Goodbye Google Keyword Planner, Hello Keyword Research Using PPC

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Did you sigh when you heard Google is revoking free access to its Keyword Planner? Your first reaction was probably like mine: Google is sticking it to SEOs, once again.

What are we going to do?

Of course, we could invest in a third-party tool. Some of those tools might help fill the gap, but they are expensive and only as good as their sample size.

And that got me thinking: If I would have 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 get keyword data and several other advantages, too.

So, in this article, I will show you how I’ve done keyword research using Google’s Keyword Planner; and, in contrast, what the advantages are of using a small PPC campaign to do 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 brainstorming a list of potential words.

Typically, this is what I’ve done:

  1. I brainstorm a list. I will get the client’s (or my boss’s) input, too. From there I try to think of synonyms for this keyword. Let’s say my keyword is “widgets”; they could also be referred to as “doohickeys” or “whatchamacallits.”
  2. I then try to find words that modify the original keywords. Here, I’m looking for long-tail opportunities. I ask myself, “What kinds of ways would someone want to use what I have to offer?” This could be modifiers like color. It could be solutions like “services” or even “solutions.” I might add geographical modifiers, too. A couple of great tools to help identify modifiers are ubersuggest or keyword.io.
  3. I try to organize all these on an Excel sheet. Each column contains rows of synonyms. I try to add modifiers in adjacent columns, with mutually exclusive modifiers in each row. I do this so I can take several columns to mergewords.com to assemble these lists into all the possible variations.

That’s a lot of work. It can take me a couple of hours to do. Even after all that time, I usually find that I’ve missed a few things. Sometimes, I miss some obvious things.

A small PPC campaign could automate that process. All I need to do is try a couple of keywords. Now, contrary to a regular PPC campaign, in our case the broader, the better. Still, I’d start the process with a Modified Broad Match phrase, not Broad Match. The point is to identify possible phrases, so Exact Match wouldn’t be particularly useful. Phrase Match could help identify those modifiers I mentioned, but it won’t produce the variations we want to see.

Once I start to get some clicks on my campaign, I’ll get the search queries that accompanied the clicks. These search queries aren’t guesses: They are actual phrases potential customers have entered while looking for me or my offering. Sure, it took me longer to get this data from PPC than from the Keyword Planner, but the data is better.

PPC can help me compare search terms

Now that you know how people are looking for you, you need to know which phrases they use more frequently. Knowing that helps establish your priorities and your opportunities.

You could use the Keyword Planner to compare terms against each other. From there you can find whether a potential customer is looking for one phrase more than another. You can also discover how customers are more likely to search for your services.

That’s not all you want to know, though. Just because people search for a phrase doesn’t mean they want what you’re offering. And so, for each phrase, I apply a formula to Google’s provided search data:

Volume x Competition x Estimated CPC = Opportunity

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