Paid Advertising Keyword Research Made Simple

How to Conduct PPC Keyword Research Easily

Learn how to conduct paid digital advertising keyword research and use those terms to generate more conversions and better demand generation ROI.
Article Outline

Using relevant, cost-effective keywords is the most important aspect of any successful paid digital advertising campaign — often referred to as pay-per-click advertising (PPC). After all, you have to understand what your potential customers are searching for if you want to deliver appropriate content that leads to clicks and conversions.

By choosing the right keywords, you can ensure that:

  • Your ads are being delivered to your intended audience.
  • Your ads, webpages, and collateral assets are reflective of the keywords your audiences are searching.
  • Your search engine results page (SERP) rank is positioned above your competitors.
  • Your cost-per-click (CPC) remains low because your paid strategy is consistent from start to finish.
  • Your overall content strategy is aligned with numerous keyword sets that are best suited for your organization.

Unfortunately, no one is going to hand you the best keywords on a silver platter. You have to seek out the most effective terms for your business, brand, products, and services — which means you have to conduct paid search keyword research using best practices, innovative techniques, and helpful tools.

In today’s blog, we’re going to discuss how to conduct paid digital advertising keyword research and how you can use those terms to generate more conversions and better demand generation return on investment.

Review All of Your Digital Properties to Understand Your Current Keyword Strategy

The first stop in your quest for keyword supremacy should (hopefully) be familiar territory: your website, blog, landing pages, and all other digital properties. 

Begin by reviewing your Google Analytics instance(s) and taking note of your most successful pages by sessions and time on page. You should also review your Google Ads account(s) to determine which campaigns are generating the most clicks and conversions — and at what rate. If your sessions are high but your time on page is low, or if your click-rate is high but your conversion rate is low, you’ll need to optimize those pages for better alignment with your target keywords.

Once you feel those pages are in good shape, you’ll need to harvest them for primary, secondary, and tertiary keywords. Depending on the length and purpose of the pages you’re reviewing, you should have between 1-5 terms to leverage on each page. These keywords will fall under one of four types:

  • Branded Terms: Verbiage that includes your organization’s name and related trademarked terms. You absolutely must own these terms across all paid search campaigns. Make sure you’ve trademarked your company name, slogan, and taglines to prevent competitors from “conquesting” your branded terms.
  • Competitive Terms: Branded phrases that include the names of your competitors and their trademarked terms. Per Google and Bing’s guidelines, you cannot use your competitors’ trademarked terms in your ad copy and could be sued for doing so. You can, however, bid on these key phrases and use them in your webpage and landing page copy.
  • Product/Service Terms: Terms that are related to your product, service, and solution lines. These are your bread and butter terms that your users most commonly use to learn more about how your business can help solve their problems. It’s important to use specific keywords in targeted ad groups to direct this traffic to the ideal landing spot. 
  • Peripheral Terms: Terms not specifically related to your brand, competition, or product and service terms but that do relate to your space and industry. 

Here’s a brief example from our own keyword research matrix:

  • Branded: Act-On, Act-On Software, Act-On Marketing Automation
  • Competitive: Hubspot, Marketo, Pardot
  • Product/Service: Email Marketing, Landing Page Builder, Advanced Social Media Module
  • Peripheral: PPC Marketing, Digital Marketing Agency, Digital Marketing Design

As you go about cultivating your existing content for effective keywords, make sure that these terms still apply to the different topic categories that you want to rank for. If your business model, goals, and objectives have changed since you created whatever content you’re reviewing, it’s possible that the terms on those pages (even those that are high-performing) are no longer relevant.

Create a List of Root Keywords

At this point, you know where you’re existing keyword strategy is at, so now it’s time to start creating a list of new root keywords that you haven’t been trying to capture previously. A root keyword is an essential topic or subject you’re trying to promote in your PPC campaigns. For instance, “Marketing Automation” is a root keyword that we use here at Act-On because it’s a broad topic that we know we want to rank for and also a term that can be broken down into several different “long-tail keywords” (more on these in a minute).

To begin creating a list of root keywords, you need to have a few different discussions. First, get a firm understanding of your business objectives from the C-suite and other key stakeholders. You’re going to be spending your company’s money trying to rank for these keywords, which means you need to act as a responsible steward of the available funds. Depending on your company size, industry, and budget, you could be trying to rank highly on anywhere from a handful of keywords to tens of thousands, which means you need to make absolutely sure that your mission is clear from the outset.

For example, whereas a multi-national manufacturing parts supplier might have thousands of product lines (and thus, thousands of keywords to rank for), a local business specializing in paddleboards and kayaks will probably have less than a dozen. So understand which products and services you’re trying to sell before you begin trying to sell them.

From there, you can begin brainstorming the terms and phrases your potential customers might use to find your business online. The best way to do this is to connect with your sales team and have a productive conversation with them about how they’re positioning your business offering. You want to make sure that your potential customers have a streamlined experience from start to finish, so your digital advertising should be reflective of your sales professionals’ approach (and vice versa). 

It’s also important to understand what your sales reps and account managers are hearing from prospects and customers. If there are certain products or features that they find especially helpful or efficient, you might want to focus on these offerings and build individual ad groups based around related keywords. This is also a good opportunity to research any keywords or phrases commonly used by your target audience that might be missing from your strategy. 

