Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertisements are simply a race to the top of the Search Engine Result Pages (SERP). These ads are a strong gateway to reach your target audience through research and tactics. But is it giving you the marketing Return on Investment (ROI) that you want?
Many marketers have suggested SEO to be a better choice than PPC ads. However, a survey conducted by Clutch showed that “One-third of people (33%) click on a paid search ad because it directly answers their search query”.
This results only from in-depth PPC keyword research. The world of PPC is an auction and it is the art of researching keywords that get you to the top.
This guide is all you need to know about PPC keyword research. Here, I will take you through the process of brainstorming, refining, sorting, and generating keywords that develop conversions. The steps shared must become a constant practice if you want your brand to rank highest on the result page.
There are also online tools (free and paid) you can use to generate the audience you target. Whether you are a marketing freelancer or a PPC specialist, you can use this structured article to go from research to conversion.
1. Keywords brainstorming process
Every PPC keyword research starts with the hunt for relevant keywords. In this step, we look at the landing page of the website and choose the relevant keywords. For the sake of understanding, we assume a company “Hawaii Burger Point” as a website for whom we’re performing PPC keyword research.
We go through the website of the Hawaii Burger Point and we will label the keywords under the following types:
- Branded Keywords: Keywords that have the company name (Hawaii Burger Point)
- Generic Keywords: Keywords that have relevance to the place but are not directly intended. This means keywords like “Burger” “Fast food” “restaurant”. These keywords have no way of telling us whether the person is looking to order food or is looking up recipes. These generic keywords break down into two further types:
- Short-Tailed Keywords: Generic keywords that are 1-2 words long. Examples can be “Burger place”, “Fast Food” and “Hawaii Burger” etc.
- Long Tailed Keywords: Generic keywords that are 3-4 words long. Examples can be “Best Burger Hawaii”, “Hawaii Burger order”, “Online order Burger in Hawaii” etc. Long-tail keywords have a higher conversion rate because of greater predictability.
- Transactional Keywords: Keywords that have a higher or lower purchase intent. Depending on the amount, we can label keywords with higher purchase intent as commercial keywords. This simply means keywords that have a successful role in the buyer’s journey from scrolling to buying.
We can find out these keywords by use of Google search, keyword tools, and customer survey (we will discuss this in greater depth in the next part)
- Locational Keywords: Keywords that localize the search to your area. Examples can be “Hawaii Burger place”, “restaurants in Hawaii” and “Burger place near me”. It also can be set for search results like “restaurants near me”.
- Informational Keywords: Keywords that are used in information articles like “Where is the best burger spot in Hawaii?” or “What are the timings of the restaurants?”. Usually, these keywords come in handy for blog articles, but they can be of use in marketing businesses as well.
- Competitor Keywords: Keywords that the competitors use to rank themselves higher. We can find these keywords by use of tools.
Now that you know these keywords, you can go over the landing page and develop the keywords under each category for the ad campaign. For the Hawaii Burger Place, the keywords would look something like this:
It is important to note that some keywords can be of more than one type. Like “Hawaii Burgers” could be a brand and a short-tailed keyword at the same time. These keywords have been derived from the landing pages and basic research. To improve the brainstorming process, here are some tips to follow:
Keyword research tips
- Use general keywords and slowly get specific: People in the search bar use vague keywords, in the hopes of looking for something specific. If your online presence is relatively new, it is important to start with general keywords. As the users start becoming brand-aware, you can get specific keywords to boost them.
- Have more long-tailed keywords: Long-tailed keywords are proven to drive more traffic to your site than any other keywords. It comes with the advantage that the search gets very specific to the search intent. This means that the user will see his search words match greatly with your site. Another advantage is that these keywords do not have much competition because of how specific they are. For example, the keyword “burger” has a lot of use and competition but “Hawaii Chicken Burger restaurant” is more specific and reveals the user’s search intent.
- Have misspelled variations: Many words are quickly typed and not spelled right. We must cater to this audience that sounds out the spelling of our keywords. For example, “Hawai burgers” “Hawaii brger” “brger place in Hawai” etc.
- Have more branded keywords: Branded keywords give us a more direct audience. If more brands are mentioned, the outreach grows like crazy. If we target keywords like “Honolulu burger” “Hawaii Chicken burger palace”, it can rank our brand next to the big ones. Later, as our audience becomes more brand aware, they will go for searching keywords like “Hawaii Burger Place”, “Hawaii Burger Place restaurant” etc.
- Have keywords related to your product or service: These keywords help in targeting your audience that can become interested in what you’re selling. You will find a variety of these keywords on your landing page. E.g., we can take keywords from our menu and list keywords as “chicken burger” “beef burger” “crunchy cheeseburger” etc.
