Keyword tapering is a PPC strategy that allows advertisers to mine for the most valuable search words.

Pay-per-click (PPC) strategies are constantly evolving. Tactics that used to work in the past may have lost their magic. 

This happens to the best of us, even if you follow the latest best practices. But when everyone is using the same “secret sauce,” you need to improve your strategy to stay ahead. To this end, keyword tapering — a strategy that allows advertisers to mine for the most valuable keywords — is critical. 

It’s All About Mining for Keyword Gold

With the increasing cost of running PPC campaigns, you can’t leave anything to chance. 

In particular, if you aren’t optimizing your search terms, you could be paying a lot of money for keywords that aren’t yielding the return on investment (ROI) you need. Or worse, you could be losing money for every click your ad gets if you’re targeting keywords that don’t convert

That’s how one of the latest PPC strategies, keyword tapering, came about. Digital marketers found that keyword tapering can increase conversion volume sharply and decrease cost per conversion when combined with the single keyword ad group (SKAG) structure compared with using SKAG alone.

We’ll delve into the details of keyword tapering and show you how to achieve impactful results. To understand keyword tapering and how it works, let’s start from the beginning.

It’s Mission: To Solve the Limits of SKAG

If you have been applying the SKAG structure to your Google ads, you may have noticed that while it propels your click-through rate (CTR), gives you a better Quality Score and lowers your cost per click (CPC), it also has some limitations.

The use of keyword match types, which filters out irrelevant search traffic, could backfire and severely decrease your available audience. This is because as you’re eliminating irrelevant traffic, you’d likely be leaving out some relevant search terms that aren’t on your radar. 

Also, because of how different match types are used in SKAGs, search terms are often misattributed to the wrong match type. This can muddle up the data and make it difficult to adjust your budget based on the analytics since it may not be completely accurate. 

To improve the effectiveness of SKAG, you need to cast a wider net and capture relevant search terms that you may not be aware of. You also need to eliminate possible misattribution so you can base your decisions on accurate analytics.

So, What Is Keyword Tapering?

Keyword tapering is an evolution or extension of the SKAG approach and developed to mitigate the limitations of the SKAG strategy. It allows you to take advantage of the learning period at the start of a campaign before increasing your budget on the most valuable search terms.

The strategy is designed to help advertisers take advantage of SKAG’s granular targeting while ensuring that the “exact match” on a campaign is indeed an exact match. Here’s how keyword tapering solves the 2 main shortcomings of SKAG:

  1. Leverage: Broad match modifier (BMM) campaigns to mine for relevant search terms that you can target in isolated exact match campaigns.
  2. Use: Exact match-only campaigns to eliminate irrelevant search terms from a specific target audience so you aren’t spending your budget on clicks that don’t yield conversions.

Keyword tapering picks up where SKAG leaves off. As your mining campaign tapers down, you’ll also be extracting the most effective search terms and transferring them to the Exact Match campaign to optimize CTRs, conversions, revenue and return on ad spend (ROAS).

Two mining carts on different rails in a mine. One reads “Broad Match Modifier,” and the other reads “Exact Match.”

How to Optimize a PPC Campaign With Keyword Tapering

Keyword tapering is essentially a 2-phase process. You need to first mine for the most valuable search terms and then set up campaigns with those terms to optimize your ad spending.

As we mentioned, digital marketers are using keyword tapering to great success and improved the results of its campaigns significantly. Let’s take a closer look at how the agency set up the keyword tapering campaigns:

1. Mine for the Best Search Terms With a Twin Campaign

To start, you need to set up 2 identical campaigns: 

  1. +Broad +Match +Modified (BMM) 
  2. [Exact Match]

They should be targeting the same keywords and have the same budget. This setup gives the 2 campaigns ample time within the learning phase for Google to gather the performance data it needs to optimize how your ad budget is spent. (We’ll discuss how to minimize the impact of the learning phase later.)

