Google is a colossus of modern advertising. In the first half of 2015, the search engine colossus raked in nearly $35 billion in Q1 and Q2. According to their data tables, that’s about an 11% increase in revenue year over year.
Google’s AdWords system is the company’s cash cow, which funnels billions of dollars from advertisers as search engine users click on ads for different keywords. Google has billions of keywords at their disposal. But not all keywords are created equally, and costs per click can wildly vary from a handful of pennies to hundreds of dollars.
So which ones are the most expensive? That’s what motivated us to get in touch with our friends at SEMrush and figure out the most expensive keywords on Google for 2015. Together, we compiled and analyzed countless keywords to find the ones that stuck out above the rest. Some of these prices actually make sense. Others surprised us.
And a small fraction left us pretty confused. But to get the full scope of our research, you really have to see the data for yourself. Check out our video and follow along with the infographic below!
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Video: Breakdown of the most expensive keywords
Trends that stuck out to us
Longtail keywords: 100
All of the keywords on this list are detailed, specific, and highly targeted.
But the primary drive behind ad costs isn’t just specificity — it’s competition. With that in mind, a lot of these keywords don’t get much traffic — in fact, a lot only have 10 or fewer searches every month — but they’ll still cost you a pretty penny.
Legal keywords: 58
As you’ve seen, the majority of expensive keywords are related to law. Whether people want help with car accidents, personal injuries, or other legal procedures, a lot of people look for lawyers (or information from lawyers) online.
Because lawyers stand to make a lot of money from settlements, lawsuits, and similar situations, it absolutely makes sense that they’re reaching out for lucrative cases. Car accidents, injuries, lawsuits, and settlements all mean high profit margins for attorneys who land their clients.
Location keywords: 58
Next to law, location is the biggest driving factor for expensive keywords. Warm-weather cities like Honolulu, Los Angeles, and Austin dominate the results, but there are also a couple outliers like Colorado and Illinois.
In total, this list shows location-based searches for 13 different states (or cities in those states) with California, Texas, and Florida as the most popular. The fact that location is a huge factor for expensive keywords makes a lot of sense. If you run a local business, your prime demographic is going to be the audience that’s closest to you.
However, Google has limited space on its SERPs to display your business. As a result, businesses bid back and forth for the same territory over and over again, driving the prices of their preferred keywords sky high.
Rehab keywords: 4
Drug and alcohol rehabilitation is an essential service for those struggling with addiction and disease. It can also cost a lot of money, meaning if a rehab center can land a client with even their most expensive PPC keyword, they’ll still turn a nice profit.
Four keywords on our list directly relate to drug and alcohol rehabilitation, but they’re also some of the most expensive. “Austin drug rehab” is in the #10 spot with a $463.05 CPC.
Education keywords: 3
Online education is a popular way to earn advanced degrees. What started out as a niche operation has now spread to major universities throughout the world, and it’s hard to find an institute of higher learning that doesn’t offer online coursework.
The reason is simple: Online education is a huge cash crop for colleges and universities. University of Massachusetts’ online program generates $78 million in revenue alone. And still, that’s just one small piece of the entire online education industry, which is predicted to top out at $107 billion this year.
Attorney vs. Lawyer
The majority of the top ten most expensive keywords include the word “attorney,” but none of them use “lawyer.” This is because lawyers and attorneys are different people, and the businesses fighting for those keywords know the difference. In the United States, lawyers are people who are well-versed in law, meaning they can knowledgeably give legal advice. Attorneys, however, have attended law school and passed their bar exams, meaning they can represent clients in court.
From our data, it looks like law firms are more inclined to use “attorney” when targeting their demographics, whether people are familiar with the subtleties of law or not. While “attorney” and “lawyer” are used interchangeably in conversation, the field-specific distinctions might be enough to make most firms avoid the use of “lawyer” so that they can adhere to even the most detailed technicalities. Which makes sense.
They are lawyers, after all.
Keywords that caught our attention
Beyond trends, some of the specific keywords on this list caught our attention. Many of them stood out because of their rank, others because of locations, and a few because they’re just odd.
San Antonio car wreck attorney
With a $670.44 CPC, “San Antonio car wreck attorney” is the most expensive keyword on our list. Naturally, we wanted to look up how many car accidents are in San Antonio every year — but a Texas judicial decision prevents the city from releasing that information, and there don’t appear to be any credible non-governmental sources available.
Even without information from the San Antonio government, car accidents in San Antonio still appear to be a huge concern considering “San Antonio auto accident lawyers” ($291.64) ranks on the list as well. Still, if only one out of every ten visits to one of these law firms converts into a client, the firm must still make a substantial amount of money back. Having a keyword that costs nearly $700 speaks to the incredible ROI of PPC campaigns — even the most expensive.
Lancaster personal injury lawyer
Because we’re located in Central Pennsylvania, the keyword “Lancaster personal injury lawyer” caught our eyes right away.
Its CPC is listed as $392.66, and that’s a lot of money for a location that’s best known for shopping outlets and the Amish. But we know Lancaster, PA isn’t the only Lancaster in the United States. So we changed location settings in our profiles and used proxy servers to get around Google’s localization algorithms to see if this keyword brought up the same ads.
With a handful of exceptions, the displayed ads are exactly the same whether you search from Pennsylvania, California, Idaho, Alaska, or anywhere else. After testing for a few other extraneous factors, our guess is that this keyword is so expensive because PPC managers aren’t paying attention to the basic location services offered through Google Adwords. If that’s true — and we’re almost certain it is — it means this keyword is expensive almost exclusively because of poor campaign management.
People who look for law firms in Lancaster, CA shouldn’t see ads for York, PA, but they show up. And so do ads for Philadelphia, Baltimore, Wilkes-Barre, and more. $392.66 is a lot to pay just because someone in your company neglected a section of the Adwords tutorial.
Plus, if poor PPC management can create one of the most expensive keywords in 2015, just imagine what it can do to the keywords you target every day.
Babson College online MBA
Babson College is located near Boston, and it’s one of the most reputable business schools in the country with an emphasis on entrepreneurship. Their impressive list of alumni includes dozens of CEOs from well-known businesses around the world, including the CEO of Toyota. And while its name is simple, there is, without a doubt, only one Babson College in the United States.
Then why is the cost of “Babson College online MBA” so high? Why does a keyword cost $269.10 when it can only have one possible outcome — online MBAs at Babson College? As any successful business owner can tell you, when you do something well, your competition will try to steal your thunder.
Looking up Babson College MBAs returns lots of organic results for Babson — but it also returns ads from colleges, universities, and middle-men looking to capitalize on Babson’s popularity. And weirdly enough, Babson isn’t always the top ad. Sometimes, they don’t even make it into the ad listings at all.
These observations hardly scratch the surface of the data we received from our partnership with SEMrush. In fact, there are probably trends that can apply to your industry and business specifically. But for us, these are the most interesting oddities we found in Google’s most expensive keywords.
What keywords stuck out to you the most? Are there any interesting trends that you noticed? Let me know in the comments!
Trevin serves as the VP of Marketing at WebFX. He has worked on over 450 marketing campaigns and has been building websites for over 25 years. His work has been featured by Search Engine Land, USA Today, Fast Company and Inc.
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