The ins and outs of keyword research


A great way to expand your PPC account is by performing keyword research in order to uncover untapped opportunities. Keyword research is a key tactic for growing an account — especially new accounts, but even mature accounts can stand to benefit from ongoing expansions.

When keyword research does & does not make sense

Keyword research is sometimes debated as being unnecessary, and it is fair to say that certain methods of keyword research are futile. Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to hear search marketers taking pride in the number of keywords managed, but it’s a different ballgame now; keyword counts don’t correlate to positive performance or even account health. All that to say, there’s no need to add keywords just for the sake of adding keywords!

A good goal with keyword research is to try to identify entirely new themes. There may be some room to flesh out existing themes, but there’s only so much expansion on existing keywords before you’ll pass the point of diminishing returns due to lack of volume as keywords become more and more specific or similar to existing terms.

For example, instead of trying to find every possible hyper-specific description of a shirt (“pink polka dotted yellow shirt”), look for other opportunities to branch out, like tapping into “tops” terms, or terms for different types of shirts, like “blouses,” “sweaters,” “tees,” “button-ups,” “sweat shirts,” “fleeces” and “cardigans.”

You can also look for additional qualities or benefits that might have enough volume to be worth expanding into. You may have already exhausted terms to describe warm sweatshirts, but there are other qualities that consumers search for, such as “half-zip,” “pull-over,” or “hoodie.” Identifying new themes for root terms and adjectives will help you to uncover worthwhile keyword expansions.

Beyond that, it helps to check out the keyword search volume estimates to see if keywords are even worth the time. There’s no use cluttering your account with terms that aren’t going to have a real impact — not to mention the waste of time that it would take to organize said keywords into campaigns.

The same can be said for keywords that are really similar to, or possibly even already covered by, keywords that are in your account already. It may make sense on a one-off basis to add keywords of this nature if you intend to set a different bid and/or if you believe that search query matching will make it worthwhile to have both terms.

Be careful about adding these types of keywords in bulk without a plan to keep an eye on performance. Additions of keywords that are highly similar to existing terms should be monitored closely to ensure that the new keywords contribute to incremental gains, as opposed to robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Monitoring the impact of new keywords

In order to monitor performance to ensure that the new keywords are adding value to the account, I highly recommend labeling the new keywords as they are added. Labeling the new keywords allows for quick and easy performance reviews. Furthermore, it is good practice to analyze positive performance, as well as poor performance. Make certain that positive performance of new keywords isn’t to the detriment of existing keywords — or, if it is, then make certain that overall account performance is stronger.

In addition to monitoring keyword performance, I also prefer to get rid of keywords that are flagged for low search volume. Now that keywords can truly be deleted if they haven’t generated impressions, I prefer to get rid of these keywords so that they aren’t cluttering the account. In large accounts, downloading and syncing the account can take quite a bit of time, so there’s no need to further bog it down with unnecessary keywords.

Beware the broad match duplicate keywords

Most advertisers are pretty careful to avoid duplicate keywords to ensure that the same keyword isn’t competing against itself. However, when auditing accounts, I have often found broad match keywords that compete against each other.

Since broad match keywords don’t rely on the order of the terms, two different keywords can still be considered duplicates. For example, the terms yellow rain jacket and rain jacket yellow would compete for the same queries.

Tips for identifying worthwhile keywords

  • Expand upon your top performers. Take a look at your best performing keywords and search terms to brainstorm additional variations, themes or qualifiers that might bring in incremental volume. Be wary of adding terms that are too close to existing terms — for the reasons given above — but your top performers may help you identify qualifiers that could be used with other root terms. Putting these terms into a keyword research tool may help to cover other relevant terms, as well.
  • Talk the talk. In order to manage an account well, it’s imperative to understand the business and the industry. These means understanding industry terms and the features, benefits and differentiators. All of these qualifiers can help drive keyword research and open up new themes.
  • Think like a consumer. There are industry terms and then there are layman’s terms. Sometimes advertisers get so caught up in their own professional terminology that they don’t account for the ways that someone without technical knowledge might seek out their products. This is especially true of B2C. Of course the exception makes the rule, and there are certain instances where it makes sense to maintain an account with only highly specific, technical keywords but generally speaking, there is more volume and therefore more profit (even if at a slightly lower ROAS) in layman’s terms.
  • Identify gaps in organic traffic. Monitoring Google Analytics organic traffic trends can help to determine areas where organic traffic has decreased, or where there isn’t much traction. If you aren’t already bidding on said terms, you might consider adding them to your paid search accounts to become more aggressive.
  • Competitive research. Where better to identify industry terms than to look toward your competitors? There are various tools that you can use to look at terms your competitors are bidding on, which can then be compared to your own keyword list to identify opportunities. Don’t limit yourself toward only using paid search tools – you can also use SEO tools to identify keywords based upon analysis of your competitors’ websites, as well.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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