July 23rd, 2008 | 5 MIN READ

Should You Remove Keywords With Low Click Through Rates?

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

Because the AdWords system rewards keywords with high click-through history (relative to competitors) with better ad positions and lower cost-per-click, click through rate is considered an important performance metric. Along with a keyword's relevance to ad text and landing page copy, click through rate influences a keyword's "Quality Score."

Every PPC campaign is bound to have a few (or few thousand) keywords with low click through rates. You can identify them easily enough with web analytics and campaign reports, but what do you do with them?

You have at least 6 options:

1. Do nothing. You're always going to have stinkers, why major on the minors?
2. Try to improve your Quality Score, which should improve ad position, which may positively affect click through rates.
3. Add negative keywords if you're using broad or phrase matching.
4. Create a new Ad Group. Pull poor performers out of your current Ad Group and start over with better ad text and landing page.
5. Create an AdGroup for branding purposes. You don't expect clicks, but using your company name in the headline is free exposure.
6. Pause or delete them. Either way, you stop bidding.

But before you take action based on click through stats alone, it's important to dig deeper as to why the click through rate stinks.

Potential Reasons for Low Click Through Rate

If your average ad position is high (1-3), it's probably not a Quality Score issue. It's more likely one of the following:

  • Your organic rankings for the keyword are so good, people aren't clicking on your PPC ads, and the "double listing" of your PPC ad improves your organic click through rate! You pay nothing for the additional branding, and removing the keyword may even slightly hurt you. Do nothing, except maybe "do a little dance."
  • Your keyword has low commercial intent - meaning people aren't interested in a purchase, they want information. Are you bidding on "wii news" because it got 22,000 searches in June? Kill the keyword phrase, and consider adding "news" as a negative keyword.
  • Your keyword is broad or phrase matched with insufficient negative keywords in your campaign. Use yesterday's Google Analytics hack to expose the actual search queries that triggered your ad, and add negative keywords as necessary.

If your average ad position is medium (4-10), you may have any of the above problems, plus:

  • You're in the Automatic Match beta. You have been automatically included and your ad is showing up for synonyms to your broad matched terms, while your competitors are not. If you are part of the beta, you will see a checkbox to opt out of Automatic Match from your Campaign Settings. Just opt out, don't be a guinea pig for Automatic Match.
  • Your ad copy stinks compared to your competitors. They have tested and found winning headlines, calls to action and display URLs. They display prices that are lower than yours. They offer guarantees and free shipping in their ad copy. Customers trust their domain names more than yours. Go to the SERPs and see for yourself. And test out different ad versions.

If your average ad position is low (10+)

  • You may be bidding too low vs. your competition or for the Quality Score Google has assigned you. You may have set an initial CPC that was low and performed fine, but competition has entered the picture. Or Google simply decided to raise minimum bids for whatever reason. Increase bid as long as it makes sense to, and within what you can afford.
  • Your Quality Score stinks because your keyword is in the wrong AdGroup. For example, putting "learning toys" in the "educational toys" AdGroup, means your ad might display with "Educational Toys" in the headline, pointing to a landing page that never references "learning toys". The searcher is more likely to click on results that use "Learning Toys" - it's more relevant, though it describes the same thing. And, your Quality Score suffers when your ad text is not as relevant to the keyword. Create new Ad Group, but don't delete similar keywords like "early learning toys" unless they also have poor history. Otherwise, you lose that history.
  • Your keyword is irrelevant to your products. Perhaps you're a victim of sloppy outsourced keyword research, or a consultant that didn't fully understand your business. Nix that keyword, and any others that don't belong.

Can low CTR% be a good thing?

There may be instances you want to lower click through rates. For example, if you sell high end furniture, adding "From $2999" to your ad for "teak outdoor patio set" will weed out the shoppers looking for Ikea-grade, who are thinking frugal but not expressing it in their search query. Plus, you'll likely increase click through from luxury buyers. Your conversion rate, cost per conversion and ROI will improve. (It would make sense that Google factor conversion rates into Quality Score, since it is a better indicator of relevance than click through rate. Perhaps it's one of the "other relevance factors" Google keeps to itself.)

What About Keywords With Low Conversion Rate or Negative ROI?

That's a bit trickier.

Low conversion rate

Why spend money on keywords that don't convert, right? The problem is, a keyword may have a 0% conversion rate but still be responsible for many sales. According to a 2005 comScore study, searchers who ultimately purchased online performed an average of 13 searches before converting, resulting in 12 non-converting searches for every sale. If the sales cycle exceeds your cookie expiration dates, some keywords may never get the conversion credit they're due. (Great article on non-converting keywords by Frederick Marckini at Clickz)

What's more, online searches can result in telephone orders, or even offline sales - which are even harder to reconcile, since there's no cookie that tracks those.

Negative ROI

Keywords with negative ROI should be investigated. Are bids too high? Can landing pages be improved? Is broad match burning your budget and could keyword research help? They can even be a blessing. Lessons you learn from attempting to salvage negative ROI keywords may even benefit your campaign as a whole if you can apply "better practices" across the board.

If margin on the products or overall sales are low, you may decide to kill the keyword based on negative ROI to allocate budget for clearly profitable keywords and products.

The takeaway is to never kill a keyword simply because of a low metric. Always investigate the possible reasons for the low metric.

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