioma by itself didn't have enough search volume to be by itself a top-20 big keyword category. Hope that helps clarify!

Jul 18, 2011

Tony - Are you the same guy who bought a bunch of links to the Johnson Law Firm which resulted in their site getting penalized? You're probably familiar with the cost of PPC for mesothelioma considering how their account was handled.

Flights For Travel
Jul 19, 2011

Hello Larry Kim That is really impressive work from your side. This will be really helpful for all seniors and juniors in this field. And then the keyword tool you told there is also a very great work but I must have to say that it's a bit expensive for a beginner like me :) I cannot afford this much in start. Tell me some any other package :P Regard Naveed (following you on twitter)

Larry Kim
Jul 20, 2011

thanks naveed. the keyword research suite is available for a free trial and reading our blog is free for all!! :)

Dec 11, 2015

Great post however I was wanting to know if you could write
a litte more on this topic? I'd be very grateful if you
could elaborate a little bit more. Kudos!

Jul 19, 2011

Every Internet Marketer would like to know how to increase website sales, with a lot of website owners bemoaning the fact if they only had more traffic.

Jul 19, 2011

Agreed on mesothelioma - I work solely in that vertical and I pay $200+ per click.

Bob Dumouchel
Jul 19, 2011

Surprised that bail bonds and other emergency services did not make it to this list.

How did you handle the quality score variable?

Larry Kim
Jul 24, 2011

we used actual average CPC's as reported by google keyword tool (not advertiser's maximum CPC bid, which are higher than actual average CPC, because of quality score as you point out).

Jim Rudnick
Jul 19, 2011

@Larry...great work here! I love both the infographic and the content is superb as well - so Kudos to Wordstream for this one! And, I blogged about same on my own site too just today! :-) Jim

Chris Hawkins
Jul 19, 2011

Wow - what an eye opener. I just launched my first iOS App, and also got the offer of $100 free AdWords from Google. The terms I was interested in 'earthquake plan' or 'earthquake family' were over $1.00 / CPC in the California demographic I was interested in. That seemed like a lot, but I see that that is small change.

The problem is that the App I am marketing will in my most optimistic visions get me about $5 / family. That would quickly be lost with Google AdWords. So I can see that for low-cost, single sale products, Google is very problematic.

Thanks for this great graphic.

Jul 20, 2011

Call me an old timer but how do I get your blog post alerts via email?

I don't facebook or twitter and don't get RSS...I just want to get a good ol fashioned email....but I can't see how to subscribe.

Cheers Kerryn

Elisa Gabbert
Jul 20, 2011

Hi Kerryn,
We don't have an email subscribe option, but we do send out a weekly email with a highlight from the blog. If you like I can add you to that list. Shoot me a note at

Pareekh Jain
Jul 20, 2011

This Top 20 Adwords data leads to interesting business case for BFSI search engine which has potential of 60% of Google's revenue and 50% of the cost

Niche Site Mamma
Jul 20, 2011

i am just now getting into the 'big dog pond' of niche marketing so this info is very timely for me!! Thanks for a great informative post.

Jul 21, 2011

I found the article very very informative.
Most especially the pie chart diagram.

Can you let me post this in my blog please?

Thank you.

Jul 21, 2011

This should be read by every client, especially those in insurance, loans and mortgages who think that their product is the only one out there!

Thanks for these figures. they'll be really helpful. And keep up the good work

Jan 27, 2015

You can definitely see your skills in the work you write. The
sector hopes for even more passionate writers such
as you who are not afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.

Jul 21, 2011

So you're referring to an Infographic where the two largest segments 24% + 12.8% take up over 50% of the area of the pie?
You sure you want to trust this data?

Larry Kim
Jul 21, 2011

hi paul, the missing 30% (corresponding to all the other keyword categories #21 and up) was taken out of the pie chart for a few reasons. We needed more space for the big categories. We didn't want "other keyword categories" to eclipse "insurance", etc. It was a visual design decision. My blog post for tomorrow talks a bit more about this. stay tuned!

Tom Foremski
Jul 21, 2011

Google gets 97% of its revenues from advertising, but that's from Google sites (AdWords) 69% and partner sites (AdSense) 28%.

Michael Chibuzor
Jul 22, 2011

Great content larry. The way you explained everything makes it really simple to profit with competitive keywords. I'm grateful for reading this.

Ty Wagner
Jul 22, 2011

This is a nice list and break down for internet marketers and people looking to see what niche to dive into. Some people have a hard time in choosing a niche because they might have a fear of it not being worth it or profitable. Don't be scared of competition. Embrace it, compete with the big guys and carve your own piece of the pie.

