From my last article, Zen And The Art Of PPC – A Five Step Holistic Approach, I introduced some of the most important elements of a successful pay-per-click (PPC) campaign. These elements include keyword research, bidding, ad copy writing, landing page copy writing, and overall Web usability and tracking. Today I would like to concentrate on some strategies to develop your initial PPC keyword list.

Words Words Words / Location Location Location

Any successful restaurateur can tell you location is one of the most important factors in achieving a successful business. The location determines the amount of foot traffic that a restaurant will be exposed to. In the same way, the cornerstone of any successful PPC marketing campaign is your list of keywords. Your choice of keywords will determine the quality and quantity of visitors to your ads and website.

Just say NO to client keyword lists.

Oftentimes, during my initial meeting with a new PPC client, I am handed a list of keywords that the client requests to get ranked. They usually go on to explain that they must have keyword XXX because this keyword is the only one capable of driving business, they’ve seen their competitor bidding a lot of money for #1, and they are not interested in spending any of their marketing budget on any other keywords. Unless they are really adamant on handing me this list, I usually politely decline. Why? The problem with accepting a client’s list of keywords is that you are basically limiting yourself to their preconceived notions of what words would drive them traffic.

Derive the keywords from the business model.

My approach is to have a detailed conversation with the client first and try to nail down all of their main products and services that their business has to offer. Once I have a clear understanding of their business, their products and their services I can start to put together a list of words related to their products and service. After I finish my own list, I can compare it to theirs and in most cases my list is much more expansive. Companies who offer both products and services often advertise their products but neglect to market their services. In many cases the PPC keywords associated with products are more often more expensive than words associated with their services, so it is important to always consider services that companies offer in addition to products that they sell.

Sample questions to ask your client (or yourself if you are doing PPC for your own business)

  1. What are the core products that you sell?
  2. What are the core services that you offer?
  3. How do you distinguish your products from your competitors?
  4. How do you distinguish your services?
  5. What industries are you involved with currently?
  6. What industries would you like to get involved with?
  7. What marketing material do you have addressing your products and services?
  8. How do customers usually find out about your business?

Keywords that a customer would use.

The goal of all PPC campaigns is obviously to drive more customers to a website, so you should try to think from the perspective of the customer. Ask yourself what words a potential customer would type into the search engines. For example, let’s say company A is an industrial manufacturer of stainless steel wastebaskets. If I were a customer, what words would I type into Google, Yahoo or MSN to find this company?

  • Stainless steel trash can
  • Metal trash can
  • Kitchen trash can.

Or if you were a purchasing agent for a large company, you may type in other words such as:

  • Commercial trash cans
  • Commercial waste containers
  • Lobby trash cans
  • Public trash containers

Keyword Stemming

Stemming involves the interchanging of singular and plural forms of a keyword or the derivation of a verb from the gerund form (the "-ing" word). For example, if “educate” was part of a keyword phrase, “educated,” “educates,” “education” and “educating” should also be considered

Local Words

If your client’s business depends on a certain location, then by all means try stemming with the location’s name. For example La Jolla surfboards, Southern California surfboards, etc. These words can be what we call the “gold between the cracks.” These could be less expensive PPC words that are high quality, high converting words.

Keyword Software Assistance

After growing your list to about 50 words you can then take advantage of all the wonderful software tools available for generating keywords. I particularly like using the Google keyword tool, Overture and Wordtracker. By using these three keyword tools I go on to expand the list to about 100+ keywords with various combinations.


Generating your initial keyword list for PPC should be a well-thought out process. It is a critical step in a successful PPC campaign and should not be rushed. Spend time to ask your peers, your friends, etc. about what words they would think about if they were looking for the products and services that you or your client offers. Lastly, resist the temptation to use the software to do all of your work. The more words you have in your initial list, the more you can generate with the software tools.

In my next article, I’ll go in depth on how to organize and categorize your keywords into various market category words and some simple bidding strategies.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
March 29, 2005

Simon Dang is a Director of PPC Search Marketing at Business Online, Inc. Business Online provides customized website solutions to help plan, build and grow your business online. Services include Website design, Search Engine Marketing, PPC Marketing, Website Tracking, Website Usability and more. Simon is responsible for researching and leveraging the latest strategies in the paid search arena for BusinessOnline. He also is the featured paid-search speaker at Business Online's quarterly internet marketing conferences in San Diego.

Search Engine Guide > Simon Dang > Strategies For Preparing a PPC Keyword List (Part 1)