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Is the Keyword Really Dying?

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jellyfish logoEach week, Hollywood box office results are released that reveal the heavy hitters. People have long been intrigued by keeping track of winners and losers. Thus far in 2019, the top three box office winners are courtesy of Disney –  and their shareholders are singing all the way to the bank. Disney continues to affirm that it knows exactly what its patrons want.

Think of tech advances in the last three decades. Try to imagine going back even 10 years ago. In the tech world, that is ancient history. The number of websites has blown past the stratosphere. The competition is fierce – worse than on ‘Survivor’ or ‘The Bachelor.’ Brands are in hot pursuit of a magic potion. They hope for a magnetic force that will attract more visitors. Savvy ones know things have changed and tactics have changed, too. Yet in spite of the advancement in algorithms, some marketers are stuck in the past; they rely too much on keywords.

In the early days, the keyword reigned supreme. Today – not so much. In fact, it may never again be the emperor. While it’s lost some of its voltage, it is not ready for a tombstone. It just needs some help. Let’s go back in time so we can see how it all began.

Evolution of the keyword

In the early days, we bid on keywords to drive traffic. They were broad in nature and efficient at driving visitors to our sites in droves! Then with improvements in tracking and greater visibility into performance and ROI/ROAS, we had the ability to refine our keyword; we drilled down on precise words and specific searches. We maximized our budget on low-funnel terms and began to migrate away from broad. Then, armed with greater knowledge about our audiences and attribution, we rediscovered the value of broader, generic keywords.

The advent of the Broad Match Modifier (BMM)

Campaigns associated with the right keywords will elevate your chances of connecting with your targeted audience. A careful selection may trigger an avalanche of clicks. Conversely, a poor choice of words in your ad may catch the attention of viewers who are not interested in what you are selling. A host of them may click – and thus, blow your PPC budget.

An example of a BMM: Cheap flights to Miami. With this phrase as your keyword, you will want to select the Broad Match keyword option. The words that you must include are ‘cheap’ and ‘airfare’. If someone types ‘cheapest’ or ‘flight’ the ad will still be displayed. However, if someone searches for “inexpensive flight” or “inexpensive airfare” Google will not display the ad because those words are not variants – but synonyms. BMMs are a popular option as they provide a match of the exact keyword, as well as variants.

Close variants and what they mean

Close variants are basically variations of your keyword that people are likely to type into a search engine. ‘Child bike’ or ‘Children’s bike”. This is a close variation but not an exact match.

Close variants are making exact keywords less exact, and allowing the search engine to determine what is relevant, just like broad… they’ve been termed ‘exact-ish’. It’s another way of saying ‘kind of exact’ but not really.


The very word ‘negative’ sounds like something marketers would automatically avoid. However, many words have more than one connotation. If your online business was established to sell eyeglasses, the logical choice is to select the keyword ‘glasses’. Yet, glasses can also refer to a set of drinking glasses. Or shot glasses. Or wine glasses. Thus, someone who is actually searching for wine glasses to purchase as a wedding gift may click on your ad. Those types of ambiguities can be expensive.

Keep a list of negative words and when you create a campaign, add them to your ad-group level. This instructs Google to never show your ad for words that are not associated with your campaign.

How search behavior has changed our keyword strategies

Searchers are not robots that speak one or two words; they are living, breathing humans who have discovered that conversation is still valuable – unlike teenagers who use a flurry of texting codes. Someone who is conducting research on a pre-owned automobile to purchase within their own zip code will be more specific. Think of it as if the person telephones a car dealership. They describe what type of vehicle they are looking for.

Questions, one-word, long tail

A long tail is a keyword phrase of three or more words, and those with four words will seize a larger search volume. Why are consumers inclined to do this, knowing they are requesting information from a robot? They realize that search capabilities have become much more sophisticated. By adding a few more words, they can usually narrow down the results. Searching for a seafood restaurant on the Bay in San Francisco is a more effective search than just typing seafood restaurant. Marketers who create high-caliber long-tail keywords generally see substantial results in converting to Leads/Sales.

We’re going back to more long-tail now… think back to Ask Jeeves. Remember our searches back in ancient times? We’d ask lengthy questions and then we got smarter. Search engines also became more sophisticated and we focused more on short tail. However, we stayed with conversational and voice searches, ensuring we have BMM and broader keywords in place to pick up the long tail searches.

The way people conduct searches has changed; they are far more creative with their vocabulary. As marketers, we’ve had to adjust accordingly. To engage the reader, we must understand what the audience wants. A successful search campaign blends the combination of the search with everything we know about the searcher to create the right message and outcome.

In addition to devoting time to the keyword strategy, enormous chunks of time must be invested if you hope to understand the audience and devise a creative strategy. There is good news for businesses with limited budgets: if you focus on the right audience, one-word generic keywords are affordable.

Hopefully, I have provided you with enough tips to fuel your next campaign and catch lightning in a bottle. The keyword isn’t dying, it just needs friends to help it survive!

Read more: How to Run Brainstorms That Will Actually Generate Good Ideas

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