After spending the past few years working in PPC marketing, I’d like to believe I’m exceptionally competent at managing effective search campaigns.  Based on the ROI and profit margins associated with many of those campaigns, that may be true.

For companies that handle all of their own search marketing internally, it’s possible, and likely, for the search manager to be an expert on not just the best practices for running a Google or Bing campaign, but also an expert on the product and target market.  However, working for an agency with dozens of clients and hundreds of products presents a different problem.  It has forced me to acknowledge the unpleasant truth that there are many things I know nothing about.  Among those things: construction, anti-aging skincare products, scrapbooking, all-natural male enhancement pills…

Despite my relative ignorance of those subjects, I can still devise comprehensive keyword lists for products that fall into those categories.  How?  Research.  There are countless keyword research tools available – Google’s Keyword Tool is particularly useful and convenient when setting up new ad groups – and it would be foolish not to take advantage of them whenever possible.  Those tools can be extremely valuable, as can soliciting advice in the forums of industry sites like Webmaster World and Search Engine Watch.  However, there’s another vast source of knowledge and useful ideas that most SEM professionals leave untapped: non-SEM professionals.

It’s easy to occasionally fall into a comfortable pattern, using similar keywords and themes that have worked in the past, and it can be difficult to think like the customers I’m trying to target.  So, instead, I find it very helpful to talk to those potential customers.  More specifically, I find it helpful to talk to people I know who are not involved in PPC search.  The same people who I see at parties or family gatherings and attempt to explain, without success, exactly what paid search marketing is are the people who can help me the most.

For example, maybe I’ve got to manage a PPC campaign for a new scrapbook tool.  I’m clearly not in the target audience for this product, but I know that my wife is.  Rather than spend an hour creating a list of terms that I think are relevant, I’ll send her a link to the site with the questions, “what would you search for if you wanted to buy something like this?”  A client selling an innovative new power saw?  That one goes to my brother, who works in construction and offers me a few suggestions about what he might call the saw and what kind of jobs it would be good for.

Sometimes these questions don’t lead to useful results, but sometimes they can lead to extremely effective general and longtail terms that would not have occurred to me or to the Google Keyword Tool.  The point is this: don’t assume you’re always an expert, and don’t ever ignore a potentially useful resource for good keywords.