Google Ads Keyword Strategy: How to Research & Optimize [Free Tools]

Whether you’re managing Pay-Per-Click, or PPC, in Google Ads, Microsoft Bing, or Amazon, your primary goal is to drive profitable campaigns. Having a perfect campaign settings or structure may get you a head start but the real game changer is with the optimization. Your keyword strategy- how you research, build, and optimize Google Ads keywords- will either make or break your Google campaign in terms of results and profitability.

If you don’t target the right keywords that most people use to search your product or service, and at the right cost, then you don’t get to compete in this Google Ads auction to show your ad.

Keywords require a continuous monitoring as people’s behaviors change. According to Google, “… roughly 20 percent of the searches Google receives each day are ones we haven’t seen in at least 90 days.” Optimization allows you to monitor and adjust your campaigns to reflect what works and doesn’t work now so you can lower your cost while maximizing the return.

The following guideline can help you optimize your keywords.

1. Do the keyword research- and do it right

One of the first steps in your keyword strategy for Google PPC campaigns is to do the keyword research. There are two ways to do it:

  1. Start it broad and general, narrow it down, or optimize, as you go. This is quick and easy but it takes more time to optimize and it causes unnecessary waste in ad spend. OR
  2. Do the keyword research, build a more comprehensive list of keywords that are most used, and continue to optimize as you go. This requires some time invested up front but will help you start tight, limit your waste in ad spend, and create a more targeted campaign.

If you’re running Google Ads, which would you choose? I would certainly want the latter.

So, everyone talks about doing keyword research, but how do you do it and do it right?

First, let’s look at some of the free tools you can use to collect data on keywords.

Free keyword research tools

There are plenty of ways to research keywords without having to pay anything. The following free available resources can help you build your keyword list.

Google Keyword Planner

This is a free tool provided by Google with Google’s own search data. What better source can you have to build your keyword list than that? This not only gives you keyword ideas but also estimated volume and Cost-Per-Click (CPC) cost or bid estimates as well as the competition level.

If your budget is limited, you can choose keywords that are lower in cost and competition with a decent search volume rather than going after keywords that are high in volume, competition, and cost.

google keyword planner example of keyword volume, competition, and bid range

One of the things you must not do is blindly accept and use their keyword recommendations. They may be related but not necessarily relevant to what you’ll be advertising so be sure to check each suggested keyword to validate.


A free tool provided by Neil Patel, this is a great resource to utilize to collect additional keyword ideas. Ubersuggest provides a keyword volume estimate as well so it can be used as an additional resource to get new keyword ideas outside of Google Keyword Planner.

If you’re writing blog or website content, you can use this tool to see what keywords your primary competitors are ranking for.

ubersuggest example of keyword ideas

Amazon Search Bar

If you’re using PPC ads for eCommerce, you can do some researching with the biggest online retailer. This will give you more keyword ideas around what and how consumers are searching for a specific product or category of products.

This can also help you identify the most popular type of product being sold or its variations or related products. Try typing in different versions of the specific product or category you’ll be advertising to see what’s currently hot and in demand.

amazon search bar example to show related query and popular keywords

Google Trends

Another free tool provided by Google based on their own data, this is great if you’re validating your keyword’s trending or its seasonality.

If you’re advertising for your product or service, you can see if anything new is trending in a specific region. It also gives you related queries for top and new rising search terms being used.

Additionally, if you have limited advertising budget, you may also use their “interest by subregion” data to pick certain regions you want to target with the highest interest to limit your spend.

google trends example of keyword related queries
Based on search term: pixel 3 case

2. Set broad match modifier or phrase match keywords

If you’re new to PPC for a specific product or service being advertised, then you may need a bit more data before you can determine what works even if you did your keyword research. This means you start broad to capture a bigger audience to collect data on how people search what you offer.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Broad match type reaches most potential people, or more impressions, but due to its large possible variations of search terms, you may get more irrelevant clicks, therefore, increasing your cost.
  • To eliminate obvious irrelevant search terms from the broad match, you should use broad match modifier. Although it still includes synonyms and other close variants, it is a tighter control compared to the broad match type.
  • Phrase match may reduce your reach/impressions even further but it may be more relevant. If you identify which phrase match keywords are reaching your ideal target with a good conversion, you can add that to your exact match to increase your chance of showing your ad to those search terms.

3. Monitor and add a performing keywords to the exact match

Exact match keywords are the most relevant because that’s exactly what the searcher is looking for. The more exact match keywords you have that convert, the less money you’ll waste on keywords that only drain your budget.

Once you have enough data from step 2, you can start optimizing your keywords to eliminate this drain. Start adding more relevant keywords that are performing well to your phrase or exact match and increase your bid on them. This will allow you to maximize your exposure and limit your expenses.

Although your bids are being increased, you’re limiting your exposure to those specific search terms that are more likely to convert. So at the end of the day, you’re improving your overall cost.

4. Add irrelevant keywords to negative keywords

Collecting data on your keywords involves finding performing, relevant keywords as explained in step 3 but it also involves eliminating keywords that do not perform or convert.

If you notice any irrelevant keywords that continue to trigger your ad, then it’s best to add that keyword as a negative keyword so you can prohibit your ad from showing up and getting more irrelevant clicks.

For example, if your keyword is +women’s +hats and you continue to get clicks from the keyword leather hats for women but you carry no such product, then it’s wise to add leather hats for women as a negative keyword so you don’t spend any more money on clicks looking specifically for that.

5. Adjust bids based on performance and match type

As you add more keywords, another way you should optimize is adjusting bids. Based on your collected data, you can see which keywords are performing better than others.

Spend your PPC budget on keywords that are being clicked and converted. This helps you get to and maintain a better ad position.

As long as you’re still profitable, increase your bids on converting keywords and decrease bids on keywords that are either not converting or converting too low.

Also, the rule of thumb when it comes to bidding based on your match type is Broad < Broad Match Modifier < Phrase Match < Exact Match. The tighter and closer a keyword is to the exact match, the higher your bid should be.


“Set it and forget it” is never a strategy for PPC. Spend enough time researching, testing, and optimizing to control your advertising cost while maximizing your return or ROI.

If you don’t already know the keywords that are converting, start with broad match modifiers and narrow down to a handful keywords that produce results. Optimize by adjusting bids but don’t forget to keep a close eye on other emerging keywords that may become relevant.

Follow these guidelines and you should begin to see better PPC results!

make your google ads ppc campaigns profitable!

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