Optimizing SEM (Paid Search) Campaigns

by Brook Lenox on February 5, 2010

optimize-keywordsSEM (Search Engine Marketing) campaigns left to themselves can just bump along.

You should continually try to expand or optimize them. I’ve talked a lot about expanding keyword lists in my keyword research series, so let’s talk about optimization in this post.

For the sake of this post, let’s say we are selling women’s red leather shoes. Our initial list of keywords was ~ 500 words. The campaign has been running for a while and has done well, but needs some cleaning up.

Here are some keywords that drove a lot of clicks:

  • red shoe
  • red leather shoes
  • leather shoes
  • women’s shoes
  • women’s red leather shoes

The title and description looks like this:




 Six Ways to Optimize an SEM Campaign

 #1 Calculate ROI for categories or keywords

ROI = return on investment.

Do you know how to calculate it?

If you don’t calculate your ROI, you are just throwing money away.

If you spent $3,000 on keyword clicks in the “red shoes” ad group and tracked 300 orders from that ad group, your cost/sale for that category would be $10. Make sense? Your cost per individual keyword may look something like this below.





 #2 Deal with Poor Performers

In the example above, “leather shoes” and “women’s shoes” are costing me $100 per sale. That’s just too much for me. One of my options is to pause those two keywords. In that case, I’m not showing up for searches on those keywords anymore.

A second option would be to drill down even deeper and find all the actual searches people are making. Google allows you to run a “search query report” that will give you the actual keywords people searched on. You may find that the term “kids leather shoes” is generating a lot of clicks and you don’t sell any kids shoes! See #3 below for how to add negative keywords to fix that.

A third option is to take those poor performing words and put them in a separate category and use a different title, description, and landing page to try to get a better ROI.

#3 Add Negative Keywords

Another way to deal with poor performing keywords is to use “negative keywords”. If you don’t want to show up for searches of “kids”, you can add “-kids” to your list of keywords in Google.

#4 Create New Ad Groups

Is $10/sale the best you can do? Maybe, maybe not.

An ad group allows you to display different ads to unique sets of keywords.  You could put “red shoe”, “red leather shoes”, and “women’s red leather shoes” in one category, “leather shoes” and similar words in a second ad group, and keywords like “leather shoes” in a third category.

That way you can tailor the ad to the search term.

#5 Add Match Types

Google, Yahoo, and MSN all allow you to use match types with keywords. Match types allow you to match what type of searches you want your keywords to show up for.  If this is news to you, learn more about Google’s matching options.

So one strategy might look like this:

  • Start by using broad match for your keywords
  • Run a test with a limited budget
  • Run a “search query report” and see what searches you are getting clicks for
  • Use negative, phrase, and exact matches to cut out undesirable keywords

Maybe when you run the search query report you see words like:

  • red shoe restaurant
  • red shoe repair
  • red shoes for kids

You don’t want to show up for these searches, so you can either add negative keywords like “-restaurant” or create exact matches for your top keywords like [red shoes]. You’ve got lots of options.

#6 Test Title/Description Combinations

Google gives me 95 characters in the title and two description lines to explain the greatness of my red shoes. One thing new advertisers don’t always realize is that you can use more than one ad with an ad group.

Here is another strategy I might use with my red shoes campaign:

  • Create two ads for “red shoes”
  • Perhaps one focuses on the attributes of the shoe (i.e. scuff & waterproof) and one on the value (i.e. free shipping & great service)
  • Use Google conversion tracking to see which keyword/ad combinations are most effective
  • Once you’ve established a winner, pause the “loser” ad
  • Create more ads over time to run again your “winner” ad


Don’t leave those paid search campaigns to themselves. Keep working on em!

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

SeoWiz Kid March 15, 2010 at 10:22 am

Hi..this is a great blog…I’m re-thinking what I thought I knew before reading this. Thanks for a well written piece that breaks through the fog to present a clear picture on a fascinating subject.

Brook Lenox March 17, 2010 at 7:45 pm

@SeoWizKid – thanks!

Fábio July 16, 2010 at 5:51 am

Very interesting article.
I liked the technique of the two ads running simultaneous…
Also the ROI-Calculation, just didn´t get, how to run this calculation, do u create a diferent landing-page for all your keywords?

Brook Lenox August 13, 2010 at 8:31 am

@Fabio – I have created different landing pages for different keywords at times yes.

Leave a Comment