Keyword tiering: A systematic way to juggle your AdWords priorities

Columnist Jacob Baadsgaard explains how assigning paid search keywords into different tiers based on performance allows search marketers to quickly make adjustments that can have a huge impact on their business.


Ever feel like AdWords is one giant juggling act? You cut your cost per click, only to watch your conversion rate drop. You increase lead volume, but those leads don’t turn into sales. You finally boost sales, but now your cost per click is unprofitably high…

When does the madness stop?

With all of these apparently conflicting priorities, it can be easy to drop the ball a few times. Or, worse still, you might feel like AdWords isn’t worth the effort, throw your hands in the air and quit.

However, there is a way to juggle all of your marketing goals — a way to balance clicks, conversions, sales and return on investment (ROI).

The secret to this juggling act is… keyword tiering.

Keyword tiering

The idea behind “keyword tiering” (coining a new term here, I guess) is fairly simple: you categorize your AdWords keywords into different tiers based on the results they generate. Then, as your business needs change, all you have to do is turn tiers on and off to meet your goals.

So, if leads are more important than sales today, all you have to do is turn on a few more tiers. If profitability is more important than sales volume tomorrow, turn off a few tiers.

Once you have effective keyword tiers in place, you can instantly adapt to the needs of your company. It’s a straightforward way to match your AdWords advertising to your business goals. And the good news is, it’s fairly easy to implement:

Step 1: Make sure you’re tracking the right metrics

As great as keyword tiering is, it does come with one caveat. In order to set up meaningful keyword tiers, you need to know which keywords are producing which results.

If you’re optimizing for leads, you need to be tracking leads. If you’re optimizing for sales, you need to be tracking sales. If you’re optimizing for ROI, you need to be tracking revenue. Depending on which metrics you’re tracking, that may mean you need to implement conversion tracking on your site or ensure that your CRM is tracking sales at the keyword level.

Unfortunately, only 29 percent of AdWords advertisers are even tracking conversions effectively enough to use keyword tiering. Far fewer are tracking sales and revenue at the keyword level.

If that describes your business, now is the time to fix things. A full description of how to track AdWords performance through to sales is beyond the scope of this article, but this article should help you get started.

Step 2: Define your keyword tiers

Once you are tracking all of your relevant metrics and have keyword data for a couple of sales cycles, you can define your keyword tiers. How you define your tiers will depend on your specific business and marketing goals, but it’s often easiest to start with four basic tiers.


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