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How to Conduct PPC Keyword Research

Julia McCoy
Friday, 4th Aug 2023
keyword research for ppc

With money literally on the line, there is little room for error when creating and running PPC ad campaigns. You want to make sure your ads are bringing in enough qualified traffic that you can convert into sales.

Yes, PPC campaigns can quickly generate leads, but only if you target the right traffic.

How do you do that?

Thorough keyword research is the secret to high-converting PPC campaigns. If that’s been your struggle, this guide is for you.

This guide will teach you how to conduct effective keyword research for PPC so you can be sure you are spending just enough money and for the right traffic. You will get actionable tips and actual steps to follow when conducting keyword research for your PPC campaigns.

Let’s dive right in.

Table Of Contents:

What is PPC Advertising?

PPC advertising is a form of online advertising where the advertiser pays the ad network only after a visitor clicks the ad, hence the term pay-per-click.

You can run PPC ads on Google search results, different websites, or on social media networks like Facebook or Twitter.

PPC ads work in a way similar to organic search in that they use keywords to target specific searches. The major difference is that with PPC ads, the advertiser that bids the highest amount for a keyword gets the highest position on the SERP.

Keywords are the words and phrases people type into search boxes when researching their purchases or when looking to learn more about a topic. Exact match keywords ensure that your ads are targeting the right audiences.

Since the quality of the traffic your PPC ads drive to your website depends on the keywords you target, you must take your time researching your keyword list.

keyword research for PPC

Importance of Keyword Research for PPC

Identifying the most lucrative keyword choices to draw in potential customers to your website is a critical component of any PPC campaign. A good keyword strategy involves identifying the most relevant keywords that will attract traffic to your website or landing page that’s more likely to convert to a sale.

When you research keywords for your PPC campaigns, you should have the ad itself and the landing page in mind.

The landing page is the page a visitor lands on after they click on your ad. For successful conversions, you have to match the intent behind the search that brings a visitor to your website and the content they will find on the landing page.

The landing page must address the searcher’s query and provide them with the information they are looking for. Otherwise, they will toggle back to the SERPs to look for a more relevant search result. That will mean you will have paid for a click that does not result in a conversion.

This underscores the importance of researching your keyword choices and ensuring that you are targeting the right traffic, as well as creating a high-quality landing page that is optimized around the keywords you are targeting in your PPC ads.

How to Do Keyword Research for PPC

You are going to waste a lot of money if you dabble in PPC ads without a clear keyword strategy.

Here are the steps to take when choosing keywords to target with your PPC ads.

1. Determine Your Goals

Successful PPC keyword research demands that you align your marketing goals with your customer’s objectives. Any mismatch will mean either:

  • You attract the wrong traffic to your website, or
  • The traffic you drive to your website does not convert.

So the first step in choosing keywords is to set your goals with PPC ads. What is it that you hope to accomplish with your PPC ads? Make sure these goals are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Some measurable and attainable goals might be:

  • Generate 100% more clicks in the next 30 days.
  • Increase lead conversion rate by 50% in 2 months.

Your goals will depend on the size of your business, industry, and marketing goals.

Knowing your goals will ensure that you choose keywords whose search intent aligns with your goals for the PPC campaign.

Keywords can have informational, navigational, transactional, or commercial intent.

After you have established your PPC goals, you will be ready to start researching your keywords.

2. Brainstorm Topics Related to Your Business

Effective keyword research must start with brainstorming the broader topics that are related to your business, using the goals you have set in the first step as a guide.

To brainstorm keyword ideas, imagine the journey visitors take to get to your website. These are your broad match phrases or words or phrases that describe what you’re selling in general terms.

Screenshot from Wordstream

Many of the people in your target audience will come to the SERP via Google. So ask yourself what search queries they might type into the Google search bar to bring up your website.

You can visit question-and-answer websites like Quora and forums like Reddit and research questions your target audience asks about your products and the problems they solve. Look out for the language and specific words they use when talking about their problems, wishes, and goals.

All those are possible keyword ideas that you can refine in the next step.

3. Refine Your Keyword Ideas with a Keyword Research Tool

With your broad topic set, you can then drill down into more specific phrases. You can start with the broad keywords on your list. After those, you can brainstorm other words people use to look for the same information.

You can refine your keyword ideas with variations and synonyms. How it works is, once you have identified your broad match phrase, add variations and synonyms to capture more searches related to your product or service.

