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02 Nov 2012

Optimizing Adwords “Head” and “Tail” Accounts

November 02, 2012PPC Advertising

You’ve been told to work on “optimizing your accounts in AdWords”. You understand the concept that carefully optimized ads result in better click through rates, higher volumes of traffic and ultimately better ROI. That’s all well and good, but how do you know where to start? The task of optimization is a detailed and tedious one that has stumped many, but by learning where your ads fall on the head-tail spectrum, you can gain a better grasp of how to pursue ad testing, bidding, keyword selection and much more.

Google Adwords OptimizationFirst of all, you’re going to need to decide whether your ads fall closer to the “Head” or “Tail” part of the spectrum. “Head” accounts refer to those high yielding non-branded accounts that see the majority of their output come from a relatively small list of search queries. In these “Head” instances, any one non-branded query can account for 20% or more of the existing non-branded conversions that come from this account. These search queries are the heavy hitters.

Tail accounts, on the other hand, have search queries that characteristically lead a more subtle life. In these instances, there is not a single identifiable non-branded query that makes up more than around two percent of the total conversions overall. This means that your top non-branded query could disappear one day, and it would likely go unnoticed because of the sheer multitude of queries associated with this account. In tail accounts, unique conversions are happening at a very high rate from a huge number of queries.
After taking a look to see if your accounts fall closer to the “Head” or “Tail” side, you can gain a better sense about how to move forward with prioritizing your accounts. Very rarely will an account appear to you as exclusively “Head” or “Tail”, but you can at least gather where most of the activity exists and move forward from there. For newer accounts, make sure that an efficient amount of keyword expansion has taken place over an extended period of time; otherwise you may get what is called a “False Head” account. If it’s a new account, it could very well turn tail over time.

Next you’ll want to decide how much emphasis to put on ad testing. Ad testing is especially essential when dealing with Head accounts. You can focus more heavily on one (or a few) specific query, which will result in higher increases in conversions. Tail accounts, however, will see a less dramatic increase, mostly because you’re dealing with a much larger list of queries. Because of this, it’s hard to measure exactly where the conversions are coming from, and these queries rarely stand out one over another. Because of this, ad testing is helpful to tail accounts, but not as important as it is for Head accounts.
Keyword expansion is a method used when attempting to identify and capture new queries. Since tail accounts can boast thousands of unique search queries, expansion is a critical tool. There is a larger opportunity for growth in tail accounts, whereas in Head accounts there the smaller query pool means you’re less likely to miss a new search. Focus on expansion to increase conversions in tail accounts.

Tail accounts will also benefit more from a well-formulated Negative Keyword plan. Because more queries are caught overall in tail accounts, this also means that a higher percentage of these are bound to be poor queries. Therefore, it is critical to monitor negative keywords throughout the lifespan of an account. These may need to be changed often. For head accounts, it’s still important to apply negative keywords when you’re initially building a campaign to ensure you’re getting off on the right foot. That said, you don’t have to watch these as closely over time.

Though bidding is an important part of all display ad campaigns, in this case, head accounts are much more likely to be effected by a successful or unsuccessful bid. This is because it’s easier to identify a “true bid” related to one specific, high-yielding query. Ad group level bids or broad match keyword bids are more common in tail accounts because of the multitude of unique search queries. A head account may experience more of an impact from a specific bid, and it’s harder to see the effects for a tail account.
In the end, you’ll see that each type of account requires an equally creative, detail oriented effort. Depending on the type of account, that effort may be focused in slightly different places, whether it be with bid optimization, ad copy writing, or keyword density building. Regardless of what “type” of account you have, each and every aspect of optimization is necessary for maximum results. Knowing when, and how often, is the key to a successful Adwords account.