Conducting Keyword Research For Your Paid Search Campaign

When it comes to paid search, keyword research is an integral part of launching a successful campaign. 

I’m a huge basketball fan so I tend to think of a paid search strategy the same as a game strategy. 

If you’re a fan like me, consider this analogy: keyword research is to paid search, as a scouting report is to a basketball game – it’s the foundation for the overall strategy.

Before any ad can even be created, there needs to be a list of keywords you want to focus your campaign on. In order to find the most appropriate words to target in your paid search campaigns, you have to conduct keyword research. 

Campaign Objectives 

The first step in keyword research is knowing the objectives of the campaign.  Are you creating a campaign to increase brand awareness? Or do you want to target people who are already interested in what you have to offer and want to finish the sale? Each scenario is going to need to target a very different set of keywords to reach the desired target audience. 

Just how basketball teams strategize differently depending on the team they are up against, digital advertisers should do the same. Defining which keywords to target and also which keywords to exclude will be the foundation of your initiative. 

Let’s use brand awareness as an example of a campaign objective. As a best practice, a strictly brand awareness campaign should steer away from terms surrounding the idea of making a purchase and focus on general brand terms.

However, once interest is assumed through the customer’s action of clicking an ad, a remarketing campaign can be implemented with keywords focused on purchasing a specific product.

So in this example, how do you research the keywords you need to make this campaign successful?

Generate Keyword Ideas

After deciding on the objective of your campaign, the next step is to make a list of possible keywords by gathering the terms used to search for your brand and product/service. This research should be focused on your buyer personas and the verbiage they use to search for the solution you provide.

Think about what search terms people might be putting directly into a search engine. 

Once you have a working list, expand that list even further by searching the web for alternatives. There are many tools available to conduct keyword research. We use tools like Google Keyword Planner and

Another extremely useful tool during this phase of the process is SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool. Not only does it give you valuable information about the search volume a particular keyword has, but it can also help you come up with new possibilities you weren’t aware might be a good keyword. 

Remember that there are different types of keywords, like short-tail or long-tail keywords. Campaigns should target them depending on the specific objective. A long-tail keyword is usually searched when a person is searching for more specific information and is further along in the funnel.  Someone who is still in the awareness stage might use more short-tail keywords in their searches.


The next step is to determine which keywords people are using to find your site. Now here’s where the analysis comes in.

Shed light on this by identifying which keywords your site ranks well for. You can use Google Analytics here. And with that same analysis, determine your low hanging fruit – or the keywords you have the best opportunity to rank for.

A quick note: no matter what industry the product or service is associated with, and no matter how complex, you must understand the functionality and purpose of the product/service – most importantly the terminology associated with it. Understanding the associated terminology will allow you to get inside your consumers’ minds and understand the way they search.

Once the terminology is understood and the related terms are collected, you can start to guide the context of the keywords towards such themes as information gathering, purchasing, comparison, product/service discovery, etc.

A good rule of thumb is to keep your keyword list to about 10-15 terms you want to bid for. Narrow your list down to that set you want to bid on. Also, make sure that you aren’t targeting the same keywords in other campaigns to avoid keyword cannibalization

After all these steps, you should have a set of keywords that support both the general brand awareness campaign and the product/service-focused campaign I outlined in the objective example.

Ongoing Keyword Research

Keyword research is an ongoing process. Your list should be updated frequently in order to ensure that your paid search campaign is targeted to the right people and is spending its budget appropriately. 

One way to do so is by constantly checking what terms people who clicked on your ad searched for. By doing this, you gain insights as to what words you should include in your negative keyword list. 

For example, if you are a car dealership and notice that a person who clicked on your ad searched for “rent a car”, we can assume they didn’t mean to want to be directed to a car dealership website. In this scenario, you may want to include “rent a car” as a negative keyword so you don’t spend money on a person who isn’t actually looking to buy a car.

Another reason to check the searches is because it can give you suggestions as to what words you aren’t targeting or different variations of words, that might be worth including as keywords. Always look to improve your list and keep it up to date with your business goals.

With these steps, you can start to conduct keyword research for your next paid search campaign. Want to learn more about how to create a successful research strategy? Check out our blog here

Keyword research and paid search are only two cogs in the entire digital marketing machine. At Pinckney Marketing, we can help you determine whether or not your digital efforts are actually moving the metrics that matter most. 

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This content was originally written in September of 2016 but has been refreshed in March of 2020.