Search Marketing Anatomy: The Three Basic Audiences

If you are new to search engine marketing (SEM) in tools like Google AdWords or Bing Ads, you might be wondering where to begin when testing keyword audiences. We use three essential audiences for all of our client’s search campaigns. There are pros and cons to every audience and it’s important to understand the value of each of the different types of search intent.

Branded Keywords

Branded keywords are keywords that literally include your brand name. These keywords are important because they help you protect your branded search terms. In a competitive landscape, other brands can purchase your branded keywords and show their ad at the top of search results if you are not also bidding on these keywords.


  • Protects searches for your brand.
  • Is a relatively cheap cost per click (CPC) because your brand is highly relevant to the search intent.
  • Allows you to offer unique experiences to users whom are already familiar with your business.


  • You are paying for users who are already looking for you.
  • If you handle subscriptions or a model where a user wouldn’t pay you anything additional on their next visit, you are paying for customers who will not provide incremental revenue.

Competitor Keywords

Competitor keywords involve search intent related to your competitor’s business name. They are your competitors’ branded searches. These can often times be very expensive but if your competitor is not protecting their search intent, this audience can be cheap and lucrative.


  • It is your chance to redirect search intent for your strongest competitors to your brand instead.
  • If your competitor is not also bidding on their branded terms, you can typically buy these search terms for a very low cost per click (CPC).


  • The competition’s loyal customers are going to be hard to convert. You are paying for clicks that could potentially never switch to your brand. Be sure to really push your competitive advantage in the copy of these ads to sway customers.

Non-Branded Keywords

Non-branded keywords involve search intent around the problem that your business solves. For one of our clients, CrushCraft Thai, this involves a strategy that targets people who are hungry for thai food or even more generally a quick bite to eat for lunch or dinner. These are phrases like, “best restaurant in uptown dallas” or “thai food lunch.”


  • Non-branded keywords (depending on your market) can be very non-competitive. This is your chance to rise to the top of Google’s search ranks.
  • Long-tail keyword phrases allow narrower pinpointing towards your target market(s)
  • You are more likely to familiarize a potential new customer in their discovery phase when they are searching for a company to satisfy their need.


  • Due to the prospecting nature of this audience, conversion rates are typically lower.
  • If you are in a competitive market like lawyers, moving companies, or plumbing companies, these searches will often have lower conversion rates and high cost per clicks (CPCs).


Just like any suggestion we provide, our emphasis on testing can’t be overstated. Don’t just set it and forget it. Try out a bunch of keywords. Pull the weeds (high cost, low conversion) as you see them. Water the flowers (low cost, high conversion) daily. I think I’m going to go outside now…

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