Discovering Keywords On the Cheap

By , guestblogger


This week we are featuring guest articles from our PPC Hero allies! We requested submissions from our readers and we received excellent responses from some great PPC bloggers! The PPC Hero team will return to our regularly scheduled articles next week. Enjoy!

I love log files, analytics, and looking in your own backyard for PPC keyword strategies. I think your own site’s keyword data is the best and purest (though not the only) place to start your keyword research. Your site’s keyword data offers you three things: relevance, accuracy, and relevant accuracy.

Relevance – You know these keywords are relevant to your business and your site’s content, because people have already gotten to your site via these keywords.

Accuracy – I find that actual traffic data is a much better indicator of actual traffic than playing around with the daily/weekly/monthly estimates from keyword tools.

Relevant Accuracy – If I go to a keyword research tool and see that a lot of people are searching for a keyword, that’s obviously useful data. But what would be more useful is to know if the people who searched for that keyword would then become a conversion on my site. I can learn this by looking at my own analytics.

And, I don’t think there’s any debate that keyword data is becoming a proprietary commodity for businesses who advertise online. As such, I think it makes a lot of sense to invest in building out a keyword list complete with actual data about how many times people will actually visit your site if you bid X, and about how many times people will convert (and at what price!) if you advertise against a given keyword.

Acquiring This Data Without Breaking Your PPC Budget

A great way to build this keyword database would be through organic search engine optimization. While I balk at the idea that SEO is “free” (try hiring good copywriters, creating the kinds of relationships that build trust, and employing someone competent to ensure that your information architecture and keyword targeting are optimal for “free”), you can at least pay a minimal price for irrelevant clicks in SEO, and you should be targeting various keywords and tracking their value, anyway.

But what if you don’t have much SEO data? You or your client has a new or poorly optimized site? Here are a couple of tricks for doing PPC keyword discovery “on the cheap”:

  • Embedded Match – This is a “matching option” offered by Google (really it’s a mash up of two matching options, but either way…). Basically, it allows you to advertise against variations of a keyword without bidding on the keyword itself.
  • Multiple Match Types – I think it’s a good idea to employ various matching options for testing purposes. You can also apply this principle to frugal keyword discovery.

Let’s take a closer look at how this would work for each option…

Embedding More Keywords Into Your PPC Campaign

I like broad match for keyword discovery, but it certainly presents some efficiency issues if you’re trying to provide ROI and hit a target CPA. SO what’s the solution?

Bid low on your keyword discovery engines, bid high on the keywords you know perform well.

Let’s say I run an online retailer focused on the sale of banjos (hey, someone has to be selling banjos online, right?).

Anyway, I know that the term “banjo” is too broad. It has a very high CPC, and aggressively bidding on it with broad match will lose me a bundle. In fact, clicks on “banjo” are simply an overall loser for me. But I still want to find all those great banjo terms I don’t yet have on my keyword list (more importantly, I want to know which ones convert).

I can just take the term banjo, and set it to “embedded match”:


This means that I am advertising against banjo on broad match, but if someone types in “banjo” exactly, my ad won’t show:

banjo – WON’T show
banjos – MAY show
cheap banjos – MAY show
banjos are making a comeback – MAY show (also the statement is just very true)

Key point: now I will turn the bid way down on this keyword.

This lets me accomplish two things:

  • Find New Keywords – I can discover long tail keywords that people are actually searching for, that I wouldn’t have otherwise stumbled upon.
  • Find Out How Effective Keywords Are – While a keyword tool might show me “cheap banjos”, it can’t tell me whether it will convert for me. This system can.

Option Two: Being Broad But Focused

For the second example, let’s assume we have a bit of account data already. We know that “cheap used banjo” is a great performer for our used banjo store (I know I was selling all kinds of banjos at the beginning of the article, but the banjo vertical is pretty cut-throat, so I had to focus on something a bit more niche).

Now, I have some conflicting interests:

  • I want to bid aggressively on cheap used banjo. It’s a great performer and a key part of my campaign.
  • I also want to discover new, effective keywords surrounding this one.
  • I don’t want to pay for garbage; I have run the keyword on broad match, and bidding on all those extra terms killed my CPA from this keyword.

The solution is to bid aggressively on the more restrictive matching types (phrase and exact) and to bid considerably lower on broad match:

cheap used banjos ** 0.50
“cheap used banjos” ** 4.00
[cheap used banjos] ** 6.00

The way it’s been explained to me by my AdWords rep, is that if I run these three options, broad matches will be assigned to the broad keyword, exact matches to the exact keyword, and phrase matches to that matching option:

online banjo store – BROAD
where to find great cheap used banjos – PHRASE
cheap used banjos – EXACT

Thus, I get to bid aggressively and ensure that I am extracting the maximum number of impressions from my “cheap used banjos” keyword, while finding new phrase and even broad matched variations and getting a feel for how they perform.

