Whenever I’m speaking with a potential client about an online marketing,  I almost always recommend they start out with pay per click (PPC) advertising.

Why? Because it’s the fastest way to get your marketing message in front of a laser-targeted group of potential customers. (And I usually recommend starting with Google AdWords because it’s the largest source of PPC traffic.)

When setting up a new PPC campaign, there are 3 key ingredients:

1) Your keywords

2) Your ads

3) Your landing page(s)

Today I want to share my 5-step keyword research methodology.

Step 1. Cast a Wide Net

First, I start by brainstorming and thinking about the obvious keywords a prospect might search when looking for a product or service. I enter these keywords into the Google Keyword Tool to create a big list of related phrases, typically hundreds of keywords in an Excel spreadsheet.

Step 2. Spy on Competitors

Next, I look at what keywords competitors are advertising on. Many people don’t even know you can do this, but it’s possible with paid subscription keyword tools like KeywordSpy.com. If you see that 1 or more of your competitors have been advertising on certain keywords for months, then there’s a good chance they’re worth bidding on, too. You’re basically piggybacking off their efforts.

So competitive research usually adds some more keyword ideas to the list, and gives you an idea for some keywords that may be especially worthwhile to test.

Step 3. Rank By Relevance

Steps 1 and 2 were basically a discovery process. Now it’s time to start narrowing down the list. I go through the list of keywords and rank them  based on relevance.

When I’m thinking about relevance, I think about it both positively and negatively.

  • Positively: how well does this match the product or service I’m advertising
  • Negatively: Is there any chance I could misinterpret this person’s intent? How could this search go wrong (in terms of relevance)?

I create a new column in my spreadsheet for Relevance and I give grades like A+, A, B, C, etc. An “A+” keyword is when you believe that person is a looking for EXACTLY what you offer.

During the ranking/sorting process, I also group my keywords into categories, so I can easily create ad groups in Google AdWords.

A Few Words About Creativity

Recently, I’ve had a few clients request creativity during the keyword research process.  Here’s my take on the role of creativity in keyword research.

When you’re launching a PPC campaign, you don’t want to take big chances with your keywords. You’re not going for creativity at this stage – you’re going for relevance. You want to minimize risk of financial loss. Keyword creativity comes later, when you’re trying to think of ways to expand your market reach and think more laterally. At this stage, you just want to see if you can sell your product to people who are already looking for exactly what you’ve got.

At this stage, you want to hit the bulls eye. And you want to watch out for instances where the intent of a keyword is potentially vague (e.g. there’s a chance they could be looking for more than 1 thing).

Step 4. Narrow Down Your Keywords

Next, I narrow down my list of keywords to create a smaller list of highly relevant phrases that I’m confident will convert because they have “A” quality relevance.

How Many Keywords Should You Test, Initially?

That depends on keyword search volume, cost-per-click (CPC), and your budget. Google’s Keyword Tool gives you an estimate of the approximate CPC that you can use as a rough guideline.

As a rule of thumb, you’ll need at least 100 clicks per keyword to get a sense for whether it converts or not. So, if you want to test 20 keywords and the clicks are $1, and you need to get 100 clicks per keyword, your test budget should be at least $2000.

Step 5. Brainstorm Negative Keywords

Before turning on your ads, it’s a good idea to think of the keywords you want to AVOID paying for. For example, if you’re selling a high end product or service, you’ll want to avoid showing your ads when people search  related keyword phrases with the words “cheap,” “affordable,” or “discount” in them. When you’re setting up your Google AdWords campaign, be sure to set those up as negative keywords, so you don’t blow your test budget on unqualified clicks.

Those are the basic 5 steps I take. This methodology has served me well for many years – I hope you find it useful!


Post a comment below and I’ll do my best to help you out.