- Have concatenation in keywords: concatenation means to interconnect things. Instead of creating multiple variations manually, we can use an automation tool. This tool can also create variations that are widely used in keyword searches. To perform concatenation in keywords, you can do the following:
- Have keywords that your customer base searches: The search for keywords that your customer base wants requires imagination and research. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and think of the type of searches you would make. Since we have a restaurant business to promote, our audience could be between 18–24-year-olds looking to grab a delicious bite to eat. With this, we can have targeted keywords like “dining with friends” “fast food place” “great burgers and ambiance near me” “family-friendly lunch place near me”.
In this step, not all your suggested keywords need to convert. This was just the brainstorming part, but it was an equally important part. The purpose of this part was to get the gears turning and produce relevant keywords based on types. The guideline and types of keywords should be enough to nudge you in the right direction.
After you are done with this step, you are ready to refine and sort your choice of keywords.
2. Keywords refining and sorting process
Unless you have a million-dollar budget for marketing, you cannot bid on every keyword in the world. This is where the step of refining comes into play. It is also a blessing that this refining is automated thanks to some very useful tools.
These tools will let you know which keywords to bid on and which to leave. That way, your limited budget can still produce plenty of traffic with positive ROI.
Before we dive into the type of tools, let’s understand how the system works in the first place. If you plan to do it manually, this part will be insightful to you.
How do keyword research tools work
To understand how these tools work, we must clear up some important definitions:
⦁ Search volume: The quantity that defines how much a query has been searched by users is called search volume. When refining keywords, search volume plays an important role in standing out.
⦁ Competition: The advertisers who are bidding on the same keywords as yours are the PPC competition. In the competition category, keywords are ranked “high”, “low”, or “medium”. High competition keyword shows that many advertisers are bidding on that keyword, and it would be more costly to rank higher on it. A low competition keyword would mean that not many advertisers bid on it, and it’d be a cheaper option.
⦁ Cost Per Click (CPC): The amount paid by the advertiser to the publisher for every click on the paid ad. It helps in estimating the cost of posting the ad based on the choice of keywords.
The bidding war for the place at the top requires us to understand both search volume and competition. More importantly, we need to know what rank of competition is best and how much search volume is acceptable. Now let’s talk about the keyword research tool.
The interface of every tool may vary but the key stats are the same. Once you feed your brainstormed keywords into the tool, it will generate the stats on search volume, CPC, and competition. It may look something like the following screenshot, taken from the Wordstream’s Keyword Tool:
Out of this list, you will have to filter out the keywords which are most profitable for you. Those keywords have high volume but low competition. Low competition keywords would have low CPC and their high search volume would suggest it has been searched a lot.
In this list above, we can see “cars for sale” and “used cars” as keywords with high search volume (1,000,000 – 1,200,000 searches per month) and “medium” ranked competition.
Now, based on features and accuracy, I suggest using one of the following keyword tools for refining the list:
1. Wordstream’s Keyword Tool
This tool helps in both PPC and SEO keyword research. In this tool, you can create different ad groups, see similar suggestions and themes for ad groups.
It gives you up to 30 searches free of cost, after which you must sign up to the Wordstream advisor to have additional searches. It also comes with a 7-day free trial.
This tool is more of a brainstorming tool than a research tool. Remember when we talked about having variations in keywords? This is where Ubersuggest comes in handy.
You type in your keyword, and it generates a list of variations that were most likely searched. It is a free tool and can give you valuable suggestions for keyword brainstorming. It is best for SEO purposes.
Soovle has a greater research outreach and is a perfect brainstorm buddy. Soovle generates search volumes for various search engines and e-commerce websites like Amazon and eBay. It is best for those who have multiple channels to research for and it is free.
4. Google Keyword Planner
The Google Keyword Planner is the go-to, the alpha, and the default choice in keyword research tools. It only requires a Google Adword account, and it is then ready to use. This tool generates many stats like average search volume, competition, Cost per Click, and many more.
It even suggests keyword variations and synonyms that can improve your choice of keywords. It is not always accurate in results, but it is still the foundation for keyword research for PPC advertisers.
5. Google Ads Display Planner
There was once was a designated keyword research tool for YouTube, so that content creators could have their videos ranked well. That research tool got replaced by Google Display Planner and it is now the best choice for YouTubers.
This tool can be accessed through the Google Adword account and offers great suggestions and tips for improving display ad campaigns. It also offers insightful statistics on the engagement & interest of the audience. It is a must-have for marketers looking to grow their PPC ads.
Out of these 5 picks, you can go for the ones that can be used for multiple channels (Soovle) or stick to the default (Google Keyword Planner). If you are starting, you can’t go wrong with Google. By now, you must have keywords refined that are high search volume and low competition. The next step we will take is organizing.
3. Keywords organizing process
In this step, we will take the strong keywords you’ve refined in the second step, and group them for specificity.
Whenever you group a bunch of keywords for a targeted audience, it is called an ad group. This organizing process has everything to do with understanding and creating ad groups. Let’s get to the understanding part first.
Importance of Ad groups
Ad groups have a significant difference in profit, conversions, and impressions. Instead of having one set of keywords sent to take the place at the top, it is better to have multiple keywords so that one, or two, of them, rank high.
