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How to Choose Keywords for Your Adwords Campaign

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This post is part of a series called Google Adwords for Small Business.
How to Write a Click-Grabbing Adwords Ad

So, you're thinking of running an Adwords campaign to pull in new customers?

Adwords can propel your business onto the front page of Google's search results. That's huge for your visibility, and is something that would otherwise be difficult to obtain without spending months or years on SEO and content marketing.

Why doesn't everyone use Adwords then? Because it can cost a lot of money, and there's no guarantee of a return on your investment.

That's why keywords matter. They form the basis of any Adwords campaign.

Choose the right keywords, and your campaign will bring in new customers. Pick the wrong keywords, and you'll either be completely ignored or—worse—your campaign will be an expensive flop.

Picking keywords is easy if you've got a big marketing budget. You can simply pull out every keyword that's potentially relevant to your customers, and see how it performs. Over time, you'll discover the top performing keywords. But you'll burn through a lot of money as you eliminate the failures.

For those of us with a limited amount to spend on marketing, we need to choose keywords strategically to maximize potential impact while keeping costs as low as possible.

In this article, we'll show you how to choose keywords that give your Adwords campaign the best chance of success without breaking the bank.

Let's start with what keywords are all about.

What is an Adwords Keyword?

Keywords are the foundation of any Adwords campaign.

Keywords are words or phrases that people search for on Google. For example "coffee", "building contractor" and "web design" are all keywords.

Adwords ads are always matched to a keyword. Let's say you provide web design services, so you run an Adwords campaign using the keyword "web design".

To put it simply, that means that every time someone searches for "web design" on Google, your ad will show up. If someone clicks the ad, they're directed to your website, and you send Google a payment.

However, it's not quite as simple as that. Why? Here are three things that make it a little more complicated:

  1. There are probably thousands of other businesses like yours who are willing to pay to get on the front page of Google. That creates competition. The more businesses who want to be matched with a particular keyword, the more you'll need to pay to get on Google's front page. You set the amount you're willing to pay through a bid. The higher your bid, the better the chances that your ad will be shown when someone searches for your keyword.
  2. Google cares about relevance. A coffee shop who picks the keyword "web design" for their advert is unlikely to get listed. To state the obvious, that's a mistake because people searching for web design are unlikely to be looking for a coffee shop. Google knows this is a mistake, and will filter out your ad from being listed. Choosing keywords that are relevant to your business makes it more likely that your ad will be matched with the keyword in search results.
  3. To run an effective ad campaign, you won't be using just one keyword, but a list of keywords, each of which will need to be carefully monitored to see if it delivers results.

Now you've got the low down on what keywords are and how they work, let's take a look at how you can choose the best keywords for your business.

Step 1: Get Specific About Your Offer (or Offers)

Most businesses offer a range of different products and services. When you're running an Adwords campaign, it's best to focus on a single product or service.

Why? Because paid ads work best when they're specific and relevant. Focusing on a single product or service allows you to be specific on your offer, and relevant to a subset of potential customers.

What's more, focusing on a single product allows you to create a landing page that's highly targeted, which means you'll get a better conversion rate out of your Adwords traffic.

What if you want to promote more than one product or service? That's fine, just run a separate Adwords campaign for each product you want to promote.

Step 2: List as Many Keywords as You Can

Keyword marketing is part art and part science, and this step is on the art side of things.

Think up as many different keywords as you can. Ask yourself: "What might people search for if they were looking for the product or service I'm selling?"

Bear in mind that you're trying to think as your customers think. Put yourself in their mind, and think of the words they'd use. Your product or service may help people to solve a problem. How would they describe this problem in their own words?

Top tip: Not sure how your customers would describe their problem? Then visit the online forums where your customers hang out. Here you'll find that they share their problems in their own words. Forums are keyword gold.

This isn't a time to hold back. Write down every idea you come up with, no matter how wacky it seems. Let your imagination run riot.

When you've run out of ideas, use an online thesaurus to help you come up with more words.

What's the point in coming up with so many keywords? As you're on a budget, you're searching for the holy grail of keyword marketing: the long tail.

The long tail is made up of keywords that aren't searched for all that often, so you can bid a low price for them and still have a good chance of having your ad displayed. At the same time, long-tail keywords are highly relevant to your offer, so they're likely to lead to a better conversion rate.

Step 3: Call in Google to Help with Your Idea-Storming

You've got a huge list of keyword ideas. The next step is to find those that are most likely to result in a successful Adwords campaign. This ultimately will involve narrowing down your list—but it may mean coming up with more keywords to begin with.

