How to do Keyword Research like a Pro: Targeting Search Intent for PPC & SEO

Andrew Broadbent
Jul 21, 2016 · 9 min read

Have you noticed anything different this year when you search for something on Google? The “Googleopoly” seems to be finding ways to monetize everything on their search results (especially for commercial terms) more and more each year.

It seems to be, things are moving to more of a “Pay to play” search results environment. Google has drastically changed the digital landscape in 2016. The right rail of ads displayed on the desktop browser has been removed. They have also reduced the local 7 Map Pack to a 3 Map Pack, and they’re now showing 4 top ads on desktop and 3 on mobile. What does this mean for your brand? All of these changes are pushing your traditional 10 “free” organic listings further down the page, and you better believe that’s going to have an impact on your click-thru-rate, (CTR).

The relationship between keywords and search queries is the foundation of Adwords paid search marketing and organic SEO campaigns. Most keyword research articles seem to mainly focus on teaching keyword research for optimizing for organic SEO. So we wanted to make one that helps brands learn how to target and manage keywords more effectively in paid search campaigns as well.

Vab Media originally published a version of this keyword targeting guide on Startup Grind to help startups and business owners have a better understanding of how you can combine PPC and organic search engine optimization strategies to create content and ads that target the “user’s search intent” of both informational and transactional terms in order to maximize traffic, conversions and marketing channels.

If you want to improve the ROI of your marketing, read our new Keyword Research targeting for PPC and SEO guide and you will learn more about semantic search, match types in Adwords, targeting new opportunities, adding negative keywords, competitor analysis for organic ranking and how search engines use query expansion techniques.

Before we get started into the sections of this guide, you should think about all the marketing channels that are available to your startup and the goals you want to achieve, trying to gain users, customers or brand awareness. What channels are going to work best for your startup to accelerate growth? The digital marketing ecosystem is overwhelming at a glance. There are so many choices with paid social ads, PPC, Adwords, retargeting, PR outreach, and organic SEO.

What is true is that we now live in a mobile first, digital economy where consumers are constantly connected. The devices vary: a laptop at work, a smartphone while commuting, an iPad, or even a smart watch while sitting on the couch. People search for a variety of things, any time of day, for different purposes: research, shopping, entertainment. Your brand needs to figure out which channels will give the best return on investment and bring in lowest cost of customer acquisition (CAC).

Marketing Bullseye

(Image courtesy of: Buffer)

How do you choose the right or best keywords?

Keyword research methods have evolved in concert with more intelligent search engines and changing user preferences. Since Google launched their Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, their search engine is now operating largely on the basis of semantic search. The new artificial intelligence technologies such as Google Now (Predictive search) or intelligent, personal assistants (Cortana, Siri, Alexa), have added a new layer to the “types of queries model”, which are transactional queries, informational queries and navigational queries. Today’s searcher may use voice-activated search assistants (Conversational search using natural speech) and say, “Siri, what is the best Italian restaurant in Soho?,” or “Tickets for Ghostbusters movie.”

Search Intent Keyword Research

(Image courtesy Moz)

Marketers should think hard about the intent of a keyword before you create an ad or content that’s targeting it;

Search engines are ranking pages for a given query and including links that are relevant and semantically (synonyms, close-variants and tangentially-related phrases) related to the topic. For example, if you search for the term “guest posting” you will see that Google’s first listing shows a page with the title “guest blogging.”

Google ranks semantic search ranking example

When you are trying to figure what keywords are best to target for your business, try putting yourself in your potential customer’s shoes. What are all the ways and questions they might search to find what you offer? What are the pain points that would be solved for the customer by having purchased your product or service.

Then you need think about search intent or context behind a particular phrase that your target audience will type in. Instead of keyword stuffing, try using keywords and synonyms to create a relevant context around your keyword phrases of choice, this will provide your users with a more complete, relevant, and useful search experience.

You need to figure out your customer’s path to purchase (the buyer’s journey), before you can show up with the right content in each phase. You can create content to target keyword phrases that are (informational searches) in the research or consideration funnel stage. Instead of only targeting one or two keyword phrases, it’s better to develop content and ads that are based around keyword topics or themes that provide useful information for your audience. For the PPC strategy: you should try to find words with commercial intent, these keywords usually show “desperation” or an “act now mindset” from the searcher. A common example would include search phrases with “buy” or “for sale” in them.

