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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Long Tail Not Always Good, If Quality Score is Your Thing

I had the pleasure of moderating the panel on Ads in a Quality Score World at SES New York today. Along with two advertiser-side speakers (Joel Lapp and Jon Kelly), Frederick Vallaeys of Google and David Miller of Yahoo weighed in.

Frederick pointed out that very long phrases and very low volume keywords well down the long tail are not necessarily an advantage to a marketer, as they don't reflect how "real users" normally search. The sweet spot of the long tail is 2-to-4-word phrase. 5-8 word phrases, not so much. Among other things, Google will have such limited data on these, they have no choice but to assign slightly worse quality scores to them.

I did notice this difference in one of our new accounts today. In a group of 2-4-word phrases, most started with initially Great or OK quality scores, but some 5-word phrases were marginally Poor. Also, there were subtle differences in meaning between some 4-word phrases and others. For example (fictitious example), "martian loyalty points offer" was OK, whereas "martian loyalty points program" was marginally Poor. Although the difference in meaning was not enough to deactivate either phrase, the latter may well have less predicted relevance to our offer, because it's more generic. Rather than an ecommerce transaction from a reseller, that user might be looking for an information page from the official Martian Loyalty website.

Basically, then, marketers need to stop asking the question "to long tail or not to long tail," but rather, even within the long tail, they should consider whether they're just getting too fine, or dumping too many irrelevant phrases into otherwise functional ad groups.

This may dovetail with a point made by David Miller of Yahoo Search Marketing. In his approach to explaining a successful campaign structure, he referred a couple of times to "thinking at the ad group level." Although in a formal sense keywords are evaluated for quality individually, we know that the whole picture matters. So at YSM, if you have a high-impression, loosely-relevant keyword generating a lot of the clicks or impressions of the ads in a given ad group, its lack of targeting could be "dragging down" the quality index for the whole group.

Although the specifics are bound to change, the concept of tight targeting, and making advertisers pay a premium for experiments with loose targeting, appears to be here to stay. There is nothing that says that long tail keywords are always particularly well targeted to a given ad or landing page. Often, they are detritus mucking up the rest of the group - and potentially, your forecasting and tracking efforts.

Related: Keyword Intent: Tidy Campaigns Avoid the Dump and Chase

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