Do you need a Keyword Arbitration Strategy?

One interesting challenge we encounter once we load a company’s data into the Keyword Management Suite is the fights over keywords that begin as the different business units learn others are using their words or ranking for their terms.  In many cases they have been competing for the same keywords for a long time but often never knew about it.

Cross Business Unit Keyword Conflicts

Cross Business Unit keyword conflicts affects both Paid and Natural Search.   Here is a typical scenario.  Marketing Manager for Business Unit A searches on a term to see where they rank in natural search.   They get a surprise when they find in addition to their organic listing, Business Unit B is a paid search campaign for the same product and their listing is showing in the paid search result but they are targeting small and medium businesses rather than consumers.

A variation of this happens when both of the business units are running paid ads and depending on the time of the day and match types one or the other is the ad that is listed when the managers does their search.  I

Usually, this scenario arises when keywords are allocated based on budget rather than business objectives and searcher intent, resulting in multiple versions of the keyword being used in multiple campaigns simultaneously.  While it is frustrating to managers, it is very frustrating to searchers.   It can also lead to confusion for searchers when they visit your site based on the ad copy but encounter another set of content.

For example, this case from Adobe.  The query is “Adobe Software” and the PPC ad is for “Adobe Photoshop for Students” offering a massive 80% discount.  First the searcher wanted “Adobe Software” and not specifically Photoshop.  Second we don’t know which audience segment they are so in this case the if the Educational Business Unit would get a “No” for relevant ad copy and not be allowed to buy this phrase.

These “Searcher Intent” issues and be sorted out by simply managing your match types and keyword allocations to ensure that you don’t have misalignment.

Often most are unaware of organic ranking conflicts since those that still do rank reports often only care that there is a page ranking and not necessary the best page.  Since the late 90’s I have been advocating the use of “Preferred Landing Pages” to ensure the best page is the ranking page.   We had a case recently where a client found for one of their most important keywords a PDF was ranking and not the actual page.  Their SEO vendor showed everything was ok when in fact it was not – yes they were ranking #1 but no one was clicking and buying.  Once they redirected to the desired page they retained the #1 rank and saw a 40% click rate increase and 12% increase in conversions.

Worst of all there is the time suck of explaining duplicate keyword situation to various stakeholders after the fact rather than dealing with it before the campaign starts.  As a Search Marketing Manager it is your job of managing the conflicts and managing expectations and the cross business unit political minefield.

Implement a Keyword Arbitration Scorecard

Back in the old days when search engines allowed multiple accounts from the same company we often bid against ourselves.  As I wrote previously about Developing a Cost Justification for Integrating Paid and Organic Search that was a big problem in that organization.   Just having meetings and making suggestions are fine but you won’t make everyone happy.  What has worked well for me is to implement a Keyword Arbitration process.   This process is implemented in any case where we have a keyword conflict between business units that cannot be resolved by a hybrid page.

The scorecard can be as complicated as you think you need but here are is an example of the simplest one that I use which require a simple Yes/No answer:

 

The formula is simple – each “Yes” answer gets 1 point.  The BU with the highest score gets to use the keyword phrase.

If there is a conflict over the context or business objective of the Keyword, you can escalate it to a Senior Manager to make the final call.

It is very rare where there is a tie but if so, suggest that a neutral search landing page, similar to the Dell example below, to “share” the Keyword.  If they are unwilling to do so then escalate to a senior manger.

Hybrid pages can be the perfect solution when you have multiple audiences.  In this example below from Dell they send searchers to a top level page that allows them to select which audience segment they belong to.  This allows the business units to share budgets to get a larger share of the total audience and then allow the audience to self-select which category they are in and continue from there.

The bare minimum that I have found necessary for a scorecard are the following elements.  These all help demonstrate how serious a business unit is for this words and how organized they are to be successful.

Relevant Landing Page – Is there a specific and/or dedicated page for this phrase or offer?  This is important to help improve the quality score so that we can reduce the overall costs for the word as well as maximizing the conversions.

Relevant Ad Copy – Same concept as the relevant landing page.  Is this word lumped into a large ad group or caught up in a broad match cluster?   Also the context and interest of the searcher.  We often see ads that are very focused in their offer matched to specific queries.

Appropriate Budget – This is very subjective but in many cases a BU may not allocate enough budget to get a significant share of the demand for a keyword.  Depending on the word we might look at 50 to 80% share of voice on a keyword.

Tracking Metrics in Place – Are they using paid tracking to the conversion element?  Lots of times a BU will throw up a micro site or other landing page and not track the performance.  We want to make sure the person who uses the word can track the performance.

Current Offline Campaign – It is often unlikely that multiple business units are doing offline or other digital campaigns.   If they are they are generating awareness which will drive people to search so we want to make sure that we are connecting with them.

P&L Requirement – this is often the tie breaker – does each business unit has a mandate to generate revenue

Note:  We have added this function into our tool.  I am working on dummy data to show you what it looks like.   If we are managing multiple business units in our application we can see all the data in a single screen to allow you to make decisions on how to manage it.