The purpose of the BMM campaign isn’t to generate the best results. Instead, it’s designed to give you a big picture view of all the search terms that trigger your ad so you can mine for the most valuable ones that drive traffic that converts. 

Here’s how it works: Any targeted keyword can correspond to a large array of relevant and irrelevant search terms. You probably are aware of most of these keywords, but there may be a few unexpected ones. A BMM campaign helps you discover valuable search terms that haven’t been on your radar so you can incorporate them into your exact-match campaigns.

2. Identify the Winners for the Exact-Match Campaign

With the insights from your BMM campaign, you can now target the most valuable search terms by adding those winners to your exact-match campaign and target them directly. 

Meanwhile, you should make sure that your BMM campaign isn’t sabotaging the exact-match campaign by competing on the same search terms. You can do so by adding those high-value search terms to the negative keyword list of the BMM campaign.

3.  Adjust Your Budget and Double Down on the Winners

Since you have shifted the most valuable search terms away from the BMM campaign to the exact-match campaign, the volume of search terms in the BMM campaign is going to taper down (hence, the term “keyword tapering.”)

This isn’t the only thing that’s tapering down. As you shift the winning search terms over to the exact-match campaign, the budget for the BMM campaign should be reduced so you can shift your ad spend over to the exact-match campaign.

You can expect to see a lowering of the cost per conversion thanks to the reduced budget for the mining campaign, as well as an increase in CTR and conversion rate in the exact-match campaign. This is a good sign that you’re heading the right direction because you’re using the most relevant search terms to directly target searchers that are most likely to convert.

4. Optimize Your Exact-Match Campaign

If you have a slot machine that spits out $5 every time you insert $1, what would you do? Of course, you’re going to keep feeding it more coins and pulling the lever! That slot machine is the exact-match campaign with the winning search terms you have extracted from the BMM campaign. 

If your campaign is showing a high CTR, improved quality score and a decreased spending combined with an increase in conversions, then it’s time to max out the budget so you can scale up your campaign and maximize the impression share. 

For instance, you can improve performance with ad position targeting, get hyperspecific with your audience segmentation and ad retargeting to drive traffic that’s more likely to convert.

Is Keyword Tapering Worth the Effort?

Setting up the twin campaigns, waiting through the learning phase, analyzing the results and then adjusting the exact-match campaign with the winning search terms takes time and effort. Will this strategy yield the ROI to make it worthwhile?

Digital marketers developed keyword tapering to address the challenges associated with the SKAG approach, which is already a very effective PPC strategy. Here are the major benefits of keyword tapering that allowed the agency to achieve extraordinary results: 

Improved Match-Type Clarity for Better Analytics

As we mentioned earlier, one of the limitations of SKAG is the potential confusion over the best match type for the search terms. Digital marketers found that different match types would get muddled together even when they’re using the most filtered SKAGs. For example, “exact match” might be shown as “phrase match” while BMM would be categorized as an “exact match.” The lack of clarity was making it challenging to accurately refine their tactics.

When they use keyword tapering, the team can get a clear view of how each search term is performing in the mining campaign. Then, they can simply pick and choose the winners and apply them to the Exact Match campaign. This strategy makes tracking match type much easier so you can obtain more accurate analytics to take the guesswork out of optimizing your campaigns.

Focus Your Budget for Maximum ROAS

During the learning phase, the twin campaigns allow you to precisely identify the winning search terms so you can create exact-match campaigns around them to get the highest returns. Since there’s no ambiguity, you can focus your resources rather than hedging your bets. 

This strategy also allows digital marketers to avoid spending their budgets on costly but irrelevant search terms, which are clearly the “leftovers” in the mining campaign. By combining an increase in budget for the most valuable search terms and with minimized waste, you can expect a substantial increase in ROAS.

Reduce Exact-Match Misattribution

Since Google introduced the “close variants” match type (which is a hybrid between exact match and phrase match), the old Phase Match is essentially folded into exact match. This makes both phrase match and BMM match types less effective while causing exact match to be less accurate.

