Key things to know about PPC keywords.

By Mamie Patton | December 13, 2019

In order to get the word out about your business, you need to use certain organic keywords to attract the attention of Google and everybody else. But the keywords you use for Pay Per Click campaigns (e.g. Google Ads) could be different from the ones you use for organic search engine optimization (SEO). Below, we take you through the best ways to choose keywords for Google Ads.

Both PPC and SEO are tactics used for SEM (Search Engine Marketing). But they have different uses and different approaches. And, PPC has out-of-pocket costs in the form of clicks, whereas SEO does not.

PPC – like Google Ads – is intent-based marketing. In other words, you generally want people who are serious about buying your product or service to click on your ad, because you are paying for that click. Generally, people use more specific search terms when they are ready to buy versus when they are at the top of the funnel, just browsing. (Sometimes, you want to reach people at the top of the funnel to build brand awareness, but for this article we are assuming your goal is to get quality leads or sales.)

Let’s say you’re thinking about buying a new sofa. You might start browsing by typing “sofa” in your browser. But after research and figuring out what you’ll need to spend and what styles you prefer, you might end up searching for kid-friendly sofas. Or further, contemporary kid friendly sofas. Your intent becomes more specific as you move through the funnel,—from awareness (“Let’s see what’s out there”) to discovery (“Oh, this looks interesting”) to consideration (“I want this style, with these attributes”) to decision (“I found what I want and I’m ready to buy”). You need to decide what stage of the funnel you are targeting, who your targets are, and then develop the PPC keyword strategy accordingly.

Google has a free keyword planner that can help you get started. (You must have a Google Ads account to access it.) This tool provides keyword suggestions and tells you the bid price, so you can select the phrases most important to your objectives and then budget accordingly. The more competitive words or phrases will be more costly. You have to decide: is it better to spend your budget on the more competitive terms to get a few leads, or bid on less competitive terms and get broader exposure? According to Google, when you are just starting out, “Sticking with low-to-medium cost keywords can still get you a lot of exposure, and also help you test out how your campaigns are working.”

Google Ads provide keyword match types in the ad settings. This lets you designate when your ad will show up, ranging from a broad search to a modified search, to an exact match.

Broad Search is the default setting. As the term implies, it shows your ad if your keywords appear in any sequence and shows for related terms. Using our sofa example, let’s say your keywords include “kid friendly contemporary sofa.” Broad match means your ad would show for those terms, but it might also show for “kid friendly furniture” or other less specific terms. The plus for this is that you might discover other good terms you had not thought of. The minus is that your ad might appear where it’s not relevant. Many PPC experts recommend avoiding broad match because they see too many instances where it delivers irrelevant results.

The next level is the Broad Match Modifier. Here, you can specify certain words that must show up in a search entry. If we want to make sure “contemporary” and “sofa” must appear in search, Google allows you to do that by adding a + sign in front of each word that must appear, like “+contemporary”. So someone might search “oversized contemporary purple sofa” and your ad would show.

There is also a Phrase Match setting. Google says this setting is for searches that contain your exact keyword plus words before or after it. If a customer types in “low cost kid friendly contemporary sofa”, the Phrase Match setting will display your ad because it includes your exact keyword. If you put quotation marks around your phrase, this tells Google you want the Phrase Match option.

The next level of specificity is the Exact Match setting. As the term implies, this is when you only want customers who put the exact phrase into the search. It is specified by adding brackets to the phrase, like [kid friendly contemporary sofa]. This is considered the option to use when bidding for more expensive, competitive keywords. But there is one important caveat here. Exact match will also show close variations of searches if the algorithms believe the search term matches the intent of the keyword. Using our example, someone might search “family contemporary sofa” and your ad would show. (I’m just making these phrases up for examples; I did not actually build a campaign in Google Ads.)

A final option is the Negative Match option, where you specify words you do not want to trigger your ad. Do this by putting the minus sign in front of the word, i.e., -leather, -cheap.

You can do more than just Keyword Planner options.

There are some additional tactics that will help you create and refine your keyword list specifically to your needs. The algorithms have yet to replace human curiosity and nuance.

Brainstorming terms can uncover real human behavior. One technique we like to do with our clients before we do any online research, is to brainstorm the common terms they use in their business every day, and the questions their customers ask. We try to think of how they would enter a search term. Whenever possible, we ask them, what term did you enter to find us? We make a list and organize it by category that could potentially become ad groups. We separate the general terms from the high intent, farther-along-the-funnel words.

Look at what competitors are using. SpyFu is a great tool to help you with this. You’ll get valuable information by seeing what keywords they bid on and what they are ranking for, which can inform your own list. Importantly, we are not looking to see what others do and then copy them. After all, they might be doing it all wrong. We simply want to see what we can learn that will inform our decisions.

After these exercises, we then go to the Google Keywords Planner. (Side note: there are many great keyword planner tools, but the Google tool is a good place to begin.) Now you’ll get data that shows related keywords, average monthly search, competitive indicators and bid ranges. Based on your brainstorming, competitive research, and Google’s similar terms, you can select the keywords that look most promising and research the search volume and forecasts. Seek the hidden, overlooked opportunities that provide decent search volume and low competition. The more competitive keywords will be obvious, but the budget-stretching opportunities require digging around.

Organize keywords into Ad Groups. Once you have a refined list that fits your goals and budget, it’s time to organize the keywords into Ad Groups. You can organize the phrases by subject or by the funnel stages. Using our example, let’s say one group of customers is more concerned about the kid friendly aspect, and style is second after that. Your keywords, ads and landing page will be customized to that priority. A second group you want to target is not willing to sacrifice style, so you emphasize that, with the added benefit of being kid friendly. Organizing your keywords into appropriate groups is a huge driver of clicks and conversions.

And finally: test, revise, test some more. You’ll be able to further refine your keywords as you conduct your campaign. But that’s another article.


  • PPC keyword strategy is different than SEO
  • Both are important for SEM success
  • Do your own research:
    • Brainstorm
    • Competitors
  • Use Google’s Keyword Planner
  • Make sure you select the right settings to match your strategic objectives
  • Be patient and dig deeper to find overlooked opportunities with low cost, high volume keywords
  • Know that sometimes, it’s worth bidding on the most relevant expensive keywords – but make sure you have the right reasons for doing so
  • There are other tools such as SEMrush but Google is a good place to begin
  • Create ad groups
  • Revise. Test. Repeat.