How to conduct Keyword research and run Search campaigns that are cost effective

Yasin Kheradmand
June 2, 2023

This article is part of our "How To: Growth" eBook, a comprehensive growth toolkit for founders and builders, which you can download here.

Keyword research is the foundation of search marketing. The mechanics have changed a lot since Google released the first version of Adwords in October 2000, but the core principles remain the same.

Advertisers select keywords to bid on and create the ads they want to appear against them. Google then uses an auction system using factors such as budget, relevance, and quality score, to decide which ads to display when searchers match with those keywords (the actual bidding is done automatically these days).

Health drink subscription is a no brainer for DASH Water.

If you’re new to search marketing it can be hard to know where to start. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. You’ll find our step by step guide to keyword research below, but first of all, you’ll need the right tool. There are a few options…

Tools to use

The Free Option: Google Keyword Planner

Google’s Keyword Planner is probably the most popular keyword research tool, and it should be your first stop in most cases

Google Keyword Planner is a free tool provided by Google Ads. It's specifically designed to help advertisers uncover keyword ideas, view historical search volume data, and estimate future search volume, costs and competition levels. It also integrates nicely with Google Ads, allowing you to create campaigns from the interface (although be careful - some settings can get lost in translation!)

How does it work?

1. Access the Tool: To start with, you need a Google Ads account. Once you've logged in, find the "Keyword Planner" under the "Planning" section in the main menu.

2. Choose Your Method: There are two primary ways you can use the tool - "Discover new keywords" and "Get search volume and forecasts." The first option helps you find related keywords for your campaign, while the latter provides predictions and statistics for your list of keywords.

3. Input Your Parameters: If you choose to discover new keywords, you can start by entering words, phrases, or a URL related to your business. Google will then generate a list of suggested keywords. For search volumes and forecasts, you can input your list of keywords to get detailed statistics and performance predictions. For the purpose of this guide and what we’re trying to achieve, best would be to use the discover feature, and start with a keyword you think is relevant to your business or product.

The tool will then suggest similar keywords that you may also be interested in.

4. Refine Your Results: The tool allows you to filter and refine your results based on various parameters such as location, language, search networks, and date range. This helps in tailoring the keyword suggestions as per your specific campaign requirements.

5. Analyse Keyword Metrics: For each keyword, Google Keyword Planner will display important metrics such as average monthly searches, competition level, and a range of top of page bids. This information aids in understanding the potential performance of the keywords.

6. Export Your Keywords: Once you're satisfied with your keyword list, you can export it directly to your Google Ads account or download it as a CSV file. You can then incorporate these keywords into your advertising campaigns.

The Paid Options: SEMrush/ Moz/ KWFinder/ Serpstat

If Keyword Planner isn’t meeting your needs, there are a bunch of paid alternatives, each with their own unique angle. Your choice will depend on your needs, (which may be wider than just paid search). If you’re not sure, just use the free tool. Here’s a quick overview:

SEMRush presents us with a lot more information and metrics about individual keywords


SEMrush is an all-in-one digital marketing suite that provides a plethora of functionalities beyond keyword research such as competitive analysis, site audit, rank tracking, and more. Its keyword research tool is comprehensive, offering search volumes, keyword difficulty scores, and keyword variations.

Cost: Offers a limited Free Trial. Paid plans start at $119.95 per month.

Pros: High level of accuracy in data, Competitor analysis capability, Extensive SEO and PPC tool suite.

Cons: Can be overwhelming for beginners, Expensive compared to some alternatives.


Moz offers a robust suite of SEO tools, including their Keyword Explorer that provides keyword suggestions, SERP analysis, and access to Moz’s Keyword Difficulty Score.

Cost: Limited free version available. Paid plans start at $99 per month.

Pros: Broad SEO tool suite, Easy to use interface, Good keyword metrics.

Cons: Keyword data not as extensive as some competitors, Can be pricey for smaller businesses.


KWFinder is a part of the Mangools suite of SEO tools. It specializes in long-tail keyword research and provides trend, search volume, CPC, and level of difficulty data for keywords.

