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3 Must Know Concepts For a Killer PPC Keyword Research

Max Anderson

Everyone knows that a proper keyword research is the foundation of a solid PPC campaign. Whether you’re running a $10/day campaign, or manage a $300,000/month account, the quality of your keyword research will determine how profitable your campaigns will be.

Performing quality keyword research is a valuable skill that any online marketer must possess. Once you understand a few key concepts and have a clear idea of the tasks you need to perform you’d be able to do so in any niche you choose. Teaching you these concepts is my goal for this article.

Before we dive in, let’s first ask ourselves this:

Q: What is keyword research?

A: “Keyword research is the act of finding relevant keywords to your product/service, and segmenting them into groups of similar intent”.

Q: Why is keyword research so important?

A: “Every PPC campaign MUST have a clear goal that is presented on the Landing Page, 100% of the times, no questions asked. Since PPC means paying Google for every click (duh!), you should spend your money on the keywords that would bring in the highest return on investment (ROI) possible. Keyword research will help you do just that, find the best keywords to spend your money on”

Now that we’re done with the questions, let’s begin.

Not all keywords were born equal; each keyword has a different value to you, depending on your product or service, the way it’s presented on the landing page and your brand’s strength.

So for example, let’s say you own a women’s shoe store (and I hope your name isn’t Al), then a user searching for “Women’s shoes” is more likely to buy from you than a user searching for “Shoes”. The latter gives no indication as to what type of shoes the user is looking for (they might be looking for Men’s shoes or Kids’ shoes), it doesn’t even suggest if they intend to buy shoes.

With that said, if you’re Zappos, then “Shoes” is a great match for this landing page since you can easily navigate your way to your desired shoe, no matter if you’re a man, woman or child. So in this case the keyword “shoes” will have a greater value to Zappos than to the local women’s shoe store.

3 Must Know Concepts For a Killer PPC Keyword Research

The bottom line is, there is no absolute value for a keyword. What defines the value of a keyword is the match between the user’s intent (The reason they’re searching, and what they expect to find), and what you have to offer on your landing page.

For every keyword you need to ask yourself this:

  1. What would someone searching this keyword expect to find?
  2. What is that user’s goal?
  3. Does my landing page match up with the users’ expectations?
  4. Will users be happy with what I have to offer?
  5. Do I answer their problems/needs?

These questions will help you determine the value of each keyword.

Remember, we’re not dealing absolutes here, this isn’t a go no-go situation. Rather more like there’s a scale of value, and your keywords are placed all over this scale, naturally less at the top and more at the bottom.

In this post I go over a 3 fundamental concepts which I believe are the key for successful keyword research. I’ve used these concepts to train over a dozen PPC managers, and they work like a Swiss-army-knife, they will help you cut through the bullshit and focus on what’s important.

Concept #1 – The Core & Layers

The idea behind this concept is that the smallest group of keywords you’d have, aka Core Keywords, are your most relevant and valuable keywords. The answers to the questions I listed above for those keywords should be all “Yes”. Those are keywords that describe what you have to offer in the most precise and relevant way possible.

The farther you get from the center, the less relevant keywords are, but reach is greater.
The secret to fully understanding this concept is to always have a clear differentiation between the core keywords to your second tier keywords, from the second tier to the third tier, and so on.

3 Must Know Concepts For a Killer PPC Keyword Research

Let’s demonstrate this concept with an example:

A friend of mine runs the AdWords account of an online poker website. I’m talking about a real one where you can bet with actual money. The goal of the landing page is to get people to sign up for free in order to play for money.

His core keywords would be:

  1. Play online poker
  2. Play poker online
  3. Play poker online for money
  4. Online poker rooms
  5. [Competitor Name]

Why those keywords?

The first two are what I call the “perfect terms”. A user searching for these terms is my “perfect” candidate. Heck, if I wanted to play poker online, that’s exactly what I would search for (Fortunately I was never any good at poker).
The third clearly wants to bet on real money, and the fourth because of the word “rooms”, that’s a term that only experienced players use, which means they are much more likely to enjoy my offer.
Competitor keywords usually get very good conversion rates, but at very low volumes. Just make sure you’re not infringing on any trademark, and be aware of your country’s specific rules for these issues.

His 2nd tier keywords would be:

  1. Online Poker
  2. Play poker for free
  3. How to play online poker

Why those keywords?

