How to Conduct PPC Keyword Research

A penny saved is a penny earned. This saying rings in my ear as I think about how best to cut into the core of  PPC keyword research. Before getting into all that, let’s back up.

PPC, or Pay Per Click, is a type of advertising in digital marketing. And keywords are at the center of your PPC strategy.

When a user clicks on your ad, you’ll pay. So, choosing the right keywords is critical to make sure that the right people land on your content. After all, you don’t want to waste money going after the wrong audience. See? A penny saved…

Let’s break down how to conduct PPC keyword research to make it easy as pie for those new to the space.

How to do keyword research for PPC

It’s important to nail down the right keywords and search terms before embarking on your PPC campaign adventure. Keyword research for PPC differs from SEO keyword research so it’s important to keep the strategies separate, even if they have some overlap. Here’s how to do keyword research for PPC in four straightforward steps:

PPC keyword research: tips and tricks

1. Brainstorm ideas

The first step of your keyword research: brainstorm ideas. Your focus here should be high-intent keywords and product-specific keywords because these powerful terms will lead searchers right to you.

High-intent keywords reveal that a person is ready to take action.
Prime example:
If someone searches for a product price, it’s likely that they’re ready, or looking to, make a purchase. Words like “buy,” “visit,” and “purchase” are also clues that a searcher has the intent to buy now.

Product-specific keywords directly relate to your market and product or service.  For example, if you own a health food shop, “gluten-free crackers” may be a specific keyword for your store. Making a robust list of high-intent and product-specific keywords will already put you in a strong position when it comes to creating campaigns.

What’s next?

2. PPC competitor research

For a PPC strategy to succeed, you need to keep a close eye on the competition. As opposed to an SEO strategy, the stakes are high when deciding your keywords in PPC advertising. This is because you pay per click and therefore want to guarantee that you target buyers with intent, otherwise, your budget will go down the drain before you know it. And nobody wants to see that happen.

Checking out what’s worked for your competitors’ PPC strategies will help you level up your own. You’ll need to optimize your strategy and constantly adjust your keywords to make sure you’re ahead of the game.

Our 7-day keyword filter can help with this, as it provides you access to the latest keyword info for any seven-day period. Yes, even from as recently as last week.

When investigating keywords, you’ll need to look at cost per click (CPC) and quality score. A high-quality score means that the ad will cost less while ranking higher. Your maximum bid is multiplied by the quality score for your cost-per-click, or CPC. We’ll get into the quality score in more detail in a minute though. When focusing on keywords, make sure you have a mix of short-tail and long-tail keywords.

  • Short-tail keywords have higher rates of traffic and are extremely competitive
  • Long-tail keywords often see much less traffic, are far less competitive, and often have higher conversion rates.

3. Expand your keyword list

There are two major keyword research tools that help you expand your keyword list: Google’s Keyword Planner and Similarweb’s Keyword Generator Tool.

If you need help planning your PPC keywords with tools that cover research, bid estimates and tailoring your advertising plan specifically for Google Ads then Google Keyword Planner is your go-to.

Dig further into keywords based on category to unlock more detailed subcategories and maximize relevance to your topic, Similarweb’s Keyword Generator Tool should be your next click (the link is right above).

This tool works its magic to give you new keyword ideas you may not have even considered before. You can then sort by the match types (phrase match / exact match, related keywords / broad match, trending keywords, and question queries) as well as data metrics (volume, yearly website traffic trend, CPC, organic vs. paid search, and the website winning the most traffic) per keyword.

Keyword gap analysis: keyword generator tool on Similarweb

Our keyword generator tool also lets you build a list of strategic long-tail keywords. Enter a general search term and it will pop out hundreds of keyword suggestions from exact, high-volume terms to related long-tail keywords.

And, you won’t be left in the dark to make decisions. We will arm you with a wide range of information about each word, including search volume, trends, cost per click (CPC), website leaders for specific terms, organic vs. paid, and the current search term leader.

  • Pro tip: Tap Keyword Gap to find gaps in your content marketing plan and see which keywords drive traffic for the competition. Now, you can accurately assess what you may be missing and optimize your strategy effectively. (You’re welcome!)

Next stop, analyze top PPC landing pages. You can easily gain insight into what your competitors are working on, what their key focuses are, and even where they drive their paid traffic. Time to see under your competition’s hood. 

Top PPC landing pages: Similarweb competitve analysis

Pro Tip: Consider location-based queries as indicators of user intent because if a person searches for a product near them, they are most likely reaching a purchasing decision. For example, “Adidas shoes in Chicago” shows a higher user intent than “Adidas shoes.”

At this point, you’ve got yourself a healthy list of potential keywords that fit your digital marketing strategy.

Now what? Organize your PPC keyword research in a way that makes implementation easy.

To do this, combine all your terms into one master keyword list and remove any duplicate terms. Three major factors to consider when creating your master list are:

  1. Monthly search volumes
  2. Monthly trends
  3. Competitor rankings and performance data

These factors directly affect your SEO performance so consider what your strategy’s priorities are. Are you trying to get as much organic traffic as possible? Improve your ranking for specific keywords? Take more of your competitors’ traffic share? The answers to these questions will guide how you prioritize your master keyword list.

