Keyword research is easily the most daunting aspect of pay-per-click advertising.

As with all digital marketing efforts, the goal of PPC advertising is to zero in on the most effective strategy possible. The better your strategy, the better your results. Smart choices increase your return on investment and make your dollar go further.

When it comes to PPC, your keywords are at the center of your strategy. Effective keywords put your brand in front of the buyers who are most likely to convert. On the flip side, the wrong keywords will have you spending thousands of dollars just to get clicks from users who will never click all the way to the checkout button.

That said, don’t let the burden of keyword research scare you away from pay-per-click advertising altogether. PPC is a highly effective strategy for putting your brand and products front and center in the search engine results, even if your SEO efforts haven’t gotten you there, yet. All you have to do is create an ad campaign with a major PPC channel like Google Ads. You assign a set of keywords to your campaign and bid for placement in search engine results for searches related to your chosen keywords. You then pay every time a user clicks on your ad.

Not only is PPC advertising a reliable way to get on the first page of search results, it’s also a digital marketing channel that puts your brand in front of users who actively intend to make a purchase . . .

. . . especially if you’re smart about your keywords.

Here are all the essential steps for researching powerful keywords for your PPC campaigns.

Step 1: PPC Keyword Ideation

Make a list of every keyword that comes to mind related to your product or campaign. This list is going to get very long. Don’t worry. You’ll scale back later. But first, you want to make sure you’ve laid out every option so you can narrow down to the most effective terms.

Brainstorm keywords that fall into each of these categories:

Brand Keywords

A brand keyword is a phrase that includes a brand name. You should consider keywords that include your brand name as well as your competitors. A lot of business owners skip the brand keywords because it seems too specific or because they feel their own brand isn’t big enough to get that many searches yet. However, people who search for a specific brand (e.g. “Yeti cooler”) are often searching with the intent to make a purchase.


These are the keywords that often come to mind first. Generic terms are directly related to the product or service you are trying to sell. “Women’s running shoes.” “Life coach in Portland.” You get the idea.

Feature-Specific Keywords

This one is pretty straightforward. Feature-specific keywords cater to people looking for the qualities that set your product or service apart. “24-hour diner in Eagle Rock” for locals looking someplace to get coffee at midnight. “Organic dog food” for health-conscious pet owners. Think the details you highlight use to sell your product or service to different buyers and add those phrases to your keyword list.

High-Intent Keywords

Here’s a fun one. Think of the words Internet searchers use when they’re ready to make a purchase. They may use a search term that fits into one of the categories listed above, but they’ll often add a little more specificity—“Swedish massage no appointment,” for example, or “sleep number mattress President’s Day sale.”

Related Keywords

Related keywords are search terms that don’t refer to your product or service directly but might be used by buyers who are likely to purchase from you. For example, the same users who search for “best golf clubs for beginners” might also have an interest in your private golf lessons.

Now that you have an incredibly long keyword list . . . you’re ready to make it even longer.

Step 2: Expand Your Keyword List

A good technique for keyword brainstorming is to start broad and gradually get more specific and more nuanced. Build on the list you already have using these techniques:

Long-Tail Keyword Phrases

Long-tail keywords build on existing search terms by adding specificity. Oftentimes, businesses make the mistake of choosing shorter, broader keywords to reach a greater volume of searchers. While more visibility is generally a good thing, the problem with broad search terms is that someone searching for “canopy bed” might want to buy a canopy bed or they might be trying to figure out what a canopy bed is or they might need a picture of a canopy bed for their vision board. And if that’s your keyword, you’re going to pay for every single one of those people to click on your ad. A long-tail keyword like “Victorian oak canopy bed” is likelier to reach real customers.

Variations and Synonyms

Comb through your keyword list and find alternative versions of the keywords you already have. “Sneakers” versus “tennis shoes.” “Discount” versus “sale.” That sort of thing. If you’re targeting a geographical area, also take local terminology into account.

