In his book Ultimate Guide to Pay-Per-Click Advertising, internet marketing expert Richard Stokes helps you master advanced search engine strategies from top search engine marketers to increase your sales. In this edited excerpt, the author explains his six-step process for choosing the best keywords and key phrases for your online advertising campaigns.

When people enter keywords into an online search box, they have a pain. They have a need. They have a question they want answered. They want to be served the solution in the form of information as to how they can resolve their problem.

Your job as a marketer is to put yourself in their shoes. You must ask yourself: What keywords are my ideal prospects going to type into Google or Bing? If you don't know the right keywords that your prospects are asking, then your online advertising campaigns aren't going to send you much qualified traffic. To create effective campaigns, you should ask yourself:

  • What behavioral category does this keyword fall in (browse, shop or buy)?
  • Can I refine a browse keyword into one or more shop keywords?
  • Can I refine a shop keyword into one or more buy keywords?

As you come up with each keyword, you'll want to categorize it into one of the three categories. This step will come in handy while you are structuring your campaigns, writing your ads and setting your initial bids.

As you start building your keyword list, you're going to be doing little more than guessing. By using the right analytical tools and performing the right analysis, you'll expand your keywords and hone the list down by improving or eliminating under-performing keywords.

Step 1: Brainstorming. The logical place to start is by brainstorming about the kinds of keywords that are relevant to your customers and jotting them down on a pad of paper or in an electronic document.

As with any brainstorming, don't edit yourself. Err on the side of having more keywords rather than less. Later, you'll see that the actual results of your campaign will edit you by telling you which keywords work and which don't.

Try to go beyond just one- or two-word keywords. You want to own niches, so think in terms of key phrases so you can dominate when a searcher looks for something specific that is relevant to what you have to sell.

Step 2: Scour your marketing collateral. If you have an established business, you'll want to sort through pamphlets, brochures, websites, retail boxes and any other marketing copy you have available. You can also use your competitors' websites as well. Paid search landing pages are particularly good for this, as these pages have often been optimized for the most profitable keywords. A quick scan of a few well-known common businesses will result in additional keywords.

Step 3: Focus on horizontal and vertical expansion using third-party tools. Your next step is to augment your brainstorming results with third-party keyword suggestion tools. Both Bing and Google provide these tools, which will generate related terms for any keyword you type in.

Why do the search engines provide these tools? They want you to expand your keyword lists because that means you're likely to spend more money with them. And even if your ads don't show up, the auction-style nature of paid search means your bids will force other advertisers to pay higher prices.

What this means to you is that while you should use these tools to help seed your lists, don't take them as gospel. The data points they provide can be incomplete, misleading or even downright incorrect. For this reason, you should use multiple tools because no keyword-research tool could ever be complete because the universe of potential keywords is very large. Play it safe, and consult multiple sources. 

Step 4: Multiply your keyword list with permutations and synonyms. Next inspect your keywords to develop synonym lists. These lists will consist of phrases that are interchangeable (even if they don't mean precisely the same thing). You'll then merge them to create new permutations to add to your list.

Step 5: Remove duplicates. Look over your new, larger list of keywords, and remove any duplicate keywords from your list.

Step 6: Remove any keywords that are a poor match for your website. Finally, work through the list and remove any keywords that you suspect won't be relevant for your campaign. This will help reduce the amount of work you'll perform later on while organizing your keywords. If you aren't sure about a phrase, it may help to paste it into a search engine and see what kind of organic search results come up. If they still don't appear relevant to your campaign, then delete the keyword phrase from your list.

Choosing the keywords you're going to target is probably the most important part of running your search marketing. You should strive to develop a long list of highly specific "shop" and "buy" keywords. The best way to do this is by using a combination of elbow grease and third-party tools.