Adthena’s Guide to PPC Keyword Research

Perfect your PPC keyword research. This guide helps craft the perfect keyword strategy, so you can attract high-intent audiences and maximize your return on ad spend.

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Mastering PPC Keyword Research: How to drive high-intent traffic and ROI

PPC (Pay-per-click) advertising is essential to ensuring anyone searching online for products or services like yours not only finds you, but also converts. But how do you know which words or phrases to bid on in the PPC auction? Which terms will deliver the best return on your investment, fit your budget, and put you ahead of competitors in your market? Finding the right mix requires an understanding of PPC campaigns and keyword research.

Before launching your PPC campaign, thorough PPC keyword research is vital to finding the set of keywords that best align with your products or services and have the magic combination of high search volume and low competition.

This guide will give you a foundational understanding of PPC keyword research, including basic terminology, common strategies, and tips and tricks for getting the best results for your budget. 

How to do PPC keyword research

PPC keyword research in campaigns involves identifying relevant keywords that align with the needs and interests of your target audience. By understanding what your audience is searching for, you can ensure that your ads reach the right users at the right time, making your campaign more effective and efficient. But there’s more to it than that. You need to factor in quality scores, audience intent, and the competitive landscape for terms in your market. You’ll need to find the right mix of generic, long-tail, and brand terms. Simply guessing at keywords without proper research can lead to wasted resources and ineffective targeting.

Effective PPC keyword research requires:

  • Understanding your PPC target audience and landscape
  • Monitoring your competitors’ PPC keyword strategies
  • Continuously refining PPC keyword lists based on campaign performance, industry trends, and user behavior

Introduction to PPC keyword research

Let’s start with the basics of PPC advertising. PPC is a type of digital advertising in which you pay a fee each time your ad is clicked. These campaigns drive traffic to websites, generate leads, and increase conversions through targeted keyword ads displayed on search engine results pages. 

PPC ads are triggered by the search terms (keywords) users enter, and advertisers must bid on the keywords they want to trigger their ads. Choosing the best keywords to bid upon requires PPC keyword research. 

Effective keyword research involves identifying relevant search terms that your specific target audience is using on search engines and then strategically incorporating them into your PPC ads to gain visibility, drive engagement, and capture conversions. 

Done well, this process ensures that ads reach the right users at the right time by aligning with your audience’s immediate needs and interests. And targeting high-intent keywords can boost conversion rates for your ads, because they indicate a user’s readiness to act. 

As you are probably already aware, PPC keyword research can be complex, and there are a lot of factors to consider to make your ads both competitive and cost-effective. Below are some of the concepts you’ll encounter as you learn more about PPC keyword research.

Key concepts in keyword research

Here are quick definitions of some of the key terms and concepts you’ll encounter in your PPC keyword research: 

  • Search volume: The number searches for a specific keyword within a particular time frame. Understanding search volume helps you assess the popularity and potential reach of keywords in your campaigns.
  • Bid keyword: A keyword you bid on to display your ads when users search for that specific term. The amount you bid determines the position of the ad in the search results and thus the likelihood of it being clicked. Learn more about PPC Brand Bidding.
  • Match type: Refers to the criteria used to determine when ads are displayed based on keyword searches. Match types include exact match, phrase match, and broad match, and each type offers a different level of precision and reach in targeting specific keywords.
  • Long tail: Long-tail keywords are very specific, less frequently searched phrases that target a niche audience. They can be valuable because they can offer lower search volume but higher conversion rates. 
  • Exact match: A match type that triggers ads only when the search query precisely matches the keyword, without any variations. It offers high precision in targeting.
  • Broad match: A match type in PPC advertising that allows ads to be triggered by related searches, including synonyms, misspellings, and variations of the specified keywords. Broad match offers a wider reach but requires diligent monitoring to maintain relevance and control costs.
  • Negative keyword: A search term you actively exclude to prevent ads from being displayed. Negative keywords help filter out irrelevant traffic and improve campaign efficiency.
  • Search term: The specific word or phrase entered by a user in a search engine to find information, products, or services. Understanding search terms is crucial for PPC keyword research to align ads with users’ search queries and intent.

Tools and automation for keyword research

Automated tools can simplify and streamline just about every aspect of PPC keyword research. By leveraging AI tools, you can rapidly improve campaign performance. 

