Keyword Strategy – Choosing the best terms for Paid Search


As you build campaigns in paid search platforms like Google Adwords, and Bing Ads, choosing and optimizing the keywords you bid on is an infinitely evolving process. If done improperly, there’s truly no limit to the amount of money you can waste on paid search.
However, if done properly – there’s almost no limit to the amount you can earn either! The proper evolution of your paid search strategy requires daily attention to your campaigns – constantly noting which keywords are performing, and adjusting bids on these terms to get even more business from them.

Conversely, you must also pay attention to your most poorly performing keywords that are generating clicks with no conversions. These terms should be placed in a “negative keyword” list that blocks them from ever being bid on by your campaign.

 Let’s take a deeper look into all three of these smaller keyword strategies: choosing the best keywords, optimizing performing keywords, and identifying negative keywords.

Choosing Optimal Keywords

If you are truly starting from scratch with your paid search campaigns, and you have no keywords chosen whatsoever – you’re likely going to need some help identifying an initial key target group. The absolute best way to begin this process is to use the Google Adwords Keyword Tool to help you identify industry terms that demonstrate high search volume. You do have to start with at least one or two of your own chosen keywords to type in the search box, but this is easy. Simply go with some of your top industry or product terms. If you were a printing company, this would be something like business cards. Then, the tool will return a whole hoard of additional “keyword ideas” that google sees as similar to your chosen beginner terms. You should also take advantage of the filter options that the tool offers, which will narrow down the results to your specific geographic location, language, etc. The raw data output of this search returns the following information for each “keyword idea”:

  •  Level of Competition – categorized as “high”, “medium”, and “low” competition levels –  this defines how many different websites are obviously competing across the web to rank for this term.
  •  Search Volume – this is the raw count of how many people type the given term into google every month as a search. Remember to pay attention to the “local monthly search’ to respect the filters you’ve placed for your desired traffic.
  • CPC – this is google’s best estimate of what you’ll have to bid, per click, to show up on the first page of search results in paid search

As you might imagine, when choosing your targeted paid search terms, the best opportunities are going to be keywords that have a “low” competition level, highest search volume, and lowest CPC. Of course, this perfect storm of factors will be extremely rare, but you still want to get as close to this ideal at all times as possible. As you’re forced to choose your keywords in an imperfect world, try to start out with terms that are low in competition level, and low in CPC – even if the search volume isn’t that high. This will give you a chance to learn the basics of paid search behavior and optimization without spending much money to do so. As time moves on, and your conversion quality improves, you can use that bolstered confidence to take more risk and bid on more expensive higher volume search terms.

Optimizing Performing Keywords

When you see that one or more of your chosen keywords is generating the most impressions, clicks, and hopefully conversions – there’s quite a bit you can do to get even more out of these terms. Start by increasing the “max CPC” or the most you’re willing to pay per click, on the given term by $0.50, or $1.00. If you’ve been doing well with the term at a lower bid, say in position 6 on page 1 of the paid search results – imagine how much better you’ll do in position 2 or 1 with an increased budget? Sure, you’ll be spending more, but you’ll be getting a ton more conversions too!Next, if you see keywords that outperform the group – isolate them. Put them in their own ad category, and experiment with different ads for the same keyword. This will let you know if you can be getting even more conversion “bang for your buck”, or if you’ve already created the holy grail text ad.

Finally, back to budgeting: if you feel like you’ve already created a max CPC that get’s you to the top of the paid search results, but still want to get more out of your performing keywords, simply increase the daily budget for these terms. Test it for a day or two, and if you aren’t seeing more conversions for your investment, you can always reduce the daily max budget again. Chances are though, if it’s been performing at $X per day, it will do just as well at $XX.

Negative Keywords

Negative keywords are terms that you specifically block from ever being bid on in your search campaigns. This of course only applied to “broad match” to begin with, as limiting all your terms to “exact match” would eliminate the need for negative keywords.Identifying and creating negative keywords starts with locating words and phrases in the keyword report that your ad appears as a result for, generate clicks, but rarely if ever create conversions. These are poor phrases that will continuously cost you money and NOT create customers for your business. But why would this happen? Example: if you own a printing company that prints custom posters for distributors, you might start by bidding on phrase match terms like “poster printing”. Then, Adwords takes “poster printing” and a broad match sense and starts showing your ad as a result for “Lady Gaga Posters” – an extremely popular search phrase, no doubt. The problem is, obviously your printing company’s website will never ever cause someone who’d searching for “Lady Gaga Posters” to make a purchase – because you don’t sell them! Get the picture?

It’s essential to block these phrases, especially the high volume, low relevancy ones, from ever driving traffic to your ads. Depending on how relative the terms of your industry are, your negative keyword list could be equally as large as your targeted keyword list.

Persistence Pays

Adwords and paid search in general is a game of slow and steady wins the race. You have to check in and tweak your campaigns constantly if you want to keep up with the ever evolving search habits of the internet. If you hope paid search will be a “set it and forget it” marketing channel, you are gravely mistaken. Depending on your budget, if you don’t want to spend the time you can always hire an agency to manage paid search for you. However, if disciplined and consistent, the average time spent on paid search every week shouldn’t exceed an hour in time.

Author: Tyler Watkins is a Marketing Manager at, the nation’s leading business card printer

Posted in SEM.