You’ve got a great product and a great work ethic to back it up.

Now you just need the rest of the world to notice.

Google Ads can deliver self-selecting customers directly to your site. They can also present your ads to thousands of puzzled users whose interests have only tangentially to do with your business.

The difference lies in the keywords associated with your ad campaigns. And choosing the right keywords can be a bit of an art.

This little guide steps you through the process of identifying the keywords best suited to your needs and narrowing your search to the words and phrases that optimise return on ad spend and CPA.


1. Choose the Right Tool for the Job

Third-party tools like SEMrush are designed to support the needs of large enterprises along with smaller businesses. Remember them for when your business takes off, but for now, Google’s easier-to-use Keyword Planner is more than sufficient.

To get started, log in to Google Ads and choose Tools & Settings from the top bar, then click Keyword Planner.

You will be presented with two options: Discover new keywords and Get search volume and forecasts. Choose—you guessed it—Discover new keywords.

discover new kws

From here, you’ll have the option of entering your website’s landing page or starting with a keyword of your own. There’s no penalty for choosing both, so try each and compare the results.

Before submitting your search terms, be sure to select the language and country appropriate to your needs. Then click Get results.

Get results on Google Ads

You will be taken to a complete listing of all the keywords related to your criteria that have been used in Google searches over the last year. You can adjust this timeframe as needed, but 12 months is a good starting point, since it reflects seasonal variations while staying as current as possible.

For each keyword, Google will show you the average number of monthly searches in which it appeared, along with information on how it compares to other words in Google’s Ads market.

By “complete,” we really mean “complete.” You’ll see hundreds, even thousands, of keywords, not all of them terribly useful. Some of them were used by your ideal customers. Some of them were entered by students bored of revising, or by the whims of AutoComplete. Which brings us to our next point.


2. Choose Narrowly Scoped Keywords

You might well be tempted to choose the keywords that appear in the most searches. But you’ll want to consider whether high-ranking keywords are truly relevant to your business. Keywords of broader scope naturally attract more attention, but is it the right attention?

Suppose you sell custom-printed swim shirts. The most frequently searched terms relevant to your product might include “swim gear” and “fashion.” Bidding on those keywords would bring your business to the attention of shoppers looking for everything from scuba equipment to eveningwear, and plenty of others besides.

A term like “UV swim shirts” won’t appear in nearly as many searches as “swim gear,” but the traffic it does send your way will be far likelier to click through to your site.

keyword planner results

Of course, not everyone with an interest in a given topic is interested in buying something. To get the best return on your investment, you’ll want to focus on likely customers and exclude idle surfers. To do that, add a term or two that signifies commercial intent.

“Buy” is a common term for this purpose, as in “buy UV swim shirts.” Times being what they are, you might also consider “discount,” “deal,” and “free shipping.”


3. Bid on the Right Match Type

As we all know, Google’s search results can include everything from the spot-on to the downright baffling. So it is with Google Ads.

Before bidding on a keyword, you’ll need to choose whether it will apply to the widest possible number of searches, however tenuously related to your interests, or to a narrower range of search terms. These options correspond to three match types: broad, phrase, and exact.

It’s nearly always wisest for small businesses to ignore that first option. You’re looking for likely customers, not the highest possible volume of undifferentiated traffic.

The phrase and exact match types still allow a bit of leeway but tighten things up significantly. Getting back to our example, a broad match type for the term “swim gear” might include articles on pool maintenance along with results more relevant to your brand.

If you’ve chosen a set of well-scoped keywords, you shouldn’t have anything to fear from limiting your match type to specific phrases or exact keywords.

But there’s a danger to narrowing your terms and types too severely. If you find yourself spending considerably less on Google Ads than your budget allows, you might have limited your keywords a bit too much. That’s the topic of our next point.


4. Use Broad Matches to Widen the Net

It’s possible to get a bit too precise with keyword selection. To see how your keywords perform in a broader context, consider running up a little trial balloon. Here’s how it works.

Start by creating a new campaign (say, with the money you’ve saved by using too narrow a set of search terms). Use your best-performing keyword in this campaign, but bid on the broad match type. You can do this by prefacing each search term with a plus symbol: “+uv +swim +shirts,” for example.

Next, look under Keywords in the left-hand menu and add the original keyword as a negative keyword by enclosing it in square brackets: [uv swim shirts]. This prevents your original campaign’s keywords from affecting those in your new campaign.

Let the new campaign run for a week or so before returning to Google Ads and viewing the campaign’s details. From the Keywords menu item, choose Search Keywords, then select the broad-match term you used for the trial campaign. A blue bar will appear above the selected keyword; click on Search Terms.

Search terms Google Ads

You’ll be presented with a list of all the search terms that triggered your search. Some of them may be confusing, and one or two might be amusing, but you’ll likely find at least one term that represents an approach you hadn’t yet considered.

When you uncover a keyword that you’d like to add to your account for future use as an exact-match term, highlight it and choose Add as keyword from the blue contextual menu.


5. Tidy Up Your List of Terms

You can also remove irrelevant keywords from searches that trigger your ads.

Let’s say that among the search terms listed for one of your campaigns is “swim shirts polypropylene.” Your shirts are made of polyester, and there’s no use in advertising to a clearly different market.

Review your search terms as you did in the step above, but instead of clicking Add as keyword, choose Add as a negative keyword. That’s it. Your ad will no longer appear when users search for polypropylene swim shirts.

You’ll want to review your campaign’s keywords every week or so and weed out any unproductive search terms. Trends change, after all, and customers are unpredictable; even campaigns that begin with tightly focused, well-chosen keywords can produce plenty of false leads over time.