For example, instead of just using “running shoes” you could try adding “athletic footwear” or “jogging sneakers” to your list so that people using those alternative search terms can also see your ad.

To uncover even more keywords and determine the popularity of your keywords, among other metrics, you need a keyword research tool like Content at Scale. Such a tool will show metrics like:

The best keyword targets for PPC are those that have high search volume and low competition. Low-competition keywords have lower costs per click. In PPC terms, that’s the sweet spot.

But that’s just the starting point. The more specific the keyword the higher your chances of successful conversions.

A paid keyword research tool is perfect for refining your keyword ideas to surface keywords that have clear search intent and lower CPC. But there are also free tools available if you have a limited budget.

keyword research for PPC

A free tool like Google Autocomplete (which you can use by typing in Google’s search box) is a great option for expanding your broad keywords to uncover less competitive long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords tend to drive more relevant traffic since users often type out entire sentences when searching instead of just individual words.

Using the example above, Google Autosuggest will help expand on the broad keywords on your list like this:

  • Rubber boots 
    • rubber boots for men
      • rubber boots for men with big calves

Free tools, however, lack the more premium features for metrics like search volume and CPC, which you need to gauge a keyword’s popularity and cost.

That said, Google Keyword Planner (GKP) remains the gold standard for keyword research. Because it pulls its data directly from the Google search engine, Google’s keyword planner provides the most accurate search volume data that is geared toward the needs of advertisers. The tool was built for advertisers, so it makes sense to use it in your PPC keyword research.

4. Group Your Keywords

Once you have identified some initial keywords it is important to group them into small targeted groups based on relevance, how closely they are related, and cost per click (CPC).

Grouping keywords into small targeted groups once all relevant keywords have been identified will keep things organized within the campaign structure itself, making it easier to manage them effectively while keeping the targeting relevant.

Here’s an example of how to group keywords for Google Ads from Wordstream:

Understanding keyword intent is key here – make sure each group contains only those terms which are closely related in meaning so that when someone clicks on one of your ads they know exactly what they are getting on the landing page.

5. Estimate CPC Ahead of Time

Estimating average CPC ahead of time will help keep costs under control while still allowing for enough impressions within a reasonable budget range. It also allows you to concentrate your efforts on keywords within the budget range you are working with.

To maximize ROI, it is also important to optimize through “keyword themes” which utilize natural language processing algorithms that analyze context instead of relying solely on single-word matches.

6. Reverse-Engineer Your Competitors

Chances are your competitors may already be targeting the same keywords you want to target with your PPC campaign. By analyzing competitor terms in both their ads and landing pages, you can uncover keyword ideas to take your research to angles you might not have considered.

Speaking of that, analyzing your competitors’ PPC campaigns is crucial for building a defensive brand bidding strategy. You will do that by adding competitors’ names as negative keywords to prevent their ads from appearing alongside yours when someone searches for their products specifically.

Negative keywords also include keywords that will bring the wrong traffic. For example, if you sell high-end running shoes, you probably won’t want your ads to show in “budget running shoes” or “cheap running shoes” searches.

By researching negative keywords and marking them in your ad campaigns, you will not waste your PPC budget paying for traffic that can’t afford what you are selling.

You will also not waste valuable ad space attempting to compete with larger companies that already have an established presence within certain industries.

7. Make Space for Voice Search Keywords

People seldom use the same words they use in regular speech when typing their search queries in Google. Their queries are often summarized versions of the alternative voice search keywords.

For example, a voice search keyword alternative for “coffee shops Observatory Cape Town” will be “Where can I find a coffee shop in Observatory, Cape Town.”

As you can tell from that example, the voice search has clearer keyword intent. With more people utilizing voice search to find local services and shops on the go, you should make voice search keywords a more prominent part of your PPC campaigns.

Finally, utilizing review mining tools like sentiment analysis software can provide insight into customer feedback about competing brands which can help you discover new opportunities they had not previously considered.

Tips to Remember For Successful PPC Campaigns

When running a successful pay-per-click campaign, there are several tips to keep in mind.

1. Understand Search Intent

Understanding search intent is central to choosing the right keywords and phrases for your PPC campaigns. It allows you to craft ads that are more likely to draw clicks from potential customers.

2. Research Your Keywords with their CPC Estimates in Mind

Estimating the average cost per click is critical for budget management and optimization of ad spend. Data analysis tools like Google Trends are useful for identifying emerging trends and low-competition keywords with lower CPCs.

