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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Nenni

Short-Tail-Search Train Wrecks

Of the many marketing “train wrecks” I uncover in auditing digital advertising results for dealers, the most common is runaway paid search spending. Dealers overspend, under-inspect, and blindly trust their digital marketing agencies to invest their money wisely. This is perhaps the only advertising category where a dealer gives the vendor a blank check and lets them spend money on paid keywords without a method for inspecting what a good job looks like.

I’ve written about the many missteps of paid search but there is no faster way to burn through paid search dollars than purchasing open-ended, short tail search terms. What is a short-tail search term? Short tail keywords are search phrases with only one or two words. For example, “train” (1 word) is an example of a short tail keyword, and “train wreck in Paris” (4 words) is a long tail keyword string. A solid paid search strategy should consist of both short and long tail search terms, but special care must be taken on the short tail terms, or you begin wasting money quickly by driving irrelevant traffic. Of course, agencies will warn you against too many long tail keywords, as they will generate fewer clicks and may not burn through all of your budget. The reality is that you don’t want clicks, you want shoppers.

Egos can also get involved, as dealers are anxious to rank high for many keywords, including their brand, their OEM make, their competitor names, or any other term the agency rattles off. The dealer wants to see their ads at the top of Google search results for every relevant keyword. The problem with this approach is it doesn’t focus on what the clicks are doing downstream on the website. It only focuses on whether or not you are position #1 or #2 for these relevant keywords. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this issue is to show you specific examples of short tail keyword purchases, and the rapid wasteful spending that will soon follow.

For instance, I’ve seen dealers purchase the word “transmission”. When I saw this on a keyword list, the large number of clicks, and the low session duration, I knew the dealer was likely attracting a high volume of garbage clicks. All it took was a simple look at the “search queries” in Google Analytics that triggered this keyword purchase, and the lightbulb went off for the dealer. These challenges are not difficult to overcome. The first step in inspecting your campaigns at the keyword level is to determine if you have short tail keywords that are creating profit leaks for your paid search campaigns. Of course, you can simply lengthen the keyword string you are purchasing. Another great approach is to add “negative keywords” for common mis-intended clicks, which will eliminate any keyword purchases that include the negative keywords.

There are also many other examples of the failings of short tail keyword purchases, especially for generic terms that can cross industries, and here are a few more examples:

“Inspection” is a common word among many industries and purchasing this short tail keyword can easily catch unintended traffic, spending money needlessly.

There are lots of different “dealerships” in many industries, and “tires” for motorcycles, lawn tractors, etc. Here you can see that simply creating a negative keyword for “motorcycle” would have eliminated this waste.

Contrary to advice you may receive, Paid Search is not the panacea for all of your digital advertising needs. While paid search can help you in some targeted ways, if left unchecked it can devour thousands of dollars monthly in wasted digital advertising dollars. I hope you have found this information helpful. If you are an automotive retailer, I would love to help you better allocate your advertising funds with a complimentary digital marketing audit, including analyzing your paid search and social media spending. I can help you greatly improve your return on ad spend and gain more transparency with your digital marketing investments. Details here:

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