Keyword Research for PPC - Find More Qualified, Cheaper Clicks

PPC keyword research is an integral part effective paid search marketing. The beauty of pay-per-click search marketing is that the people offering products and services get a chance to enter into a discourse with potential customers and clients at exactly the right stage in the back-and-forth:

  • People are Looking for You - Every day, people are asking questions by typing words into a search box.  You the marketer get to jump in and offer them a potential answer.  The first step to doing this effectively is to make sure you're providing the right answers to the right questions.
  • You Need to Help Them Find You - To get your ads in front of the right people, you have to determine what it is the people likely to be interested in your offering actually say when they want to talk about the product or service you're promoting.  This means creating a list of "keywords" and then bidding on them, possibly using an AdWords bid tool.

The problem with keyword research is that while pinpointing a number of relevant terms that drive traffic is ideal, its generally the case that as you add keywords to your campaign, the quality and relevance of those keywords suffers, as is depicted in the following graphic:

PPC keyword research generally means having to sacrifice quality or quantity.

In the coming paragraphs, we'll explain why the most productive, cost-efficient way to generate these lists of targeted keywords is to utilize keyword research tools.

PPC Keyword Research: The First Step

The first step in researching keywords for a PPC campaign is pretty simple. You ask the person or people who know the business best to create a list of words that describe their products.  That gets you a small list.  You can now launch a campaign.  You'll have one "group" of keywords.  The number of words you're bidding on will be small and not very closely related.  They'll seem related, because they'll all be about your business, but in reality they'll be a lot more scattered than is optimal. 

If I'm a custom cabinet maker trying to drive people to my website, I would obviously know a few terms people might search for.  I'd probably come up with "custom cabinets," right off the top of my head.  I could probably list off some other terms pretty quickly, too. My list might look something like this:

  • "custom kitchen cabinets"
  • "high end custom cabinets"
  • "custom medicine cabinets"
  • "custom built cabinets" 

But what if someone searches for "high end white custom kitchen cabinets?"  I'll want to show up for that too. 

Or "high end custom kitchen and medicine cabinets." 

And what if someone types something a little odd, like "custom kitchen high end cabinets, medicine cabinets." 

It's becoming pretty obvious that there are a whole bunch of search queries it would make sense for me to bid on.  I don't have time to sit around all day, figuring out what they are, though: I have cabinets to make!

So now I've done a little preliminary keyword research.  I'm faced with the challenge of trying to get a handle on all of the different searches I might want my ads to display for.  From here, I have a few different options.

Option 1: Forget my Pay-Per Click Keyword Research and Listen to the Engines: Using Broad Match

"Broad match" refers to a keyword matching option that allows an advertiser to bid on any query that includes given keyword phrases. So, I can apply a broad match option on "custom cabinets," and then every time something like "high end custom cabinets" comes up, my ad will be in line to appear.  Sounds pretty good, right? Now I can cover all kinds of "long tail terms."

Not so fast. 

What if I'm a small custom cabinet shop in Boston?  I want to get more customers, but I can't really afford to be shipping my cabinets all over the place.  With broad match, I'm paying for clicks on terms like "custom cabinets Tennessee".  I don't have any control over what searches my ad is appearing in; many of them could be unrelated to my business goals, and there's a very good chance that those unrelated terms are expensive clicks. And the problem gets even worse if a keyword has completely different meanings depending on the context, for example I certainly wouldn't want to display my ads on searches for "cabinet minister".  If my ad is appearing next to these "broader" searches, the ads aren't as relevant.  That hurts my Quality Score.

So I'm burning through money on expensive, useless clicks while ruining my Quality Score (which makes even my relevant clicks cost more money).

I'll probably try something else.

Option 2: Pay-Per Click Keyword Research Services from a Dedicated Search Marketer

All right so I can't generate a lot of keywords myself, and broad match clearly isn't a good idea.  How about I hand the list over to an in-house search marketer or a search marketing agency, and she (or they) takes those terms and runs with them? 

She could do some keyword research using any of various keyword suggestion tools.  She'll probably find a nice bunch of related terms.  She might even come back with hundreds, maybe even thousands of keywords.  Sounds pretty good, right? She'll make sure they're relevant, too.  Then she'll track them.  She won't sit around coming up with new terms every day, but who needs to?  A couple hundred or even a few thousand relevant terms feels like a lot.

It's not.

In reality, there are literally hundreds of thousands of terms I should be bidding on. There are all kinds of queries for which I should have a bid in. In only bidding on the most obvious two or three hundred key phrases, I am leaving most of the search traffic out there unexplored. The graph below illustrates what's commonly referred to as the "long tail of search."

Each bar in the bar graph represents a keyword used by your customers to find your website; the bar graph is then sorted in descending order of keyword popularity.  Basically, it depicts the fact that for any group of keywords, there will exist very few exceptionally high-traffic, popular keywords, and an enormous mass of keywords that bring very little traffic. The interesting, somewhat counter-intuitive thing here is that the large number of terms bringing a small amount of traffic (the graph's "long tail") account for more traffic than the handful of more obvious, popular searches.

In conducting keyword research for paid search, not ignoring the "long tail" is crucial.

According to Udi Manber, Google's VP of search, 20 to 25% of Google queries are totally unique. This means that roughly a quarter of what people are typing into Google has never been typed by anyone else on the planet, ever. Think of how many of these random clicks could be providing you with very inexpensive, qualified leads. First off, your competitors aren't driving up bids on low volume keywords (they're too busy targeting the same couple hundred words and phrases your dedicated PPC expert came up with). Plus, specific searchers are generally after something...well, specific, and when they find it it's likely they're late in the buying cycle.

So I need to find a way to get my ad in front of all these long tail custom cabinet terms, while creating relevant ads and Ad Groups for them.  Broad match won't work. It doesn't look like my PPC consultant will be able to cover the whole range of keywords and generate Ad Groups for all of them.

What's next, you ask?

Option 3: Keyword Research Tools from WordStream

Check out WordStream's Free Keyword Tools, an easy way to find the right keywords to use in your advertising campaigns.

wordstream new and improved free keyword tool

Learn more about how to manage your PPC keywords in this guide.