Keyword List Building 101

After doing all of your research, you now have a pretty good crop of data to sift through. Remember, during the Research Phase, we collected every keyword we found during our various investigations. Check out this article for a comprehensive recap of Research Phase posts from this column regarding PPC research.

Some of sources used for the initial keyword research were:

  • The kickoff meeting with the client
  • A preliminary search of the major engines
  • Previous (or current) paid search campaigns
  • The advertiser’s site(s) and competitor sites
  • The advertiser’s site level web analytics systems
  • Engine and third party keyword suggestion tools
  • Keyword monitoring tools
  • SEO software
  • Competitive intelligence platforms
  • Industry research sites
  • Social media research tools

That’s a lot of sources! By now, you should really have enough keywords to put together a very comprehensive list. There’s no need to start segmenting the terms into ad groups/campaigns yet. However, if some natural groups begin to appear, go ahead and keep track of some of the obvious sets and we’ll consider using them later.

Here are some important things to keep in mind when building up your keyword list.

There’s no such thing as too many terms. Here’s the rule: if you even question that a term could be in your account, then it should be there. You’ll quickly know when there are obvious words that need to be thrown out. Just remember, every keyword in your account will ultimately have to prove itself to become an active term. So, at this stage in the game, keep any term you uncover that has a potential to reach your target audience—you can always pause or outright delete any word later.

Do your own market research. This is about the best tip I can share with those new to paid search. The entire goal of having a keyword list it to connect real people with your advertiser’s search ads. So isn’t it silly not to ask some real people how they might search for a particular topic? You’d be surprised how many interesting terms you pick up when you simply start asking folks their opinions for keywords. Ask your mom, your neighbors, your colleagues… believe me, this will be a very educating experience for you. You might even want to sit down at the computer with these people and literally watch over their shoulder to see how they’re searching. One good trick is to ask people to find a certain product page online. It’s very interesting to see how different people try to find stuff based on their understanding of search. Some use long phrases, others start with very broad terms and keep narrowing their choices.

Use keyword suggestion tools again. Now that you have more terms from your research, go back to the keyword suggestion tools such as Google’s and WordTracker’s and see what other keywords they suggest. This is especially helpful when you have a very broad term (i.e. insurance, computer, car, etc.) as the tools can spit out huge lists of tail terms. When you do use these tools, go ahead and grab any meta data on the term you find as it can be helpful to you later. For example, Google’s tool returns valuable information surrounding keywords such as an estimated cost to be on the first page of results, historical search data for the keyword and so on.

Use other tools too. Thesaurus.com is a great, free way to find multiple variations of the same word. For example, a quick search of synonyms for movie include film, flick, motion picture, feature, picture, show, etc. Also, try news sites or even Wikipedia. Doing standard web research on a topic will uncover new terms or at least new directions to think about. Here’s a cool tool: Soovle. You know when you start typing into a search box and start getting auto-suggestions in a drop down menu underneath? Well, Soovle is an engine that returns the top auto-suggestions from sites like Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, and more.

Find jargon and slang. It’s very easy to miss some of the more common jargon or slang from a particular industry, especially if it’s a very narrowly focused topic (bear feeders). But, it’s our job as search engine marketers to become virtual experts on our advertiser’s business and niche. Talk to any veteran search marketer and you will find a Jack (or Jill) of all trades with advanced knowledge into many different business categories and verticals. Years ago, one of my clients was an industrial lighting retailer. To this day, if we were to walk into any doctor’s office in the country, I could tell you the make and model of just about any fluorescent light fixture that might be installed. Believe me, that’s not something I intended to know that much about. But, as search marketers, words are the tools of our trade and it’s important to delve deep with every client to find the right words their customers might use to reach them.

Don’t forget misspellings or plurals. This was hammered home to me a few years ago with one of my international clients that had a company name in a foreign language. Wouldn’t you know it—the best performing campaign in the entire account was the one with literally over two hundred different misspelled versions of their company name! You should know that some engines, misspellings and plurals are treated as completely different terms. Just think of the difference in intent of the terms hotel room and hotel rooms. It’s a slight distinction, but a travel site may treat users who are looking for a single room differently than someone looking for multiple hotel rooms.

Check the advertiser’s site again. Do a double check to make sure you’re including all of the language the advertiser is already using on their site. Certain buzz words may be indicative of their unique selling point or how they position themselves in the marketplace. I can’t tell you how many times a major term has been left out of a keyword list even if it’s listed on almost every page of their site. It’s almost as if it seemed so obvious that no one thought to check for it.

Include brand and product names. A no-brainer in SEM is to include any and all of your brand names and product terms into your keyword list. It’s safe to assume that searchers, as a whole, who query SKU numbers, product IDs, etc. are already well into the buying cycle of your advertiser’s products or services. Grab the low hanging fruit by including these terms into your campaign. Some retailers, even large ones, literally use a feed from their ecommerce site to continuously upload new product names and codes to their PPC accounts.

Don’t dismiss terms because you think they might be too expensive or didn’t work before. This is an easy one to let slip by. Clients who don’t run search accounts may advise you to not use certain terms that are literally screaming out to you to be used. Ultimately, the client is paying the bill and you might have to go against your intuition and not use those keywords. However, make sure you understand the issue behind the decision. The keyword landscapes of any industry are always changing. Terms that didn’t work last year may work today just as ones working today may not be effective next month. Plus, maybe the term never performed because of poor ad copy, or the ads it was paired with resolved to a bad landing page. There are too many variables in play to dismiss a term without the proper (recent) data to help you decide.

Use competitor terms (you can still use them in Google). Although Bing and Yahoo have categorically disapproved any keyword lists or ads that contain competitor trademarked terms, Google still allows you to bid on them, even if you can’t use them in the ad text. So take advantage of this now as the window might close on this anytime. Certainly, if you’re a direct competitor of a large corporation, you can use their large offline awareness campaigns to help drive interest to your topic—and capitalize on this by buying their brand and product keywords. This can be especially beneficial when the competitor’s name is virtually the term that consumers use to describe a category. For example, Kleenex is a common term for any tissue paper. Tivo is certainly used interchangeably with the generic term, DVR. These terms are pretty much vital for any other competitors in the same space.

Next week, we’ll perform magic and I’ll show you how to instantly turn a keyword list with hundreds of terms into thousands, and thousands of terms into millions.

This week’s question: “How do you know when you’ve compiled a big enough keyword list?”

PPC Academy is a comprehensive, one-year search advertising course from beginning to end. Starting with the basics, PPC Academy progressively explores all of the varied facets of paid search, and the tactics needed to succeed and become an advanced paid search marketer.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | How To: PPC | How To: SEM | PPC Academy

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About The Author: has been a search marketer since 2003 with a focus on SEM technology. As a media technologist fluent in the use of leading industry systems, Josh stays abreast of cutting edge digital marketing and measurement tools to maximize the effect of digital media on business goals. He has a deep passion to monitor the constantly evolving intersection between marketing and technology. You can follow him on Twitter at @mediatechguy.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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