How to Select Keywords for Pay-Per-Click Campaigns

By: Guest | August 20, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Brent Carnduff.

Search engine marketing (a.k.a. pay-per-click or PPC advertising) is an often-ignored element in small business Internet marketing.

When asked, small business owners typically give one of two reasons for not using PPC advertising: They have already tried it, lost money, and given up on it or they have considered trying it, think they will lose money, and have decided against it.

Despite the fact search engine marketing is easy to use, and simple in concept, the old poker expression “it takes only a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master” could just as easily be applied to SEM.

Recent data indicates, while organic search results normally receive 75 to 85 percent of all clicks during the critical “high commercial intent” searches – those searches used when consumers are READY TO BUY –  searchers actually click on pay-per-click ads 64.6 percent of the time!

Getting Started

Although many factors influence the success or failure of an AdWords campaign, keyword selection is often where the problem begins in many self-managed campaigns.

For example, if you wanted to start an AdWords campaign advertising  “search engine marketing services,” you might come up with an initial list like this one:

  • Search engine marketing
  • SEM
  • Pay-per-click advertising
  • PPC advertising
  • PPC
  • Google AdWords
  • AdWords advertising

Is this a good list? As an initial list to feed into a keyword research tool, it would be a good start. However, as a list of keywords for an AdWords campaign, it would lose money. These keywords are much too broad. None of them will be included in the final list of keywords.

Less is More

When selecting keywords for PPC campaigns, the goal is to select keywords that LIMIT your traffic!

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, you want to limit clicks – the clicks that you have to pay for – to the few keywords that are most likely to convert for your goal.

Analyze Your Keywords

The best way to do this is to put yourself in the shoes of the searcher. Ask yourself, “What is this person likely to be looking for? Are they deep in the sales cycle, or are they at the top?”

You’ll filter your keywords dependent on your budget and how aggressive you want to be. Because most small businesses are generally on a tight budget, I always recommend to start on the conservative side. You can grow your keyword list later on.

Look at Context

Ask yourself what the searcher is looking for when entering a phrase such as “PPC Advertising.” It may be to look for a marketing agency to manage a SEM campaign, or it may be trying to find out what PPC advertising is, looking for a new career, trying to learn how to do PPC advertising, or simply logging into a Google AdWords account.

This term is too broad so eliminate it and all others that are too general.

The term “search engine marketing” is often misunderstood and therefore misused. For that reason, remove it from your initial list. You can always add it back in and test later. Phrases mentioning both SEO and SEM also represent doubt as to what the searcher wants, so eliminate those from the list too.

The more specific you can be, the better.

Research has shown plural searches (i.e. SEM companies) often represent someone who is not as ready to buy as a singular search phrase (i.e. SEM company), so avoid plural keyword phrases if your goal is to attract people who are ready to buy.

Think about phrases that identify the service plus:

  1. A word indicating “company” (i.e. SEM firm, PPC agency, pay-per-click company); or
  2. A variation of manage, manager, management (i.e. SEM manager, manage PPC, pay-per-click management). A phrase such as “AdWords manager” may actually refer to a software program so you’ll want to keep that in mind.

The best keyword phrases combine both elements, such as “PPC management company,” but these are very expensive.

Once you decide the best phrases, you can go back to the keyword tool and dig deeper to find out about competition and price.

SEM offers many benefits. It gives you the opportunity to quickly appear on or near the top of page one for your targeted search terms, it puts you in front of the buyer when they are ready to buy, and it can be monitored, evaluated, and refined, quickly and easily.

Try and be as specific as possible in your keyword selection and put yourself in the shoes of searchers.

Remember, if you want to make money using AdWords, LESS IS MORE when it comes to your keyword selection.

What is your experience with PPC?

Brent Carnduff is the founder and president of Echelon Business Solutions and Echelon SEO. He is also the author of the Inbound Marketing Insider blog, and the Break Away Marketing blog. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn , or his new favorite, Google+.

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  • Hey Brent, Thanks so much for this! It helps a ton – one question we get a lot is… how do you balance the competition level and the “number of monthly searches?” I know you don’t want to go for high competition…

