Paid Media Keyword Research Guide

Effective keyword research is the cornerstone of any successful paid media campaign. But simply finding relevant keywords isn’t enough. To truly maximize results, you need a strategic approach that considers not only your product/service but also your target audience and their buying habits. This guide will equip you with the knowledge and tools to **conduct paid media keyword research that drives meaningful results.

Many of our clients have a solid list of keywords already added in their ad accounts. In that case, you just need to focus on filling any gaps using the current list as a starting point. Once any gaps are identified, you will move on to segmentation. Segment keywords based on theme and intent. The final product of this should be a comprehensive list of mid and high intent keywords that are segmented appropriately.

With all that said, you’re going to want to start with downloading the list of keywords in the account. Make sure to include quality score and conversion metrics as well as campaign and ad group columns to help you evaluate the existing segmentation. Hold on to this list until you finish the keyword research.

Paid Media Keyword Research

Good keyword research is about utilizing tools to find queries that are related to your product, service, or brand. Great keyword research takes things to the next level and incorporates your target customer personas and their purchase behavior.

Ask yourself what their pain points are, how they research and find solutions, and finally how they move through the purchase journey. Understanding this information will make the keyword research process much more effective.

Keyword Intent

When we’re talking about intent, we’re looking for keywords with mid or high levels of intent where an action on the site is likely to happen.

Medium Intent: A query with a medium level of intent may lead to an action on site, but it may also be more informational in nature. These queries often contain JTBD (Jobs to be Done) language, such as “templates,” “checklists,” or “worksheets.” This is where understanding the customer’s needs and lexicon becomes important.

For example, a mid-intent keyword for an HR Software client would be something like: “new employee onboarding checklist” or “new hire onboarding template” – both of which are related to something an HR manager would be searching for to do their jobs. The intent is to download an asset, so the offer should be a gated asset that fulfills that intent while also capturing lead information.

High Intent: A high intent query is likely to lead to a direct conversion action, signaling that a prospective buyer is nearing the end of their purchase journey. These queries often contain:

  • comparison language, such as “best,” “top,” or “pricing”
  • strong action words, such as “buy,” “sign up,” or “trial”
  • specific companies or brand names, such as “<company> alternatives,” “<company> trial,” or “<company> pricing”

For example, a high-intent keyword for an HR Software client would be something like: “best HR software,” “<competitor> alternatives,” etc.

Keyword Research Methods

There’s a lot of different methods of doing keyword research and everyone has their own way. Below are two ways we do it at Bend Marketing:

  • Competitor Keywords: Use SpyFu’s Kombat Tool to pull keywords competitors share.
  • Directory Keywords: Use SEMRush to pull the keywords relevant directories rank organically for.  If directories don’t apply to your client (ie they’re not software) – don’t sweat, just skip this.

Keyword Segmentation

Once you’ve gathered keywords from multiple sources and methods, merge it with the current keyword list and use the Google Keyword Planner to get keyword metric data so we can get keyword estimates. Download the data into Google Sheets and start refining the keyword list.

With your fully refined keyword list, start segmenting them into themed ad groups and campaigns. Depending on the current account structure, you should use the existing keyword list and grouping as a starting point. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel with brand new campaigns if we can just add to something already working.

  • When you’re thinking about segmentation past the theme and intent level, consider segmenting keywords and ad groups by product, category, etc.

Market Size and Competition Considerations

Let’s now dive into some common market archetypes and discuss how we would approach keyword research in these market conditions.

Highly-Competitive Markets

In established markets, competition is usually fierce amongst incumbents and emerging competitors. Some examples of disruptive startups operating in competitive markets include companies like Lemonade, Betterment, and Gusto. What all these companies have in common is they operate in in highly-competitive, established industries with large players who dominate the market But, they each have been able able to cut above the competition, and over time have gained market share from incumbents while fending off new entrants.

If you are in a highly competitive market, consider the below tips when thinking about your approach to keyword selection:

  • Utilize competitor research — Spend more time evaluating the various competitors in the space, particularly those advertising heavily on paid search. This is a great way to save yourself the time and money it takes to learn through running your own keyword experiments, especially since the cost per click will be much higher in a competitive industry. As you start performing research on multiple competitors you will quickly identify which themes of keywords are being focused on for your market. This is a good signal that these keywords are effective and you should work these keywords into your paid search account plan.
  • Bid on competitor brand keywords — People searching for brand terms directly often have a very high level of intent to transact with the brand they have in mind. This represents a conquest opportunity for companies with superior product/service offerings who can intercept these would-be buyers on the last leg of their purchase journey. Conversely, you should expect competitors to target your own brand terms if you start bidding on theirs or if you start gaining momentum in your industry so keep that in mind. Be sure to add modifiers like “alternatives,” “versus,” or “pricing.”
  • Work your way up the funnel of intent — In highly competitive markets companies sometimes act irrationally in that they are willing to pay more for a click than the value that click generates. A company may do this if they want to steal market share from competitors or because they value being in the #1 position in paid search results to imply dominance. In any case, this means that finding viable/profitable keywords can be a challenge and so you should always start with the keywords that have the highest level of intent that sit at the bottom of the funnel and have the highest likelihood of converting. As you begin to understand how effective the keywords at the bottom of the “funnel of intent” you can edge your way upwards to capture more volume.
  • Focus on long tail keywords — Similar to number 3 above, concentrating on longer tail searches can allow you to compete more effectively against incumbents who have a lazy approach to keyword selection and account management that overly emphasizes core terms. Competitors may not be targeting these long tail keywords directly and as a result their bids, ad copy, and landing pages might not be as relevant as someone focusing on them explicitly. If you have a well-thought out account structure and rigorous optimization cadence, long tail keywords can be a major boost to your SEM efforts.

New or Growing Markets

For companies operating in new or growing markets, there is usually very little paid search competition when the market first emerges because there are very few people who are actively searching for solutions in the market. This requires a very different approach to SEM and keyword research since you will not have the same insight that comes along with a competitive market where data is plentiful.

Getting into an emerging market early and establishing your company as a first-mover has meaningful advantages. For the companies that get this right and can figure out how to effectively acquire customers and capture the market, they can become category-leaders as the market matures, which is the end goal of most startups.

When operating in a market that is still emerging, here are some tips on what to focus on when it comes to keyword selection:

  • Concentrate on adjacent industry/solution terms and low intent keywords in the beginning — Most new markets are either derivative of other markets or related to other markets. You can leverage keywords from adjacent industries to reach people who are looking for solutions that are related to your offering. This will serve two functions – it will help drive conversion and it will also educate people about your solution, which can help “pull” the market out from the related market.
  • Be open to low intent keywords — In new markets you generally don’t see people searching for solutions at large volumes, so it requires you to go up the funnel of intent and capture people when they are in the information gathering and research phase of the buyer journey. Since people in the research phase are generally not familiar with the available solutions in the marker, this can be the perfect point to capture interest and get them to start down the path of your conversion funnel.

PPC Keyword Research – Final Thoughts

This comprehensive guide has explored various keyword research methods, delved into the importance of understanding keyword intent, and provided insights on how to approach keyword selection in different market conditions. By following these steps and tailoring your strategy to your specific needs, you can build a robust keyword list that fuels your paid media campaigns and propels your business forward. Remember, effective keyword research is an ongoing process. As you gather data and gain insights, continuously refine your approach to maximize your return on investment.

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