Brad Geddes / PPC Geek
Official Google Ads Seminar Leader.
Author of Advanced Google AdWords.
Co-Founder, Adalysis.
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Brad Geddes's Theories on Marketing How to Conduct Keyword Research

How to Conduct Keyword Research

Keyword research is essential to creating and managing your paid search campaigns. Keywords are the lifeblood of the PPC industry. If you want to drive traffic to your site from specific keywords, then you must have them inside your account. However, there’s more to the process than just adding words to your account; you first must understand what a good keyword is before you start your research.

What is a Good Keyword?

A good keyword is a word that brings you both traffic and conversions. If a keyword brings in lots of traffic but no conversions, then that keyword is just costing you money without any returns – and is not a good keyword.

If a keyword is bringing in sales and profits, then it is a good keyword.

Generally, the more specific the keyword is the better it will perform. Picking specific keywords that describe both your industry and have a clear user intent is essential to ensuring that your PPC campaigns are profitable.

For instance, the keyword ‘shoes’ has 450,000 monthly searches in the United States. It has volume, but what does the word mean? Does it mean women’s, men’s, running, dress, tennis or shoe repair? This word is so ambiguous; it will rarely be a good keyword.

The keyword ‘running shoes’ has 74,000 queries per month. While there are more searches, it is a bit more specific as it includes a type of shoe. However, one of the first steps to selling shoes is to understand the gender of the shopper as men and women do not wear the same shoes.

The keyword ‘best running shoes for women’ has only 6,600 monthly searches, however, it is specific to both a gender and a type of shoe.

The keyword ‘New Balance running shoes for women’ has only 720 searches per month, but is very specific to a gender, brand, and type of shoe.

It is common to see more specific words have lower search volume than more ambiguous terms, which does not mean you should exclude them. What often happens is that keywords become more specific the click through rate and conversion rate increases.

Let’s assume (and it’s unlikely, but this assumption is good enough for a quick illustration) all of these keywords have the same cost per click, and average revenue per sale. The biggest difference will be the conversion rates and click through rates. This is an example of how these keywords could affect your PPC profits.


Keyword Searches CTR Clicks Cost Conversion Rate Sales Revenue Profit
Shoes 450,000 0.5% 2,250 $2,250 0.10% 2 225 -$2025
Running Shoes 74,000 1% 740 740 1% 7 740 $0
Best running shoes for women 6,600 3.5% 231 231 3% 7 $693 $462
New Balance running shoes for women 720 8% 58 $58 9% 5 $518 $460

In this case, ‘New Balance Running shoes for women’ and ‘Best running shoes for women’ have the two lowest search amounts by far. However, they are the two most profitable keywords as the words are much more specific which means the click through rates and conversion rates will often increase.

We could get into an entire discussion about balancing your goals with costs and how high volume, low converting words can help build brand awareness that can increase your overall CTRs and conversion rates; however, that’s some pretty advanced math for another time.

Now that you’ve seen an illustration of how more specific keywords can be better than more general keywords, even if they have less total searches, it is time to look at the steps to conducting keyword research.

Keyword Research Step-By-Step

Keyword research can be a very methodical process that can be grouped into a set of steps:

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Create your themes
  3. Write an ad copy
  4. Research Your Ad Groups
  5. Review
  6. Put the keywords live
  7. View search queries
  8. Refine and repeat

We will examine each of these steps individually.


The first step to keyword research is to start brainstorming for various themes. You do not have to even look at keywords yet. Your goal here is to determine the overall categories where you want to conduct keyword research. Often, these themes will mirror your sites navigation.

Take a look at your website, analytics, search queries if you have internal search, and use tools like the AdWords keyword tool to start by creating a list of words. This phase does not have to be exhaustive. Just jot down the areas where you want to do more intensive research.

Create Your Themes

The next step is to take all of your research and list out your themes.  If you are new to PPC, try finding just 10-30 themes. If you have been doing this for a while, you might end up with thousands of themes.

A theme can be a different service you offer such as an accountant might have tax preparation, tax relief, business taxes, personal taxes, daily bookkeeping services, expense reporting, etc. Each of these themes is different because the user intent is different. If someone searched for ‘tax relief’ they want to see information about tax relief and not a general accounting page that lists all of your possible services.

If you do sell shoes, your themes might be: women’s running shoes, men’s running shoes, running shoes, women’s dress shoes, men’s dress shoes, etc. Each of these themes will be considered an ad group within your PPC account.

Write an Ad Copy

For each of your themes, write an ad copy and choose a landing page. This is an organization step that will help you in the next phase of keyword research.

Research Your Ad Groups

Now it’s time to get to work. For each of your themes, start looking for specific keywords that fit into the theme. The keyword should match the theme of the ad group, be described by the ad copy, and have information about it on the landing page. If any of those three do not apply to the keyword, then either put it aside as a keyword you might use in the future, or create a new theme for that keyword.


Next, review your work. If you find that you have themes with hundreds of keyword in them, the theme is probably too general. Rarely will you have more than 50 keywords in a theme. It’s ok to have just one keyword within an ad group. However, if you have too many keywords in an ad group what often happens is your ad copy or landing page does not accurately describe all of those keywords and some keywords will underperform.

Put the Keyword Live

Inside your PPC account, create an ad group for every theme and add your keywords. Set your account live and start collecting the data.

View Search Queries

Once you have some data, it’s time to examine it. Unless you use all exact match keyword, then your ads will show for keywords that are not inside your account. Read through the queries to find words:

  • Words that are spending money but have no conversions
  • Words that are making money but are not in your account
  • Potential new themes

It is amazing what you can learn by examining the actual words people use to search. If you are ever stuck for keyword inspiration, take a look through the actual queries consumers used to find you.

Refine & Repeat

Examine the words that have been spending money but do not have any conversions. These words might need different ads, landing pages, or to be removed from your account. If there is a pattern to the underperforming words, then you can use negative keywords to block your ads from ever showing on those words again.

If you find keywords that are doing well, but are not in your account, then add them to your account.

Finally, take the potential new themes and do some brainstorming to find yet more keywords to add to your account.


Keyword research is not overly difficult. There are many good tools out there to help you along. The most time consuming aspect of managing keywords is the organization of the keywords with related ads and landing pages.

Therefore, make sure you have a solid list of themes with appropriate ads and landing pages so you can group the keywords into tightly themed ad groups. When you have good ad group organization,  every time someone searches for a keyword you did choose, they will see a related ad copy that takes them to a related page on your website.

When the keywords, ads and landing pages are all related – that’s when PPC starts to work very well. And when PPC is working, it is a wonderful source of new customers.

No Comments

  1. olafpijl
    August 16, 2012 at 9:41 am · Reply

    Speaking of keyword analysis tools, this article contains a list of them:

  2. tdwhalen
    August 16, 2012 at 11:38 am · Reply

    I typically rely on Google’s keyword tool and query mining, but I’m going to check out, a keyword research tool I saw demo’d at SES in San Francisco.

  3. lyenas
    November 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm · Reply

    Recently I tried a “backwards” approach with a couple new clients and it worked very well. We started with the landing pages and calls to action. Then, we tagged the landing pages by where in the sales funnel they are. That allowed us to craft appropriate message that we used for writing ads and picking keywords that fit the intent. Hence, the keyword research was the last step.
    In the process, I discovered that it was easier for a brand new PPC advertiser (my client) to wrap their heads around the process. And we managed to have decent conversion rates right off the bat.

  4. brad
    November 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm · Reply

    @lyena That’s great.

    How time consuming was it? Is it something you’d only try on smaller accounts or would you think it’s worthwhile if you had 100s of ad groups as well?

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