You know the adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, similarly, don’t put all your keywords in one ad group. By making multiple ad groups, you can:
⦁ Improve your quality score that decides your ranking in the Search Engine Result Page (SERP)
⦁ Develop a consistent flow of content that attracts your audience
⦁ Produce a structured style of information that allows the search engine bots to navigate and rank you with ease
Ad grouping is a cost-effective solution for PPC campaigns, but it is a challenging task.
Only practice can make it perfect. To improve ad grouping, here are some steps that will get you ahead of the competition.
How to do keyword grouping?
Make top-level ad groups
This may sound obvious until you understand what a top-level group is. Top-level groups are those that separate you from the herd. The terms that represent your business offering in a broader sense come under this group.
If you’re not clear on this, go to the keyword research tool and check the analytics. There, you will find keywords that are broad and explain your offering clearly. Understand that these groups are supposed to build the big picture made up of small pictures.
Let’s say we have a refined keyword “Burgers in Honolulu”. By breaking it into two keywords, we have “burgers” and “Honolulu”. Based on analytics, we can see “burgers” as a more relevant keyword than “Honolulu”. Therefore, “Burgers” would be a keyword choice for the top-level.
Make small, sub-groups
In the previous step, we had the broader keywords as top-level. To continue this hierarchy, we now must make small, sub-groups. These groups help in specifying search intent to reach the top.
For example, we established “Burger” as a top-level keyword. But to make sure the search is done for the restaurant, there must be a sub-group consisting of keywords like “restaurant”, “place to eat”, “eatery” “restaurant in Honolulu”.
This will further the ad towards a more relevant audience.
To stand out, you must have as many sub-groups as possible. The most optimized keyword lists are those that have sub-groups of sub-groups. The illustration below shows a group that starts from top-level and becomes second and third level.
The deeper the sub-groups, the more intent is revealed. Since you intend to have people search for your restaurants to eat, your sub-group should be designated as such.
These terms involved in the sub-group are called orientational terms since they follow a hierarchy type orientation. 3 types of orientational terms can improve the intent of sub-groups.
- Transactional terms are terms with the end goal of buying, purchasing the product/service you offer
- Investigative terms are terms with the end goal of searching, learning the product/service you offer
- Instructional terms are terms with the end goal of educating, teaching about the product/service you offer. (A very common example is “how to…” blogs)
You can use these orientational terms as a benchmark when choosing keywords for your sub-groups.
- Make it as optimized as possible: We know, from the previous parts, that people sometimes search with misspelled variations and different synonyms. For us to target them, we must have the following variations in our ad groups:
- Misspelled variations like “brgers” “Chiken burgers” “Hawai restaurant” etc.
- Synonyms like “diner” “eating place” “eatery” etc.
- Singular and Plurals like “burgers” “restaurants” “eateries”
Repeat the process occasionally
Since it is a bidding war, the fight to the top requires consistent effort. The ad groups need to be refreshed with new terms that liven up the website ranking. You never know when your competitor gets to the top and you drop.
This is why the previous 3 parts should be repeated to reserve your top spot on the Search Engine Result Pages (SERP).
Now we have succeeded in keyword research and are ready to get to the top. The 3-step process will get you to the relevant search results. While we have tried to be discovered in relevant places, the final step involves not being discovered in irrelevant places.
4. The Discovery Process
Imagine a user searching for a catering service for a funeral event and your ad pops up looking all jolly and excited. The user did search for food, so it is not your fault. But to avoid such embarrassment, we must use negative keywords.
Negative keywords help you avoid appearing on irrelevant search queries. This will also help reduce costs and make your ad campaigns reach their most relevant crowd.
To pick the right negative keywords for your PPC ad, here’s what you need to do:
⦁ Use analytics and reports: Use your keyword research tools to dig out terms that your target audience genuinely searches and looks for. If there are terms that put your ad in an unfamiliar place, consider shifting them to the negative keyword category.
⦁ Prepare negative match types: With negative keywords, comes negative match types. Negative match types should be broad and should disqualify any query that you’re not offering. If someone searches “Free burger”, our ad restaurant should not pop up (unless we’re running an offer that offers free burger).
⦁ Multi-level negatives: Remember how ad groups have top-level groups and subgroups? So do negative keywords. We have to follow the same process for negative keywords as we did during ‘the organizing process and prepare different levels of negative keywords. For example, if someone searches “restaurant”, it is our top-level keyword and will pop up. But later if he searches “juices and shakes”, which hints that the user is searching for a juice bar, our ad should not be there.
By following these basic tactics, you should be able to further yourself towards your buyer’s search and produce more clicks and conversions.
These 4 steps are the guiding principles helping you reach more audience, more effectively. Just remember to go through this process occasionally.
If you are wondering whether “occasionally” means a month or a week, just check your analytics report every day and estimate how long it takes before another competitor sweeps the top spot. The minute they do, set it as a benchmark time and keep making consistent efforts to produce the best of PPC ads.