The “Name that Tune” Approach to PPC Campaigns

Over 30 years ago, there was a popular game show called “Name that Tune” which had a fairly simple premise. Contestants would compete to see who could name the title of a song by hearing as few notes as possible. Sometimes these contestants could do so with only 2 or 3 notes. Being less musically inclined, I was always so impressed by these folks who had such a talent.

Now that I work in PPC, I have a new game show that I’m hoping could catch on. It’s called “I can cover all of your search queries with as few keywords as possible”. I may need to work on the title, but I think it can become a hit.

More than a just new game show idea, there are a couple important reasons why it is essential to limit the number of keywords you use in your PPC campaigns. First off, doing so will help you get more robust data for setting and testing bids. Secondly, your campaigns will be more efficient and easier to manage.

Better Data

By having fewer keywords, you have fewer “data buckets” for making decisions. Keep in mind that every time you add a new keyword, you are creating a new bucket for data. This means you will be spreading out your impressions, clicks and conversions across more keywords. If you are running a campaign that is already limited by data, it is essential you don’t create unnecessary or redundant keywords. Extra keywords means it will take longer to have enough data to set accurate bids. Testing will also become a more arduous process as thin data will make it more difficult to determine if your test was successful or not. Data is your raw material for making decisions. Data should be top of mind when you are designing your accounts.

Below is a simplified example of how your data gets spread thin. Both of these examples will cover the same queries. However, Example #1 will cover the queries with the minimum number of keywords.

Example #1

[game shows]100010010
+game +shows500505


Example #2

[game shows]800808
+game +shows200202
“game shows”100101
+game +shows +PPC5051
+game +shows +that +are +awesome100100
“game shows about PPC”1010
“popular game shows”100121
“favorite game shows”5061
+favorite +game +shows9061



More Efficient

Extra keywords can lead to unnecessary extra work. I have seen campaigns where there are thousands of keywords where the same queries could be covered with a couple hundred. There are opportunity costs for setting up your campaigns with unnecessary keywords. This leads to hours of work trying to set bids on keywords that have limited data. I’m guessing there are countless other tasks you could be doing instead of sifting through keywords. So you have a choice… You can spend your time optimizing your accounts with accurate bids and appropriate modifiers and extensions or you can spend your time worrying about creating redundant keywords.

How To Set This Up

The key to setting up this approach is to use only exact match and modified broad match keywords. Yep! There is no need for phrase match. Essentially, you want to capture the vast majority of your traffic using exact match keywords. Whatever are your most popular keywords, those should be your exact match keywords. This roughly follows the 80/20 rule in which about 80% of your traffic or more will be captured by your exact match keywords. The remaining 20% of traffic will be captured by your modified broad keywords. However, it is important to set up your keywords in separate ad groups using appropriate exact match negative keywords in your modified broad ad groups to send traffic to the appropriate ad group. For example, if someone is looking for “game shows”, they will go to the exact match ad group. If someone is looking for “game shows about PPC keyword structures”, they will go to the modified broad ad group.

Exact Match Ad GroupModified Broad Ad Group
[game shows]+game +shows
Ad Group Level Negative
 [game shows]


Keep in mind as you build your campaign, what is true of keywords is not true of negative keywords. Negative keywords are not new data buckets. Use them to keep away traffic you don’t want and to steer traffic to the appropriate ad groups. I also think you should use negative lists as much as possible. Negative lists will help you save time as you can apply them across multiple campaigns.


You may be saying to yourself, “I have always been told that I need to have enough keyword coverage.” This is still true! However, you can still cover all of you queries and do so efficiently. With just some simple logic and the judicious use of keyword match types, you will have your campaigns running effectively and efficiently in no time at all.

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