last Updated 15 April 2024

10 Ways to Build Your Google Ads Keyword List – Fast!

If you want to advertise successfully with Google Ads it's vital that you start off with a good list of keywords.

Your keywords are the foundation of your campaigns. They are the words and phrases which your potential customers are likely to include in their search when they are on Google looking for the products or services you sell. These potential customers will be more likely to find you if you have selected the right keywords to bid on and used the right keyword match types.

Keywords or Search Terms?

People often ask me if keywords and search terms are the same thing. The answer is that they're not, and here's why. 

Keywords are the words and phrases you choose to bid on in your campaigns and ad groups.

A search term is what a user enters into Google when they are searching for something. This could be identical to one of you keywords or it could be a search term which incorporates one of your keywords.

For example, you might be bidding on the keyword “insurance broker” and therefore appear in the paid search results when someone uses the search term “insurance broker for small business”. Google uses the keyword match type to help it decide if the search term is a close enough match to one of your keywords to enable your ad to be shown.

How Do You Get Ideas for Keywords?

In the world of SEO, coming up with keyword ideas (also known as keyword research) can be a big job. And so people often assume it is a big job in the world of Google Ads too. 

But, actually, effective keyword research for Google Ads can be done pretty quickly if you follow these ten tried and tested techniques that I use when I'm building campaigns myself.


Use keyword tools

A keyword tool allows you to enter a word or phrase as a starting point and then it will give you lots of suggestions for other related keywords you might want to use. 

The most widely used keyword tool is the Google Ads Keyword Planner (you can access it from the Tools menu). Here is a screenshot showing the Keyword Planner being used to get keyword ideas based around the term "financial advisor":

google ads keyword list - 10 Ways to Build Your Google Ads Keyword List – Fast!

Not all the suggestions you get from a keyword tool will be relevant or appropriate for your business. So use these tools with caution. Often it's better to have a smaller number of highly targeted keywords than to have hundreds of keywords which are too generic.


Brainstorm ideas

Personally, I prefer this approach to using keyword tools. Sitting down for half an hour with a pen and paper and writing down all the keywords you can think of is usually very effective.

It's even better if you get someone else to help, ideally someone from outside your business as they are likely to come at things from a more customer-focused perspective.


Exploit your USPs

Hopefully your business has some unique selling points or some particular specialisms that set you apart from your competitors. You'll often find that if you think about these points of difference they'll will give you ideas for some good keywords.

For example, I recently ran a Google Ads training session for a PR agency. The most obvious keyword for them would be "pr agency", but that is very competitive - i.e. lots of other advertisers would want to bid on that same keyword - and hence the cost per click would be quite high.

When I asked the group what sort of niches the agency operated in they told me that most of their clients are schools, universities, and other organisations in the education sector. So I said that some good keywords for them would be things like "pr agency for schools", "pr agency for education", "pr agency for universities", etc.

By focusing on these keywords they will attract less clicks. But the clicks they do get will probably cost less due to less competition. And they'll will be from the kind of people who have a more specific idea what they are looking for and who are therefore more likely to convert.


Focus on buyer intent

A person's search term can vary subtly depending on how close they are to the point of buying something. 

For example, take the term "web design". Someone who types that into Google might be looking to pay to get a website professionally designed. But they might also be looking for articles on how to design a website themselves.

On the other hand, someone who searches for "web design agency" or "web design company" is showing far more buyer intent.

By limiting your keywords to ones that show a greater degree of buyer intent you are likely to get less wasted traffic and a better cost per acquisition (CPA).

Pro Tip: You can also add negative keywords. These have the same three keyword match types (broad, phrase, and exact), but they work the opposite way. Negative keywords are keywords you want to exclude from your campaign. For example, you could add the word "free" as a negative keyword if you're a mortgage broker who charges fees.


Bid on your brand name

In most cases you should be bidding on brand keywords - i.e. your company name and/or the brand names of your products. I've written a whole blog article about bidding on your own brand name in Google Ads which goes into more detail on the reasons why this is a good thing to do.


Consider competitor bidding

Google is quite happy for you to bid on the brand names of your competitors. Whether this is a good idea or not tends to vary a lot from one type of business to another.

For example a provincial firm of solicitors, "Bicker & Bicker Solicitors" might decide to bid on the name of their local rivals, "Fleecem & Runn Solicitors". This is unlikely to be successful because, if someone is specifically searching for Fleecem & Runn then it's likely they are already one of their clients or have been recommended to use them. So the chances of them being swayed to use Bicker & Bicker instead of Fleecem & Runn are slim.

