Keyword research: How to run an AdWords campaign

In this mini-series, I will be talking about running a Google AdWords campaign. I will cover quite a bit of detail about keyword research, writing ad text, creating landing pages, maintaining your campaign, and reporting and metrics.

A crucial part of running an AdWords campaign is selecting relevant and profitable keywords. The wrong keywords can suck away your budget faster than you can say, “No, Google!” leaving you with absolutely nothing in return.

Finding keywords for use in AdWords

There are plenty of places to look for keywords to advertise on. I’ll outline a few ideas.

Option #1: Google AdWords Keyword Tool

Google offers a free keyword tool to help you figure out what searchers are entering into the search box. The tool will give you a ballpark on how popular a given term is and how many other advertisers are bidding on that term.

Here’s a quick tutorial on how to use it.

  1. First, enter a few ideas on terms that you’d like to advertise on.
  2. The tool will whirl and bang and return you a sleuth of useful data:
    Notice columns for Advertiser Competition and Search Volume. These columns will give you an idea about how competitive a term is and how many searchers out there are typing the term in. The more competitive the term, the higher you’ll need to bid to get good placement.
  3. Just above the list of terms is a drop-down menu called Match Type. This is where you choose what kind of keyword match that you would like. See the section on Entering Keywords into the System below to get a better understanding of what these match types mean.
  4. You can then click the Add button for each keyword that you’re interested in. This will add the keyword to a list on the right side of the screen. I like to call this my “keyword shopping cart.” You’re just building a list at this point.
  5. After adding the keywords to the list, you can either instruct AdWords to build a new campaign with these selections, or you can export the list to a number of file formats like a text file or spreadsheet.
  6. Blam! Wash, rinse, and repeat. Then you’re done with this tool.

A note about the AdWords Keyword Tool. At first, you may admire Google for sharing so much data with you. But beware. There’s always a hidden motivation behind free data and services. There’s a great possibility that these keywords make Google the most money, but they don’t necessarily have your best interests in mind.

Option #2: Keyword Discovery

Another tool that I enjoy using for keyword research is Trellian’s Keyword Discovery. There’s something comforting about going to a 3rd party to get keyword data. The only downside is that it’s not free, but there is a free trial if you want to see if the tool works for your business.

Here’s how to get some good keyword data for our marble toilets campaign.

  1. After signing in, click the Projects link in the top navigation.
  2. This is where you’ll create a “keyword shopping cart” to store any keywords that you may find for your AdWords campaign. Add a new project and give it a name.
  3. Next, click the Research link in the top navigation.
  4. You’ll now be at a screen with a search box. Go ahead and enter a keyword idea into the search box. Next, in the Database drop-down, choose Historical Global. With an AdWords campaign, we want as many keywords as possible and don’t care as much about quality of keyword data. Also, choose 100 for Results per page.
  5. When you run the search, you’ll get back data that Keyword Discovery has containing the words that you entered into the search box.

    Select keywords that you’re interested in and click the Add button at the bottom of the list. If there’s more than 1 page, be sure to see what’s on the other pages. Ignore the number of searches in the Searches column. It’s irrelevant for this activity.
  6. Be sure to run the search several times for different combinations of words, as well as their plural and singular forms. This tool is quite a bit more strict than Google’s keyword research tool.
  7. When you’ve added a sufficient number of keywords to your list, click the Projects link in the top navigation again.
  8. Click your project name.
  9. A sample list of the keywords that you selected will appear to the right. At the bottom of the list is a series of icons. If you click the little icon that looks like 2 documents (which says Export Keywords when you hover over it), you can export your keywords to a number of formats, including Excel.

There you have it for Keyword Discovery. Like the Google tool, Keyword Discovery isn’t perfect. But sometimes it can give you really great ideas. The database tends not to be too reliable if you’re researching a current or timely topic, but sometimes its sheer gold.

Option #3: Analytics data

Try looking through your web analytics data for keyword ideas.

If you don’t have web analytics set up, there are a lot of free options like Google Analytics and Microsoft adCenter Analytics.

Option #4: Your noggin

Don’t be afraid to use your imagination to come up with keyword ideas. Just because the keyword doesn’t appear in a database doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea!

Also see what keywords your competitors are using. Try out a thesaurus. Meditate. Whatever it takes.

Remember, if a keyword isn’t popular, it doesn’t cost you anything. You only pay when someone runs the search and clicks your ad. Unpopular keyword ideas don’t cost you a dime most of the time.

Organizing your keywords

After composing a list of keywords, try to split them into themes that share common words. Later when we create ads and landing pages, this step will pay off big time.

Let’s say that I have this list of keywords for my campaign:

  • marble toilets
  • smooth granite toilet
  • stone toilets
  • stone toilet
  • marble toilet
  • granite toilets
  • granite toilet
  • smooth marble toilets
  • smooth toilet marble
  • smooth marble toilet

I could potentially sort my list into these themes:

  • Stone Toilets
  • Marble Toilets
  • Granite Toilets

For those of you who prefer Excel, try creating tabs for each theme and pasting the keywords into the appropriate tabs. If you end up with some stragglers that don’t fit in, consider trashing them.

When it comes to creating my campaign, I’ll be able to tell stories for each of these themes. The more that we can make the searcher feel like we have what they’re looking for, the better.

Entering keywords into the system

This is where you need to be careful. When you enter your keywords into AdWords, you have different matching options:

Broad Match

Example: marble toilets

By just entering the keyword in, you’re telling Google to match your phrase (marble toilets) as well as any additional words before or after the phrase.

On top of that, you’re telling Google, “Hey, man! Go ahead and match any other searches that you think are related to “marble toilets” as well.”You need to be careful about this. Don’t be surprised if Google starts matching phrases like “glass toilets” and “bathroom cabinets” as well. Anything they can do to show your ad more often and collect your cash.

Phrase Match

Example: “marble toilets”

When you enter the keyword surrounded with quotation marks, you’re telling Google to match your phrase (marble toilets) and any additional words before or after the phrase. In this case, Google won’t match you to any other related searches, so you lose a little bit of reach.

Exact Match

Example: [marble toilets]

Entering the keyword in [square brackets] tells Google, “Whoa buddy! Match this phrase. These words, in this exact order. And no funny stuff! Don’t match any other phrases.” While this option gives you the most control, you do lose a lot of reach. After all, you can’t guess every single phrase that anyone’s ever going to type in.

If you’re on a tight budget or want to start small, I recommend entering in a few exact match phrases and seeing what happens after a day or 2.

Final keyword research tips

Google AdWords is an auction service. This means that you’ll be bidding against competitors for prime space. You’ll also be battling competitors to be more relevant for the searches. (Google wants its ads to feel like search results as much as possible so that users still find what they’re looking for.)

How do you win at this game? You’ll be setting a daily or monthly budget. Once you run out of money for the day, Google stops showing your ads.

With that in mind, you’ll want to find keywords that don’t cost much per click. There are still opportunities out there that aren’t being exploited by any of your competitors. When no one’s bidding on a keyword, you can get away with pay cents per click.

If you only target competitive keywords, you’ll either lose to the noise of your competitors or blow through your budget quickly.

What sucks is that you don’t really know until you try. But a little creativity can go a long way. Don’t be afraid to get specific with keywords like [white swirl marble toilets]. Don’t be afraid to try misspellings. These searches may not yield boatloads of traffic, but they are cheap. And you have what the user is looking for when they do run the search.

This is part of a mini-series

Read the rest of Mini-series: How to run an AdWords campaign.

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