Jan 24 2019
Basis Technologies

7 Tips and Tricks For Better PPC Keyword Research


It might be surprising but your keyword list is one of the most important tools behind an effective PPC advertising campaign -- for a lot of reasons. Among other things, you need to have an arsenal of relevant, high search volume keywords to hone in on and directly target the key sectors of your audience. You also need to constantly identify high-value keywords that your competitors have overlooked to stay ahead of them. Succeed at this and your keyword list can help drive marketing goals while minimizing necessary ad spend and maximizing overall ROI as a result. Thus, smart PPC keyword research is non-negotiable.

That said, PPC advertisers need to think beyond the most basic PPC keyword research strategies. Here are seven tips and tricks to expand your PPC keyword research strategy.

1. Use Google Autocomplete

Google’s autocomplete feature is both a valuable and underutilized tool for PPC keyword research. Ostensibly, it’s designed to help searchers by suggesting terms related to their search query - and subsequently people click on Google’s autocomplete suggestions because it displays a correct spelling or it’s relevant to what they’re looking for. Thus, PPC marketers who target these key phrases can capture some of this traffic.

You've likely seen this before when you've conducted Google searches - users type in a root keyword or phrase and Google displays a drop-down menu of ways to complete it. Among other things, Google’s autocomplete phrases can help PPC marketers understand:

  1. What kind of queries people are searching for
  2. What kind of content is out there related to a query
  3. The search volume of various keyword phrases

Ultimately, Google is trying to connect users with relevant content that’s available on the web, so its drop-down menu of autocomplete suggestions is a reflection of the most popular searches.

But what most people (marketers included) don’t realize is that autocomplete is capable of doing more than just finishing a phrase. For one, you can also use it for PPC keyword research in the beginning or middle of a phrase by inserting an underscore, which provides countless more opportunities to discover key search phrases related to your root keywords for PPC.

You may discover that sometimes the query you enter doesn’t bring up any autocomplete results. This is likely because it has a low search volume - that is, not enough people are typing in similar phrases.

2. Learn From Your Competitors' Keywords

If you’re just starting out with PPC marketing, your competitors can potentially be a great resource for PPC keyword research - by learning what search queries are bringing traffic to your competitor’s website. And you don’t have to pay for any advanced PPC keyword research tools to do it.

Google Ads Keyword Planner is all you need to analyze other websites. First, go to Keyword Planner, and click “Find new keywords.” Then you can type in the URL of one of your competitors, or a high authority site you want to emulate. Click “Get ideas,” then it will bring you a database of keyword terms that people are typing into search engines to arrive at your competitors’ site:

You can sort the results of your PPC keyword research by many relevant factors, like average monthly searches, competition, and bid. What you do with this information depends on your strategy - if you plan to compete with this website directly, then these could be keywords to target. If you want to avoid competing directly with them, then you might avoid these keywords in your PPC strategy. You can also enter multiple websites into Keyword Planner to get an idea of how your competition as a whole attracts traffic through Google search.

3. Mine Your Own Website for Keyword Search Queries

Your own website can offer just as much valuable information for PPC as your competitors’ websites. Unless your business is brand new, people are likely already using a variety of search queries to access your website from Google search. So don’t forget to run your own URL through Keyword Planner to see what search queries are already bringing you organic traffic.

One thing you can do is look at these existing traffic sources as an opportunity for PPC targeting. Research has shown that when organic and paid search results appear together, it significantly improves average CTR:

On the other hand, you may not want to target these keywords to avoid cannibalization. If your organic SEO is already attracting significant traffic from these search queries, then you should allocate your PPC budget to target other relevant queries that aren’t ranking well.

But both approaches are relevant, and you can discover which one is right for you by trying and testing the performance and ROI of different keyword strategies.

Another way you can mine your own website for audience search queries is using your site search feature. While most businesses offer a search box at the top of their website or on their blog, they very rarely pay attention to the insights it brings for keyword targeting.

Consider these statistics:

  • 59% of web visitors frequently use the internal search engine to navigate a website
  • 15% would rather use the search function than the hierarchical menu

People who visit your website and use the search feature are looking for something specific, and as a result are much more likely to convert than passive site visitors. The search queries people use on your website can be just as relevant when targeting these audiences in search engines as well.

You can start tracking site search queries using Google Analytics. From the side menu, click “Admin.” Then from the Admin View column click “View Settings.” From there, scroll down to the bottom of the page and toggle “Site search Tracking” to on. Now you’ll be able to track site search queries and over time discover popular keywords that you can target for PPC as well.  