Cost: Limited free version available. Paid plans start at $29.90 per month.

Pros: Affordable, User-friendly, Effective at finding long-tail keywords.

Cons: Limited functionality compared to full-service SEO suites, Smaller keyword database than some competitors.


Cost: Serpstat is a growth hacking tool for SEO, PPC, content marketing, and search analytics. Its keyword research functionality includes keyword difficulty, search volume, competition, and more.

Pros: Comprehensive digital marketing tool, Competitive analysis features, Backlink analysis.

Cons: Steeper learning curve, Keyword data might be less extensive than some alternatives.

Some important concepts

Whatever tool you end up using (we will assume Keyword Planner for the rest of the guide), there are a few key ideas you’ll need to get a grip on upfront.

High-Intent Search Terms

Someone looking to buy a Sports Drink could be searching for a few different keywords

User intent is the driving force behind a user's search query, representing their goal or purpose for entering a particular search term. Identifying high-intent search terms is crucial for maximising the return on your search campaign, as these keywords typically signal that users are closer to making a purchase or converting. There is a big difference for example between someone searching for “When was the first macbook released” and someone searching for “Macbook Pro price comparison”. If you’re running a shop selling MacBooks, you’re more interested in the second searcher than the first one.

Some common types of high-intent keywords include:

  • Transactional keywords: These keywords suggest that users are searching with the intent to buy (e.g., "buy running shoes online").
  • Commercial investigation keywords: Users employing these keywords are researching products or services before making a purchase decision (e.g., "best smartphones 2023").
  • Local intent keywords: These search terms indicate that users are seeking local businesses or services (e.g., "dentist near me").

To find high-intent keywords, focus on phrases that imply the user's readiness to convert, such as terms containing "buy," "quote," "price," or "order." Additionally, consider the following approaches:

  • Analyse your competitors' keywords using tools like SEMrush to uncover high-intent search terms they might be targeting right now.
  • Leverage tools like Google Keyword Planner to identify keywords with high commercial intent, based on search volume, competition, and cost-per-click (CPC) data. You may also want to consider your business model and which products or services to sell based on this data (more on that later).
  • Pay attention to long-tail keywords, which are typically more specific and targeted, indicating a higher likelihood of conversion. (“How can I order Hay Fever medication”  shows much higher intent than “Medicines used for hay fever”)

Related Keywords

A big advantage of conducting keyword research is that often you will identify keywords, services or searches that are closely related to your offering, but may not have been on your radar.

First start by examining your own search query data in Google Ads to identify new keyword opportunities. By understanding the search terms that are driving traffic to your website, you can uncover additional keywords that you might not have thought of.

Using related keywords and synonyms in your campaigns is another strategy that can help you reach a wider audience by targeting variations of high-performing keywords. Keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner, Moz Keyword Explorer, or SEMrush can suggest related keywords and phrases to include in your campaigns.

Match Types

When adding your keywords to your campaigns, you will be prompted to select a match type. Of these there are three: Broad, Phrase and Exact.

Broad Match is the most flexible match type. It allows your ad to show for searches that include your keyword, synonyms, related searches, and relevant variations. This match type aids in maximising exposure and catching a broad audience.

Phrase Match is more targeted. Your ad will display when searchers use your exact keyword phrase in the right order, even if there are other words before or after it. This match type offers a balance between reach and relevance.

Exact Match is the most specific match type. Your ad will only appear for your exact keyword or very close variations of it. This is for when you want to reach the most relevant audience possible.

Google has made significant improvements in its machine learning capabilities, enhancing the performance of Broad Match keywords. The platform now better understands the intent behind users' search queries, connecting them with more relevant ads. This has transformed Broad Match into a powerful tool for driving high-value conversions, even when the search terms aren't an exact match for the keywords you're bidding on. Because of this, google generally recommends you use broad match and allow the algorithm to find you the best potential users to advertise to.

That being said, there are still times when it can be wise to use Phrase Match or Exact Match. When you want your ads to target very specific search queries, or when running brand keyword campaigns for example. You may also want to experiment with these different match types and evaluate the quality of leads coming through and the associated costs.

