SEM keywords

Targeting and researching SEM keywords for a successful campaign

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Getting the right keywords for your campaign is like winning the lottery in search engines.

Keywords are the backbone of every search engine-related campaign and optimisation strategy, this is why digital marketers will go out of their way to find the right set to win the competition in search engine results page rankings. 

You know it. We all do, but many things need to be uncovered as we dive into the search engine marketing side of the business. 

Before you assume you know everything about keyword researching, SEO or SEM campaign, we recommend you check this article out first. 

What are SEM Keywords?

SEM keywords are words and phrases that describe your product or service and are used to determine when and where your ad will appear in search engine results.

The paid search involves paying Google (or other search engines) to display your search advertising when a relevant keyword is entered. Up to four PPC ads can appear at the top of search results. These will be displayed above any organic results, which are often displayed above the fold.

Certain keywords may convert better than others, and the cost-per-click (CPC) varies greatly when selecting more competitive keywords. As a result, it is up to brands to determine the best keyword mix to increase traffic and conversions.

Keywords Based on Target Model 

The target model is useful for keyword research because it ensures that you will generate search words that are appropriate for individuals who are interested in similar items or services to yours.

The target model is divided into six categories that are graded based on their perceived efficacy in converting potential clients. They are as follows:

Brand Terms 


This category’s keywords are all about your brand. Because people are already aware of your brand and are searching for it explicitly, brand keywords can deliver the best conversion rates for your business, even if they do not necessarily provide the biggest search or traffic volume. 

When to Use

Examples of brand terms include “roots digital,” “roots digital services,” and so on. If your brand does not have a distinguishing name, make sure you use match type appropriately to avoid triggering irrelevant search phrases.

This keyword type is ideal if your brand already has a following. If you are developing a new brand that is not yet well-known, this keyword type may not yield the desired results.

Product Terms 


This group of keywords serves a purpose and is self-explanatory. They define your product, what it does, and the challenges it answers. 

When to Use

Some examples of using the brand terms would be “digital marketing service” “digital marketing agency” and so on. 

Do take note to be precise and not get swayed by huge search volume when researching what keywords you will use. Precise keywords that are relevant to your business are better than huge search volume.

Competitor Terms 


The concept is that client segments are comparing you to your competitors, so don’t overlook this one during your keyword research. 

When to Use

This keyword type is also good to use especially if you are a new brand that does not have many following yet. You can target your competitors and get their audience to click on your ads. They might end up buying your products!

Caution: These keywords may have a higher cost-per-click  & low-quality score because Google’s algorithms will not be able to spot a competitor’s name in your landing page & ad copy.

Substitute Product Terms 


Products that can be used interchangeably are known as substitutes. They have comparable characteristics and handle the same problems, making them alternatives.

When to Use

Some clients might look for things similar to what you’re selling. For example, someone searching for a “coat” may also be looking for a “jacket.” 

Caution: These keywords may have a higher cost-per-click because Google’s algorithms do not deem them very relevant for SEM.

Complimentary Product Terms 


These keywords link to related items or services that may complement your own and are commonly utilised by customers. As a result, you may wish to consider bidding on these terms as well.

When to Use

For example, people usually buy ink cartridges while shopping for printers. If you are selling ink cartridges, you can bid on “printers” as well and when people search for “printers” leads to your ads for ink cartridges. 

Keywords Based on Match Type 

Google allows you to select the type of keyword matching you want to employ in four distinct ways:

Broad Match 


If you want your advertising to appear whenever someone searches for words that include any of your keywords, use wide match. 

You would want to use this match type especially when you just started your SEM journey. This match type helps you to discover other keywords that you might not think of yet but is being searched by your audience.

When to Use

If your keyword is chiffon shawls, your ad will appear for searches such as printed chiffon shawls or chiffon shawls but not for searches such as silk shawls. Broad match also displays all nearby variants and synonyms of the phrase.

Phrase Match


If you want your advertising to be triggered when someone puts in a search phrase that matches your whole keyword phrase, uses phrase match.

Those looking for “Honda vehicle repair and service” will see your ad for “car repair and service.” Using “quotation marks” on your keywords shows you’re seeking a phrase match.

When to Use 

If your keyword is “car repair service,” your ad will appear for searches like “car repair and service” “car repair and service centre” or “affordable car repair and service”

The word order (and the additional emphasis on affordable) won’t affect the display of your ad because it’s clear that the meaning of the keyword is contained in the search: the user requires a car repair and service.

Exact Match 


If you want your keywords to be word for word identical to the search query, use exact match. In this scenario, your keyword phrase should be enclosed in [square brackets]. 

When to Use

You can use this match type when you have specific products you want to sell. 

For example, you might be selling blue running shoes and do not want your ad to be shown to people that are searching for shoes, or running shoes in other colours. You can use [blue running shoes] for this type of situation.

