When it comes to communication, context can be all-important.

Misunderstandings can lead to all sorts of problems: even during real-life conversation, certain words or phrases could be misinterpreted, have a double meaning, or muddy an otherwise crystal clear point.

When it comes to PPC accounts and search engines, ambiguous words are a really important thing to consider.

With search engines, the context of query is housed entirely in the consciousness of the person who is using the service – if they use an ambiguous term, Google won’t know if they want X meaning or Y meaning of the same word.

This is acutely important when single keywords are used in a search, as there’s even less context for Google to use to help return the relevant results.

Many core or single word searches have multiple meanings, ones which can be answered with many different types of results.

For instance, you want to buy a new pair of boots. So you search the single word, ‘boots’, in Google. What comes top of page one? Boots the chemist.

You’ll be hard-pushed to find any actual boots on their site, amongst the paracetamol and perfumes, save maybe some kind of orthopaedic footwear.

This is where a problem arises for PPC marketers, because ambiguity can be costly.

The basic principle is to avoid ambiguous keywords when bidding.

In a recent discussion generated via the Twitter hashtag #PPCChat, many common examples of relatively generic terms harnessed by major brands were identified. These illustrated perfectly that the problems of ambiguity can exist for the major players, as well as for smaller firms.

Huge shoe-shops, like, say, Schuh – which sell boots – don’t even display above the fold for a “boots” search, despite being one of the biggest footwear chains in the UK.

Thankfully, there are a number of proven PPC strategies that can help you sidestep ambiguity and run a more successful, profitable campaign in the process.

PPC Keyword Bidding

In most verticals, it makes very little sense to bid on single word keywords. Doing so can be a surefire way of hitting upon a generic term with multiple meanings.

Instead, it is the long tail phrases that are far more valuable in a PPC keyword strategy. Greater specificity helps to cut down on the number of accidental clicks that come from otherwise irrelevant searches.

Of course, there will be times when bidding on single word keywords is unavoidable. Here, a slightly different approach can be of use.

PPC Keyword Meanings

‘Know your enemy’ is a valuable aphorism to keep in mind. By establishing the extent of the ambiguity of a single term you will be better equipped to deal with it in the context of PPC.

The best way to achieve this is by using keyword research tools to analyse all of the variants for your term, paying particular attention to unusual, and obviously irrelevant, examples.

Once you have compiled a comprehensive list, you will be able to add these irrelevant meanings to your catalogue of negative keywords.

This will help you to pre-emptively filter out all of the traffic that will be of little or no use.

Daily search query reports are also essential in keeping this list up to date and providing you with further negative keywords as you continue to refine the campaign.

PPC Clarity of Keyword Meaning

The final tool in the fight against ambiguity comes in the form of clarity in the copy you generate for PPC ads.

This may seem an obvious point, but delivering absolutely unambiguous text will ensure that the search user is in no doubt as to just what you are offering, further reducing any accidental clicks and potentially boosting clickthrough rates.

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About the author:

Alistair Harris is ClickThrough’s head of content. A double-award-winning senior journalist, Ali holds both the NCTJ and NCE qualifications and has more than ten years of experience in traditional press and PR. He has worked in digital marketing and SEO for the past three years and is passionate, enthusiastic and committed to quality.