Did you sigh when you heard that Google was revoking full, free access to its Keyword Planner? Your first reaction was probably mine: Google sticks to SEO again.
What are we going to do?
Of course, we could invest in a third-party tool. Some of these tools can help fill the void, but they’re expensive and as good as their sample size.
And it got me thinking: if I had to pay for a keyword research tool anyway, why not use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising for my keyword research? If I create a small PPC campaign, I can also get keyword data and several other benefits.
So, in this article, I’m going to show you how I performed keyword research using Google’s keyword planner; and, on the other hand, what are the benefits of using a small PPC campaign to perform keyword research instead.
PPC can help me identify new keywords
When you use the Keyword Planner (or a third-party keyword tool), you start by thinking about a list of potential words.
Typically this is what I did:
- I’m brainstorming a list. I will also get the opinion of the customer (or my boss). From there, I’m trying to find synonyms for this keyword. Let’s say my keyword is “widgets”; they could also be called “doohickeys” or “whatchamacallits”.
- I then try to find words that modify the original keywords. Here I am looking for long tail opportunities. I ask myself, âIn what ways would someone want to use what I have to offer? It could be modifiers like color. These can be solutions like âservicesâ or even âsolutionsâ. I could also add geographic modifiers. Some great tools to help identify modifiers are ubersuggest or keyword.io.
- I’m trying to organize all of this on an excel sheet. Each column contains rows of synonyms. I’m trying to add modifiers in the adjacent columns, with mutually exclusive modifiers in each row. I’m doing this so that I can take multiple columns on mergewords.com to put these lists together in all possible variations.
It’s a lot of work. It may take me a few hours to do. Even after all this time, I generally find that I missed some things. Sometimes I’m missing obvious things.
A small PPC campaign could automate this process. All I have to do is try a few keywords. Now, unlike a regular PPC campaign, in our case the bigger the better. However, I would start the process with a modified broad match expression, not a broad match. The goal is to identify possible phrases, so exact matching wouldn’t be particularly helpful. Phrase Match might help identify the modifiers I mentioned, but it won’t produce the variations we want to see.
Once I start getting clicks on my campaign, I get the search queries that come with the clicks. These search queries are not guesses: they are actual phrases that potential customers have entered while searching for me or searching for my offer. Sure, it took me longer to get this data from PPC than from Keyword Planner, but the data is better.
PPC can help me compare search terms
Now that you know how people search for you, you need to know which phrases they use most frequently. Knowledge helps establish your priorities and opportunities.
You can use the Keyword Planner to compare terms against each other. From there, you can determine if a potential customer is looking for one phrase more than another. You can also find out how customers are more likely to search for your services.
That’s not all you want to know, however. Just because people are looking for a phrase doesn’t mean they want what you come up with. And so, for each sentence, I apply a formula to the search data provided by Google:
Volume x Competition x Estimated CPC = Opportunity
(Attention: mathematical content to follow.)
Again, some people just look at the search volume number. It’s limited: just because a lot of people are looking for a phrase doesn’t mean they are interested in what my business has to offer.
I need to know both the number of searches (volume) for a sentence and its competitiveness. I like to think of the number of Google’s competitors (a number between 0 and 1) as a percentage: it represents the percentage of searches that companies find relevant to their services. If a sentence has a competition number of 0.1, I guess 10% of that searches are relevant. Likewise, if a phrase has a competition number of 0.9, you can tell that businesses are interested in 90% of searches. When I multiply the number of searches and the competition number, I get the number of relevant searches.
I also like to consider how many businesses want traffic from a sentence. If businesses are willing to pay $ 5 per click for one phrase but $ 0.50 per click for another, it’s clear they want the first one more. The theory: if they pay for it, it must pay for then. When I multiply the CPC number by the fraction that results from relevant searches, I will have combined all of these factors together. I call the number I got the “Opportunity”.
This is where things get interesting. Take this as an example:
In our example, twice as many people are looking for “widgets” than “blue widgets”. Since the latter is more competitive and companies are willing to pay twice as much for a click, this has a bigger opportunity for me as well. The same goes for the “spinning blue widgets”: only a tenth of the search volume, but people are willing to pay three times as much per click. Don’t overlook this opportunity.
If you apply this formula to all of your terms, you will see that some phrases with high search volume offer fewer opportunities than phrases with more CPC. I don’t just want clicks; I want clients. Applying the formula “Volume x Competition x Estimated CPC” helps me show me where the keyword opportunities exist.
Of course, if you’ve set up a small PPC campaign, you already have all of this information. With each keyword, your PPC campaign will tell you …
- Impressions. It’s important to remember that impressions and search volume are different things. There will always be more search impressions (number of people searching for your phrase) than people seeing your ad. It still serves the same purpose: to give you an idea of ââthe phrase people are looking for the most.
- Competitiveness. Rather than relying on Google’s estimated CPC data, you’ll know for sure. In fact, in some small campaigns you may not be able to bid enough to get your ads to show. If so, you know it’s a very competitive phrase.
With a small PPC campaign, you will get all of this data without the extra steps you would need if you were to use the keyword planner.
PPC can help me estimate conversion rates
The goal of any search campaign, whether it’s PPC or SEO, is to get more leads, not just more visits. One of the biggest problems with SEO is estimating which phrase these customers will produce. You take a month (around) to build a landing page, optimize content, add images, link (don’t forget internal links). Later, you find out that even though you are ranked # 1, you don’t get new customers. (Insert the sad trombone sound here.)
PPC can estimate the conversion rate faster. As an added benefit of keyword research through your PPC campaign, you will find out which phrases are most likely to generate leads. Now you know where to put your SEO efforts.
In fact, your small PPC campaign might even provide you with leads. Keyword Planner has never done this for me! I doubt a third-party tool will make that promise either.
PPC can test your email
Now that you know the keywords your customers are using, it’s time to put them into action. It’s time to write the landing page.
Have you ever struggled to write a landing page? What should you say? What will convince a customer to use your product or service? Even if you hire good writers, they will need advice.
This is where keyword research with PPC can come in handy. When you launch your campaign, test ad copy. Which one produces the most clicks? Which one produces the most conversions? It’s the message your potential customers resonate with. Write your landing page accordingly.
Keyword research with PPC helps you with your messaging; this is something that keyword tools just don’t offer.
Can you afford keyword research with PPC?
You might be thinking that you can’t afford to use PPC for keyword research, but don’t overlook the idea. I’m not (necessarily) suggesting that you try a full PPC campaign. I spent only $ 100 over a month (my space is competitive and expensive) and learned the following:
- What phrases people use to search for me. You know there are many marketing buzzwords; I was able to reduce these to the only productive ones.
- Some good long tail keywords. I added them to my site.
- Which keywords have produced not only volume, but conversions as well.
- What messages resonated with my clients; they weren’t what I expected.
It was not a gangbuster campaign. I didn’t become a millionaire overnight. This produced enough benefits (I increased my mailing list by 20%) that I continued the campaign after the test. In a way, the small campaign has paid off.
Google will always have a love-hate relationship with SEOs. Do not be discouraged. Do not get mad. You can always fight back. You can just use Bing Ads for your PPC keyword research. That’s what I did.