“Online poker” obviously has a strong connection to my product, but it lacks the word “play”. It’s a generic keyword, and those tend to have a lower conversion rate.
The second contains “Free”, so it might bring in a lot of people that aren’t interested in spending money, but you’d be surprised at how much a good experience on a landing page can change a user’s state of mind.
The third one indicates that a user is ready to invest time and effort. If I tell them that I have a step-by-step guide in the members area, they are more likely to sign up and those that do will become potential future clients (those sometimes turn out as the best customers)

And finally, his 3rd tier keywords – less relevant, but still in the same area code

  1. Poker
  2. Online Card games
  3. Casino Games Online

Why those keywords?

“Poker” is a very generic keyword, less relevant than “Online poker” because we don’t have the word “online” inside. One word keywords rarely perform well.
People searching for “Online Card Games” or “Casino Games Online” may have not intended to play poker, but some could probably be tempted by my super-optimized landing page.

Why is it important to understand the tiers concept?

In one word, Priority.

Since your core keywords are your best keywords (they will always have the highest conversion rate) those would be the keywords you should use when:

  1. You have a limited budget and need to choose only a select few
  2. Testing new landing pages
  3. Testing banners
  4. Testing Ad text copy

Once you’ve made the most out of your core keywords, it’s time to expand to the second tier keywords, after that to your third tier keywords and so on.

Remember this, if your core keywords are not performing well you probably have a serious problem on the landing page. If this happens go back and make sure that the keywords appear in the headline of the landing page and that all the relevant information and call-to-action are above the fold and prominent.

Many times I’ve had clients tell me that PPC isn’t working for them, but then when I looked at their accounts I saw that most of their money was spent on 2nd and 3rd tier keywords.
It’s no wonder their PPC campaign didn’t perform well!

Concept #2 – The Long Tail Effect

There are two main types of keywords, Head Match and Long Tail, let’s get to know them.

Head Match Keywords are:

Short – consist of 1 or 2 words
Popular – thousands to millions of searches every month
Generic – they don’t indicate the user’s intent in a clear way.
Examples – “weight loss”, “car rental”, “mountain hiking”

Long tail keywords are:

Long – consist of 3 words or more.
Low volume – from a few searches a month to a few dozen.
Specific – You will know exactly what the user’s intent is.
Examples – “How to lose weight naturally”, “Rent an 8 seat Van in Arizona”, “Best mountain hiking trails”

According to a research done by SEOMoz & Experian Hitwise on long tail keywords, roughly 70% of the searches are long tail searches. Yup, you heard me, the popular and generic head terms account for only 30% of the traffic, and sometimes even less.

3 Must Know Concepts For a Killer PPC Keyword Research

Head match keywords will always be the most competitive terms in your niche, they will have the highest CPC (I’ve witnessed a head match keyword go from $5 to $15 a click over the course of 2 years). Despite them being an integral part of your core keywords, they usually result in a low ROI.

Long tail keywords are a different story.

Each keyword will only get you a few impressions every month, but it will be ultra-targeted, less competitive and more profitable.

How Do You Find Long Tail Keywords?

The secret is in the numbers, you need to add as many relevant long tail keywords to your account as possible. Having hundreds or thousands of 10 searches/month keywords in your account will ultimately build a steady stream of highly targeted and profitable traffic.

Method #1 – Your Site’s Analytics

It’s true that since Google Analytics stopped showing the keywords of people that are logged into Gmail, and started showing them as “not provided”, you only get to see a portion of the keywords that bring traffic to your site. Nevertheless, you can learn a lot by analyzing the traffic of your website. If you have goals set-up (the equivalent of AdWords conversions) you could easily tell from the keywords you do see, which ones are performing well and require further research.

Method #2 – Google AdWords “Keyword details”

Broad and Phrase match keywords in your account will attract all sorts of different keywords under their name. By selecting a keyword and pressing on the “Keyword details” Button we can see all the different keywords that make up for the sum of the original keyword we chose to investigate.

The screenshot below shows how to select a keyword to check what search terms it attracted.

3 Must Know Concepts For a Killer PPC Keyword Research


This is a partial list of the search terms that were attracted, lot’s of good stuff here!