Keywords on emerging topics are likely to have lower CPCs while those that have been trending for a while should attract more competition, which means higher CPCs.

3. Optimize Through Keyword Themes

Optimizing through “keyword themes” within Google Ads is a great way to maximize ROI from PPC campaigns. For this, you need to group your keywords well.

Grouping related words together ensures that all of the relevant search queries are included in one ad group instead of having multiple groups with similar content competing against each other for clicks or impressions.

4. Leverage AI Tools

Leveraging natural language processing algorithms instead of relying solely on exact match phrases helps to improve performance. NLP algorithms look at context rather than just the literal meaning of words or phrases used in searches, so they will help uncover untapped keywords and expand your traffic sources.

If you’re looking for PPC keyword research tools, AI is the way to go. Apps like Content at Scale allow you to generate a PPC keyword list from just one seed keyword. With generative AI built into the software, you can easily turn these PPC keywords into compelling ad copy — whether you’re advertising on Google search results, Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube.

Tweak Your PPC Campaigns To Maximize ROI

Your PPC campaigns should not be set in stone. There should be room to tweak and account for new keyword opportunities. It also calls for a relook at your ad groups to make sure they have the optimum number of keywords and ads.

You don’t want to put all your keywords in one ad group. You want your ad groups to be packed with as closely related keywords as possible. For the best results, you want to focus your ad groups on location, product, and other themes that make sense for your marketing.

When you pick and group your keywords, you also want to find the right balance of volume and CPC to bring in clicks within your budget. The insights you unpack by periodically dipping into your analytics will help you tweak things to maximize your ROI.

By diving into your analytics, you can also identify negative keywords you had not marked out originally. Once you identify these, add them to your negative keywords list so you don’t waste money on traffic that is not relevant to your business.

Naturally, there will be keywords that perform well and some that don’t perform to expectations. Both should be targets for review. For the high-performing keywords, you may decide to create an ad group focusing on them, while for the poor-performing ones, it may be prudent to investigate why they have performed so poorly.

You may decide to pause those poor-performing keywords to save your ad budget for more profitable campaigns. But generally, you should review your ad performance to optimize the ads themselves to make sure they are relevant and persuasive enough to entice clicks.

FAQs About PPC Keyword Research

What is keyword research in PPC?

Keyword research in PPC is the process of identifying and analyzing search terms that are relevant to a business’s products or services. It involves researching which words and phrases people use when searching for those items online, then selecting the most appropriate keywords to target in campaigns.

Keyword research helps ensure that ads appear in front of potential customers who are looking for what a business offers. This can help maximize return on investment (ROI) from paid search campaigns by targeting only relevant searches with ads tailored specifically towards them.

What is the importance of keyword research in PPC?

Keyword research is an essential part of PPC, as it allows you to identify the most relevant and profitable search terms for your campaigns. By examining the way people search for items or services associated with yours, you can craft ads that reach and resonate with your desired audiences.

This helps ensure a higher click-through rate (CTR) and better ROI on your ad spend. Additionally, keyword research provides insights into user intent which can be used to refine targeting strategies and optimize landing pages for maximum conversions.

How do I find good keywords for PPC?

Finding good keywords for PPC requires research and analysis. Examine the search behavior of your target demographic and analyze rivals in your sector. Analyze which words are used most often to describe your product or service and consider variations of those terms.

Additionally, use keyword tools such as Google Keyword Planner or Content at Scale to find related phrases that have high search volume but low competition. Once you have a list of potential keywords, test them using A/B testing methods on different platforms to determine their effectiveness before making any decisions about bids or budgets.

How do you do keyword research for PPC campaigns?

Identifying search terms based on relevance, competition level, and CPC is an important part of keyword research for any PPC campaign. You should start your keyword research by brainstorming potential topics and key phrases related to your business.

From your chosen keywords, drill your list down to identify relevant keywords with high search volume. Keyword tools can also help you analyze competitor campaigns for inspiration.


Keyword research is an essential step in creating successful PPC campaigns. By following the steps outlined above, you can ensure that your keyword research can ensure your PPC campaigns will drive the right traffic that will get you the conversions you seek.

Remember to tweak your campaigns with the tips we shared to maximize ROI. With careful planning, proper implementation of strategies, and thorough analysis of data collected from your campaign reviews, you should be able to maximize ROI and generate more sales for your business.

Ready to start generating your PPC keyword list? Sign up for Content at Scale today!

Written by Julia McCoy

See more from Julia McCoy

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