PPC Keyword Sets: Words to the Wise

In the first installment of this column, I made the case that successful PPC advertising requires skills and techniques that are part art and part science. Today, I’ll describe one of the first exercises advertisers should conduct when planning and creating new PPC campaigns: assembling the keyword list.

First, some (many?) of you will read this article, and future installments, and conclude that the methods I describe are way too time-consuming. But there are no secret shortcuts and quick tricks that cut down on the time required. As with many other efforts/skills/professions, the big successes result from time-consuming, painstaking detailed work.

There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Keyword research tools are useful if used correctly and at the proper time in the process. However, advertisers frequently misunderstand the correct use of these tools, and those who depend too heavily on them often create sub-optimal PPC campaigns.

There’s a similar misunderstanding about automated bid management software: advertisers want to believe they can quickly and easily create set-it-and-forget-it ad campaigns. Sorry. You’ll never obtain optimal, high-volume, high-ROI ad campaigns with that attitude. In the words of my favorite science fiction author, TANSTAAFL.

Back to today’s topic: assembling a comprehensive keyword list is one of the most important PPC campaign success factors. Your objective is to anticipate every possible way that a prospective customer/client will express a search that will likely result in a conversion once they reach your site. That way you can bid on keywords that match search terms your target audience will use, and ensure your ads are displayed to the right audience at the right time.

But where to start? I’ll take you through it step by step, but first, let’s look at a few key concepts:


Chances are your target market isn’t made up exclusively of one type of person. The set of all people in your target market can be broken down into sub-groups whose shared attributes differ from each other. Sub-groups might differ in attributes, such as gender, age, location, salary level, or some kind of definable behavior, such as the process they undergo — like the amount of time they spend doing research before making a buying decision.

It’s useful to think of these sub-groups in terms of “personas” — definitions or profiles of “people types” that each encompass several of these attributes. Then you can define their personalities and habits in enough detail that you can easily imagine the PPC keywords and ad copy that they would respond to best.

Keyword Buckets

When we do keyword brainstorming and research, we often arrange related keywords in categories or “buckets.” While this is a fine metaphor for some, others might find it easier to visualize the concept by thinking of each bucket as a column of words in a spreadsheet.

The keyword list assembly process starts with defining our businesses customer personas, and then putting words related to those personas and their behaviors into buckets (or spreadsheet columns) — and then use tools and techniques for combining those words to serve as the keywords for our campaign’s ad groups.

And that’s exactly where we’ll pick up next Monday, when I’ll detail the steps for assembling great keyword lists.

Can’t wait? There are some excellent resources available for learning PPC skills. Search Engine Watch Expert Ron Jones summarized several good ones in “PPC.edu: Learn AdWords, Yahoo Search, adCenter Online.” Another great learning tool: the set of self-paced courses offered by SEMPO. These soup-to-nuts courses are perfect for training new employees — or yourself. I wrote two of the lessons in the Advanced Search Advertising course, and I’m asked to update them frequently, so I know the info and advice in the courses is “fresh.”

As always, let me know your PPC comments and questions.

Related reading

Simple Share Buttons