If the “online banjo store” keyword turns out to be a great performer, I can give it it’s own “broad but focused” test run and see if I can’t discover a whole new vertical of keywords…on the cheap!

The Value of Great Keyword Lists

The moral of the post is really that keyword lists are valuable assets. If you would pay a monthly subscription for a keyword tool, why not invest some of your PPC budget in finding new keyword verticals? Why not pay to get data about how specific keywords and bids work for you or your client specifically?

Paying a little now for a proprietary, site-specific keyword list can offer you big returns in the long run.

Guest Blogger Bio: Tom Demers is the Senior Marketing Manager at WordStream Inc., a pay-per click software manufacturer specializing in PPC management and keyword solutions. You can contact Tom at tdemers AT WordStream DOT com.

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25 thoughts on “Discovering Keywords On the Cheap

  1. Vittorio Bosio

    Wow, what a great article! I honestly didn’t know about Embedded Match, and I am curious to try it out. Coupled with the Keyword Performance Report and/or 3rd party tracking, it looks like a great technique to find profitable long-tail keywords.

    Btw, I really appreciate the decision of the PPChero crew to let in guest writers: I just found out about a new blog I will start following! 🙂

  2. Zak

    “…keyword data is becoming a proprietary commodity for businesses who advertise online.” – proprietary commodity…isn’t that a bit oxymoronic?

    I think the most important thing here is how much detail you give AFTER finding your keywords. Finding good keywords is really important, but knowing how to use them (and not use them) is what typically makes or breaks a campaign. Good stuff.

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  4. Tom Demers

    TERRIBLE guest poster that I am I actually just stumbled on these comments. Hopefully you all subscribed to followup!

    @ Leslie – Lowering bids shouldn’t, in theory, hurt QS. You will likely get lower position and quite possibly a lower click-through rate, but Google says they normalize for position, which means that having a 1 percent click through rate in position 7 might be the same as having a 3 percent click-through rate in first position. More on that here:

    @Vittorio Thanks! We’ll be “launching” a blog soon, hope you check it out!

    @ Zak – Haha yep, should have been proprietary asset, good catch. Yep tracking keywords into the “back of the loop” is definitely crucial for actual profits.

    Sorry I didn’t respond to thes, you know: when I made the post! Thanks!


  5. Tom Demers


    Yep embedded match certainly isn’t new. I pointed to Brad’s article because I thought it was a nice, succinct definition. Apologies if I conveyed it as “new”, but embedded match still functions the same way.


  6. SEOnPPC

    Very helpful information, excellent post. One nit to pick, though. If you’re using broad match for the keyword phrase:

    cheap used banjos

    I don’t think your ad would show if someone typed in

    online banjo store

    Now if you’ve just got the word “banjo” on broad match, it would show then, but if you’ve got a three word keyword phrase, don’t all three words in the keyword phrase have to be in the search query for an ad to show?

  7. Tom Demers

    Hi SEOnPPC,

    Actually that’s definitely not the case. Broad match has become really aggressive and in fact Google might match your ad against something that doesn’t contain any of the terms in your keyword. PPC Proz had a good post that exemplifies some problematic examples here:

    Phrase match would require the use of all three terms, but broad match definitely does not.



  8. Dan Perach

    i am using “extensive embedded match”, ha I made that term up… but seriously,

    I choose 1 or 2 broad “medium volume” relevant keywords…

    using the G kwtool, I add all the non relevant keywords associated with these two kws as negative broad.

    rinse and repeat… take all those non relevant terms, plug them back into the G kwtool and add more.

    in the end you have maybe hundreds of negatives and only 2 or 3 broad kws.

    Life becomes simple, I mean I have only 3 eggs to take care of 😉

  9. Rob McCance


    I like the strategy, thank you for sharing.

    For the last few years, I’ve used thousands of KWs and a combination of broad match and phrase match. It’s largely been successful.

    Never tried negatives.

    Recently, I started wondering why I use so many KWs and was planning to run an experiment where I just used ONE keyword and broad match. I would then write my Ad to be the main filter. Still no negatives.

    All quite interesting.

  10. J.D.

    Thanks, Tom. Great article. I’m working to get myself personally more fine-tuned with PPC/SEM, and found your info, especially the numbers and KW choices, interesting. I’m trying to make a successful Facebook ad campaign for myself right now, and am curious how successful it will be, even without investing too much into it initially. Unfortunately, FB keeps changing their policies, so it’s a real feat to keep up. Any thoughts on that would be appreciated. Thanks again!

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