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A Beginner’s Guide To Understanding Google Keywords

Evan Oliver
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You’re a marketing manager who’s responsible for attracting prospects and generating leads. You’re running Google ads, but your campaign isn’t getting many impressions—and the clicks aren’t leading to conversions. Ultimately, you’re wasting time and money.

What’s wrong with your Google ads?

Without the right Google keywords, your ads won’t display at the right time or in the right place. Instead, they may appear in irrelevant searches or not at all. In other words, the right keywords are critical to a successful ad campaign.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of keywords, including how they work, where to find them, and how to add them to your Google ad campaigns.

What are Google keywords?

Google keywords are single words or short phrases that relate to your business or offerings. For example, say your business is a bakery based in Los Angeles. A list of keywords could include:

  • Los Angeles bakeries
  • best cookies in LA
  • chocolate chip cookies

Adding keyword lists to your ad groups allows you to target specific audiences. Essentially, keywords tell the Google algorithm when you want your ad to display, and they determine your ad’s eligibility to bid on a placement.

If you use the keyword list above, your ad could be eligible to appear if a potential customer types a similar phrase into Google's organic search. For example, it could display on a search engine results page (SERP) for “where to buy the best cookies in LA.”

Keywords are essential for running ads on the Search Network, but you also have the option to add them to Display Network campaigns. In display ads, keywords allow for contextual targeting, which reaches users based on their search history and other factors.

Although Google keywords may sound pretty simple, they can become complicated quickly. In addition to choosing the right match type for each keyword, you have to make sure the phrases you target align with the ad copy, landing page, and funnel stage. Otherwise, you could end up spending much more than necessary, only to get mediocre results.

Types of keywords

When you choose keyword match types, you effectively add an extra filter to your keywords. Here’s how each type determines whether your ads are eligible to appear:

  • Broad match keywords are the most general, providing you with the greatest reach and the least control over who sees your ads.
  • “Phrase match” keywords provide a middle ground, triggering your ad if a customer’s search query contains your keyword phrase in the order you specified.
  • [Exact match] keywords are the most restrictive and the most relevant, offering limited reach but much more fine-tuned control over who sees your ads.
  • Negative keywords are phrases that you exclude from your ad targeting to ensure that you don’t waste money on irrelevant searches

Keywords vs. search terms

It’s tempting to use keywords and search terms interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings, especially when it comes to Google ads. Here’s the difference:

  • Keywords are the phrases that advertisers use to target their ads
  • Search terms are the phrases that potential customers type into Google

Ideally, your keywords should share some similarities with search terms that relate to your business. But that doesn’t mean you should copy and paste your site’s search terms into Google Ads and call it good. To avoid inefficient ad groups and wasted ad spend, you have to know how to do keyword research for pay-per-click (PPC) ads.

5 Ways to find PPC keywords

Keyword research takes time, experience, and access to advanced keyword research tools. You can get started with the free tools below—or you can hire a PPC agency to do the hard work for you.

1. Google Keyword Planner

google keywords planner forecast
Use Keyword Planner to forecast average monthly searches and estimate costs

Probably the best-known free tool, Google Keyword Planner has two main functions. It helps you discover new keywords, and it provides monthly search volume and forecasts. That means it can give you new or better keyword ideas, and it can also estimate how much you’d have to spend to place your ad at the top of the SERP.

2. Google Search Console

google keywords google search console
Use GSC to find search terms people actually use to find your site

If you aren’t ready to use Keyword Planner yet, Google Search Console (GSC) can help you brainstorm. Check the Performance tab to see the top search queries that drove impressions and clicks to your website. Note that you can also use Google Analytics to find search terms, but the available list of keywords tends to be much shorter.

3. Google Suggest

google keywords google suggest
Use Google Suggest to find related keywords

What if the list of search queries you find in GSC is too short? Type the top queries into the Google search box. Before you hit enter, review the autocomplete searches that Google suggests. Since these suggestions are similar to popular queries for your site, they may help you research keywords for your campaign.

4. Answer the Public

google keywords answer the public
Use Answer the Public for long-tail keywords

To get even more ideas for search queries, enter a phrase into Answer the Public. You’ll get dozens of search terms, queries, and comparisons that give you more insight into what your customers are thinking and how you can reach them with ads. This tool is ideal for finding long-tail keywords, which reflect more specific queries.

google keywords google trends
Use Google Trends to track search term seasonality

To optimize your Google ad campaigns, it’s important to use keywords that relate to what people are searching for now—not what was trending months or years ago. Google Trends shows you popularity for related keywords over time. That way you can better understand seasonality and compare phrases to identify the best ones to target.

How to use keywords with Google Ads

To target keywords, open your Google Ads account and start a search campaign. Decide on a daily budget and choose a Smart Bidding strategy. At the ad group level, type or paste your keyword list.

google keywords keyword list
Upload your keyword list to your ad group

If you still need some keyword suggestions, Google Ads can help. Enter your company’s URL or some of the products and services you sell to get more ideas. In general, these suggestions can help you find keywords you missed but can’t replace thorough research.

google keywords google ads keyword ideas
Use Google Ads to get more keyword ideas

Next, create an ad by writing copy in each field, including up to 15 headlines and four descriptions. To improve ad performance and increase relevance, incorporate your keywords into the ad descriptions and headlines.

google keywords google ads suggestions
Use Google Ads’ suggestions to create ad copy

To call more attention to a top keyword, choose one to place in the URL display field for your ad. Ensure that the landing page linked to your ad mentions similar keywords so Google Ads can confirm that it’s relevant to search queries and meets searchers’ expectations.

Once you launch a campaign, start tracking the performance of all your keywords. Sort by metrics like quality score, conversion rate, and click-through rate (CTR) to find your best-performing keywords.

google keywords monitor and optimize keyword list
Monitor and optimize your keyword list for best results

To optimize your Google Ads, pause poorly performing keywords and add new ones via ideas from the Search Terms tab or your own research. To gain more control over your spending, you can also set a maximum cost-per-click (CPC) bid for specific keywords or ad groups.

Create keyword-driven search ads

Mastering Google keywords may seem like an uphill climb. From keyword research to match types to bidding, there’s a lot to learn. But once you understand how keywords work, you can start creating more effective search ads and getting the leads and sales you need.

Ready to start brainstorming keywords? Here’s some ideas to get you started.

Chapter 2:
Google Search Ads

What You’ll Learn: Learn about keywords, match types, search terms, and quality scores so you can dominate search in no time.

Chapter 3:
Google Display Ads

What You’ll Learn: Take advantage of cheaper clicks with unknown strategies many people don’t use when it comes to the Google Ads Display Network.

Chapter 4:
Google Shopping Ads

What You’ll Learn: Get more people to buy from your store, increase your average order value, all while spending less on acquiring new customers.