Creating your keyword plan - Step by Step

Step 1: Brainstorm a List of Potential Keywords

Start by brainstorming a list of keywords related to your product or service. Think about the terms your target audience might use when searching for your offerings. To expand your list, use your keyword research tool to generate additional keyword ideas based on your initial list. Another way to do this is to input the url of one of your competitors into the tool and get a list of keywords they are already targeting or ranking for.

Step 2: Create a Spreadsheet to Organise Keywords

Create a spreadsheet to organise and analyse your list of potential keywords. Include columns for keyword, search volume, competition, cost-per-click (CPC), and any other relevant metrics that will help you evaluate keyword performance. You can export this data from keyword research tools or manually input it into the spreadsheet.

Step 3: Compare CPC and Search Volume

In your spreadsheet, sort the keywords based on their search volume and CPC to identify the most valuable terms. High search volume keywords with a lower CPC represent a potentially higher return on investment (ROI), while keywords with high CPC and low search volume may not be as cost-effective.

Step 4: Calculate Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and LTV

Next you will need to model your Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) based on the selected keywords to better understand the financial impact of your search CPC campaigns, and make judgements on the scalability of your campaigns. While a lot of these calculations are rough, they will at least help you know what to expect.

To begin, you will need to have some data for the conversion rates on your website, or when not available, use market benchmarks to assume conversion rates on each stage of your conversion funnel. For a typical E-commerce website for example, the funnel will look like this:

Impressions > Clicks > Visitors > Add to Cart > Purchase

Each stage will have a conversion rate attached to it, and using the assumed CPC, you can calculate rough costs for each of these steps. The output will look something like this:

Based on this, your CAC using a certain keyword will be £21.86. If the product you’re selling costs anything more than that, you are in a positive ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) territory.  

But before deciding if this business is worth advertising in this way or not, you also need to take LTV (Lifetime Value) into consideration. Acquiring a user today isn’t just worth the money they pay you immediately, but will end up bringing more money over a period of time the user is your customer. If you’re selling a health drink subscription for example at a cost of £15 per month, and most users can be expected to stick with you for 16 months, then your LTV is £240. So spending £21.86 to acquire a subscriber actually represents a roughly 11x return on investment!

By thinking about your CAC in the context of LTV, you will be able to make better decisions on which campaigns to run.

Step 5: Build your keyword group

Use your CAC and LTV calculations to assess the effectiveness of the keywords in your list. Eliminate high cost and low intent keywords, and try to end up with around 20-30 keywords for each product type or service. It is important to avoid having too many keywords in one group, particularly if you’re working with small test budgets. Your ideal keyword group will probably include some combination of the below:

  • A few general terms related to your product or service (”sports drinks”)
  • Specific terms around what exactly you’re offering (“high-caffeine pre-workouts”)
  • Long form, high intent keywords (“Best drinks to buy for pre-workout”)
  • Terms closely–but not exactly–related to your product (“pre-workout powder”)

In some cases, it may make sense for each of these 4 groups to have their own distinct ad and keyword group, but in most small campaigns (and particularly during the early testing and learning stages) you will want to mix them together.

On the other end of the spectrum, some advertisers are coupling multiple similar campaigns into one campaign, and separating them by ad groups. So for example, our sports nutrition brand could have one campaign with multiple ad groups targeting:

  • Pre-workouts
  • Protein Powder
  • Protein bars

This approach is called Hagakure–named after an ancient Japanese Samurai practice.


Once you’ve completed your keyword research, you’re one step closer to launching your campaigns and bringing in some revenue. Going through the process laid out above means you will have a good understanding of:

  • What your customers are searching for
  • What your competitors are targeting
  • How much you can expect each click to cost
  • What similar words and phrases you can include in your campaigns
  • What your CAC is likely to be, and how it compares to your LTV

With these initial data points in hand, you are ready to go and launch a successful search campaign. It is a good idea to regularly review and update your keyword strategy to ensure you're consistently targeting the most valuable keywords, following trends and maximising your ROI.

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