Grab your SEM by the long tail

Justin Daab Uncategorized

The name, Google AdWords, belies an implicit bias in the ecosystem. Words. Not ideas. Not questions. Or Answers. Words. Quick connections between concepts and brands. If you’re a personal injury attorney, you want to have your ad appear every time a searcher types “workers compensation” into the search box.

The problem with simplified conceptual connections like this is that there are innumerable reasons that someone may be searching that term—from looking to purchase insurance coverage to wanting clarification on what qualifies for payment, how long one can usually string out workers’ compensation payments, or even wondering what some generic workers get paid, on average.

And from the advertiser side, when associating with such simplistic terms, there are as many or more business types who may wish to be associated with the term—again, insurance brokers and agents, third-party claims administrators, and other personal injury attorneys. In the end, it’s a noisy and confused information market with low hit rates and generally low returns for most parties involved, with the exception of Google. Yay, AdWords!

Stop thinking “words” and start thinking “answers”

That isn’t to say that there is no place for targeting broad, conceptually simplistic terms in your AdWords strategy—especially if you’re selling in a commodity market. But if you’re attempting to use your SEM to sell a more unique product or service, there is an alternative approach that could deliver a more engaged customer—long-tail SEM.

The long-tail SEM approach is all about understanding what contextually drives customers’ search behavior and fulfillment scenarios. Understanding what questions they’re trying to answer. What literal and figurative barriers are they trying to overcome? And using that understanding to align a greater portion of the SEM ad budget with those long-tail searches.

Let’s go back to the hypothetical personal injury attorney. Buying an ad against the term “workers compensation” would place the attorney in front of a far larger set of consumers, but most of those are probably not seeking their offering. Now imagine the attorney creates an AdWords campaign against the term, “personal injury lawyer [pick your city/state/country].” We can see the chances of getting an ad in front of a potential client have increased dramatically. But, the attorney is still positioned as a commodity among personal injury attorneys.


Align SEM campaigns with search terms that enhance your positioning

Now let’s assume the aforementioned attorney is actually a specialist in winning cases that involve lower back pain. Creating a campaign against the search “best personal injury lawyer lower back cases Chicago” reveals there is no competition for the ad and that it would place them as the only paid ad at the top of the results. There are firms that have done SEO around the idea, but they have not purchased ads.


You’ll need a lot more landing pages— with forms

Search ads are just the first step in presenting a solution or solving a customer need. You need to get them to convert. Now, that could mean downloading something, registering or, more preferably, filling out a form or picking up the phone.

The more specific the issue you created an AdWords campaign around, the greater the need to create dedicated landing pages that present the solution to the users’ original search terms and/or the intrinsic promise of the SEM ad itself. Let’s assume our attorney actually does more than lower back pain cases. In fact, they have a healthy practice litigating cases involving commercial trucking accidents. If they create campaigns around each practice area, there should be a specific landing page tied to each ad.

As a rule of thumb, the less a customer has to hunt for relevance, the greater the average time on site and conversion rate. Adding contact forms directly on the landing pages can also increase conversions. Again, it’s about minimizing the steps required by a potential customer to get relevant information and connect with the company.

Now seal the deal—optimize for conversions

Also critical for maximizing effectiveness of the long-tail SEM is CRO (conversion rate optimization). CRO is a process of using analytics and user feedback to improve specific performance metrics of the page. It can mean making adjustments to your UX, design, adding social appeals (awards, client testimonials) or the language involved to make conversion methods so it’s more obvious and appealing to users. In addition to helping enhance results on key performance indicators (KPIs), CRO should improve ROI on SEM efforts. How’s that for a buffet of acronyms?

You’ll have to leave “easy” to less successful competitors

Without question, adopting a long-tail SEM strategy requires more work. You need to gain a more nuanced understanding of your customers’ needs and their search habits, and that could mean conducting or auditing primary or secondary research. You need to create and manage a greater number of AdWords campaigns. You need dedicated landing pages for each campaign that are continually reviewed and optimized for driving your conversion metric of choice. But, for all of that effort, you should see a much higher percentage of relevant traffic from your campaigns and a much higher chance of converting that traffic to a customer transaction.


Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


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