Be sure to take detailed notes during these conversations so you can review later and begin jotting down your list of root keywords. Then, once you have a good list of keywords based on business objectives and sales approaches, you should begin looking for synonyms of those terms. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes to consider which terms they might be using to find your company’s products and services and then head over to to find other words that are closely related to your root keywords.

Root keywords are great because they’re usually high-traffic keywords that could potentially drive a lot of relevant landing page visits, and they’re also an excellent place to start when building out the long-tail keywords you’ll want to include within your ad groups. Long-tail keywords usually won’t attract a lot of volume, but the competition to rank for these terms will be lower, the CPC will be lower, and the degree of specificity should attract high-intent consumers. So if you choose the right long-tail variations of your root keywords and optimize your PPC campaigns from start to finish, these phrases can be extremely lucrative.

Let’s review how to get the most bang for your buck with optimal long-tail keywords.

Use Keyword Research Tools to Gather Long-Tail Keywords

By now, you’ve got a firm grasp of your business goals and objectives, as well as the primary keywords you want to use to garner interest and attract prospects. The next step is to go a little further down the rabbit hole by using keyword research tools to identify effective and affordable long-tail keywords.

There are literally dozens of different keyword research tools. Many of these tools are free (or at least have free versions), although they vary greatly in value and ease of use. The one constant you’ll need to focus on is search volume, which is usually broken down by average monthly searches. This is a good indicator of the competition around each term and will also give you a good idea of how expensive the CPC is for these keywords.

Let’s take a look at three of our favorites.

1) Google Keyword Planner

The Granddaddy of them all, Google Keyword Planner might not be the most accurate tool out there, but it’s free to use and can get pretty detailed. If nothing else, Google Keyword Planner is a great place to begin your research and offers compelling statistics such as:

  • Average monthly searches
  • Competition level
  • Impressions
  • Clicks
  • Click-through rate (CTR)
  • Average CPC
  • Conversions 
  • Conversion rate
  • Average cost per acquisition (CPA)
  • Suggested max bid

One drawback is that it doesn’t provide exact keyword suggestions. It does, however, suggest a ton of different synonyms and variations, which is huge when you’re trying to build an extensive long-tail keyword list. If you have a Google Ads account (not sure why you’d be reading this if you don’t), just login and then navigate to the Tools and Analysis dropdown. Click on the Keyword Planner and… voila!

*Bonus: Act-On easily integrates with Google Ads!

2) Moz Keyword Explorer

The Moz Keyword explorer allows marketers of all skill sets and experience levels to conduct more thorough research by:

  • Analyzing keywords by search volume with more than 95% accuracy
  • Generating, saving, and scoring keyword lists
  • Exporting their research, analysis, and lists into easy-to-read CSVs
  • Predictively analyzing keyword difficulty, volume and CTRs
  • Reviewing SERP details by keyword to better understand how pages rank queries
  • Performing competitive analysis to stay ahead of the competition

Unfortunately, Keyword Explorer isn’t free, but it’s pretty cost-effective considering the level of functionality, accuracy, and analytics. There are two different pricing levels:

  • Level 1 ($600/year)
    • 5,000 full keyword reports/month
    • 10 keyword lists (500 keywords per list)
  • Level 2 ($1,800/year)
    • 30,000 full keyword reports/month
    • 30 keyword lists (1,000 keywords per list)

If you’re managing a limited marketing budget, you can still run two free searches each day without having to log in. Or, you can create a free community account for 7 free searches per day.

3) Wordstream Keyword Tool

I’m a rabid Wordstream fan. Their marketing content is next-level, and their tools are extremely effective and easy to use. So while I’m not in anyway professionally linked with Wordstream, I’m a great admirer and so probably a touch biased. 

Like the other tools on this list, Wordstream Keyword Tool can help you find relevant keywords at competitive price points. Users can enter a keyword or website URL and also choose by industry and/or country to get the most accurate data on the most relevant terms. Results will include hundreds of related terms, as well as:

  • Google Search Volume
  • Competition
  • CPC
  • Opportunity Score

The “Opportunity Score” is my favorite part of Wordstream’s Keyword Tool. It’s a proprietary metric that ranks impact potential on a 1-10 scale to help marketers focus their efforts in the right areas — saving time, effort, and budget in the process. You can then take those prime keywords and use Wordstream’s keyword grouping functionality to organize your terms into actionable segments consisting of useful and effective long-tail keywords.

Act-On Marketing Automation Can Help You Improve Your PPC Strategies 

PPC campaign strategy and execution isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it task. You need to be constantly reviewing your keyword lists (paid and organic) to be sure you’re placing your content, products, and services in front of the right audience at the right time at the right price point. Therefore, you need to be engaging key stakeholders and sales personnel regularly and using proven tools daily to achieve best results.

Act-On integrates with Google Ads to give you better visibility into how your PPC campaigns are performing, which search terms buyers are using to find you, and which forms and landing pages are helping you generate conversions, opportunities, and sales. We also provide you with the tools to create a more personalized web experience so you can ensure that opportunities stemming from your PPC spend lead to even better results down the line. 

Please download our eBook, “How to Set Up, Launch, and Run a Paid Advertising Campaign” to learn more about how to create effective paid digital advertising campaigns or complete this brief form to schedule a demo with a skilled and experienced rep who will walk you through the power and simplicity of the Act-On platform.

What's New?