When executing keyword tapering, digital marketers learned to implement a close variants script (more on that later) to solve this issue efficiently and ensure accurate match attributions. This will give you the right information to optimize exact match targeting without sacrificing click or conversion volume.

A slight difference in semantics, such as "dog house" vs. "house dog," can completely change the meaning of the search terms.

5 Tips to Implement Keyword Tapering Effectively

Here are several things that digital marketers have done to get the most out of their campaigns:

1. Use the Close Variants Script to Avoid Match Type Misattribution

Google’s recent introduction of the close variants match type could make your exact match not so “exact” anymore. In many cases, it may not make much of a difference. But in some cases, a slight difference in the semantics can completely change the meaning of the search terms. For example, “dog house” and “house dog” are very different but could be treated as the same term under this new match type.

To avoid wasting your ad spending on irrelevant close variants, implement a close variants script to automatically sort through all of the so-called “exact match” campaigns and identify search terms that aren’texact matches.” The script will also put those search terms into the negative keyword list automatically to ensure that you’re targeting a clean keyword list.

2. Achieve Statistical Significance in the Twin Campaigns

While there’s no hard-and-fast rule on how long you should run the twin campaigns since the duration of the learning phase can vary, it’s important to run them long enough to achieve the level of statistical significance you’re aiming for.

If the campaign is driving a lot of traffic, you may be able to collect enough data within a short period. On the other hand, if you have a low volume, it may take longer to collect enough data to reach a meaningful conclusion.

In most cases, allow at least 4-5 weeks to accumulate enough data before you decide which search terms drive the most conversions from your BMM campaign. In general, the longer the BMM campaign runs, the more nuanced metrics you’ll get.

3. Be Aware of the Impact of the Learning Phase

When you make changes to campaigns, they may have to go through a learning period during which Google’s algorithm learns from the changes so it can optimize your bid. During this time, a campaign’s daily spending often decreases while the CPA (cost per acquisition) increases and the conversion rates decrease.

You can trigger such a learning period when you implement a new smart bidding strategy, update the bid strategy settings, adjust conversion actions, change your budget, or make significant revisions to the campaign’s composition. 

4. Minimize the Negative Effect of the Learning Period

When you set up the twin campaign, you’re giving Google enough time to learn so that when you add the winning search term to the exact-match campaign, you can prevent the negative impact of going through another learning phase. 

While you’re updating the exact-match campaign, avoid triggering a learning period by keeping your bid strategy consistent and avoiding a drastic change (more than 20%) in the budget. Also, make sure you have the campaign settings and conversion actions set up correctly at the beginning of the twin campaign so you don’t have to make significant changes.

5. Don’t Get Impatient

Digital marketers such as Kantaloupe have found that the longer the keyword tapering campaigns run, the more efficient the twin campaigns will become. 

Sure, you may be investing more during the learning phase of the primary mining campaign, but it will pay off because you’ll be able to clearly identify the most valuable search terms for your exact-match campaigns. You can then focus your budget and minimize waste to optimize ROAS. Not to mention, it’ll help you minimize the changes you need to make in the future to avoid the impact of another learning period.

Keyword Tapering: It’s About Building a Solid Foundation for Scaling Your PPC Campaigns

Keyword tapering is an effective PPC strategy to select and target the most relevant and valuable search terms so you can increase your ROAS. When combined with other strategies to scale up your campaign, you can achieve dramatic improvements.

After you have set up your exact-match campaigns, you’ll need to make sure they’re optimized by monitoring their performance with analytics and following the latest PPC best practices. For example, some search terms may not be yielding the same results over time because of changes in Google’s algorithms, competitive landscape or consumer behaviors.

If you see a substantial decline in your metrics, repeat the keyword tapering process to re-evaluate your search terms, adjust your campaigns and optimize your ROAS.

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