4. Start With a Broad PPC Keyword Research Strategy, Then Refine

One of the first things marketers learn about PPC strategy is to avoid targeting broad keywords. Broad keywords are catch-all phrases that bring in huge volumes of traffic. As a result, they’re incredibly expensive and competitive to target.

That said, a common mistake marketers make is ignoring broad, unspecific phrases altogether when researching keywords, instead focusing entirely on long-tail keywords (phrases with three or more terms). But while long-tail keywords are highly relevant, they often have very low search volume, making it difficult to scale your PPC strategy.

The key to building a long list of keywords with the right combination of relevance, search volume, and competition, then, is starting broad and refining. Instead of ignoring generalized, high competition keywords, use them as a root to inspire related long-tail keywords.

There are a variety of free and paid tools available that are designed to help you brainstorm relevant long-tail keywords using broad keywords as a root -- Ubersuggest and Answer the Public are popular examples.

5. Use Your Blog for Keyword Inspiration

Your existing blog content is a great place to find inspiration for keyword ideas. Most marketers overlook this resource because their post topics are so specific, and targeting the related long-tail keywords wouldn’t be scalable for PPC.

But a great place to find PPC keyword research ideas is by looking at your blog categories and cornerstone content. Scrolling any given category, you can see whether there’s a lot of material about one subject in particular. You can use this as a root keyword to explore more possibilities.

Type something like “machine learning” into a long-tail keyword research tool like Answer the Public, and it returns a variety of relevant terms that might be worthwhile to target for PPC.

6. Map Your Customer Journey

Your list of relevant keywords to target for PPC can grow indefinitely if you allow it. But more importantly than capturing all the right keywords is identifying the ones that are most contextually relevant to your target audience.

Consumers today rely on the internet heavily at different points during the path to purchase, which vary greatly by customer demographics, location and industry. If you want to identify the most valuable keywords, you need to map them onto your customer journey.

Most businesses that incorporate customer journey mapping into their PPC strategy do so to evenly distribute their investment across it. For example, they target relevant keywords evenly across the main funnel stages:

  • Top-of-the-funnel: Awareness stage
  • Middle-of-the-funnel: Consideration stage
  • Bottom-of-the-funnel: Decision stage

But if you dig deep into consumer behavior insights, you can identify the specific points of the customer journey for which the internet plays an important role for your audience. For example, someone in the hotel industry might discover that most of their audience searches for hotels when they’re ready to book. In this case, they would want to invest heavily in targeting bottom-of-the-funnel keywords that suggest their audience has their credit card in hand (e.g. “Book Chicago hotel” or “Chicago hotel prices”).

Think With Google provides all the data and tools businesses need to make these discoveries about their own audience’s customer journey. Their Consumer Barometer is specifically designed to illustrate how the internet impacts the customer journey — from consideration to purchase.

You can use this tool to answer a variety of important questions about the customer journey, such as: In which parts of the purchase process do people use the internet?

Or how do people use the internet to help make their purchase decision?

You can narrow down the results by product category and location, making them more specific to your industry. Say the majority of your audience uses the internet to compare choices during the purchase process. That’s a middle-of-the-funnel activity, so you can focus on relevant keywords like “[your product] vs [competitors]” or “[product niche] price comparison.”

7. Explore Seasonal Keyword Opportunities

Search engine queries are all about context. If you run a business where seasonality is a factor, this is something you can take advantage of in your keyword targeting strategy. You can probably come up with some relevant seasonal keywords to target, but you can also dig deeper to discover other opportunities you might have missed.

Google Trends is an invaluable tool for this. Say you’re doing PPC advertising for a Las Vegas hotel. You can type in a very generalized keyword into Google Trends, such as “Las Vegas.” You’ll see that interest in Las Vegas remains fairly constant throughout the year:

But if you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you’ll see a list of related topics and queries that are seeing spikes:

Some of these can potentially be relevant PPC keywords to target, or inspire keywords for future trends. The spiked query “gwen stefani las vegas” suggests that people will search for popular performers when they’re scheduled to perform in the city.

The Bottom Line

Those waist-deep in PPC campaign strategy know that PPC keyword research is a never-ending task. Markets and consumer needs are constantly changing, and in turn, the queries people use to find information will also change. That said, marketers also need to understand exactly how those markets and consumers are changing. What’s more, like your audience, your business is constantly growing and evolving. And as it does, so will your keyword list. Nailing the right keywords for your target audience is perhaps some of the most fundamental - and critical - research you can do as a PPC marketer. Thus, continually expanding and refining your keyword list is an inherent part of any successful PPC strategy.

There are a multitude of ways to discover new and effective keywords that will boost the quality of your keyword lists and enable you to better target your key audiences - while even reaching new ones.  Effective PPC marketers will embrace the challenge.