Feb 15, 2015

I do not know if it's just me or if everybody else experiencing issues
with your blog. It appears as though some of the text within your
content are running off the screen. Can someone else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them too?

This may be a problem with my browser because I've had this happen previously.

Appreciate it

Jul 25, 2011

useful information, thanks this post :))

Jul 26, 2011

Thanks for the list. I would like to know, if this particular set of keywords also works for Chitika.

Jul 26, 2011

"97% of Google's revenue comes from advertising on Google sites"

Where did you get the 97% figure from? I thought Google got significant revenues from AdSense, which is advertising from non-Google sites.

Elisa Gabbert
Jul 26, 2011

Andy, our apologies, that should read "97% of Google's revenue comes from advertising" (including AdSense), as shown in the graphic.

Hoosier Daddy
Aug 04, 2011

Interesting. What's keeping the DoS hobbyists/activists from putting multimillion dollar dents in their targets with automated bogus clicks?

Mar 23, 2016

Hi! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with
Search Engine Optimization? I'm trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I'm not
seeing very good success. If you know of any please share.
Many thanks!

Aug 08, 2011

Really intressting! Thanks!

Aug 10, 2011

When a company pays for clicks at this high rate means that the customer generated will generally mean thousands of dollars in revenue for one customer. So as an example - 20 clicks cost $1,000,for a $50 keyword, 1 of the 20 become a client or customer, which could = $3,000, $5,000 or more in revenue. That's only a .5% return and most high end companies can get 2% and up. So in a lot of cases pay $50 for leads is a bargain.

Dec 23, 2014

It's impressive that you are getting ideas from this article as well as from our
argument ade at this time.

Aug 12, 2011

thanks for useful posting

Aug 15, 2011

Kinda late reading this and glad I found it, good work. Have to bring out that old chestnut EMD keywords and although I am not lucky or sharp enough to have registered any (in any language)I truly wish I had, looking beyond the very narrow issue of Google's possible dialling-down of some nebulous "SEO boost" given to exact match domains the EMD's are an edge I would take now.

simon from thebloggernet
Aug 23, 2011

nice article..but the above keywords you have listed is almost impossible to rank will take 1 or 2 years of work to reach that spot..

Sep 02, 2011

Great article ! I found it very interesting and usefull, Thanks !

Sep 05, 2011

And... what´s the most clickeables words? :p

an adwords mangement company
Sep 09, 2011

Really not surprised that Google make 97% for their revenue from advertising. In fact I wonder what the metric is in total,for all the related businesses that effectively make a living out of helping people pay Google or trying how to leverage Google SERPS such as companies like ours. In a way, from a marketing perspective 'search' industry is obviously becomming massive, where is it in relation to TV/Magazine/Print marketing industry? I'm sure thaere is some data out there on that. I'll go see if I can find some.  

Sep 12, 2011

Let me start with, this is wicked :)one small question on methodology/sample though, are we talking about US only or is this global? thanks

Review Site
Sep 13, 2011

Quite good! Really an eye-opener this one. I for one, cannot even imagine paying $ 55 per click for a single visitor - who might not even buy. But then as a publisher, that is what we want ;)

Annie Key
Sep 19, 2011

Nice representation regarding the Top 3 Most expensive keywords in Google Adwords advertising. The Insurance fields surely got the top spot as a lot of people are dealing mostly about the insurance business. Loans and Mortgage are second and third respectively. The infographics used were also colorful and interesting. 

Oct 14, 2011

This is still a great resource for affiliate marketers, I wonder the influence of the economy on some of these terms moving up and down, but I refer to thisquite often. Thanks,

marketing london
Feb 01, 2015

Currently it looks like BlogEngine is the preferred blogging platform out thyere right now.
(from what I've read) Is that what you arre using on your blog?

Oct 15, 2011

Thanks! Good resource!

Oct 22, 2011

Thanks for your great information. I came across your site via linkedin and i believe you make a good work here.

Oct 23, 2011

I have experience in PPC for loans. I found that if there is a high competition in Adwords that just means its a healthy market. That means there is profit to be had in alternative customer acquisition methods that are cheaper. I found a few! ;)

Nov 04, 2011

What a really useful piece of work, very interesting.Thought that perhaps 'money' or similar would be up there too.I wonder what a similar study for the UK would be like?

Nov 12, 2011

The chord blood keyword is the weirdest thing I have ever heard of. Oh, I get it, stem cell research....probablyThanks for the post!