Contact Us
We'd love to hear from you and we're always happy to offer our thoughts on how we can help to improve your business.

01962 736372

Alresford, Hampshire

01962 736372 or 0207 9932096

London & Hampshire


Find better keywords for your Google AdWords campaigns

Find better keywords for your Google AdWords campaigns


In this blog post, we’ll be talking about how you can find better keywords for your AdWords campaigns. We’ll talk about keyword discovery, measuring competition and some tools that can make the job that bit easier.

What is a keyword?

When we visit our preferred search engine, we enter a phrase in order to access information. If we’re looking to buy a new pair of jeans online, then we might enter:

Buy men’s jeans online

In this case, buy men’s jeans online is a keyword. In terms of Google AdWords campaigns, keywords are used to decide when an advertiser’s ads will be triggered. So, depending upon the setup of an AdWords account, the advertiser may have selected the keyword buy men’s jeans online, which would trigger in this case. They might also have decided to simply advertise on variations of the keyword jeans, which could also lead to an ad being triggered in this case.

Match types

Understanding precisely how ads are triggered is invaluable when seeking to improve keyword selections. There are four keyword match types available to you, which are:

#1 Exact match

With exact match keyword selections, ads only show when the search engine user types in the keyword that you’ve suggested, or a very close variant. If we entered [buy men’s jeans online] as our exact match keyword, then ads would be triggered when someone types in: buy men’s jeans online. Ads would not be triggered, however, if the searcher entered something like: buy jeans.

Exact match keywords have the advantage of being extremely tightly focused, which can be great for ensuring that you are targeting precisely the right audience. By their nature, however, they won’t tend to produce a huge volume of clicks. It also takes more work at the outset to identify a full range of exact match keywords, since you’ll need to second guess a wide variety of phrases that might be entered by prospective customers.

#2 Phrase match

Phrase match is intended to allow ads to be triggered by a phrase, or by a close variant of a phrase. With a phrase match keyword of “buy men’s jeans online” (for example), ads might be triggered by searches for buy men’s jeans online, or for where to buy men’s jeans online.

Phrase match increases flexibility, but maintains a relatively tight focus.


#3 Broad match modifiers

With a broad match modifier, ads may be shown on phrases that contain the modified term or close variations. So, with a broad match modifier of +buy +men’s +jeans +online, ads might be triggered when someone searches for buy jeans for men online. This increases flexibility (and the potential audience) still further than would be the case with phrase match.

#4 Broad match

The fourth and final match type is the default setting within AdWords: broad match. With broad match, your ads could be shown on searches that include synonyms, misspellings, related searches and other variations. So, with a broad match keyword of buy men’s jeans online, ads could be triggered by a search for jeans for gentlemen.

The advantage of broad match is that it ensures that your ads are shown to a wide audience. But this is also a key disadvantage: we find that targeting is often far too broad, triggered ad displays when searchers are unlikely to go ahead and make a purchase. In our experience, broad match often leads to budget being wasted and should be used with caution.

Your keyword targeting approach

So what should you be aiming for? When choosing your keyword selections, what sort of strategy is most likely to deliver results?

Particularly when launching a new AdWords campaign, it can be tempting to reach out to the widest possible audience. This is a temptation, however, that is generally best avoided. AdWords campaigns that produce the best results are usually highly targeted.

With this in mind, you should aim for keyword selections that are very specific to the products and services that you are offering. You also need to consider the searcher’s intent: are they simply carrying out some research, or are they already in position to make a purchase?

Think like a customer

When considering your keyword selections, it’s necessary to get into the mindset of prospective customers. With most purchases, there will be an element of research prior to the commitment to buy. This might involve finding out more about the products that you are offering and their specifications. Increasingly, it’s likely that a searcher will be carrying out price comparisons and looking at alternative products.


This has a number of implications for you, as an advertiser. How much of your budget, if any, will you allocate to searchers who are still at the research phase? Does your website provide detailed information? Is it persuasive enough to take someone from research to making a purchase? How do your prices compare with competitors?

It’s also worth remembering that prospective customers may not have the familiarity with your products and services that you do. They may search using different phrases and terminology, for instance. If you want to give yourself the best chance of gaining visits from individuals with a genuine interest in making a purchase, then you need to consider the alternative search terms that they may be using.

Keywords per ad group

Google’s own recommendation on the number of keywords that should be included within each ad group refers to between 5 and 20 keywords being within the optimum level. This enables ad groups to be created that are highly targeted.

Google note that there are occasions when it may be appropriate to include more than 20 keywords within a single ad group. We generally refine campaigns over time to ensure that there are between 1 (yes, really!) and 8 keywords within most ad groups. This isn’t a “hard and fast” rule, but it allows us to create appealing, targeted ad copy. This increases click through rates, improves Quality Scores, reduces cost per click (CPC) levels and ultimately feeds through in the form of a greater Return On Investment (ROI) for clients.