On the other hand, suppose you needed a company to replace your windscreen. You'd be very likely (in the UK at least) to search for Autoglass, but that's probably just because they are a household name rather than because you have any particular loyalty to them. So if a local independent windscreen repairer decided to bid on the keyword "Autoglass" he might actually do quite well.


Use customer language

Whatever industry you're in, there's a good chance your prospective customers won't use the same words to describe your products or services as you would.

Several years ago I worked with a law firm that specialised in pursuing medical negligence claims for clients who had suffered in some way from a medical procedure that had gone wrong. The cost per click for "medical negligence lawyer" at that time was around £20. It occurred to me that a lot of this law firm's potential clients would not know what a medical negligence lawyer was and wouldn't search for that term. So I created an alternative campaign where the keywords were all variations of "sue the NHS". With a cost per click of around £4.50 this was very successful.

By putting ourselves in the shows of the customer and speaking their language, we transformed their business.


Use locations

If you offer a service in a particular area of the country, it's a good idea to include town or area names in your keywords. For example, an estate agent with offices across central London could bid on keywords like:

  • estate agent mayfair
  • estate agent westminster
  • estate agent pimlico
  • estate agent bloomsbury
  • estate agent soho


Solve a problem

Sometimes people search on Google because they have a problem and are not sure how to solve it. For example, if I found a wasps nest in my loft I might ask Google the question "how do I get rid of a wasps nest".

If you were my local pest control company you could bid on the keyword "get rid of wasps nest" and potentially get my custom. And this keyword would probably cost you less per click than "pest control company".

If you want to use keywords like this which are based around the kind of questions people ask about your products or services, then the AnswerThePublic tool is a good place to get ideas.

You will probably find that the conversion rate for these question-based or research phase keywords is lower than for the ones which directly mention your products or services. However, this could be offset by lower costs per click, so overall it can still be a good strategy to test.


Use all relevant combinations

Sometimes you'll find that you'll come up with one or two keyword ideas which can be expanded into a long list of keywords.

For example, suppose you're the London estate agent we talked about just now. You deal with both residential and commercial properties and you've established that there are multiple ways people would describe your business when searching (e.g. estate agent, property agent, etc). In addition you want to make sure you target all the relevant areas where you offer your service.

One way to do this is to put all the words into a keyword matrix like this:


estate agent
property agent
real estate agency


By combining every word/phrase from each of the three columns you can build a comprehensive keyword list.

Just from the handful of words above, we could end up with a long list of keywords like this:

  • commercial estate agent mayfair
  • commercial estate agent westminster
  • commercial estate agent pimlico
  • commercial property agent mayfair
  • commercial property agent westminster
  • commercial property agent pimlico
  • residential estate agent mayfair
  • residential estate agent  westminster
  • residential estate agent  pimlico

and so on, until every combination has been captured.

If you don’t want to do this manually, there are free tools such as Kombinator which will do it for you. If you use an automated tool like this, do make sure that once you have got the full list that you check that all the combinations make sense and are relevant keywords.

There's No Point Being Too Specific

When you come to adding keywords to your Google Ads account you may notice Google giving several keywords the status ‘Low Search Volume’. Any keyword that is classified in this way will not be eligible to show ads. However, if the search queries increase to the required level at some time in the future then these low volume keywords will automatically become eligible.

This is one of the frustrating things about Google Ads – Google simply won’t let you bid on long tail keywords that are too specific. Instead you need to make sure that you have higher volume keywords in your Google Ads account and that you use sufficiently broad match types to make sure you capture any searches for these lower volume queries.

This is why it's not a good use of your time to spend days coming up with thousands of keywords for every possible combination. Instead, make sure you have covered the main ways in which people search and then, as time goes by, you can evolve your keyword list based on what people actually search for (as shown in the search terms report).

How to add keywords to Google Ads -  A quick guide

  • Navigate to Campaigns: Go to the "Campaigns" section. Within this area, select the specific campaign and ad group where you want to add keywords.

  • Inside the ad group, find the “Keywords” tab.

  • Click on the “+” sign or “Add Keywords” option.

  • Enter the keywords you wish to add. You can add them individually or in bulk.

  • Choose the match type for each keyword (broad, phrase, or exact match) according to how specific or broad you want the targeting to be.

  • Review and confirm the additions.

  • Save Changes: After adding the keywords, make sure to save the changes.

Do you have any tips of your own for finding good keywords quickly? If so, please leave a comment in the box below.

About the author 

David Miles

As a digital marketing consultant, author and trainer, I specialise in helping businesses in the financial services sector use the internet to get more enquiries and increase profits.

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