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How to build a quality keywords list and choose the right match type

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 30 Jan, 2017
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A detailed tutorial on how to research your AdWords target keyword list to improve your ROI from PPC

Keywords trigger your ads. Building and maintaining the right list of keywords is vital to getting the best return on your paid search spend.

Keywords are organised into ad groups. You assign ad creatives (ad text) to these ad groups, which appear when triggered by these keywords. Therefore, knowing which keywords will perform best is important.

Keyword research is the process of building keyword lists, based on the frequency at which consumers search for these words and phrases.

Why Is Keyword Research Important?

Keywords are the nuts and bolts of your AdWords campaigns. They let you control your visibility in search results, as well as affecting the amount you spend.

If you’re setting up an account for the first time, it’s essential to build a robust keyword list as soon as you can. The quality of this list will determine the frequency at which your ads appear, and the relevancy of your ads to users’ search queries.

Even if you’ve been running AdWords campaigns for some time – or you’ve recently inherited an account – it’s still important to regularly review your keyword lists to discover missed opportunities.

Keyword Research Tools and Techniques

While there are many third-party, non-Google Keyword research tools,  your starting point should be the tools made available by Google.

  • Google Keyword Planner: The Keyword PlannerGoogle’s own keyword research tool is invaluable, as it provides solid data on the popularity of keywords from Google itself. The tool also provides keyword suggestions, lets you organise keywords into ad groups, and forecast visibility based on varying bids. Google Trends is an alternative with a higher-level view of the data.
  • On-site search: Search data from your own website such as the Google Analytics Search queries report can provide plenty of insights to help you start your keyword research process. The terms your browsers use to find products and services using your on-site search box will very likely be reflected in the terms they use to search on Google.
  • Search terms reports: The Search terms report from AdWords provides a list of search queries that triggered your ads within a specified time frame. This is useful if you’re looking to optimise your existing keyword lists further, or discover new keyword opportunities.

For example, search terms data may bring to light a new synonym for your products you hadn’t previously considered. Using this synonym as a starting point, you could use Keyword Planner to discover further keywords, and create a new Ad Group to categorise them.

Best-Practice Tips

  • Think ‘quality over quantity’. Creating a ‘quality’ keyword list doesn’t necessary mean creating a lengthy list. Strong, relevant keywords should take precedence over generic keywords with high search volumes.
  • Think about budget. Consider search volume and CPCs when finalising your keywords, so you can be sure you can afford to bid on all the keywords you’ve chosen.
  • Keep an eye on competitors. You can use competitor review tools to analyse how rival businesses are bidding on keywords – and uncover new keyword opportunities.
  • Think like a consumer. Don’t assume the terminology you use reflects the way your customers search for your products.

Deciding on Match Types

Match types (or keyword matching options) let you choose who sees your ads, based on the similarity of users’ search queries to your chosen keywords. They are the most widely used targeting options for search ads in AdWords.

AdWords lets you choose from five main match types:

Exact match

Set your keywords to exact match, and their ads will show only when a user’s search query matches the keyword exactly.

The only exception to this rule is when a user searches for a very close variant to your exact match keywords. In these cases, your ad may appear.

paid search exact match

Phrase match

Like exact match, phrase match triggers ads when a user’s search query matches the keyword exactly (or is a very close variant).

However, it will also trigger ads when the search query includes additional words before or after the keyword.

paid search phrase match

Broad match

Broad match keywords will show ads for a wide range of queries that may be closely or broadly related to the keywords themselves.

Users can see ads with broad match keywords if:

  • They search for synonyms
  • They search for words in a different order
  • They search using long-tail queries that broadly relate to the subject matter
  • They use incorrect spellings

Paid search broad match

Broad match modifier

Broad match modifier is a cross between broad and phrase match. It offers a greater level of targeting control than broad match, because it won’t display ads when users search for synonyms or related searches. And unlike phrase match, it will show ads when users search for words in a different order.

Broad match modifier

Negative match

Negative match lets you define queries that will stop ads triggering. The obvious candidates are potentially offensive keywords, but there may be other obvious negatives that are specific to your industry or brand.

At a later stage, you should build this list out at campaign level – but only when you have a better understanding of which keywords convert, and which don’t.

Paid search negative match

Optimising your Match Types

Make sure you audit and optimise your match types regularly. Without control of your keyword targeting, you won’t have control of your budget. If you have clicks from irrelevant, non-targeted search queries they are less likely to convert and cost you money.

Each different match type affords a greater degree of control over targeting (and therefore budget). Exact match offers the most control, followed by phrase match, modified broad match and broad match.

paid search targeting

Broad match should be avoided most of the time, as broad match ads are likely to appear for low-value and irrelevant queries.

In an ideal world, your account would have all keywords set to exact match, with all possible keyword variations covered. This would allow the maximum level of control over targeting and budget.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. So we have to use phrase match and modified broad match to help us reach our customers without spending too much time optimising our campaigns.

Brand Keywords – Dos and Don’ts

It is also important to look at branded keywords. This is important to ensure brand protection.

Until 2008, Google didn’t allow advertisers to bid on competitor brand names. Then the floodgates opened.

So now you can bid on competitors’ branded terms, but you may not be able to include them in your ad text if they are trademarked. Nonetheless, this means that no search query is safe – even customers searching specifically for your businesses website could end up being enticed by a rival company’s ad.

For this reason, you should take reasonable steps to protect your brand in search.

Does this mean bidding on your brand name as a keyword? For some businesses, yes – but for others, it’s just not worth it.

A small business in an uncompetitive market, for example, may find that no competitors are bidding on its brand name.

For this business, bidding on its brand name simply to secure a top position in Google search may be a waste of money, as it will likely already appear as the #1 organic result, with no paid search competition.

However, a big retailer in an aggressively competitive marketplace will likely have to bid on its own brand name, or risk competitors pushing their search results below the fold.

This retailer will also have to ensure that its bids are set high enough to ensure customers go straight to its site. Whenever possible, you should aim to appear in position #1 for your own brand terms – you can’t rely on organic results to bring in clicks!

Best-Practice Tips

  • Consider match types. Depending on your brand name, broad match may or may not be a viable choice. Certain brands, like AstraZeneca or Microsoft, could get away with setting brand-name keywords to broad match, as their brand names are either unique, or inexorably tied to the products and services they provide.

However, brands like Apple should avoid broad match at all costs, as brand names based on common words are most likely to bring in unwanted traffic. Apple, for example, may appear on searches for ‘apple baskets’, ‘apple pie’ and countless other irrelevant terms.

  • Consider targets. Brand keywords are often more profitable than generic keywords, for a simple reason – people who search for your brand have likely already made up their mind about the retailer they want to purchase from. For this reason, you may wish to set different targets for brand versus non-brand keywords.
  • Consider reputation. Reputation management is an important consideration in PPC, especially when it comes to brand keywords. As well as thinking about the keywords you want to bid on, you should consider the queries that you don’t want associated with your brand. For example, keyword constructions like [brand + ‘scam’] or [brand + ‘sucks’] are unlikely to bring in traffic that converts. As part of your audit, you should identify terms like this and add them to your negatives list.

Building an effective keyword list takes time, and maintaining it is an ongoing process. However, if you want your ad campaigns to succeed then getting the building blocks right at the beginning will give you a sturdy base on which to build.

For more on how to use keywords and match types to maximise on your campaigns read ClickThrough’s latest e-Book – The Best-Practice Guide to AdWords Audits: Part One. Download your copy now to find out more about keeping up and moving with the industry.


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