    •  @Lisa Gerber My pleasure Lisa – thanks for allowing me to contribute to the great community that surrounds SpinSucks! This is a great question, and the answer is a different depending on whether you are selecting keywords for SEO or SEM (PPC).
      For SEO, if we are limited in the number of keywords that we are focusing on, and the amount of content that will be produced, I usually think in terms of a competitive value of:
      0-50  will be fairly easy to rank for
      50-65 moderately challenging
      65-80 Challenging
      80-100 Very difficult
      Then you have to take into account how quickly they want to rank. However, the best strategy is to create pages for each of the important phrases. Go after the big ones that could eventually pay off big, and the longer tail words that could give more immediate results. This is where “content creation” becomes such a big part of SEO, and how a blog can be such an effective SEO tool.
      From a PPC perspective, it is a little different. Obviously budget plays a big factor. Aside from that, as long as the words are profitable (meaning that you will make more money selling the product or service than you will have to pay for the cumulative clicks that are required to make the sale) you can go after the most competitive words. Setting up Conversion Tracking allows you to determine how much each sale (or whatever other goal you are pursuing) costs you in total clicks. You can then adjust your bids accordingly, and go after the terms that are most profitable (i.e. You may sell one widget for every 5 clicks, if each widget costs you $5 to make and sells for $20, you only want to bid on that word if you can get if for under $3 per click).
      Sorry for the long answer – hope it helps. Keyword selection is always part science and part art.

  • magriebler

    Hi Brent! Thanks for the research about consumers preferring PPC ads over organic results when they’re ready to pull the trigger. Intriguing! I’m going to read more. And your tips on narrowing keyword selection are absolutely on target. This is one time when you really don’t need a big net to catch more fish.
    I’ve learned that for the most consistent user experience (which increases the probability of conversion), it’s critical to design custom landing pages to support your PPC ads. And the content has to include the keywords you just invested in. Sounds obvious, but I’m surprised how often people forget to do that.
    Finally, I always recommend testing. Most PPC platforms make it pretty simple to set up split tests that rotate different ads for each keyword you’ve identified. You just have to be careful to adjust your settings so that the ads are displayed randomly to obtain the cleanest results. (And of course you want to test your landing pages too. So much to test … so little time!)

    •  @magriebler Thanks for reading Marianne! I completely agree – custom landing pages and split testing are other important, and often “money saving” elements in PPC advertising. Split testing is relatively easy for PPC and can have a huge impact on results!

  • FelicityFields

    @ginidietrich Thanks for sharing the pay per click article. Venturing forth into that realm for a client this week!

    • ginidietrich

      @FelicityFields it’s a good one, too. I hope it helps.

  • lisagerber

    @brentcarnduff We love having you! Thanks for the very technical post. These are things we need to know!

  • BrentCarnduff

    @JavierArronis @SpinSucks Thank you Javier – much appreciated!

    • JavierArronis

      @BrentCarnduff @spinsucks You’re very welcome, Brent!

  • thanks a lot for this post… this has seemed to be of a great help to me

  • Thanks, Brent, perfect timing as I’m just helping a client who is trying to identify their relevant keywords, not for PPC, but for defining and finding where their target audience resides on the internet. Another application to consider for keyword research in addition to PPC and SEO. I’ll point them in this direction.

    •  @HughAnderson Your welcome Hugh! Thanks for the note – glad to hear it was helpful! Keywords are so important to all aspects of online marketing – really the foundation of everything that follows. Good luck with your project!

  • BrentCarnduff

    @ForthMetrics Thanks for the mention Forth Metrics!

  • BrentCarnduff

    @shonali Thanks Shonali!

  • jannatorres12

    Hi Brent, Thanks you so much for taking time to discuss it here. This will help me a lot as I got a hard time in selecting the best keyword for my PPC campaign. Good Job!

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  • Williams Brown

    of the keywords play an integral part and the points that you have discussed
    for choosing the right keywords for pay per click campaign are simply
    significant and to the interest of the person. 
    PPC companies Arizona

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  • andrewssofie

    I’ve spoken with a lot of PPC companies, but the most important thing that you can actually do to your marketing campaign is landing pages. Try out this company results driven, call them at 256-398-3835. They are by far the best marketing company to go with since they not only create solid ppc campaigns for you, but they also do landing pages, CRO and remarketing
    which are all 100% necessary elements of a successful online marketing campaign. Most companies sell you 1 single thing such as CRO, or just PPC, or just popups, etc. This is completely ludicrous because while 1 thing may make a difference in a stable marketing campaign, there is no single element that is a make or break element in online marketing, you need the entire package, and then hone/optimize from there.

  • ronmartin05

    Keyword relevancy is one of the keys to success with Google AdWords. While it may be tempting to include all sorts of keywords you can get your hands on, be aware that this is often the #1 mistake advertisers make when creating their first campaign. You only want prospects who “Need You Now” and are going to be motivated to contact your company, or purchase your services if they click your ad. People bid on the wrong keywords all the time and it hurts them big time. My company was losing an average of $0.67 per click until Simon over at RDM helped us get our ducks in a row with the campaign and now it makes $2.19 per click on average instead of -$0.67. He’s really helpful on the phone, his number is 256-398-3835.

  • JamesSimon1

    Pay-per-click is something I don’t know a whole lot about. I’ve been doing research. I know that the keywords that you choose are crucial to whether or not you’re going to have success. What other factors are there? Does design play a very big role, or is it overstated?