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A guide to PPC keyword research

Updated: Sep 9, 2023


Keyword research for PPC campaign helps you to match the keywords your audience will be using to find your ads. We need to know which keywords to use and the type of keywords to start our campaign.

Keywords have always been at the core of search engines, but they have evolved over the years and have now extended to phrases and questions. They will always remain essential to appearing in search engines for both paid and organic traffic.

You might consider several factors when looking for keywords such as brand terms, competitors, cost and the content on your landing page. But remember keywords are not stagnant so you need to keep refreshing your keywords throughout your campaign and full marketing strategy.

So, let’s delve into this in more detail and see how we can conduct keyword research for our next PPC campaign.

Planning your keywords

Before diving into keyword research tools, you need to understand the purpose of your keyword and where the user should be in the sales funnel. You might be running campaigns to inform and educate, generate brand awareness or sell a service or product.

Ensure you have a clear understanding of the purpose and why the user will interact with your ad and what you expect them to do when they land on your web page. To understand more about optimising your landing page for your ads read our PPC landing page article.

Researching keywords

As you start to research ideas for your keywords don’t worry about starting too broad, we can narrow the keywords down as we gather more ideas and information on each keyword. You want to put yourself in the user's shoes and think about what they would search for and how they might phrase this.

An example of this is a shop owner that sells sports items. You might start with a group of products (running shoes) and then narrow it down until you have the right keyword for the right audience.

Running shoes – women’s running shoes – women’s road running shoes – women’s Brookes road running shoes.

In your keyword list you might have different groups of keywords this could include:

  • Generic keywords – these keywords will be related your offering.

  • Brand keywords – your brands name and keywords that identifies your brand.

  • Related keywords – keywords users will search for that matches your offering.

  • Competitor keywords – if you want to rank for your competitors name so a user sees your ad at the top of the page.

Once you’ve got a good collection of keywords you want to start narrowing them down to 10-15 keywords per ad group. This can be done by looking at the average search volume to ensure they get enough traffic. You might want to look at how competitive they are and the cost, if one keyword is going to take a lot of your budget it might be worth dropping this and including a group of others that are cheaper.


You are ultimately aiming for high volume and low competition keywords.

Try just searching on Google for the keywords as well. You may be surprised by some of the results and decided you don’t want to appear with the other results for a particular keyword so drop it. I have dropped keywords like this before!

Negative keywords

Negative keywords are important to ensure your ads are not showing against search terms that are irrelevant to you. This will not only result in users that quickly leave your landing page but waste money.

Think of some negative keywords as you create your campaign and conduct your keyword research. As your ads go live and you start monitoring the progress this negative keyword list should grow as you learn what does and doesn’t work for your ads.

Keyword search tools

Here are a few tools that I use for my keyword research.

Google keyword planner

Starting with the most obviously is the keyword planner within the Google ads platform. You can enter your website and start with a keyword to find its average search volume, competition and cost per click. Alongside this will be suggestion of other related keywords that you could use.

Google search

Using Google itself will give you keyword ideas. Start by typing one keyword into Google and see what it prepopulates that keyword with. If I type running, I get ideas such as running gifts, tops, socks, shops.

Also take a look at the ‘people also asked’ section for related search queries, this section can be good for keywords but also content ideas as well to delve into different questions people are searching on. At the end of the first page Google will suggest some related search terms you can also be looking at.

Wordstream free keyword tool

The Wordstream keyword tool allows you to search on a keyword and refine your results by a particular industry and country. From here you will get related keywords, monthly search volume, top of page (low and high) bid and the competition. All the results can then be downloaded into CSV format.

Semrush keyword research

The Semrush tool is a little different from the others but provides valuable information and a different perspective. You do need to create an account to use it but don’t let that put you off as its still free.

As you search for a keyword you get a lot of information about that particular keyword such as volume difficulty, intent, trends, cost and competition. You then get variations on the keyword, questions and related keywords.

You have other details such as SERP analysis and ad copies which you can see an overview of but to delve into this you need a paid account.

Keyword research summary

So now we understand how to start our keyword research from our initial and often broad ideas and knowledge. We know how to group the keywords, find more keywords and the tools to use. We understand why negative keywords are important and finally, how to narrow all of this down for our finished list to create the ads with.

To view the full guide on how to create and manage your PPC campaign click here.


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