Running your first pay-per-click (PPC) campaign can be daunting. You might be wondering if it is worth the cost. The question I’m asked most often about PPC is, “how do I decide what keywords to use?”

Choosing the right keywords is vital if you want your PPC campaign to succeed. Choosing the wrong ones will mean you’ll be throwing money away.

In this article, I’ll tell you exactly how to research and choose appropriate keywords. But first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page with our definitions.

What is PPC?

Pay-per-click (PPC) is an advertising model designed to drive traffic to a website. The advertiser (that’s you) pays the advertisement publisher each time someone clicks on the ad.

Most PPC advertising takes place via an advertising network. Google Ads (previously AdWords) is by far the largest and most ubiquitous.

Over 1.5 million businesses are currently using Google Ads, and it reaches 90% of all internet users worldwide.

Why should I do PPC?

If you get it right, PPC advertising gives you the kind of reach that would be almost impossible through organic traffic alone.

It is proven to increase traffic and, since a strong campaign is highly targeted, PPC brings highly qualified leads into your sales funnel which are more likely to lead to a conversion.

PPC has additional benefits, too. It boosts your brand recognition, is highly customizable and measurable, and you have complete control over how you spend your money.

Since you pay nothing unless someone clicks on your ad, it’s particularly attractive to small businesses operating on a tight budget.

And, since it’s not reliant on SEO or search engine algorithms, it gives you a better chance of competing with your niche’s biggest players.

As we’ve seen, you really can’t afford to ignore PPC advertising. But you can only take advantage of this great opportunity if you target the right keywords.

The three levers of PPC

There are three essential “levers” which make up a strong PPC campaign, all equally important. They must all align for your ad to succeed.

The levers are:

  • Your copy. This is the wording you use for the ad and also includes any visual assets. A small difference in phrasing can be the difference between an ad that fails and one that succeeds.
  • The keyword. We’ll discuss how to select and target the appropriate keywords in the next section of this article.
  • The landing page. The landing page is where your prospective customer ends up after clicking on your ad, and it’s vital to creating a great customer experience. Your landing page should align with the user intent. By this I mean, there must be relevance between the keywords you are targeting and the landing page.

The more closely aligned these three levers are with each other, the less you’ll have to spend to attract the quality leads you need.

When your conversions start to drop, it’s time to change one or more of the three elements.

How to choose keywords for your PPC campaign

Put yourself in your ideal customer’s shoes. What search terms might they use if they were looking for a product or service like yours?

Write them all down – there are no bad ideas at this stage!

Here are some of the categories of keywords you’ll want to explore:

Branded terms

Branded search terms are any containing your brand name or other trademarked properties. The advantage of bidding on branded terms is that anyone searching these terms is likely a highly qualified lead – in other words, ready to buy.

This is why you’ll see a lot of companies bidding on brand terms, especially competitors’ branded terms.

Bidding on the branded terms of a competing company is an effective strategy, but it won’t make you many friends.

The advantage of bidding on your competitor’s branded keywords is that you can grow brand awareness among leads who are ready to buy but have not heard of your company.

The disadvantage is that if your competitor realizes what you’re doing and doesn’t like it, you risk them returning the favor. You’ll need to decide if you want to apply this approach internally.

Unless competitors are trying to steal your customers, bidding on your own branded terms is not necessarily worth it.

If someone has made an effort to search for your specific brand name, they are already familiar with your brand and may be ready to buy.

If your brand name is already moderately well known and you’ve implemented a good SEO strategy, you will appear at the top of search engine results for branded terms.

Generic terms

Generic terms are those that relate to your niche or what your business does but do not contain either your or your competitors’ branded terms. The majority of your chosen keywords will likely fall into this category.

Generic terms vary from high intent, terms that people use when they are looking to make a purchase, to low intent general terms associated with your niche. Rather logically, high intent terms are more expensive than low intent terms.

Step 1. Explore your search terms

Spend some time looking at your Google Search Console to determine what terms people are using to come to your site.

If similar terms appear again and again, take note of them. With tracking in place, you can use tools like Google Analytics to see which of these keywords is translating into purchases.

