Nine steps to choosing Google Ads keywords


Magnifying glass choosing the word searchWell-chosen keywords and phrases ensure that your pay-per-click (PPC) ad is seen by people looking for products and services just like yours. The right keywords help attract potential customers, increase click-through rates and minimise your advertising costs

1. Understand what makes a good keyword or phrase

Keywords and phrases should be highly specific and relevant to what you are offering. When someone types your keywords into Google, they should be looking for a business exactly like yours. As a result, those people that click on your ad will already be predisposed towards buying from you.

2. Think like your customers

Put yourself in your customers' shoes. If they are searching for a product or service like yours, which words and phrases would they type into Google? Simon Guest, Head of Performance Marketing at Zeal, says "Bid on your brand terms! They're cheap, convert well, help protect against competition, and they really do help your search engine rankings. What's not to love?"

3. Tie it all together

Google rewards relevance: it's not just about paying to get to the top of the list. So your keywords should be closely linked to the wording in your pay-per-click advert. That in turn should match the words and phrases you use on the landing page on your website that the ad links to.

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4. Be specific and targeted

Avoid using terms or words that are too general. Don't be tempted to add keywords that are not related to your ad but that generate lots of traffic. The people you attract won't be interested in your product or service, costs will be higher, and it could reflect negatively on your business.

Single keywords are often too generic, whereas longer phrases are usually more targeted. For instance, 'organic vegetable box delivery' is a specific phrase that will attract exactly the right customers for an organic vegetable delivery service. Using these keywords separately or in other combinations may be far less successful.

5. List different variations

Your customers may use different terms for your product or service. So always list variations in your keywords. These might include colloquial terms, synonyms (such as shop and store), product names and serial numbers, alternative spellings, and both singular and plural versions. You can even list common misspellings.

6. Use Google's keyword tool to get ideas

To get ideas for keywords and expand your list, you can use the Google Ads Keyword Planner. All you have to do is submit a word, phrase or webpage related to what you want to advertise, then choose relevant keywords from the results. Once the tool has provided some initial ideas, you can use the best of these to generate even more specific ideas.

If you have a lot of keywords, it can be a good idea to create separate campaigns based on a few tightly-focused keywords.

7. Language and location targeting

You can change language and location settings to ensure your adverts appear in front of the right people. Always make sure your location targeting reflects where you do business. Depending on where your customers are, you can set territories, countries, regions, cities or even smaller catchment areas.

Customised targeting can be very precise. Your ad will only appear to people in the area that you specify - such as everyone within ten miles of your business premises. This is ideal for local shops or restaurants, for example.

8. Understand keyword matching options

Google offers several ways to match keywords. The way you use punctuation when you input your keywords indicates which type of matching you want.

  • Broad match is Google's default setting for all keywords. Your ads may be triggered when someone searches for any words related to your keywords. If your keywords are 'garden design and maintenance', your ad may appear if someone types in 'garden maintenance'. Variations such as synonyms (shop/store, for instance) and singular and plural forms may also trigger your ads. You do not have to use any kind of punctuation to specify that a keyword is broad-matched.
  • Broad match modifier is similar to broad match, but a little more targeted. You specify one or more words by putting a plus sign before each one. Your ad will only show for searches using these words or close variations of them (like misspellings or plurals).
  • Phrase match is more tightly targeted. Your ad only appears when someone types in a phrase that matches your entire keyword phrase - eg 'garden design and maintenance'. So if someone types in 'urban garden design and maintenance', your ad will be triggered. Use quotation marks to indicate that your "keywords" should be phrase-matched.
  • Exact match goes another step further. Searches must be identical to your keyword phrase, or a close variation (eg with the same meaning, or with the words in a different order). To get an exact match put your [keyword phrase] in square brackets. With exact match, you may get higher click-through rates (CTRs) as your ad only appears when searches are specifically relevant to your keyword phrase.

9. Exclude "negative" keywords

Excluding "negative" keywords is a useful way to stop irrelevant searches triggering your ad. Add a minus sign before a keyword so that it is specifically excluded. So if you were a garden designer using the keyword phrase 'garden design' you could add '-book' to ensure searches for gardening books don't bring up your ad. If you sell cameras but not camcorders, you can make camcorders a negative keyword.

You may find that a keyword you want to use is also related to something else. For example, a keyword might have more than one meaning, or the name of your business might also be the name of something entirely unrelated. If so, you can use negative keywords to help prevent your ad being displayed for these searches.

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