4. Group your PPC keyword research

Do you remember what your ultimate goal is when searching for PPC keywords? Advertising your products successfully to your target audience. Not all keywords will be relevant to all of your products and advertisements, so group your PPC keywords into different ad groups based on similarity. The key is to get as specific as possible to ensure that your keywords are relevant and successful and that your time and budget aren’t wasted.

For example, let’s say you own a small health food store and you’re running a PPC ad. Group “vegan chips” with “vegan cheese” and “faux-meat substitute,” and put “organic oranges” with “all-natural baby food.”

  • Pro Tip: Group your keywords into ad groups based on category and keyword similarity, taking user intent into account. The goal of this is to allow each ad group to be as relevant to the ad you are running as possible so it has a higher chance of driving clicks and conversions.

Congrats! You know how to do keyword research for PPC. Next step: prioritize.

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Prioritize your keyword groups for 5 factors

It’s clear that not all keywords are created equal. Now that you’ve gathered a list of potential keywords, you need to prioritize them to create the perfect ads. Let’s look at some of the most important factors to take into consideration.

PPC keyword prioritization: 5 factors to consider

Factor 1: Small margin of error

I said it before, but I’ll say it again. When using a PPC strategy, you have a small margin of error. Every mistake you make will cost you valuable money. So, don’t take risks with your keywords…at least not at the beginning of a new campaign. Stick to terms that have the highest potential for turnover and purchase, ultimately maximizing your ROI.

Factor 2: Quality score

Google rates each keyword with a “quality score.” Your quality score helps to determine your CPC and ad rank in the bidding process. Understanding your quality score is a must in building a successful PPC campaign.

A high-quality score brings down your CPC, which is a good thing. It helps your ad rank higher. To calculate your ad rank, use this formula:

Ad Rank = Quality Score x Max CPC

What impacts your quality score?

  • Your click-through rate (CTR): Google looks at your CTR as an essential factor in determining how relevant and suitable your ads are to your target market. You’ll be in direct competition with your competitors here, as logic says that as your CTR for a keyword goes up, theirs should go down. (Que: take your gloves off)
  • The relevancy of each keyword to your specified ad group: Make sure that your keywords are highly relevant to your target group, for each specific ad. See why grouping your keywords by ad groups is so important?
  • Your landing page’s quality and relevance to the target keyword: Let’s put it this way – if you’re advertising something on Google, the corresponding landing page better be awesome, highly relevant, and mobile-friendly. Google wants to make sure that your content directly aligns with what you say it is and answers a searcher’s questions.
    • Pro Tip: Keep page speed in mind. Nobody has the patience to wait forever, so the faster your page loads, the better.
  • Your ad copy: Copy is important. Make it engaging, memorable, and of course, grammatically correct and spelling mistake-free.
  • Your account performance history on the search engine: Search engine algorithms including Bing, Google search, Yandex, and even social media platforms take a look at your history when deciding your future performance. Yet again, emphasizing why making sure you build your PPC strategy correctly from day one is a must.

Factor 3: Search volume and value

Search volume and search value are fundamental parts of any PPC keyword research plan. The higher the search volume, the more people are looking for it. But your goal isn’t to automatically target those keywords, it’s to find the most relevant, cost-effective keywords for your business.

That means evaluating each keyword thoroughly. If you find a keyword with high volume and low competition, take a minute or two to critically analyze if that means you’ll maximize your ROI and get cost effective clicks, or if that search term is a flop. Bottom line, while volume matters, value matters more.

Factor 4: Search intent

As discussed before, intent is everything when talking about PPC. One more time for the people in the back, intent is everything. Find customers that are ready to buy as soon as they find your site. Those looking for information or inspiration will be a waste of your PPC budget. This is different from SEO keyword strategy, which doesn’t cost money and therefore allows you to be broader and less intent-based.

Factor 5: Negative keywords

Be aware of keywords that have double meanings or could be used in a completely different context. You can add these as ‘negative keywords’ into your ad group to ensure your ad won’t appear in searches for these terms. Example? Think of a query that includes “login.” Is the searcher looking for information into your topic, rather just trying to log in to an existing account?

“Think of PPC as an online auction. It’s exciting, high-paced, and constantly changing.” Tweet this

PPC – It’s all about the right strategy

PPC is a great way to reach your audience but requires a bit of understanding and a lot of research in order to do it successfully. When done right, PPC keyword research can bring your product or service in front of new customers easily.

Think of PPC as an online auction. It’s exciting, fast-paced, and constantly changing. You can’t just set a PPC campaign, let it go, and check back in after a few days or weeks. You’ll need to track and adjust it often to make sure your budget is being used effectively. And of course, you’ll need to keep an eye on your competition to make sure that you’re ahead of the game.

Ready to begin creating your PPC strategy? Download our must-have guide to create a winning PPC Strategy, so you always have the best practices at your fingertips.

PPC Tips and Tricks


Why is keyword research important for PPC?

Keyword research is important for PPC to make sure your desired audience lands on your content and paid ads.

How do I do keyword research for PPC?

You can conduct keyword research for PPC in four simple steps:

  1. Brainstorm relevant keyword ideas
  2. Conduct PPC competitor research
  3. Use keyword research tools to expand your keyword list, such as Similarweb’s Keyword Generator Tool.
  4. Group your PPC keyword research into ad groups

What keyword research factors should I consider when creating PPC ads?

There are several important factors to consider, including a small margin of error, quality score, and negative keywords.

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