3 Must Know Concepts For a Killer PPC Keyword Research


Having a routine of checking the keywords that generate a substantial number of impressions on a regular basis will help you discover many long tail keywords. As a bonus you get to find keywords that should be assigned as negative.

Method #3 – Multiplying Keywords

This method has been in use since the dawn of PPC, and is effective today as it was 5 years ago.
It’s all about compiling two (or three) lists into one big list that contains all the possible combinations from the separate lists.
In one list you might have your verbs: “buy”, “purchase”, “compare” and on your second list you’d have the products you sell: “iphone 4”, “iphone 5”, “iphone 4s”.

This screenshot is of the AdWords Editor “Keyword multiplier” tool. This tool is available to you in the keywords view, under “Keyword Opportunities”.

3 Must Know Concepts For a Killer PPC Keyword Research

There’s an upside and a downside to using this tool to multiply keywords.
Starting with the downside, every keyword that is generated by the tool is being checked by AdWords editor for search volume. If this keyword turns out as a low volume search keyword it won’t show up in the combined list.

3 Must Know Concepts For a Killer PPC Keyword Research

Look at the yellow comment at the top “3 keywords were excluded due to low search volume”. I consider this a downside since as a marketer I want to have full control over which keywords I add into the account, and this way Google are interfering with my choices. What if those keywords start gaining popularity in the future? I will have to remember to add them at a later stage (pain in the arse).

The upside, you can add the keywords from the tool straight to your campaigns. Simply highlight the keywords you want, select match type at the bottom right corner, and the campaigns you want to add the keywords to, and Voila’!

Concept #3 – Going Deep vs. Going Broad

I was first introduced to this concept a few years back when I took the PPC Classroom 2.0 course. I was still in my early stages as a PPC manager and this was one of the most eye-opening concepts for me. I used it later when training others, and to this day I think this is one of the most important concepts to comprehend when approaching keyword research.

Read this sentence and memorize it:

Whenever you’re starting a campaign, first go broad, and only then go deep

Not sure what I mean? Let’s start breaking it down.

What does “Going Deep” stands for:

Going deep means taking a root keyword, and drilling deeper to find long tail keywords that contain the root keyword.

For example, if my root keyword is “Website Builders”, then going deep I will probably encounter the following keywords:

  1. Free website builders
  2. Ecommerce website builders
  3. Best website builders
  4. Top 10 website builders
  5. Website Builder reviews

Those are all great keywords, and I would definitely consider including them in my account.

The problem is this; since “Website builders” is the most popular term to describe this type of product, it’s safe to assume that every other PPC manager out there will go through the same thinking route, and end up bidding for those keywords too.

What does “Going Broad” stands for:

Going broad means searching for alternative keywords to your root keywords. Keywords that would have the same meaning and the same user intent but with different wording.

Using “website builders” as our root keyword and going broad we will find the following:

  1. Website maker
  2. Website creator
  3. Website software
  4. Website generator

These keywords indicate the same user intent (i.e. finding a service to build a website) but they have different wording. They are not as predictable as “website builders”, and will probably have fewer searches, but better chances of being less competitive and more profitable.

What’s the takeaway?

The mistake many beginner PPC managers make is to go deep before they go broad. They find every variation possible of their root keyword, and launch a massive campaign based on one single term.

Since most people use the same tools to generate keywords (It’s safe to assume that at least 80% of advertisers use Google’s keyword tool), it’s inevitable that most of those people would end up with very similar lists of keywords, which will lead to high CPC for that particular term and its’ variations.

When you go broad first, you spread your eggs over a few baskets, and open yourself to the opportunity of finding terms that are less competitive.

Here’s how you should go about it:

  1. When starting out, go as wide as you can. Look for as many related and lateral keywords as possible.
  2. Open a campaign for each of the different terms, and include the core keywords for that term.
  3. Collect data, analyze, and go deeper only in the campaigns that have proven themselves worthy.

What’s Next?

In the next post I’m gonna move from theory to practice, showing you exactly how I use these concepts when I do keyword research.
It will involve a detailed step-by-step guide of using Google’s keyword tool along with advice on how to structure your campaign for maximum results.

If there is any niche you’d like me to use as an example, let me know by posting a comment.

Inside this Article
Concept #1 – The Core & Layers
Concept #2 – The Long Tail Effect
Concept #3 – Going Deep vs. Going Broad
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