3 Ways To Fix A Broken Keyword Strategy

March 2020

In over 10 years of auditing SEM campaigns, over 90% of the time, the problem we’ve found with an advertiser SEM strategy has been their keyword strategy.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is one of the most important pillars of any digital marketing strategy. Its reputation has been built on the quality and volume of customers that it brings to businesses.

Think of it. Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average, which equals 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.  Do you think your potential customers are amongst those searchers? Of course.

Like you, your customers are using Google (or Bing) to search for something they need that your brand or business offers. It’s fast to place your ad in front of this potential market to create the opportunity for a conversion and, providing your abiding by the Google quality score requirements, you’ve got a reasonable chance of ranking well.

Yes, SEM can be expensive (costs can vary wildly between industries). Yes, everyone’s heard horror stories of media investments made that have failed to meet ROI expectations. Underpinning any advertisers success with SEM is the requirement for the right digital strategy.

When it comes to SEM, everything is about keywords.

Keywords are the words or phrases you think your customers enter into a search engine to find you. You bid on these keywords so that your advertisement appears when a matching search query is made. It goes without saying, your ad is well written and enticing, which trigger potential customers to click through to your landing page and potentially buy from you (conversion).

So, here’s the rub. In so many cases we’ve seen, the keywords or phrases you think your potential customers are entering are not what you think. Our best advice is to encourage you to step out of your world to enter the world of your potential customer if you want to ensure your keyword strategy works and is cost efficient.

Take for example a carbon credits company that was bidding on “planting trees” (until we stopped them). The average searcher that enters “planting trees” is not thinking about carbon credits. They might want to know how big to dig the hole in the ground, what kind of fertiliser to use, when’s the best time to plant a tree, how much water they need on hand – there are thousands of questions a user might have relating to planting trees. We’re confident that carbon credits is not a key question that the majority will have.

On top of this, your spelling might be great, this doesn’t always mean your customers spell well. It’s common for search queries to be misspelled, have words arranged in a strange order, or only be vaguely or remotely related to your keyword.

How do you know your keyword strategy isn’t working?

If you think that you know the most relevant keywords for your business, think again. Repeatedly we find through audits that keywords clients use don’t match how people actually search for their products or services.

It’s true you know your business better than anyone else. You have an in-depth knowledge of your product line. You can rattle off your product’s name and variations, its specifications, all the reasons why it’s better, and why you should never, ever buy from a competitor. Your customer, though, isn’t nearly as educated and doesn’t share your emotional investment either (usually, there are a few exceptions). Be prepared, you will need to step outside your industry bubble.


  1. Your customers are not converting.
  2. Visitors bounce from your site without spending much time.
  3. Search queries reporting shows a disconnect between your keywords and what you’re selling.
  4. Search queries are triggering different ad sets (usually a problem with keyword sculpting).
  5. Keywords are broad, leading to unnecessary and irrelevant clicks (often the keyword match type is not used properly).
  6. Negative keyword list is too limited, which leads to irrelevant search terms triggering your ad. (Refer our carbon credits example earlier.)
  7. Your keywords quality score is a direct indicator that your keywords don’t match your ads (offer) and quality score.
  8. You are not spending your daily budget. This doesn’t always mean you have a low bid, it may be that your keyword selection doesn’t have much search volume.
  9. Your budget is exhausted quickly but generates few clicks. You may have only selected very competitive keywords.
  10. You are bidding on keywords that usually generate you organic traffic, so you now pay for what you can receive for free.

(This list isn’t exhaustive. And, although these are symptoms of a broken keyword strategy, they could also indicate other problems as well.)

3 Ways To Fix a Broken Keyword Strategy

FIRST: Ask your customers.

We love getting feedback straight from the source. Ask friendly customers how they found you. You can do this either when they first call and you’ve got them on the phone, or as an after-sales activity. If the customer found you through Google, what did they enter as a search query to find you? This will help you with SEO as well as refining paid advertising.

Using Google Analytics, and providing you’ve linked your Google Ads account to your Analytics account, you will see which ads return the most clickthrough traffic (both in numbers and as a percentage). However, this is aggregated data and you need granularity, especially if you don’t have high traffic numbers.

SECOND: Focus Group with friends and family.

This is an easy method. Who doesn’t want to help their family and friends, right? Gather your friends and family together for a Q&A session or, in these Corona Virus times where it’s not so practical, send your circle a link to your website and ask them how they would search for your business. Ask what they would type into Google as a search query to find a product or service you sell. Given your relationship with this group, you might go a step further by asking what they think is the most important thing they need to know before buying your product.

THIRD: Ask your sales team.

Every business’s sales team are little gems of knowledge. These are the people who turn up day-after-day to answer the same questions, try to persuade would-be customers and overcome objections. They know exactly what works well and where problems lie.

Ask these questions:

  • What is the most common question (or questions) they get asked by customers?
  • What are the biggest concerns customers have before converting?

Although talking to your sales team won’t help you refine your keywords, it will give you ad copy to use that removes obstacles to conversions, so it’s an extremely useful exercise to regularly undertake.

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Digital Koalas is a Melbourne-based Digital Marketing Consultancy.
We work with businesses, marketing teams and agencies to develop digital strategy, conduct independent digital audits, manage digital media buying and campaign optimisation, and provide assistance with digital team & talent recruitment.
Ready to talk to us? Say hello.



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