PPC-Specific Keyword Research

Keywords to a Google search campaign are like McDonald’s to America. Okay, so it’s not the perfect analogy, but you get my point – they are at the core. Keyword targeting alone can make or break a Google search campaign. Get it right, and the return on ad spend speaks for itself. Screw it up, and you’ll have a tough time bouncing back.

Because keyword research is crucial to campaign performance, it’s a daunting task. Luckily, figuring out where to start is the hardest part.

As with any new campaign, it’s important to begin by determining the product or service that will be at the core of the campaign. What, specifically, are we advertising for? Are there variations of this product or service? What information will be included on the landing page? Once we have a few terms locked in, we’re ready to step inside the Keyword Planner portal.

Google Ads Keyword Planner Portal

We primarily use the Keyword Planner inside the Google Ads platform to perform keyword research for our Google search campaigns. However, Google will not show keyword data on more sensitive topics (e.g., ketamine infusion therapy), so we use SEMrush’s keyword tool to collect this data.

You have two options when searching inside of the Keyword Planner: “find new keywords” or “get search volume and forecasts.” A good place to start is by searching for new keyword opportunities since Google will supply a sea of suggestions for each search. Input the core keywords you want to target, and happy hunting!

Tip: If your campaign will be targeting a specific geographic location, be sure to filter keyword data for that particular location in the upper lefthand corner once you’ve begun your search.

Once all keyword suggestions populate, you can sort by relevance, search volume, cost per click (CPC), and so on. We like to sort by relevance first, checking the box next to each keyword we like and adding it to our plan. Sorting by search volume is useful if you have a threshold for how many monthly searches is enough to generate brand awareness, for example, if that is your goal.

If you like a keyword but aren’t sure exactly how it will fit into your campaign, add it anyway. If you are on the fence regarding the quality of a keyword, add it anyway. It’s best to be thorough first and trim down later once you take a break and get a fresh look at your research. This way, you have an extensive first sampling of keywords to refer to, and you can always (and should always) perform follow-up rounds of keyword research later on.

So what kind of keywords are out there, and which ones are the best?

Branded Keywords

For brands with an established organic presence, meaning they show in the first organic position on the search engine results page (SERP), it may or may not make sense to bid on keywords that include their brand name, also known as branded keywords. For one thing, PPC ads show above organic listings on the SERP, so if multiple brands are advertising on the same product, it may make sense for the product’s original manufacturer to bid on the branded keyword for the product to win the click (and the sale).

For example, Nike may choose to bid on the keyword “Nike Air Max” because other stores sell this line of product and are advertising on it. If Nike’s ad isn’t at the top of the page when a user searches for “Nike Air Max,” the shopper may click on the first ad they do see and purchase the product they are looking for from another company. In other words, Nike loses out on this sale even though it is their product.

That being said, a strategy involving targeting branded keywords in a campaign could be to defend the first ad position on the SERP from competitors who may also be bidding on your brand’s terms.

Money Keywords

What does the ideal keyword look like, then? This depends on the campaign goal, whether it is to drive brand awareness or leads or just to piss off a competitor by bidding on their branded terms. However, across the board, a “money” keyword has a high search volume, low cost per click (CPC), low competition, and highly relevant search intent. If you are able to assemble these keywords in one powerhouse campaign, you will successfully reach your target audience, spend worthwhile money, and face little competition.

Sometimes, you have to do a bit of digging to find the real gold. A keyword you might search on to find a particular product may not match the keyword your target audience would use to find the same product. A great exercise to help exhaust keyword ideas is called mind mapping. This technique involves starting with a base keyword and writing down variations, which helps to spark new keyword ideas. Follow this mind mapping journey for an example of several variations of a search phrase:

Yeet this wheat → feast on this yeast →  get this bread → gain this grain → obtain this grain → solicit this biscuit

You can then check the historical metrics of these new keyword ideas using Keyword Planner, then add them to your plan. Once we’ve added a good sample of keywords to our plan, we export the historical metrics into an Excel spreadsheet, then copy and paste into a Google sheet where we can continue our work.

Want to learn more about how to calculate the right campaign budgets?

Organizing Keywords

Now that we’ve performed our initial keyword research, it’s time to start thinking about the best way to organize these keywords into ad groups. We’ve found best practice to involve grouping keywords by root term or theme, such as by types, and creating mock ad groups within the sheet. This may sound like a tedious task, but the finished product is incredibly useful. Once finished, we have a full spreadsheet of built-out ad groups.

Next, we’ll run through the sheet and rearrange, combine, alphabetize, memorize, and finally select ad groups to actually use in our campaign. Oftentimes, follow-up keyword research is involved at this step to ensure we aren’t missing anything. We launch every campaign full-force, which means we measure twice, cut once!

Tip: It’s best to block off an hour or two to perform your first round of keyword research in one sitting so you can limit distractions and disrupted trains of thought. Once you have the initial research documented, take a break and come back to it the next day for a fresh look.

Final Thoughts

Keyword research is powerful not only in its ability to drive the success of a Google search campaign but also in its ability to pose as one of the biggest rabbit holes known to humankind (second only to Reddit). Carve out a set amount of time to dedicate specifically to this exercise, and do your best to work within that time-frame. Most importantly, treat yourself to a tall glass of whiskey once you’ve completed this task – congratulations on getting it done and setting your campaign up for success!

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