Why Aren’t My Long Tail Keywords Working Anymore?

A reader wonders:

I actually DO have a pertinent question for you – an answer to which the Google Ads help team was conspicuously unable to give me. In your book, one of the main themes is to make keywords as specific as possible so as to avoid unnecessary clicks and placements. I worked hard to develop such a set of keywords, upon which Google stopped showing most of my ads because they say the keywords have too low a traffic volume.

But this isn’t logical. As far as I understand it, the whole idea of Google Ads was that if you search for "6 1/2 inch yellow oblong slightly curved widgets", you should get not only any site that deals with such an oddity, but any Google Ad that refers to it or has it as a keyword shoujld also show up on the right.

So my question is two-fold: why is Google doing this to me, and is there anything I can do about it?

My response:

When AdWords For Dummies was published, the long tail keywords were the cutting edge in competitive advantage. Think of keywords nobody else is using, and you get hungrier searchers and less competition. Better conversions on cheaper clicks! What could be bad?

Unfortunately, Google has decided they make less money on long tail keywords with very few searches. Combine that with improvements in their matching algorithms, and you get a new situation: a high quality ad with robust CTR on a less specific keyword will trump a lower-quality ad on a more specific keyword.

My friend and "ears to the ground" AdWords Answerman David Rothwell (David, no charge for the catchy moniker ;) has moved from lots of exact match keywords to ad groups with more general broad match keywords and lots of negatives, which he collects by running the Search Query Report every week.

I have a case study from David which will appear in the second edition of AdWords For Dummies, scheduled for publication some time before Duke next wins the Final Four.

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4 Comments. Leave a comment or send a Trackback.
  1. #1 • the same reader said on April 8 2009:

    This means that even if I move from a phrase or exact match to a broad match for these less frequently searched keywords, that probably won’t do the trick, right?



  2. #2 • the same reader again said on April 8 2009:

    Get a load of this: Google tells me, “These keywords aren’t triggering ads to appear on Google or the search network.”

    But when I do a search with that very keyword, I get a bunch of search results PLUS two Google Ads on the right!


    It really seems to me that Google is being purposefully obstructive – am I paranoid??


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  3. #3 • Howie Jacobson said on April 9 2009:

    Google is showing those ads as broad match. If the keyword doesn’t have a decent search volume, Google can’t be bothered to show an ad keyed just to that word.

    Dan Perach of PPCProz.com explains it like this (paraphrasing): The more people in the same auction, the more money the auctioneer makes. So instead of giving an advertising a low bid and low competition advantage for coming up with a long-tail keyword, Google dumps all the advertisers into the same short-tail pool and lets them duke it out.

    Do phrase match on more common keywords, and use negatives liberally.

  4. #4 • Bill Sheldon said on April 27 2009:


    I hesitated to buy your book because it is a year and a half old, which is an eternity in terms of this topic. Nonetheless, it captivated me while I was browsing in the store, so I bought it, and learned a ton that I’m now ready to put to good use.

    That said, posts like the one are obviously of concern as I proceed with implementing the book’s advice. What is the best way to keep up with changes since Sep. 2007?