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Elevate your business decisions with jargon-free, fact based expert tips and advice

6 mins

Why keyword planning is critical for a successful PPC campaign

Portrait photo of company director Pete Fairburn.

Pete Fairburn

Person looking at documents

Who is this article for?

  • Business owners

  • Marketing Managers

  • Anyone planning a PPC campaign for their business

Key Takeaways

  • Keyword research and selection will significantly influence the effectiveness of your campaigns

  • Keyword selection is not as easy as it used to be

  • Factors such as popularity, volume, cost-per-click, time of day and location can all influence keyword choice for your target audience and budget

  • You will throw away budget if you get your keywords wrong

What are keywords anyway?

Keywords, or key phrases are the search terms you expect your potential customers to type into a search engine like Google or Bing.

Don't want to read this? Watch our one-minute video version instead:

Which keywords should I use?

Choosing keywords has become a lot more sophisticated

Back in the olden days, when the internet was young, Yahoo! was the new kid on the block and Google was just a glint in Larry Page’s eye, and long before paid search was any kind of thing, we used simple keywords for SEO and it was pretty easy.

Back then, you picked a selection of words, or “keywords”, related to your product or service which you suspected your potential target audience were looking for. Then you inserted these keywords into various places on your website. You submitted your site to AltaVista, Hotbot et al and 10 minutes later checked to see where your site ranked by typing those keywords into the search engine. Then it was a case of "rinse and repeat" until you and your client were happy with the results.

Job done. Time to rent a video from Blockbuster and phone your friends to find out what plans they had for the weekend. On a landline. In fact, that entire sentence sounds very old fashioned, doesn’t it?

Life has not been that simple for decades.

Search engines, led by Google, have become highly sophisticated. We can now search on multiple devices in many different ways. We search using our voices, images or by asking complex questions. Search engines have become natural language, pseudo artificial intelligence portals, which understand questions, context and intent... sometimes better than we do ourselves.

This is both an amazing engineering feat and a bit of a game changer for anyone trying to help a user find their particular product and service. But it is a good thing, because it has led to not just keywords, but to the use of key phrases – sentences, questions and search terms that signal intent. This offers great potential for marketing success, but only if you get it right, particularly if you are paying for that traffic.

Keywords need to be in the “Goldilocks” zone

If your keywords or key phrases are too generic, or too broad, chances are you're going to be found for irrelevant searches and you'll burn through your budget in short order.

If your keywords are too narrow, you risk excluding potential customers, by not showing up enough for the things those prospects are searching for.

It’s tricky, to be sure.

And unlike Goldilocks, who just had three bowls of porridge to choose from before she found the one that was “just right”, which keywords or phrases you'll use is not the only thing you have to consider:

  • Popularity (A.K.A. Competition) – your keyword choices might be spot on for what you are actually advertising, but if all your other competitors are also targeting these terms, you might be on a hiding to nothing.

  • Search Volume – again, your keyword choices might be spot on for what you are actually advertising, and perhaps there is little competition, but if no one uses those keywords you won’t get any traffic.

  • Cost (per click) – how much is it going to cost each time a visitor clicks on your ad for a given keyword? Can you afford it? How many clicks will it take before you make a sale? And will that mean a return or a loss? More on this later…

  • Time (and Season) – the time of day can dramatically affect what people are searching for, as can the time of year. Many advertisers get this wrong and it can, once again, lead to expensive mistakes.

  • Location – is your product or service affected by locale? Are you customers interested in a local business, or national? Will you get better results by targeting specific locations?

All of these factors need to be taken into account when fine-tuning the keywords and phrases you choose. But... how do you determine which keywords you should choose?

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