PPC 101: Keyword strategy

May 12th, 2016

Keyword strategy development for paid search is similar to that for organic search: the process of creating buyer personas, looking for gaps in the market, ranking for priority and searching for the golden ratio of high traffic—low competition.

No cold calls, no spammy emails, just perfectly timed ads that appear when someone searches for exactly what you offer. That’s the magic of a well-crafted PPC keyword strategy.

In this article, we’ll take a look at:

  • Identifying the keywords that attract your ideal customers
  • Understanding how different keyword types (broad, exact, etc.) impact your reach and budget
  • Aligning your ad copy with the searcher’s intent
  • Monitoring and refining your strategy

What is a paid search (PPC) keyword strategy?

A PPC keyword strategy is the blueprint for targeting the right people with your paid search ads. It’s like mapping out the keywords people use when searching for what you offer, ensuring your ads appear when they’re most relevant.

Keywords are important because:

    • They attract your ideal customers: Think “vegan hiking boots” vs. “boots.” The specific term attracts qualified leads interested in buying, not just window shoppers.
    • They control your ad placement: Your chosen keywords tell search engines where to display your ads, ensuring they appear next to relevant searches.
    • They influence your budget: High-competition keywords cost more per click, while niche terms can be more affordable.

How to develop a PPC keyword strategy for your AdWords campaigns

PPC keyword strategies are multi-faceted, taking in data mining and analysis, research and creative elements. However, the process can be reduced to just four key steps. These are:

  1. Identify your audience
  2. Refine your keyword list
  3. Group your keywords
  4. Review performance and tweak

Below, we expand on each of these steps to help you create a PPC keyword strategy that works.

Identify your audience and potential keywords

As with an organic keyword strategy, the process starts with keyword discovery, where marketers use tools to find keywords related to their business, considering factors like search volume, competition, and relevance. This step often involves looking at long-tail keywords, which are more specific and less competitive, thereby potentially offering a higher return on investment.

You may also want to create buyer personas. Think of them as detailed portraits of your ideal customers, capturing their demographics, desires, pain points, and online behaviour.

Understanding buyer personas can be helpful for a few reasons. It means you can identify specific phrases your ideal customers actually search for and you can understand their language, tone and concerns. You can get an idea of their value and willingness to spend and they provide a unifying thread, ensuring all your campaign elements work together to attract and convert the right people.

Combine all of this with information from your Analytics account to see what consumers are currently searching for on your site.

Refine your keyword list

Now that you’ve built up a list of general keywords, try using a concatenation tool, such as Merge, to create a list of long-tail search terms you can then proceed to refine.

After removing non-applicable terms, you can refine the list further using a keyword research tool to check for traffic, for example, Google’s Keyword Planner. Enter your URL and your industry and it will show you suggestions with search volumes. Other useful sites are Keyword Tool, Soovle and UberSuggest.

This process of refinement is about finding those areas which are best suited to your brand’s financial and market position. In narrowing down your list to terms with decent traffic and a recommended bid that is within your comfort zone, it will only contain terms you know you can successfully compete for. They should be achievable and representative of your brand.

Once you have these lists, you can then segment them by the level of purchase intent they demonstrate. More specific searches often demonstrate that a searcher is much closer to making a decision to buy, as demonstrated in our spiral diagram below. For example, a ‘buy white adidas trainers’ search is much closer to conversion than simply ‘white trainers’.


Group your keywords

Next, you’ll need to group your keywords under common themes to form your campaigns in
Google AdWords. Google recommends five to 20 keywords per ad group, and each ad group should contain keywords that directly relate to the group’s theme. These ad groups will form your specific matches with keywords of these four main types:

  • Broad match

Broad match keywords will “include misspellings, synonyms, related searches and other relevant variations”. These more generic terms are useful to ensure a higher number of impressions and a greater flow of traffic, but are the least effective at targeting.

  • Broad match modified

Broad match modified keywords will “contain the modified term (or close variations, but not synonyms), in any order”. Your ad will show only when someone’s search contains the words within your keyword, or close variations of the words (close variations can include synonyms, abbreviations and misspellings).

  • Phrase match

Phrase match keywords “are a phrase, and close variations of that phrase”. Your ad will show only when someone searches for a term that contains the keyword within the phrase, with or without additional words before or after it, as well as close variations.

  • Exact match

Exact match keywords include “exact term and close variations of that exact term”. These keywords give you specific control of which search terms you want to match, which helps with budgeting and results in high relevancy.


Review performance & tweak as necessary

Through careful and consistent review, you will begin to identify more keywords to compete for and more you should exclude (‘negative’ keywords). Ensure keyword research is a central and regular part of your PPC account management time.

You can develop your campaigns using AdWords’ search query report (SQR) tool. The SQR allows you to research the queries that are connecting to your current keywords and allows you to refine your targeting and identify opportunities that you are currently missing. Improving relevancy is one part of improving Ad Rank and Quality Score, which can boost your click-through-rate and save you money in bids.

Now you have the tools to build a powerful PPC keyword strategy! Remember, this isn’t a one-time project, but rather an ongoing process of refinement and optimisation.

Want to learn more about PPC?

Download our Simple Guide to Paid Search (PPC), a jargon-busting intro to how paid search can help you achieve your business goals.

Download our simple guide to organic search ebook

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