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Attention Keyword Hoarders: You Need to Delete 98% of Your AdWords Keywords - Here’s Why

Oh, hello there, AdWords advertiser. You with the massive keyword hoarding problem, over there. Yes, you…we need to have a talk.

What’s that? You don’t have a keyword hoarding problem? Congratulations! You’re an AdWords unicorn. What I’m seeing across thousands of accounts is this troublesome trend where advertisers are testing, testing, testing new keywords and phrases - and that’s great - but never ditching the junk keywords.

I get it, I really do. We’ve been conditioned for years to chase that elusive Long Tail of search; to seek out that Holy Grail of keywords - the one no one else on the planet has discovered yet.

You’re going to get all the conversions with these obscure terms and have to cover your bases or you’ll never find them. You have to test out a ton of keywords to find those few winners, I know. I get that.

But this is just crazy, guys. Check this out - this is a real account, with more than 273,000 keywords! This isn’t that unusual. I see this all the time!

Why? It’s totally unnecessary and is just more time and work to manage. And how many of those are accruing impressions?

Just more than 1 percent of them:

That’s right, 98 percent of your keywords are essentially useless.

Yes, you need to test and test and test again to find the winners. Once you’re done testing though, you have to take out the trash. Here’s why:

Exact Match Just Isn’t a Thing Anymore

Once upon a time, you had to make sure you accounted for every variation of a keyword phrase you could think of - plural vs. singular, synonyms, misspellings, etc. - just so you wouldn’t miss that one super-high-intent person who couldn’t spell their keyword.

But that was 10 years ago.

Today, the underlying paid search algorithm has changed and all match types have been blurred together. Exact and phrase match in AdWords disappeared last August; you just don’t need triplicates on top of duplicates on top of thousands and thousands of keywords anymore.

Check this out: these are the keywords from one sample account with thousands of keywords, but it’s reflective of what we’re seeing across the vast majority of AdWords accounts:

As you can see, the Long Tail really doesn’t exist anymore - not in the way it used to. It’s been completely flattened and now all that exists is the "Tall Head." You used to see a lot of these longer tail keywords producing at least a small amount of impressions, but now only a very few keywords (typically head terms) get any action at all. Mid- and long-tail have been completely shut out.

But don’t take my word for it. Do your own research in your account and see how this is playing out for you.

But We Need More Keywords to Improve Quality Scores

Nope. Not anymore, you don’t. Any benefit to more keywords on Quality Score would be so negligent that when you factor in the work you put into those keywords, you’re completely wasting your time. In fact, we’ve seen that keyword-heavy accounts actually suffer a decline in the almighty QS.

My personal theory here is that having all of these thousands of extra keywords just weighs you down and hurts your Quality Score in a number of ways. It makes you less nimble. For example, it makes it harder to try out the new extensions and other new features and get the benefit of higher CTR on a smaller number of more relevant keywords. Your keyword hoard is a pair of cement boots keeping you from moving on.

But I Need All of These Keywords to Improve Conversion!

Nope. That’s is the old way of thinking. Repeat after me: "I am done hoarding keywords because it was the cool thing to do half a decade ago."

Sure, exponentially the complexity of your AdWords account can earn you a miniscule improvement in conversion. But I would argue there are far better ways to get that 1 percent increase. Work on your targeting, leverage remarketing, and create more compelling ad copy instead.

Are You Sure About This, Larry? I Really Like My Keywords

No, you don’t. Not like this. No one likes having to manage every keyword they’ve ever tested out in the history of ever! Remember:

  • I’m not saying don’t expand your keywords. You still need to know which keywords to use and should test hundreds or even thousands, if you can. Try them for a month or two, but then clean up your account and get rid of the ones that aren’t working.

  • There are very high hidden campaign costs in maintaining a super complex account, especially with reporting and the sheer degree of difficulty to manage it on an ongoing basis. There are costs people don’t always attribute to these unwieldy campaign structures and you don’t need them.

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