Paid Search Keyword Building the Smart Way!

"So what keyword building tool do you use?"

New clients, potential clients, new hires, even vendor partners ask this question all the time. They're all looking for a magical tool that will take the tedium out of keyword building.

But building a keyword list isn't the tedious part. The real drag is finding landing pages and assigning each keyword to an effective ad group within a well thought out campaign structure. Although plenty of tools can spit out thousands of relevant keywords for your site, finding landing pages and ad groups is still a slow, extremely manual task with plenty of room for error (or at least inefficiency).

That's why I don't use a tool, at least not for the initial build. Instead, I use a process:

1. Spend a Few Minutes Getting Nerdy With Excel

Open a new spreadsheet. Enter the following labels in the top row:

  • Keyword
  • Brand/Non-brand
  • Category
  • KW Insert Status
  • Landing Page

The first column will contain your keyword, naturally.

The next three columns contain data that will allow you to easily sort your keywords into ad groups as you build them. The second column will note whether each keyword is brand or non-brand. Column three will list what category each keyword fits into (more on this below). The fourth column allows you to mark any keywords that have alternate spellings that wouldn't work with creative utilizing the Keyword Insert function.

As we build keywords, we'll fill out the values in these columns to describe each keyword. Then once we've finished, we'll concatenate these three columns together, which will give us an intricate and effective ad group structure.

If you're so inspired, add additional columns to include as part of your ad group name (gender, color, material, season, etc.) -- just remember that Microsoft adCenter has a limit of 64 characters for ad group names.

Finally, the last column will contain your landing pages.

2. Mirror Your Site Structure

Chances are good that your site is already structured effectively, so utilize this structure in your keyword building!

Note: We're going to build a non-brand keyword list first, so as you do the below steps don't include your brand name or trademark just yet.

Make a list of each silo/category/navigation option on your site. Put this list in the Keyword and Category columns on your Excel sheet. Then mark them all as non-brand and paste the URL for each page next in the Landing Page column.

3. Get Granular

Now it's time to get detailed. Assemble a list of every product on your site. Hopefully you already have a product feed that contains this information. If not, you can use a site crawler or scraper. The goal is to get a list of every single product, its parent category, and its product-specific URL and place them onto your sheet. Product name goes in the Keyword column.

Note: Feel free to adjust the above to best fit your vertical. For instance, for a travel site replace "product" with "destination/location."

This part takes a little bit of work to put together, but it's worth doing for both the overall time save and the increased results due to efficient, organized ad groups.

4. Create Your Keyword Variations

At this point you've got a document that lists all the products and product categories on your site, each listed alongside its parent category and specific landing page. Now you're finally ready to build some keywords.

For this step, liberal use of Autofilter, Copy/Paste, and Find/Replace is recommended. You're going to go through your product and category keyword list and create variations for each. Use Autofilter to focus your list on a subset of keywords -- say, those that contain the word "shoes." Then copy these rows (the entire row, not just the keyword) to the bottom of your sheet, and use Find/Replace to create variations on those keywords.

For example, here are some variations you could make on the product name "men's basketball shoes":

  • Basketball Shoes (remove the gender words)
  • Man's Basketball Shoes (alter the gender words)
  • Men's Basketball Shoe (change the keyword from plural to singular, or vice versa)
  • Men's Basketball Sneakers (come up with alternate ways to refer to the product)

Important note: This step is where the column labeled KW Insert Status comes into play. Whenever you make a variation that doesn't follow your branding messaging or results in a misspelled version of the keyword, make sure to indicate this in the KW Insert Status column. This will split these keywords out into separate ad groups that you'll know to not utilize the Keyword Insert creative option for.

While any keyword building tool could spit out these variations much more quickly, the benefit to this process is that each variation already has a landing page and ad group created as you go. Because you're basing your build off the initial list of products, which is already labeled, every variation you build already has this information filled in!

5. Create Brand Versions of Your Keywords

Thus far we've just been creating non-brand keywords, because once you have a robust non-brand keyword list, you're just one concatenation away from your brand keywords!

Simply concatenate your brand or trademark onto the front of your non-brand list, then update column B to note that these keyword are Brand.

6. Put it All Together

The last step is to concatenate columns B, C, and D (plus any additional columns you may have added). I like to include a dash in between each column. The result is your ad group -- extremely granular, super specific, and easily managed.

This process will provide you with an extremely solid foundation for your paid search keywords, as well as a fantastic ad group structure. Once you've finished the above, then it's time to break out those keyword building tools -- to compare their list with your campaign foundation and find additional opportunities!

About the author

  • Jeremy Hull
  • Jeremy Hull
  • Associate Director of Paid Search, iProspect

Jeremy Hull is the Associate Director of Paid Search for iProspect. A graduate of Texas Christian University, Jeremy has provided campaign analysis and strategic direction to Accor Hotels North America, Nike, Burberry, Timberland, Talbots, and Neiman Marcus and its luxury subsidiaries, including Horchow, Bergdorf Goodman, Michael Kors, and David Yurman. He was instrumental in taking Nike's successful domestic online marketing campaigns international with NIKE EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa).

He joined the industry in 2005 and has become a well-respected leader within iProspect, with clients, and with the search engines. Always on the forefront of new technology and industry developments, and a passionate champion for online marketers, he leads many of iProspect’s alpha and beta tests with Google and Microsoft.