Automation tools are ideal for tasks like:

  • Handling your bidding automatically based on predefined rules and parameters
  • Automatically identifying high-value keywords for you
  • Alerting and monitoring campaigns so you can track status and know when you need to adjust your keyword strategy
  • Analyzing competitor strategies and keywords
  • Quickly generating effective ad copy, headlines and CTAs for PPC ads

There is a wide variety of automated tools and tactics available to help digital marketers analyze and optimize their keyword bids. At a minimum you’ll want a tool for keyword discovery, bid estimation, competitor analysis, and keyword organisation.

Google Keyword Planner is a free tool developed by Google that provides keyword data such as search volume, trends, competition levels, and cost estimates. It’s a good place to start generating keyword ideas and bid estimates. You can also use it to search for keyword and ad group ideas, see how a list of keywords might perform, and combine keyword lists into new groups. It will also help you find phrases you may not have thought of before.

Whichever tool you use to simplify your keyword research, be sure you understand how to use keyword difficulty scores and negative keywords to focus your efforts.

Keyword difficulty is a metric used to determine how challenging it is to rank for a particular keyword and as a result, how costly. The keyword difficulty score indicates the level of effort required to rank for a specific keyword in paid search. High-difficulty words are more popular and competitive.

How keyword difficulty in PPC is calculated varies, but typically it is a combination of page quality score, which rates ads and landing pages based on expected clickthrough rate, content relevance, and experience.


Negative keyword addition refers to the practice of excluding specific words or phrases from triggering your ad. For example, you might want to add the negative keywords “free” or “cheap” to exclude traffic that doesn’t align with your brand or offering. Negative keywords act as barricades that prevent ads from being displayed when irrelevant terms are included in a search query. By adding negative keywords, you can filter out irrelevant traffic that would waste budget.

Pro tip!

While some advertisers strive to avoid high-difficulty keywords because they are too competitive, others pursue them for their high value and ability to deliver volume.

Building on your keyword research for higher performance

Researching keywords for your PPC campaigns isn’t a once-and-done activity. Your competitors will continually change their bidding strategies, new advertisers may enter your market, and consumer behaviors change. Maintaining a high-performing PPC campaign requires continually monitoring and tuning your keyword list (which is another reason to explore automation tools.)

Plan to devote ongoing effort to activities such as keyword competitor analysis and keyword optimisation.

Use keyword competitor analysis to gather intel on your rivals

PPC keyword competitor analysis involves evaluating your competitors’ strategies and keywords to inform your own. By understanding the keywords your competitors rank for and assessing their overall strengths and weaknesses, you can identify opportunities to improve your rankings. 

Relying on manual methods can be time-consuming. With automated tools for competitor keyword analysis, businesses can enhance their SEM strategies, target high-value keywords, and track their rankings against competitors to improve overall search engine performance.

With Adthena’s Search Term Detail report, you can view which related search terms competitors appear for that you do not, as well as their average click volume and CPC. You can then determine whether to include these search terms within your existing campaigns.Adthena Search Term Detail lets you see which terms have the most competitors appearing on them, as well as the volume potential and estimated cost.


Pro tip!

In paid search advertising, businesses routinely bid on keywords that include the brand names of their competitors. The goal is to have their ads appear at the top of search results pages (SERPs) when users search for those branded terms. It’s important to understand “brand bidding” to both protect yourself from it and to avoid trademark infringement if you engage in the practice yourself.

Because the PPC landscape is changing all the time, keyword optimisation must be an ongoing process of analysis to find high-volume, highly relevant keywords with low competition. 

Here’s a checklist to help you maximize ROI from your keyword research efforts:

  • Utilize exact match and negative keywords to target specific search queries and avoid irrelevant traffic.
  • Include your targeted keywords in your ad copy to improve relevance and click-through rates.
  • Regularly monitor keyword performance and use data-driven adjustments to your bids to optimize costs and conversions. 
  • Focus budget on on high-performing keywords.
  • Monitor campaign performance regularly and make data-driven optimisations based on key metrics. Learn more about PPC Analysis.
  • Regularly test new strategies, ad variations, and targeting options to improve campaign effectiveness over time
  • Use AI tools to optimize bidding strategies, ad placements, and targeting for better performance and efficiency


Pro tip!

The best digital marketers watch for and eliminate lone rangers from their PPC keyword lists. Lone rangers are brand terms for which you hold the top spot on the SERP for both paid and organic search, and for which there is no competition. In other words, you’re paying for clicks you would win organically anyway. They are money wasters, and you can spot them and pause bidding in real time with Adthena Brand Activator – saving you thousands!

