AdTech Mythbuster Series: PPC/SEO Keywords and Display Keywords



Business owners spend a lot of time honing in on the very best keywords for their campaigns. Throughout their SEO and PPC efforts, they may have bid on hundreds of keywords and looked at data that tells them their best performing keywords.

Many of these folks are under the false impression that the keywords they use for search should be the same keywords used for display.

Let me start by saying that here at, we are fans of paid search and SEO. We believe in the results achieved by helping a business to rank on page one of Google.

So the first time you review a keyword report for a display campaign, you may be more than a little confused about the keywords that are being used to create the targeted display audience.

After lots of questions, and even a few arguments, you’re likely to find that search keywords and display keywords are sometimes the same, but should also be very different.

The main reason for this is that effective paid search and SEO keywords are usually focused on reaching users at the very end of the purchase cycle – when they are most likely to buy.

Ask the electronics store to rank his keywords by value and he’ll likely say that a user searching the term “Macbook Pro” is more valuable than the person who searches “laptop”.

Why? Because the user searching “Macbook Pro” probably has a much better idea what she wants. A long-tail keyword like that indicates that she’s lower in the purchase funnel and therefore closer to making a decision. The user searching the word “laptop” might be just starting his research for a new computer. He could be months from making a decision. He may not have a clue about what kind of laptop he wants.

So, if the electronics store owner wants to sell more Macbooks, and he is investing in paid search or SEO, it makes perfect sense to target “Macbook Pro” as a keyword. It gives him the best opportunity to put his message in front of a user who is nearly ready to buy and therefore a very good chance of making a sale.

Should he also target the keyword “laptop” with his paid campaign? Maybe if he has lots of budget and has already targeted all of his longtail keywords.
But because the keyword “laptop” costs about three times what “Macbook Pro” costs in a paid search environment, and because ranking for “laptop” organically will be harder than ranking for “Macbook Pro”, his budget is probably better served on those longtail keywords.

It’s fair to assume that users searching laptop are probably early in the research phase and not ready to buy just yet. That means they are less likely to click the paid ads at this point in their shopping journey, so even if we were to bid on “laptops”, it’s still going to be hard to get the click.

Also an analytics measurement of conversions will probably show that users who search using long tail keywords are more likely to convert – which is the ultimate goal of the business owner’s campaign.

Therefore, a laser focused paid search campaign would probably benefit from targeting long tail keywords, specifically actual laptop models sold by the electronics store. SEO efforts would be better served targeting long tail keywords too.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Here are a couple of reasons we’re going to leverage display, and why we’re going to use different keywords.

One: There are a limited number of searches available for these coveted long tail keywords. While there may be thousands of people looking for “laptops”, there may only be hundreds who search for “Macbook Pro”.

Two: Once a person is that far in the purchase cycle, their mind may already be made up and the advertiser will have little opportunity to influence their purchase. In our example, the user searching for “Macbook Pro” seems to already know what she wants. Now she is just looking for the best price or a convenient place to buy it.

This is where display comes in. There are a lot more searches and digital breadcrumbs for generic keywords like “laptop”. That means there are a lot more prospects to target.

Two, these folks who are early in their shopping journey may not know exactly what they want and advertisers have the best chance of influencing them to buy from them.

Unlike a paid ad on Google, a display ad can grab a user’s attention with images, color, special offers and other calls to action that drive them to do further research on the product or company.

Now the person searching for laptops who doesn’t know much about Macbooks can be presented with an ad that leads him to learn more about the Macbook, why he should buy it, and even where he can get the best deal. This way, when he’s further along in his purchase journey; when he’s ready to buy, he goes looking for a Macbook, instead of a Dell or HP.

Or said a different way, instead of targeting users who are at the very bottom of the purchase funnel, display can target users at the top, influencing them toward a particular brand or business as they get closer to the bottom of the funnel. And, as a funnel implies, there are a whole lot more prospects at the top of the funnel to influence.

Display actually has more opportunity (as in sheer number of prospects) and more time (as in where they are in the purchase cycle) to influence customers.

When you consider this, you start to realize why the keywords are different.

Display has an opportunity to influence users at the top of the funnel, before they are aware that they even want the product, all the way to the bottom of the funnel, where they are searching for or reading content relevant to the products and services.