How to select cost-effective keywords for your Google ad campaign

A paid search campaign – i.e. paying to place ads on search engines like Google and Bing – can be a great way to attract new customers and boost business.

Ads on search engines can be so effective because marketers can place relevant messages in front of an audience at precisely the time they’re looking for information. Whether a business is in B2C or B2B, it’s a fact that purchase consideration will usually include an element of online search.

A fundamental building block of every paid search campaign (aka PPC or pay-per-click, because you only pay when someone clicks on the ad) is the “keyword”. Keywords can be a single word or a phrase that somebody is using to search on a search engine. For example, if someone is thinking about buying a new car, they might search for information or pricing online use keywords or phrases “new car reviews”, “auto dealers”, “buy a new car”, “vehicle comparisons”, and so on. Everybody’s different, and searches can differ significantly at different stages of the buying process. By the time someone in this example has narrowed down their choices, they might be searching more specifically for something that includes brand names, like “Ford Fiesta dealers”.

Something to think about as an advertiser is what stage in the buyer’s process to try and reach them with your message, because this (along with the advertising budget) will be an important factor in the selection of keywords.

There are several ways to go about selecting keywords. Customers already have their own way of deciding which words they’re going to use to describe what they’re looking for, so keywords must match their way of searching to be effective.

Choosing Keywords

There are four steps to choose the keywords that will put you in front of the largest, most qualified audience possible:

    1. Brainstorm keywords that customers would use to describe your product, and the types of problems they would be trying to solve. Listening to the way your sales team discusses the solutions with potential customers can be an excellent way to explore the potential vocabulary.
    2. Take a look at your website’s analytics to see what kind of search terms are bringing traffic to your site now.
    3. Competitors’ sites can be a useful shortcut at the information gathering stage. Do a Google search for the name of a product to see what is being displayed in the search engine results. Also, the Google suggested searches can be a small but good source of possible keywords. Below is a B2B example, for ‘concrete forms’. These suggestions indicate the related search keywords that were most popular with other searchers.
Choosing keywords

Google’s suggestions for concrete forms search

  1. Free tools like Google’s External Keyword Tool are great for ideas and information about the volume of traffic particular search terms are generating. Here is an example using the Google tool to look for additional keywords related to ‘concrete forms’.

Google external keyword tool

Choose keywords with the most opportunity. Focus on:

  • Relevance – does the keyword relate to your product/service? Consider, too, words that should be deliberately excluded from your keywords, to avoid having ads show up on search results pages that are not relevant to the right customers for your business. For example, try a search for “lube” and you can see the confusion that can ensue.
  • Intent – does the keyword match the intent of your website visitor? Think about it from the customer’s perspective.
  • Competition – how much competition does the phrase have? The more competition there is for a keyword, the more expensive it will be to bid on.
  • Search Volume – choose keywords with a high volume/competition ratio, if possible.

How many keywords do you need?

The number of keywords you need really depends on several factors, including your budget, your market, the amount of content on your website, and so on, but as a general starting point, consider:

  • Core head keywords: 5-10
    • Head keywords – short, high volume keywords (e.g., “dog”)
  • Secondary torso keywords: 10-20
    • Torso keywords – medium length, less volume, but closer to purchase (e.g., “dog food”)
  • Tertiary long tail keywords: 20-1000
    • Long tail keywords – 3 or more-word phrases with less volume, but much higher conversion rates (e.g., “dog food for poodles”)

Short vs long tail keyword

There are a couple of other free tools from Google that are worth checking out. Google Insights can provide, well, insight, into markets for search terms. Take this example for ‘concrete forms’. If you were a national provider of concrete forms, this information could be very useful in deciding where to spend your advertising dollars.
Insight for search

Another good tool is Google Trends which shows the level of interest in keywords, how frequently those keywords have appeared in Google News stories, and in which geographic regions people have searched for them most.
Google trends

Managing keywords

If your pay-per-click ad campaign is using more than just a few keywords, sort the keyword list into ad groups. Each group should be focused on a single product or service. For example, if you are advertising for a business that sells computers, you could set up individual ad groups for desktop, laptop, peripherals, monitors, printers, and so on. If you were using a lot of keywords, you could break the categories down into finer detail (15-inch monitors, 17-inch monitors, etc.). Avoid using the same keywords in different groups.

Google recommends creating separate campaigns for each product line, resource, or brand that you are advertising. To get better performance from your keywords, remember to take advantage of keyword matching options. Google offers more advice in their article “Optimizing AdWords Campaigns and Ad Groups

Beyond Keywords

Once the keywords are decided and grouped, the next steps are writing the ads, creating the landing pages and testing the results, all of which are covered comprehensively in Mediative’s free eBook The Marketing Hero QuickStart – From Zero to Hero in 90 Days.