Keyword Planner

We’ve discussed what keywords are, how match types have an impact on when ads are triggered and the importance of selecting specific, highly targeted keywords within focused ad groups. But how do you go about discovering the best keywords for your campaigns? There are number of tools and methods that you can use and we’ll discuss each in turn. We’re going to begin with Google’s own tool: the Keyword Planner.


Google’s Keyword Planner is probably the most effective tool within the armoury of any advertiser because it gives access to real data, allowing judgements to be made on the basis of search terms that are actively being entered by Google users. Given that the tool is free and offers full integration with AdWords (together with the ability to run data extracts), getting to grips with Keyword Planner is a necessity when seeking to expand your campaigns.

There are various options available when using the Keyword Planner, but an effective strategy will often involve entering some seed keywords that you believe may be of interest to customers, then using the Keyword Planner to bring back information on search volumes and bid estimates. When doing so, remember to alter the default settings to ensure that you are pulling back data for the geographic area that you are intending to target, otherwise you will receive global data, which can bloat expectations.


Once the Keyword Planner has generated ideas, you’ll find that they are listed by relevance. Although this looks like a good option, it’s often more useful to select the tab that breaks the keywords down into suggested ad groups. Our experience is that the Keyword Planner will sometimes include too many keywords within a suggested ad group, but the advantage of this type of breakdown is that it does apply some ordering to your list by theme.


With your keywords automatically separated into themes, you can then export the data into Excel for ease of review.

The Keyword Planner is pretty good at taking your seed keywords and expanding out from there, but it won’t track down all possible long-tail keyword options. To put yourself in the best possible position to identify more, there are a number of advanced approaches that can pay dividends.

Google AutoComplete

Have you ever noticed that, when you start to search for something on Google, you get prompted with suggestions of what you are seeking?


This is Google’s AutoComplete functionality and was originally designed to assist searchers. But it has a specific benefit for AdWords advertisers: it allows you to build up an extended list of keyword suggestions. So, if you take the list of keywords that you have from the Keyword Planner, then you can start entering them into Google and using the AutoComplete tool to see if there are further suggestions.

You can also take ideas on alternative searches that customers might carry out and feed those in to Google in the same way. What you’re doing is extending your list of potential target keywords.

Google Search Console

Google Analytics used to enable you to see precisely which keywords were being used by searchers within organic results to reach your website. This functionality was subsequently withdrawn, but you can use Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) to extract data on keywords that are being used to reach your site.

Why would you want data from organic search? Isn’t this a separate area altogether? What you’ll find is that keywords that are not just producing visitors, but conversions too, via organic search are likely to deliver results on AdWords as well. But, more than that, Google Search Console data will enable you to see long-tail keywords that you might otherwise be unaware of.

Search Terms report

Google’s Search Terms report is an under-used tool within many Google AdWords accounts. If you’re already running AdWords advertising, then the Search Terms report enables you to find additional keywords within your account that may be triggering ads already, but where you haven’t explicitly listed them within your account and hence they may not have tightly focused ads associated with them.


SEMRush and similar tools

There are a variety of tools that allow you to see what your competitors are doing. We like to use SEMRush, but there are others available.


Why does SEMRush work well for us? We like to use the functionality to identify key competitors and then to see which keywords they are using. Having established this, we then drill down further to identify any further competitors that we may not have been aware of, before identifying keywords that those businesses may be using. In this way, we’re able to amass a long list of keywords. You could do the same.


Other helpful tools include the likes of Wordstream, Bing Ads Campaign Planner, Keyword Spy and SpyFu.

Evaluating keywords

Many of the methods listed within this article are great for identifying new keywords, but how do you evaluate these keyword selections. In general terms, you should be considering:

  • How closely related the keywords are to your business
  • Whether the keywords are tightly focused enough
  • The level of competition to be faced
  • Likely CPC levels, together with expected conversion rates

As you run through Keyword Planner, Google AutoComplete, Search Console, Search Terms reports, SEMRush and other tools, you will encounter numerous keyword suggestions that aren’t suited to your AdWords campaigns. Identifying this lack of suitability and ruling those keywords out is as valuable as finding keywords that will work.

You may discover some long-tail keywords where there is a danger that ads might be triggered as a result of your phrase match or broad match selection, when you really don’t want ads to be shown. As you build up your keyword lists, remember to log those keywords that aren’t suitable because it’s likely that many of them could be inserted into your negative keyword lists.


Great keyword selections are at the heart of any successful Google AdWords campaign. By following the advice listed within this blog post, we’re confident that you’ll be able to transform your approach to PPC advertising.

Did you enjoy this post?

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest articles, direct to your inbox.

Keith Barrett on FacebookKeith Barrett on Twitter
Keith Barrett
With more than 15 years of digital marketing experience, Keith Barrett is a fully Certified Google AdWords Partner. Offering insights into the world of PPC marketing in the UK, Keith is a Senior Consultant here at Search South. If you'd like to hear more of Keith's thoughts, then you can subscribe to our newsletter.