Keywords That Reflect Speech

Our typed search terms are often different from the way we search when we use Siri or Alexa. While you might type “Iron Man actor” into the Google search box, you’re more likely to ask Alexa, “Who played Iron Man in the Iron Man movie?” The more we conduct Internet searches through speech, the more important these speech patterns become to search engines. As you review your current keyword list, look for search terms that might come out differently if the same query was spoken rather than typed.

Now that you’ve expanded your keyword list, it’s time to start digging deeper and separate the high-value search terms from those that may not serve you as well.

Step 3: Use Keyword Research Tools

There are a ton of keyword research tools available to you for a wide range of subscription prices. You’ll want to take a little time to research all the options and determine which is best for you. At this phase in keyword research, you want to look for tools that can help you with these three steps:

Keyword Reccomendations

We know, we know—your keyword brainstorm list is already out of control. But trust us, it pays to be thorough, and there are some great (free!) tools like Ubersuggest that will help you find keywords you might not have considered. Answer the Public even drills down into questions searchers ask, helping you get inside the head of your buyer.

Competitor Keyword Research

You get a lot of great ideas from seeing which words the other guy is using to reach buyers. Not to mention, the more you know about your competitor’s strategy, the better your position when it comes to competing. A lot of keyword research tools like SEM Rush offer the ability to research your competitor’s search term strategy. If you want to go deep, check out a tool like SpyFu. This tool offers everything you could possibly want to know about your competitor’s keyword choices, PPC ad performance, and how your own efforts compare.

Determine the Value of Your Keywords

This is where you finally get to start trimming down your list. Use a tool like Google Keyword Planner, Mangools’ KWFinder, or any of the other tools out there to get a glimpse of how each keyword is going to perform. Different tools offer varying levels of insight, but the basic gist is this: You want to look for words that have a high search volume and low competition. Go through each word in your list and start developing a condensed list identifying the keywords that are likeliest to perform well for you. When you have that list ready, it’s on to Step 4.

Step 4: Organize Your Paid Keyword Lists

The more targeted each ad campaign is, the better it’s likely to perform. Keyword selection is one easily overlooked aspect of targeting, but it’s important. A twenty-year-old man looking for an affordable meal subscription service is likely to use different search terms than a sixty-year-old woman looking for an easy way to make heart-healthy dinners. You may want both customers, but you’ll probably need different keywords to connect with them. Whether you’re tailoring each campaign according to audience, geography, product, objective, or promotion, make sure you choose keywords that align with your overall campaign strategy.

You also want to pay close attention to the match type option for your keywords. For example, Google Ads allows you to choose between an exact match—that means word-for-word—or a broad match, which would allow your ad to pop up for search terms that are very similar to your actual keywords, but not exactly the same. There are, of course, pros and cons for either choice . . .

. . . and that’s why this final step is absolutely essential.

Step 5: Monitor Your Keywords

As with all digital marketing strategies, pay per click advertising is most effective when you regularly monitor your ad’s performance and adjust accordingly. Review your search query reports to see the exact customer search terms that led users to your ad. You may discover high-performing keywords you want to add to your campaign.

You may also find that some search terms are guiding the wrong buyers to your site. This is an opportunity to further optimize your campaign and ultimately save money by adding negative keywords to your keyword list. A negative keyword tells search engines you do not want your ad to show up for that specific search term. Imagine, for example, that you sell high end furniture. If you have “coffee table” as a keyword, but you see the search term “used coffee table” in your search query report, you know that click was probably wasted on someone who is unlikely to buy from you. Make a note of it and add that negative keyword to your ad campaign.

The more frequently you can tap into your keyword research tools to further optimize your keywords, the more powerful your pay per click campaigns are bound to be.

Of course, this all takes work. A lot of work. From brainstorming a strong list, to evaluating the value of each keyword, to sorting the keywords by campaign and objective, keyword research is a massive undertaking. Add the ongoing responsibility of monitoring performance, and you may find PPC advertising is almost a job in and of itself. It is, however, 100% worth it. A strong PPC campaign can widen your brand’s reach and drive up profits.

If you could use some help strategizing the perfect keywords for your pay per click ad campaign, please reach out anytime. We’re always here for you.