Find Your Best Search Terms With Adwords

    July 8, 2003

Choosing the most targeted keywords and search terms has long been a guessing game. While considerable skill is still required to find good search terms, a great deal of the “guesswork” can now be eliminated.

Search engines are very reluctant to share information about the relative popularity of search terms. Google’s “Adwords” pay-per-click advertising program provides the means to extract a great deal of useful information that was previously unavailable.

Web designers and search engine optimization (SEO) consultants should enjoy this article, as will many “do it yourself” webmasters. While I can’t make you a master of keyword research in one lesson, I can teach you how to make the most of what you have.

What Adwords Can Tell You About Keywords

For a small investment (which is very likely to pay off on its own), Google’s Adwords program can tell you:

  • How many times people searched for each keyword or search term on the search engine.
  • Which search terms are the most targeted, and therefore the most likely to result in higher traffic and sales.

    It’s important to understand the difference between the popularity of search terms, and their value in targeting your desired audience. While popular search terms might bring in more traffic, the real payoff comes from getting visitors who want what your site (or your client’s) has to offer.

    Why Adwords Provides The Most Accurate Data

    Other services, such as Wordtracker and Overture, can provide a hint of the relative popularity of search terms. However, these services provide data from a very small number of searches, compared to the hundreds of millions of searches that happen on Google. The simple fact is that Google controls more than half of the web searches on any given day.

    Further, the information provided by these services can be skewed by automated software that performs “rank checking” and “bid management,” since these programs generate additional searches that can skew the data considerably. The same software may also be used on Google, but the sheer volume of searches there reduces its impact to mere background noise.

    This doesn’t mean that Wordtracker and Overture have become useless, far from it. We use them on a regular basis to help us locate keywords for our clients. They are very useful in obtaining estimates of search volumes. The main weaknesses are the small sample size and the number of “false positives” they generate. Examining search terms through the microscope of Adwords eliminates these weaknesses.

    Before We Begin

    Get out your credit card… In order to take advantage of this opportunity, you’re going to have to plunk down $5 to activate your Adwords account. Thereafter, Google will charge you for clicks as you reach your credit limit, which starts at $50. You can expect to spend $25 or more before you have enough information to go by.

    The full pricing and payment details are available from the Adwords site.

    I’m going to assume that you have a list of search terms you want to investigate. If you don’t, you may want to read through the rest of this article anyway. Adwords has a search term suggestion tool that will help you create a list. We’re going to use Adwords to turn this list of “candidate” search terms into a list of targeted search terms.

    Bringing Keyword Strategy Into Focus With Adwords

    The first thing we’re going to do is determine how targeted your search terms are, and how popular they are on the search engine. Point your browser to and follow the instructions to create an account.

    Begin by creating your first ad campaign, following the instructions. For this exercise, you want to create an ad that accurately describes what your site has to offer. Avoid hype-laden copy, which violates Google’s editorial guidelines and has a tendency to skew the results. You want to know how targeted your search terms are, not how well people are responding to a special offer.

    For the most precise targeting information, add all of your search terms to the campaign, enclosing each search term in brackets, like this:

    . The brackets tell Adwords that you only want your ad shown when there is an exact match with your search terms.

    If you’d prefer to widen your investigation a bit, you can use “exact phrase” matching by enclosing your search terms in quotes, like this: “search terms”. In this example, the ad would be displayed for “finding good search terms,” but not “search for good loan terms.”

    I wouldn’t advise anyone to advertise on Google without using at least one of these keyword matching options. Don’t look for this feature on any other pay-per-click search engine, because they don’t give you this much control.

    Setting Your Bids, Budget, and Distribution Options

    At first, set your maximum bid to 5 cents, and your daily budget to whatever Google recommends (assuming it won’t break the bank, of course!). You can monitor your campaigns as closely as you like, but it’s pretty unusual for Google to ever reach your full daily spending limit. If you set the limit lower than they recommend, your ads may not be displayed on all searches, and you won’t get accurate search counts.

    Once you’ve set your bid amount, Google will show you the expected average position of your ads. You want to bid high enough to put your ads into the top 7 positions. They will float up and down depending on the click-through rate, but you need to keep them in the top 9 positions to get accurate search counts.

    Google displays 9 ads per page on their normal search results. If your ad is always displayed on the first page of results, you’ll know the total number of searches by looking at the number of times your ad is displayed for each search term. If any of your search terms won’t make the first page with your initial bid, you can create a separate ad campaign with a higher minimum bid to track them.

    To get accurate data, set your campaign options to limit distribution to only. You do this by making sure the boxes that say “search sites in Google’s network” and “content sites in Google’s network” are unchecked in the “campaign settings” screen. This keeps your ad from being displayed on AOL, among other places.

    If you want to investigate the search volumes in a particular country, you can also limit the distribution of your ad to specific countries. I work with a few designers and SEO consultants from Australia, England, and New Zealand. The data these folks can acquire from Adwords is absolutely invaluable in planning their clients’ SEO strategy.

    Let It Run, Then Examine The Results

    Unlike Wordtracker, which gives you instant results, Adwords will take a while to provide useful data. I like to let my initial advertising campaigns run for a full week, monitoring daily. If you use tracking URLs, and monitor your sales, you may discover that you’ve already turned a profit on your campaign.

    After a week, Google will probably have “turned off” some of your search terms because their click-through rate was too low. They did you a favor, because those are not the most targeted search terms. If you monitored the results daily, you know how many times each of your search terms was used on Google.

    Any search terms that show a click-through rate at 0.5% or higher are excellent, and you’ll probably find that some of them have much higher percentages. These are your most targeted search terms, and would probably make an excellent focus for your optimization efforts. Those that get the most total clicks and best click-through rates on Adwords are probably your best choices, assuming that you can effectively compete for good rankings.

    You can now delete or pause all of the ad campaigns you’ve set up, to stop the click charges. Before you delete them, though, take a good look at whether or not you can make a profit with Adwords. Web designers and SEO consultants who use Adwords to conduct keyword research may learn that their client would like them to manage an ongoing campaign.

    Where We Go From Here

    In this article, I’ve shown you one of the tools you can use to focus your keyword selection, but there’s much more to keyword research than using Adwords. Services like Wordtracker can help you find keywords, but experts apply a wide range of tools and techniques to locate and select search terms.

    I have four more articles in development, which will detail more of the keyword research process, how web designers and SEO consultants can use these techniques to increase their clients’ satisfaction with their services, and how to leverage these tools to win more clients.

    These articles will include:

  • Keyword research tools and techniques to identify more candidate search terms, and develop preliminary assessments.
  • Assessing the competition to decide which search terms your site can compete for, and working your way up the ladder to better rankings.
  • How web designers and SEO consultants can use keyword research services as a “lead product” to win more business.
  • How web designers and SEO consultants can improve their clients’ satisfaction (and their profits) by outsourcing services like keyword research and copy writing.

    Dan Thies is a well-known writer and teacher on search engine marketing. He offers consulting, training, and coaching for webmasters, business owners, SEO/SEM consultants, and other marketing professionals through his company, SEO Research Labs. His next online class will be a link building clinic beginning March 22