How to Pick Your SEO Keywords From Google’s Keyword Planner

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Keywords are a critical component of the strategy; optimizing your site for specific ones gives you the power to control which searches you rank for (and therefore who your target audience is). Accordingly, adjusting your keyword distribution gives you power to change your campaign over time.

Google's Keyword Planner

How many keywords do you need?

Once you’ve finished refining your list, you can either download the keywords to add to your existing list or import Google’s list directly into a campaign. The choice is yours. Either way, you may still want to do some additional trimming.

PPC beginners frequently fall into the trap of assuming that keywords are all about volume and they try to hit every possible angle. In practice, having too many keywords is worse than not having enough. You want to find that “Goldilocks zone” where you have enough keywords to give you results but not so many that you dilute your efforts and end up with overload.

If you’re starting out, go for a minimum of 50 keywords and an absolute maximum of 250. (You can certainly have more than these, but let’s keep things simple at first.)

So what do you cut, and what do you keep?

Imagine that you’re an archer looking at your target. The bull’s-eye represents the keywords that are right on the money and a near-perfect match for what you’re offering. The ring just outside the bull’s-eye represents keywords that are still closely matched but not quite as exact. The next ring out contains keywords that are still good but are bringing you more shoppers and comparison searchers than buyers.

When creating your first keyword shortlist, start with the bullseye and work your way out from there. The resulting list will provide you with an excellent starting point from which you will be able to run your first profitable campaigns.

To be successful, you need to start by picking the right keywords. Over time, you’ll gather data that helps you determine which of your keywords are most successful, and which ones need more work — but how do you pick the right initial set of keywords?

Set and understand your overall goals.

Before you decide which keywords are right for your brand, spend some time thinking about what your goals are. Most companies use to increase website traffic, which in turn, increases revenue, but you’ll need to be more specific than that.

For example:

  • How fast do you want to see results? SEO is a long-term strategy, so it sometimes takes months before you start seeing results. If you want results faster than that, you’ll need to choose lower-competition and higher-volume keywords.
  • How relevant does your audience need to be? Are you laser-focused on one specific audience, or  flexible with the types of people you have coming to the site?
  • What types of traffic are you seeking? Do you want people to buy your products, or are you focusing for now on brand awareness?

Decide on a blend of head and long-tail keywords.

Once you know your goals, you should be able at least to decide on a balance between “head” keywords and “long-tail” keywords. Head keywords are short phrases, usually one-to-three words, associated with higher traffic but also higher competition.

Long-tail keywords are longer, usually conversational phrases that have lower traffic but lower competition. Head keywords are better for long-term, traffic-centric strategies, while long-tail keywords are better for short-term, fast results-centric strategies. You’ll need both, in some combination, for the best overall results.

Conduct your preliminary research.

Once you have those goals and that initial vision in mind, you can work on your preliminary research:

  • Come up with root ideas. Start by sketching out some ideas for what people might search for related to your business. You don’t need to be exhaustive here, but try to come up with at least a few broad categories of searches, and both head and long-tail keywords they might use to find you.
  • Use topic and keyword generators. Next, use an online tool to help you come up with more keyword and topic ideas, based on some of your preliminary ideas. I like to use Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool for this, since it helps you come up with ideas and gives you stats on the keywords themselves (which you’ll need later).
  • Create a master list. Export all the keywords you can into a master spreadsheet, so you can quickly compare them and sort by various fields.

Narrow down the list.

Once you’ve got a “master list” created, you can start weeding out the weakest candidates. Take a look at the following variables with special focus:

  • Volume. “Search volume” refers to how many times a particular phrase is searched for. It’s a handy way to gauge how much traffic you’ll receive from a specific query, though you should know that volume tends to fluctuate over time.
  • Competition. Next, look at the level of competition for each keyword. It’s no coincidence that the highest-volume keywords also tend to have the highest amount of competition, and of course, the higher the competition, the harder it’s going to be to rank for that keyword. You’ll need to strike a balance between the two.
  • Relevance. You should also consider the relevance of each keyword to your core brand. Sure, it might have high traffic and low competition, but will it really be forwarding the type of traffic your website needs?
  • Current rankings. It’s worth checking to see if you currently rank for any of these terms — if you do, that might help you build early momentum.

After you’ve created your initial list of keywords, you can use Google’s Keyword Planner to add a few more and then begin the refining process. To get started, you need an AdWords account. If you haven’t opened one yet, now’s the time.

The advantage of the Keyword Planner comes from Google’s massive storehouse of data that it uses to find new keywords for you and to predict their cost and value.

Find the Keyword Planner under “Tools” at the very top of the AdWords page. On the front end, the Keyword Planner presents you with five options to begin your research:

  1. Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category. Enter a keyword or a URL, and Google will give you a whole bunch of ideas to get you started.
  2. Get search volume data and trends. If you type in any of the keywords from your existing list, Google will give you an estimate of the number of people who are searching on each of these phrases each month.
  3. Multiply keyword lists to get new keywords. This feature takes two distinct types of keyword lists and combines them into one master list. For example, you could have one list of your products and a second list of all the various colors in which your products are available.


Let’s focus on “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category.” Begin with a single, broad phrase or word that describes your primary product, or simply enter your URL. (Try your competitor’s URL, too.) You have the option to select a category, but this isn’t strictly necessary at this stage.

Finally, click the “Get Ideas” button.

Google will respond with an avalanche of “Ad group ideas,” each themed around a specific set of keywords. For example, if you entered “bed” as your keyword, you can expect to see one ad group for bunk beds, another ad group for queen beds, another for children’s beds and so on.

The default view at this point is “Ad group ideas,” but after performing your search, you’ll see an alternate tab titled “Keyword ideas.” Click on this, and you’ll receive a wealth of additional information on each suggested keyword. You’ll also see a couple of features on the left-hand side, one called “Targeting” and the other called “Customize your search.” We’re going to use these to get Google’s seemingly endless list of suggestions down to a manageable number.

Start out by using the “Targeting” options to refine your search:

  • Location. If you only service a specific country or region, then this is where you specify that. If you adjust this option, you’ll notice that the statistics Google has provided on areas such as “Average monthly searches” and “Suggested bid” will change accordingly.
  • Languages. This is self-explanatory and is usually set to “All languages” by default.
  • Network. Do you want your ads to be shown only for searches on Google, or also on Google’s search partner sites? When you’re starting out, err on the side of choosing the simplest options and then expand as you grow in experience and confidence.
  • Negative keywords. Enter a keyword here and Google’s suggestions will no longer contain that search term.
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