You should pay particularly close attention to search terms that get a lot of clicks that translate into sales, but where your SEO rankings could be improved.

This implies that they are popular terms related to your niche that could generate a decent Return on Investment (ROI) from PPC.

Step 2. Compare costs

Keywords Everywhere is a fantastic browser extension available for both Chrome and Firefox.

When you enter a search term, the plugin presents you with alternative keywords, the search volume, the typical cost per click (CPC), and a competition score for each keyword.

In short: the higher the competition and search volume, the higher the CPC. Aiming for the cheapest possible keywords is not necessarily the best strategy (they’re cheap for a reason!).

When selecting keywords, balance your business goals with your budget.

Step 3. Consider whether to target timely or evergreen keywords

Timely keywords are those that are temporarily trending highly, whether due to current events or the time of year. In contrast, evergreen keywords stay at a more-or-less consistent rate of popularity.

Almost every campaign should include evergreen keywords because these can drive highly qualified leads to your site for a long time.

Whether or not you also target timely or trending keywords will depend on context and your business goals.

If you’re running a limited-time promotion or releasing a product or service that is tied to a specific date or an event in the news cycle, it makes sense to target timely keywords.

Step 4. Focus on long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are longer and more specific phrases. To continue with the example I used above, a short-tail or generic keyword could be “digital marketing,” while a long-tail equivalent would be something like “digital marketing tips for small business owners.”

According to QuanticMind, 4-6 word long-tail keyword phrases account for 70% of Google searches. Because they’re more specific, long-tail keywords tend to be less competitive than generic keywords.

This means they will be cheaper, meaning you won’t have to shell out as much money to get your site to rank highly.

Long-tail keywords also have the advantage of being highly targeted. If someone is searching for a very specific phrase, chances are they know what they’re looking for and, depending on the phrase, are ready to buy.

How you craft your long-tail keywords will depend on your industry and the product or service you’re trying to promote.

Consider adding additional product specifications (size, color, special features, etc.) or geographical terms. You can also use Google’s autocomplete feature and keyword tools to find relevant long-tail keywords.

Step 5. Aim for high-volume, low-competition

The best keywords will sit in the sweet spot of high-volume, low-competition. This means that many consumers are searching for them, but few businesses are paying for them. Of course, these terms are hard to find.

SEMrush’s Keyword Difficulty Tool allows you to filter keywords by difficulty and competition level and recommends aiming for those with a difficulty rating below 60%.

Step 6. Don’t forget negative keywords

Negative keywords are the terms you don’t want your ads to show up in searches for. Have a look at your Search Console. If any terms keep popping up but aren’t a good fit for what you do, consider adding them to your negative keywords.

Here’s an example: imagine you run an e-commerce store that sells glasses of the eyewear variety. You might discount phrases like “drinking glasses” and “glass hire” to rule out searches from people looking for the other kind of glasses.

You can also filter out more generic words or phrases that aren’t a good fit for your brand. For example, if you sell high-end, big-ticket products, you might set words like “cheap” or “discounted” as negative keywords.

Step 7. Track your spending and measure your ROI

The success of any PPC campaign is defined by your ability to hit goals. You must set up tracking on your site, so you can see how the keywords are performing.

By this, I mean, how the keywords you are bidding on are converting into sales.

Through effective tracking, you can determine which keywords you are bidding on are converting. You can then calculate your return on investment.

If the keywords you are bidding on provide a positive Return On Investment, you can scale the campaign. You should either stop bidding on underperforming keywords or adjust one of those three levers of your PPC campaign that I discussed earlier.

Finding the right PPC keywords takes time and patience

Keyword research is perhaps the most critical phase of your PPC campaign. If you don’t choose the right keywords, you will be wasting time and money.

But if you take the time to find the best keywords, you can use PPC to great effect.

Don’t rush this part of the process. Set aside plenty of time to do your keyword research and be patient.

The effort you put into finding the perfect keywords will soon pay off in the form of increased traffic, more qualified leads into your sales pipeline, greater brand awareness, and a higher conversion rate.

Good luck!