The Most Expensive Keywords in Paid Search, by Cost Per Click & Spend

Way back in October 2009, AdGooroo found that the keyword ‘mesothelioma’ was the most expensive keyword in paid search, costing an average of $99.44 per click. We recently returned to that subject and found things have both changed and stayed the same in the ensuing years.


Most Expensive Keywords of 2014

In analyzing the full year of 2014, we found that the term ‘mesothelioma’ per se was no longer the most expensive keyword in terms of cost per click and that it had actually dropped in price to an average CPC of $82.69. That being said, 13 of the Top 20 most expensive keywords in 2014 were, in fact, related to mesothelioma, the cancerous tumor that is at the center of many asbestos-related lawsuits.

Moreover, the price to sponsor these keywords has skyrocketed. The most expensive keyword term for 2014, ‘mesothelioma attorneys tx’, had an average cost per click of $319.34. The other 12 mesothelioma-related keywords in the Top 20 averaged a $216.17 cost per click.

As for the other 7 keywords that rank among the Top 20 most expensive, all were related to the business of purchasing structured settlements from lawsuit plaintiffs. Structured settlements are a type of legal settlement where the plaintiff is paid an annuity rather than a lump sum. The advertisers sponsoring such keywords are financial service companies who offer the plaintiff cash upfront for the annuity. The top term among these, ‘buying structured settlement annuities’, ranked #2 with a $312.49 average CPC.

Trend Continues in 2015

Most Expensive CPC H1 2015

A quick look at the Top 10 most expensive keywords by average cost per click for January through June 2015 tells the same story as the Top 20 for the full year 2014: long tail keywords referring to mesothelioma attorneys in specific states, plus general structured settlement keywords. The top term is still ‘mesothelioma attorneys tx’ but the average CPC has dropped from $319.34 in 2014 to $272 in the first half of 2015. Other terms found on both lists have dropped too (‘alabama mesothelioma attorney’, ‘hawaii mesothelioma lawyers’) but at least one has increased in average CPC—‘insurance structured settlement’ went from $222.04 in 2014 to $232.33 in the first half of 2015. These fluctuations likely have to do with market conditions, how many advertisers are competing and what they are willing to pay. The CPCs could very well increase or decrease by the end of this year.

As for why the Top 20 keywords cost so much, it’s strictly because of competitive bidding. In the case of mesothelioma keywords, attorneys set high bids in Google AdWords because they stand to receive large sums of money when a plaintiff in an asbestos-cancer lawsuit gains a favorable judgment or settlement; jury awards and settlements in such cases can range from tens of thousands to millions of dollars. As for the structured settlement keywords, the business of buying someone’s structured settlement annuity is no doubt similarly lucrative.

The Top Keywords by Paid Search Ad Spend

Despite having such high CPCs, however, the Top 20 most expensive keywords had relatively little actual ad spend during 2014. Two exceptions were the terms ‘selling structured settlements’, which generated more than $497,000 in 2014, and ‘mesothelioma claim’ with nearly $180,000.

Otherwise, the remaining Top 20 most expensive terms by cost per click averaged only $16,715 in paid search ad spend last year, likely because most are long tail keywords that are specific to certain geographies, for instance, and only affect a small number of people.

That got us wondering though -- what exactly are the top keywords by paid search ad spend?

It turns out the original term we examined, ‘mesothelioma’ is one of them, with more than $24 million in ad spend in 2014. Other than that, however, the Top 20 keywords by paid search ad spend varies greatly.

Most Expensive by Ad Spend

The term ‘free credit report’ is #1 by far with more than $46 million in paid search ad spend in 2014 (suggesting whatever service offered in the resulting ads is probably not going to be free for consumers who click on them).

However, there are five auto insurance terms in the ranking that together totaled nearly $130 million in paid search ad spend last year, including ‘car insurance’ ($34 million) and ‘car insurance quotes’ ($33 million), which ranked #2 and #3 respectively.

The remaining keywords in the Top 20 ranking include a mix of terms pertaining to various industries as well as companies.

There are four additional Financial Service terms in the ranking, including ‘insurance quotes’ ($16 million), ‘health insurance’ ($15.7 million), ‘student loans’ ($15.5 million) and ‘mortgage calculator’ ($15.3 million), all pertaining to ‘big ticket’ items like healthcare, new home purchases and college tuition.

From the Travel vertical, ‘cheap flights’ made the ranking with $24.6 million in paid search ad spend in 2014. Interestingly, in our recent study of the Travel industry, we found that ‘cheap flights’ was the top keyword in the category for January through April 2015 with nearly $10 million in ad spend, putting it on track to increase paid search ad spend in 2015 to $30 million.

Supported by competing Pharmaceutical manufacturers, ‘rheumatoid arthritis’ generated $21.5 million in paid search ad spend last year.

The ranking included Retail product keywords as well. ‘Flowers’ ($20.4 million), ‘dryers’ ($18.4 million) and ‘engagement rings’ ($16.5 million) made the list, as well as just one product brand term: ‘iphone 6’ ($22.4 million)—one of the most anticipated new products of last year.

Although the majority of terms in the Top 20 ranking are indeed generic keywords, there are three other branded keywords in addition to ‘iphone 6’, all of which are company brand names: ‘at&t’ ($28.6 million), ‘USPS’ ($24.5 million) and ‘hulu’ ($17 million).

As for Cost Per Click for the Top 20 keywords by ad spend, it was not surprising to see ‘mesothelioma’ with the highest average CPC ($82.69). The five auto insurance keywords are next, with a healthy average CPC of $31.37 during the year. On the opposite end is ‘iphone 6’ with an average cost per click of just $0.79 in 2014, which means that ads served for the keyword ‘iphone 6’ were clicked more than 28 million times last year.

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