If you launch a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign using a bunch of random keywords you think might work, will anyone click on your ad? Well, lemme ask you this: if a tree falls over with nobody to hear it, will it make a sound?

Technically, sure. The tree will make sound waves, but nobody will experience the impact.

When you use the wrong keywords for your PPC campaign, people will see your ads—but not the folks you want to get to click on them. You can’t expect your campaign to perform if your ideal audience doesn’t see it.

Instead, you need to create a solid foundation for your campaign with well-researched keywords to get your ads in front of the right eyes. This guide will teach you the basics of PPC ads, how to do PPC keyword research, and how to tweak your budget as you go.

What Is PPC and How Can You Supercharge Your Campaigns with Keyword Research?

PPC advertising is the general term for online advertising that charges based on visitor clicks. You’ll find PPC ads on search results pages, websites, and social media.

When you build an ad on a platform like Google Ads, you’ll need to choose phrases related to your subject, aka keywords. The platform will then try to show the ad to people who search for or visit a website with that keyword.

When you choose keywords that fit your ad, audience, and landing page, you’ll have a better shot at achieving these two goals:

  1. Message match: Your ads and landing pages will make sense to visitors who search your keywords, guiding them to conversion. (Message match is a technique that goes beyond typical best practices.)
  2. Audience match: Your platform will show your ad to people interested in the keywords you choose. With more interested viewers, you’ll have a better chance of getting clicks and conversions.

When you choose the wrong keywords, the opposite happens: you’ll look irrelevant at best—and spammy at worst—to anyone who sees your ad.

Pro tip: To make the most of your keyword choices, send your PPC visitors to a dedicated landing page, instead of a website to make the most of your keyword choices.

How to Do PPC Keyword Research

Here’s how to do PPC keyword research in five easy steps:

1. Establish your PPC campaign goals

First things first—define your campaign goals before you research a single keyword. You might already have them on hand. But if you don’t, consider:

  • Conversion goals: What action do you want visitors to take to move down the conversion funnel?
  • Metric goals: How many clicks or conversions do you want to gain in a set time?

These objectives help you understand your visitor’s search intent—the purpose people have in mind when they first click on your ad. When your keywords, your objectives, your visitors’ objectives are all aligned, everybody wins.

Take a look at this PPC ad and landing page from Webistry. Their client wanted to bring in new leads interested in buying a new house, so Webistry included the keyword “new house for sale” in their ad headline.

Webistry Ad Headline

Plus, you’ll notice that the landing page copy aligns with those keywords. It mentions single-family homes and starting prices so customers know they’re in the right place. (It sounds simple enough, but marketers often get it wrong.)

2. Look for keywords with a tool

You don’t have to guess at the right keywords until you get ‘em right. There are a variety of tools out there (both free and paid) you can use to aid you in creating your keyword list, like:

Let’s quickly explore Google Keyword Planner since it’s free and so many folks use it. After you click “Discover new keywords” on Keyword Planner’s main page, you’ll see this tool:

Google Keyword Planner

You can plug in keywords or a website, and Google Keyword Planner will give you some relevant keywords with estimated bidding costs and competition. Pretty neat, huh?

3. Check out keyword metrics

Speaking of bidding costs and competition, let’s talk about two important keyword metrics.

Not all keywords are built the same even if they relate to your ad subject. You’ll have to look at their monthly search volume and cost per click (CPC) to figure out their usefulness. Let’s break down these concepts:

  • Monthly volume: The number of keyword searches that happen each month. High-volume keywords give your ads more exposure, but they also give them more competition.
  • CPC: Cost Per Click, or the cost you pay when someone clicks on an ad using that keyword. Keywords with higher CPC often work well, but, of course, they’ll cost you more. According to Statista, Canada has an average CPC of $0.57 and the United States has an average CPC of$1.05.

So, when you pick your keywords, you’ll want to find the right balance of volume and CPC to bring in clicks within your budget.

4. See what’s already working

While you rack your brain for PPC keywords, remember that you already have tons of inspiration available in your market.

Try checking what keywords your competitors use with one of the paid tools we mentioned above or Ahrefs’ quick and dirty Keyword Planner trick. Plug your competitor’s website into Keyword Planner, filter out their brand name, and snag some keywords from them. WordStream recommends using Google AdWords Auction Insights to see which keywords your competition uses.

You can also look for keywords in high-ranking content using a paid tool or some careful deduction. Search for your keyword as if you’re a visitor, then look through top-ranking pages for the major words and phrases they use. Pay extra attention to the headers and first few paragraphs—those are popular places to use keywords.

Side note: No matter how well a keyword performs, there’s always the human factor. Different keywords will work for different people, especially when it comes to location or preferred product. Unbounce’s Direct Text Replacement (DTR) feature can personalize your landing page keywords to match your ads, just like it increased conversions 5x for School of Rock.

5. Target using your data

Now that you have your keywords, it’s time to learn how to target them at the best searches. Google AdWords (now called Google Ads) has three keyword match settings, as covered in a previous Unbounce PPC guide:

  • Broad match: This default matching option targets ads at your exact keyword and any phrases related to it.
  • Phrase match: Phrase match uses narrower targeting than broad match by matching phrases in the order you specify. For example, phrase matching “eat tacos” would bring back “how to eat tacos,” but not “what to eat with tacos,” or the alarming “what if tacos ate us.”
  • Exact match: What it says on the tin. An exact match keyword will only target searches identical to it.

Generally speaking, you want to get more exact with your keyword matching as your customers go down the conversion funnel. As your leads get more specific with their searches, you should get more specific with your targeting.

Quick tip: Facebook ad targeting works a little differently than AdWords targeting, and that difference might become even bigger with iOS tracking updates. Apple users can now turn off many Facebook tracking tools, so marketers will need to get a little crafty. Learn more on the Unbounce blog.

Tweaking Your PPC Budget

Depending on what keywords you decide to target, your bidding costs will vary. It’s all part of the process.

Google Keyword Planner will help you with initial budget planning by estimating keyword costs as you pick ‘em. It also has a cost projection for your keyword plan in the Plan Overview window.

But, of course, CPC isn’t the only factor that goes into a PPC budget. Your cost per conversion and conversion rate also come into play. I recommend giving Workshop Digital’s PPC budget calculator a shot.

To keep an eye on your PPC costs and control them, set up a regular schedule for checking your ad costs. Then, stick to that schedule. As you run more ad campaigns, you’ll spot patterns that’ll help you rein in future costs.

Gettin’ the Best ROI from Your PPC

It’s a great feeling when you pull off a successful PPC campaign. If you play your cards right, your ads will pay your investment back via the conversions you need for profit.

Reach your PPC campaign goals faster with Smart Traffic, which directs visitors to the landing pages where they’ll be more likely to convert. Smart Traffic pages get an average conversion boost of 30% compared to landing pages using A/B testing only.



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