Here are a few ways Google, and Google Adwords, can help with developing your keywords:

1. Play with Google Autocomplete

Whenever you enter a search into Google, the search bar will suggest several different ways to autocomplete the search term. These suggestions are based on what's most commonly searched for on Google, so using the autocomplete is a great strategy for digging up long tail keywords. Use every keyword on your brainstorming list to see which autocomplete ideas come up. Take note of those that are relevant to your offer, as you may want to use them.

Want more ideas? Then type your keyword into Ubersuggest, which scrapes together hundreds of autocomplete ideas.

2. Look at Related Searches

Enter one of your keywords into Google, then scroll down to the bottom of the page. You'll see a section titled "Searches related to [your search term]". Voila, more keyword ideas!

3. Use Google's Keyword Tool

The Adwords Keyword Planner is a really handy tool for discovering keywords. You can enter any keyword, and it will show you how often that keyword is searched for, and how much you'll need to bid to have your ad displayed.

You can also use the keyword planner to search for keyword ideas based on a product category, or even a website. Entering your website into the search can help you generate new ideas you may have overlooked. You can also enter the websites of your close competitors for even more ideas.

4. Check Google Analytics

The Google Analytics dashboard for your website will show the keywords people are already using to find your site. You could use these keywords in an ad campaign to boost the traffic you get from them, or you could adjust them slightly so you're not competing with traffic that you're already getting.

Step 4: Narrow Down Your Keyword Choices

You've run your list of keywords through three Google tests, and potentially come up with more ideas.

Now's the time to start narrowing down your keyword choices so that your campaign reaches the right people.

You can narrow down your list based on several factors:

1. Cost

How much you're willing to spend on winning a click with a particular keyword depends on two things. First, how much is a converting customer worth to you (think about their lifetime value, not just the first product they purchase). Second, what is the conversion rate of your landing page? For example, if the lifetime value of a customer is $1,000, and your landing page has a 1% conversion rate, then you must bid under $10 per click to make a profit on your campaign.

If this is your first campaign, you won't yet know the conversion rate, so you'll be shooting blind. In that case, your best bet is to focus on low-priced long-tail keywords. That way, you can test how they perform, then when you know your conversion rate for your overall campaign, you'll know whether you're able to bid for higher priced keywords.

2. Reach

Choosing keywords is a balance between cost and reach. Expensive keywords are likely to have a bigger reach, because more people search for them every month. But they'll also burn through your ad budget quickly. Lower priced keywords have a smaller reach, so they may not bring in the level of traffic you need.

A good trick if you're on a low budget is to choose a lot of long-tail keywords, rather than focusing on big hitting keywords. Choosing a wide range of long-tail keywords allows you to get your ad shown to a lot of people while keeping your costs down.

3. Relevance

As we've previously mentioned, the keywords you select must be relevant to your offer. Google will penalize your ad if they're not.

What does it mean for a keyword to be relevant? Ask yourself "is this a search term someone who needs my services might use?" If the answer is "no" or "probably not", then the keyword isn't relevant.

A further way of testing relevance is to write your Adwords ad, and the landing page. Does the keyword appear in the ad and on the landing page? If not, then it may not be relevant.

4. Instinct 

When you first launch your ad, you can't know which keywords will work for you. You'll discover that in the next step. So to begin with, once you've done all the research you can, you'll have to go with your gut. That's not to say you won't test the keywords you've chosen, just that you have to start by making a decision.

Adwords also has its own built-in tool to "narrow down" when your keyword is matched to a search term. You can opt for a broad match, which will show your ad for any search where your keyword is mentioned, a phrase match, where the exact phrase in your keyword must be written (but it can be alongside other words/phrases), and an exact match, where your ad will only be displayed for people who typed your exact keyword into the Google search bar. If you're focusing on long-tail keywords, then opt for an exact match.

Step 5: Test, Test, Test

The ultimate check for any keyword is to see how it performs in the field.

So far, you've trusted your creativity and instinct in coming up with keywords, along with insight from helpful keyword tools. From here on out, it's hard numbers that will help you make decisions on keywords.

You need to notice:

  • Is it getting clicks? If not, then it's either not relevant, your ad copy needs work, or your bid is too low.
  • How well is it converting into sales? Good conversion rates show a keyword has potential. Try to boost conversion rates further by adjusting your ad copy or landing page copy.

In short, you'll want to hold onto keywords that lead to clicks and sales. You can also develop variations on your top performing keywords.

As for keywords that don't perform, it's time to let them go. Bring in other keywords to test.

It will take time to discover the best performing keywords. Once you've found them, you'll have a constant stream of incoming customers. That's a massive boon for any business.

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