The first step to create a profitable PPC campaign is to conduct keyword research. This is critical research and if you get this step wrong or you try to take short-cuts, then your campaign is doomed to either fail or unnecessarily lose money when you turn the ads on.
So don’t rush this.
Take your time and go through each of the 3 steps outlined in this article to find your best keyword opportunities.
Keyword Research in 3 Steps
The goal of keyword research is to determine the existing demand for your products or services and identify the best opportunities for your initial PPC test campaign.
The 3 steps to complete your research can be remembered as the acronym, B.U.S.:
- Build your initial keyword list
- Uncover your competitors’ keywords
- Sort & select your keywords
Build Your Initial Keyword List
The first step in your research is to list all of the keywords prospects would search to find your products or services.
Open up an Excel file and make a list of all the keywords you can think of off the top of your head. Don’t stress out if you can’t think of a lot of keywords, but make sure you list the most obvious and directly related keywords.
Next we’re going to use a keyword research tool to expand on your initial list. There are many keyword research tools available and they all allow you to enter a keyword or multiple keywords to find more phrases that you didn’t originally think of.
For the sake of simplicity I’m going to focus on just one tool, which is Google’s Keyword Tool. Google’s Keyword Tool is 100% free, but in order to get all the data we need you’ll have to sign up for a Google Adwords account, which is free as well.
I recommend you start your PPC test campaign on Google Adwords anyway so you might as well sign up now if you don’t already have an account.
Once you’re all signed up and logged in then copy your keywords into the Google Keyword Tool. Before you hit the Search button, make sure your location and language are setup properly.
Also, click on the Columns button (below the search button on the right side of the screen) and select Competition, Local Monthly Searches, and Approximate CPC. You’ll need to be logged into Adwords to get Approximate CPC.
Now, click on the Search button and wait for Google to display the results.
As soon as the page loads, go to the left column of the page under the heading, “Match Types” and check the box next to “[Exact].” Then uncheck the box next to “Broad.”
When the page reloads you’ll see data for the Exact keywords you entered as well as more keyword ideas from Google.
If you had left “Broad” selected then your keyword data would be inflated because Google would lump together the data for other related keywords. By selecting “[Exact]” you ensure that you’re only looking at data for that particular keyword.
OK, now go through the list of keyword ideas and click on the star to the left of every keyword that is directly related to your product or service AND would be searched by a potential buyer. Ignore all keywords that are unrelated or would not be searched by a potential buyer.
When you get through the list, then click on the button “More like these” (underneath the Search button in the middle of the page) and select “Starred” to search for even more related keywords.
Complete this process several times until you are confident you’ve found all the keywords for your product or service.
The final step is to click the Download button (below the Search button on the left side of the page), select Starred, and then select CSV for Excel.
Save this Excel file on your computer and keep it open for the next step.
Uncover Your Competitors’ Keywords
The second step to build a solid keyword list is to spy on your competitors who are already advertising.
Your competitors have spent a lot of time and money testing keywords so if you can determine which keywords are working for them, then you can save yourself the hassle.
Luckily, there are tools to do just that.
The one we’ll use in this example is called Keyword Spy and you can use this tool with limited functionality for free.
The first step is to identify which of your competitors are already advertising. You can do this the ‘ol fashioned way by typing your keywords into Google and then copy all of the domain names of your competitors.
Or you can type your keywords into Keyword Spy and then click on the PPC Competitors tab. This is obviously much easier and will save you a lot of time in your research, which is why I recommend this tool.
So pick 5 – 10 of the keywords from your Excel file and go through the process to find the PPC Competitors. Copy the competitors’ domain names into another Excel file or in the same file as another tab.
The second step is to copy the keywords your competitors are advertising on. In Keyword Spy, you can simply search for the competitor’s domain name and then click on the PPC Keywords tab to reveal all of the keywords your competitors are using in their PPC campaign.
Go through your list of competitor domains and copy all of their PPC Keywords. Then cross reference your competitors’ keywords with your existing list to determine which keywords you didn’t already have.
And finally, the third step is to enter the new keywords you just found from your competitors into the Google Keyword Tool and export the competition, local search volume, and approximate CPC data for the Exact match keywords.
You should now have an Excel file with a large list of keywords and data from the Google Keyword Tool.
Now we need some way to sort this list to determine which are the best opportunities.
Sort & Select Your Keywords
You may be tempted at this point to sort by the largest local search volume because those keywords are searched more frequently and represent the highest demand for your product or service.
Or, you may want to sort by the Approximate CPC to find the cheapest keywords to save money on your initial PPC test. And a third option is to sort by competition to find the least competitive keywords.
However, none of those strategies are ideal because they don’t take into account the entire picture.
Assuming at this point you have a list of directly related keywords that would be searched by buyers of your product or service, then here’s what you’ll want to do:
- Add a column to the right of Approximate CPC and label it “Competition Adjusted CPC”
- In each of the rows in this new column multiply the Approximate CPC by the Competition
- Sort by the lowest “Competition Adjusted CPC”
Now you have your cheapest and least competitive keywords at the top. Double check your list to make sure you don’t have any unrelated keywords.
If you’re happy with your list, then the final step is to select your keywords based on your monthly test budget. Here’s what you can do:
- Add a column to the right of “Competition Adjusted CPC” and label it “Projected Monthly Spend”
- In each of the rows in this new column multiply the Approximate CPC by the Local Monthly Searches and by 1% to calculate the projected monthly spend for each keyword. This assumes you’re ad will be clicked by 1% of the prospects each month, which is a pretty good estimate.
- Highlight and add up the Projected Monthly Spend rows until you reach your test PPC budget. For example, if your budget is $500, then continue to highlight and add up the rows until you hit $500. When you’re done then all of the keywords you’re going to test should be highlighted in the Excel file.
That’s it. You now know which keywords you’ll start testing first and if all goes well then you can continue to add keywords from your Excel file to expand your ad campaigns.
Main Street ROI is a digital marketing agency based in New York City.
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