PPC campaign optimization

Beyond identifying the best possible keywords to bid on for your ad campaigns, there are a wide range of things you can do to help optimize the effectiveness and performance of your PPC ads overall. Three best practices include:

  1. Utilize demographic targeting: Take advantage of demographic targeting options to reach the right audience based on factors such as age, gender, income level, geographic location, relationship status, and education level.
  2. Test your ad copy: Conduct A/B testing to analyze different ad variations, colors, landing pages, and calls-to-action. By testing and analyzing ad copy, you can determine which elements drive the most clicks and conversions.
  3. Optimize your landing page for conversions: Ensure that your landing page is optimised for conversions by including relevant product images, detailed product information, and a strong call-to-action. A good landing page can significantly improve your campaign performance.

Pro tip!

Ensure your landing pages are aligned with ad messaging to provide a seamless user experience to improve conversion rates.

Using the Adthena platform for PPC keyword research

The AI-driven Adthena platform provides market-wide visibility across your competitive landscape so you can analyse, benchmark, and optimize every keyword and element of your ads. 

Adthena can help you uncover valuable new search terms, expose competitor weaknesses, and optimize your campaigns for maximum ROI.

To speak to a search consultant about your specific challenges and needs, request a personalized demo.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Keyword targeting in PPC is all about choosing the right words and phrases your audience uses to find products or services like yours. By strategically incorporating these keywords into your ads and website, you increase your chances of appearing in relevant searches, driving more clicks, conversions, and ultimately, a higher return on your ad spend.

  • Yes, there are key differences between SEO and PPC keywords:

    • Cost: SEO is organic, meaning you don’t pay directly for your website to appear in search results. PPC involves paid advertising, where you bid on keywords and pay for each click on your ad.
    • Focus: SEO keywords target broader search terms and user intent, aiming for long-term organic visibility. PPC keywords often focus on specific, high-intent keywords with the goal of immediate conversions.
    • Control: SEO offers less direct control over your ranking, as it depends on various factors. PPC provides more control over your ad placement and visibility through bidding strategies.

    While both involve keyword research, they serve different goals and require different approaches.

  • To pick the best keywords for your PPC campaign, consider the following:

    • Target audience: Understand their needs, interests, and search behavior.
    • Relevance & intent: Choose keywords closely aligned with your offerings and user search intent.
    • Balance: Aim for a mix of high-volume, low-competition keywords and long-tail keywords for targeted reach.
    • Competitor research: Analyze their keywords and identify gaps in their strategy.
    • Negative keywords: Exclude irrelevant terms to avoid wasted ad spend.
    • Tools: Utilize Google Keyword Planner and other tools for research and insights.

    By following these steps, you can select effective keywords that drive the right traffic and improve your PPC campaign performance.

  • Finding the most profitable keywords involves a strategic approach, considering several factors:

    • User intent: Align keywords with user search goals (informational, commercial, transactional).
    • Search volume & competition: Balance high volume with low competition for cost-effectiveness.
    • Keyword tools: Utilize Google Keyword Planner and others for research and insights.
    • Long-tail keywords: Explore more specific phrases for potentially higher conversion rates.
    • Profitability metrics: Calculate estimated cost per conversion (EPC) to prioritize keywords with lower EPCs.
    • Competitor analysis: Spy on competitor campaigns using Adthena tools such as Search Term Detail to uncover profitable keywords they target.

    Remember, profitability goes beyond search volume. Focus on user intent, competition, and potential conversion rates for optimal results.


  • Adthena can help uncover your competitor’s PPC keywords:

    • Market Share Report: See competitor share of clicks, estimated spend, and identify who you’re facing for specific keywords.
    • Head-to-Head Comparison: Analyze overlapping keywords to discover potential gaps in your strategy.
    • Search Term Detail: See which competitors appear for your keywords, along with click volume and CPC insights.
    • Top Ads Report: Analyze competitor ad copy for messaging, CTAs, and potential landing page approaches.
    • Creative Insights: Get alerts on new competitor phrases, discover high-performing keywords, and optimize your ad copy.

    By combining these features, you gain a comprehensive understanding of your competitor’s PPC keyword strategy, allowing you to optimize your own campaigns for maximum impact.


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