Here are the common factors that define a potential keyword’s value are:

This article is going to give an a teaser overview into our guide’s 8 core chapters:

1.You want to Align Keywords with your Business Goals

Tips for conducting competitor research

For most marketers and business owners Google Adwords accounts are driven by picking and bidding on keywords to target in ads. There are a number of third party tools available, and, regardless of research tools you use, it’s important to think holistically about the ways that your potential customers could find you.

Why: The keywords you choose should reflect all of the different types of “user search queries” that could help people find your landing page when they are searching for something you offer or sell.

2. Manage your Keywords and ad groups with your overall business Goals

Proper PPC management includes organizing your keywords into well defined ad groups. Ad groups should be structured and have clear goals within the sales funnel stage. Different keyword phrases have different purposes and search intent, (informational, commercial, transactional).

3. The Accuracy of Google Keyword Planner Numbers

The Google Keyword Planner is probably the most used keyword research tool, yet it has a few flaws that provide inaccurate information for keyword metrics. According to a Moz article, the keyword planner data metrics give averages for “Average Monthly Search Volume” that are heavily rounded.

4. Manage different keyword match types for control and growth

Understanding Match Types

Broad match is useful for bidding on long tail keyword phrases, while using exact match for your primary product or service may help you drive more targeted traffic. In Adwords your keywords are there to target users’ search queries.

By using the different match types, you are given some control in terms of targeting logic or context of those keywords. You cannot have a proper PPC strategy without having a comprehensive understanding of match types and their role for different phrases.

5. Look for new targeting opportunities

Dynamic Search Ads

In Adwords, you can use Dynamic search ads to grow your business by expanding your targeting. There are a few ways to do this, by using Dynamic search ads and automated tools. Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) provide an automated option to marketers for targeting. The benefits are time saving while also delivering a smart option for expanding reach

6. Expanding the reach of existing keywords

Ad Rank formula explained

As a general rule in Adwords, you can make your ads be seen by more people that search for keywords related to them by increasing your Ad Rank. You want to improve your Ad Rank of your keywords because it will make them more competitive in the auctions and increase the volume of impressions.

7. Adding negative keywords should be a regular maintenance activity

Use negative keywords to manage wasteful spend

Using negative keywords is an important component of a well rounded PPC marketing keyword strategy. You don’t want to lose money by allowing your ads to get triggered by keywords that are not relevant to what your business is offering. By using them, you can increase profitability and control the flow of traffic.

8. Use & Align PPC Keyword Research with Organic Search Campaigns

Which marketing channels are best to target the Customer's search intent

Most brands use PPC to target the commercial intent phrases to convert people at the very end of the buying cycle on a landing page. You can use PPC to see what words convert best for your brand. Depending on your success, you may use the keywords with the most impressions in your organic search optimization strategy. Once you figure out a strategy to rank for targeted keyword phrases, it becomes not only just about rankings or even traffic, conversions are what most companies are looking to measure as a KPI.

However, when it comes measuring which landing page or post drove the most direct conversions, that’s all about: tying together and matching the searcher’s clear intent to something your startup offers.


Brands should focus on maximizing their digital return on investment. Paid search and organic marketing teams should work towards understanding online commercial intent and combine efforts to meet and convert the buyer’s demand.

Click below to read the full guide

Click here to read the full keyword research targeting resource guide, which provides strategies that are applicable to any business in any industry, and provides expert guidance on tailoring the strategy to best suit your company’s goals. It covers the “best practices” of how to tie organic SEO, paid ads, matching user intent, social media, content, images, and other web properties into a winning digital optimization strategy that pushes you to the front of the line.

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Startup Grind

Stories, tips, and learnings from and for startups around…

Startup Grind

Stories, tips, and learnings from and for startups around the world. Welcoming submissions re: startup education, tech trends, product, design, hiring, growth, investing, and more. Interested in submitting? Visit our submission form here:

Andrew Broadbent

Written by

I consult VC backed startup businesses with Internet marketing guidance. I am a director of Search Marketing and cofounder of

Startup Grind

Stories, tips, and learnings from and for startups around the world. Welcoming submissions re: startup education, tech trends, product, design, hiring, growth, investing, and more. Interested in submitting? Visit our submission form here:

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