Today’s Most Expensive Keywords in Search Engine Marketing

I’ve blogged before about the most expensive keywords in search engine marketing. Back in 2009, it was “mesothelioma.”

Of course, that was eight years and a lifetime ago in the world of cyberspace. In the meantime, asbestos poisoning has become a much less lucrative target of ambulance-chasing attorneys looking for multi-million dollar court settlements.

Today, we have a different set of “super-competitive” keyword terms vying for the notoriety of being the “most expensive” ones out there.  And while none of them are flirting with the $100 per-click pricing that mesothelioma once commanded, the pricing is still pretty stratospheric.

According to recent research conducted by online advertising software services provider WordStream, the most expensive keyword categories in Google AdWords today are these:

  • “Business services”: $58.64 average cost-per-click
  • “Bail bonds”: $58.48
  • “Casino”: $55.48
  • “Lawyer”: $54.86
  • “Asset management”: $49.86

Generally, the reasons behind these terms and other terms being so expensive is the dynamic of the “immediacy” of the needs or challenges people are looking to solve.

Indeed, other terms that have high-end pricing include such ones as “plumber,” “termites,” and “emergency room near me.”

Amusingly, one of the most expensive keywords on Google AdWords is … “Google” itself.  That term ranks 25th on the list of the most expensive keywords.

[To see the complete listing of the 25 most expensive keywords found in WordStream’s research, click here.]

WordStream also conducted some interesting ancillary research during the same study. It analyzed the best-performing ads copy/content associated with the most expensive key words to determine which words were the most successful in driving clickthroughs.

Running this textual analysis found that the most lucrative calls-to-action included ad copy that contained the following terms:

    • Build
    • Buy
    • Click
    • Discover
    • Get
    • Learn
    • Show
    • Sign up
    • Try

Are there keyword terms in your own business category or industry that you feel are way overpriced in relation to their value they deliver for the promotional dollar? If so, which ones?

Interesting ROI Trends in Direct Marketing

What’s happening in the world of direct marketing these days, and where is the best ROI to be found?

Certainly, a lot of inboxes are positively groaning under the sheer quantity of e-mail volume, and many people have responded by beefing up their spam filtering. But the most recent economic impact study conducted by research firm Global Insight for the Direct Marketing Association reports that commercial e-mail marketing delivers the best bang for the promotional buck – more than $43 for every dollar spent on it.

By comparison, ROI from Google AdWords and other paid search advertising activities generates about $22 for every dollar spent.

According to the analysis, postal direct mail initiatives deliver lower returns on investment — with catalogs returning just a little over $7 per dollar spent and other forms of postal direct mail around $15.

Depite its stellar ROI numbers, it is true that e-mail marketing is actually showing a slight drop in ROI. And that is forecast to continue to decline in the upcoming years, at least partially because of the reasons noted above. Even so, e-mail is forecast to deliver an ROI of ~$38 for every dollar invested in 2013.

Of course, it’s important to recognize that search marketing is where much of the heavy action is these days. Internet search drives ~$244 billion in sales as compared against a related cost of ~$11 billion.

Commercial e-mail? It drives just ~$26 billion in sales … although the cost to drive those sales is a relative pittance at ~$600 million.

And over on the postal side of the ledger, no one should be surprised to learn that direct mail expenditures, while still large at ~$44 billion, are down ~16% in just the past year alone.

[But you can look on the bright side: Your promo piece is going to be noticed a lot easier among the smaller stack of daily snail mail that’s being delivered!]

$100 cost-per-click on Google AdWords? It’s already here.

How much is one clickthrough to your web site worth? If you’re a legal firm specializing in bringing mesothelioma cases to court, it turns out it’s worth a lot.

In fact, the search term “mesothelioma” was the highest-priced keyword in the U.S. during the third quarter of 2009. That’s according to a recently-released AdGooroo Search Engine Advertising report.

Just how expensive? For Google’s AdWords program, the highest price paid for a #1 ranking on that search term was a whopping $99.44 per click. (Over at Yahoo, the high figure for this paid search term was a little less rich: $60.68 per click.)

One wonders how many times the advertisers have actually had to pay out this king’s ransom. Whether it’s for a few or many clicks, it’s clear that some legal firms recognize a highly lucrative revenue opportunity in filing mesothelioma lawsuits related to asbestos and lung cancer.

Interestingly, the highest paid search term in Bing’s paid search program isn’t “mesothelioma,” but rather “auto insurance comparison.” At $55.20 per click, the dollars aren’t as high, but it would seem like the potential payoff isn’t nearly as great, either. After all, there’s a pretty big difference between a multi-million dollar legal verdict and the value of an automotive insurance policy.

But beyond the eyebrow-raising stats of these extreme examples, the larger issue is how much more costly search advertising has become in recent times. A few short years ago, it was common to talk about search terms costing an advertiser 50 cents or $1.00 per click. Now, those same terms are far more likely to cost $2.50 or more.

Google, being the 500-pound gorilla in search engine marketing (SEM), has certainly contributed to the price inflation. That’s one reason why many are rooting for alternative search options like Bing to succeed (dream on).

More fundamental to the increase in keyword click pricing is the realization that advertising to people at the precise time they’re searching for particular goods and services is a far more effective way to engage customers and prospects and drive actual sales.

And that’s even more the case compared to trying to get their attention or otherwise “intrude” on them when they’re online for other purposes. The abysmal clickthrough rates experienced for banner advertising bear this out.

But paying $100 per clickthrough? That does seem excessive – even for ambulance-chasing lawyers!

Searching for effective lead generation and conversion.

In the current business climate, companies are relying more than ever on new sales opportunities to replace business that has been lost with current customers. And it’s pretty clear by now that “search” has emerged as the form of online promotion that generates the best lead generation and conversion results — outstripping other e-promotional tactics such as online display advertising and newsletter sponsorships.

This isn’t surprising, of course. Search advertising captures the interest of online viewers precisely when they’re in “search mode” for specific products and services, rather than when they’re just surfing the ‘net for news and updates.

(In fact, some advertisers have come to believe that even print advertising outperforms online display advertising. That’s because readers are more likely to browse all the way through print publications. Compare that to visiting informational web sites where viewers are far more prone to selectively pick and choose the pages that they open. A well-placed display ad on a “new technology news” page, for example, might be invisible to the vast majority of viewers who come to the home page and then decide to click through to only one or two additional pages on the site.)

But back to search. Many advertisers wonder which is most effective: gaining high “natural search” rankings that occur based on the content of the web site, or opting for pay-per-click search listings such as Google’s AdWords program with their entries on the right side of the screen.

As it turns out, both tactics have their pluses.

In fact, a new year-long study that ended June 30, 2009 of more than 25 e-tail web sites by Engine Ready, Inc., a search engine software development firm, found that visitors who clicked through to the sites from paid search ads were ~50% more likely to make a purchase, compared to visitors who came to the same sites via clicking on a natural search link.

Specifically, Engine Ready discovered that the conversion rate from pay-per-click links measured 2.03%, while the conversion rate was only 1.26% from organic search clickthroughs.

On the other hand, various research studies conducted over the past few years demonstrate the clear popularity of natural search listings over paid search listings. It’s been shown pretty consistently that around two thirds of total clicks are made on natural search listings, compared to just one-third on pay-per-click listings.

So the key takeaway is that any marketing program worth its salt incorporates search marketing as a key component. And in most cases, that effort should encompass search engine optimization for natural search rankings along with a pay-per-click advertising program.