Negative Match


Negative keywords (also known as negative matches) are precise words or phrases that prevent your ad from appearing to anyone who searches for this kind of keyword or phrase. These keyword phrases can be added to your Google Ads account at the group or campaign level.

Refreshing your negative keywords weekly by looking through your search terms is an important part of SEM optimization. 

With negative keywords, you can minimize irrelevant searches hence minimizing ad spending on searches that are not relevant and will not bring you the result you want.

When to Use

You can eliminate your adverts from irrelevant searches by using negative matches. You could, for example, include ‘-magazines’ to indicate that your “auto repair and service” company does not offer vehicle magazines.

How to Do SEM Keywords Research 

Use Target Model as Your Keyword Seeds

In keyword research, a seed list is your first keyword list, while a target model is a method of categorising keywords depending on the level of interest or intent that they target.

Use Keyword Research Tools to Generate Keywords 

The next step is to broaden your seed list using keyword research tools like Google Adwords Keyword Planner. 

You should do the following to help you create a decent keyword list:

  • Select both specialised and general keywords 

Specific keywords can help you target clients who are interested in a specific product or service. Your advertising will only appear when customers search for business-specific topics using particular keywords.

  • Group related keywords into ad groups

Because you’re using groupings to segregate keywords that target a certain product, service, or category, creating ad groups in your account helps ensure that potential customers receive the most relevant advertising.

SEM Keyword Research Tools

There are numerous keyword planning platforms available on the market. If you enter the basic concepts established in the preceding section, the tool will provide a list of similar keywords. You can filter the results by location and language.

This collection of free or almost free tools is not exhaustive, but it can be of great assistance.

  • Google Keyword Planner

By far the most well-known keyword tool is Google Keyword Planner. It gives you the ability to plan keywords for your search marketing efforts. 

You can search for keywords or groups of keywords, obtain statistics, estimate a list of terms, or combine lists of keywords. This free AdWords tool can help you plan your ads and define your bids and budgets.

  • Wordtracker

Wordtracker gives you all the keywords connected to one term, as well as the information you need to arrange your PPC campaigns. 

However, to view all of the data, you must first register for a paid version.

  • Wordstream

This site offers a collection of keyword tools that may help any search marketer with keyword recommendations, keyword grouping, keyword analysis, long-tail keyword research, and negative keyword discoveries.

Sort Keywords into an ad group 

You will have different sets of similar keywords unless you are marketing a very particular product or service. 

To gain the best results, the keywords should be structured into certain ad groups.

Double Check Your Keywords List on The Search Engine

It is important to double-check what kind of results your chosen keywords will show through the search engines. You would want to make sure that the results are shown in the search engine when you type the keywords that are relevant to your product or service.

Make a Negative Keyword List to be Excluded in Your Campaign

To create a negative keyword list, consider words that you don’t want to appear in your ads. You can receive ideas from the search phrases report. 

You might also wish to categorise these words by themes, such as the many items or services you provide. In your account, you can add up to 5,000 negative keywords per list and build up to 20 negative keyword lists.

To remove a negative keyword list from a campaign, do the following:

  1. Access your Google Ads account.
  2. Click Keywords from the page menu on the left.
  3. Negative Keywords should be selected. 
  4. Select the checkbox next to the negative keyword list associated with the campaign from which you wish to remove the list.
  5. Select Remove.

Final Thoughts 

Keyword research and selection are the foundations of your overall SEM approach. As a result, you must understand which keywords work and which do not.

Your plan will almost certainly include a combination of short and long-tail keywords. Continue to investigate your possibilities by testing your keywords, refining your lists, and coming up with alternatives. 

The more specialised and targeted your keywords, the more high-quality traffic you may expect from your search ads.

If you prefer to learn through a more hands-on approach on how to perform keyword research and how to utilise SEM for your business, you can enrol in this Google Ads (SEM and PPC) Training Course, led by industry experts.


How do I find SEM keywords?

1. Use Target Model as Your Keyword Seeds
2. Use Keyword Research Tools to Generate Keywords 
3. SEM Keyword Research Tools
4. Sort Keywords into the ad group 
5. Make a Negative Keyword List to be Excluded in Your Campaign

Are keywords SEO or SEM the same?

The distinction between search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) is that SEO focuses on organic search traffic, whereas SEM focuses on both organic and sponsored search traffic. 

SEO and PPC are both methods of marketing your company via search engines.

How many keywords should I use in SEM?

While there is no hard and fast rule for how many keywords should be used in an SEM campaign, the most practical advice is to keep keywords for each ad group between twenty and thirty (20-30) keywords.

Looking for a trusted SEO agency in Singapore? Schedule a consultation with us today.

About Roots Digital

Roots Digital is an award-winning digital marketing agency and SEO agency headquartered in Singapore, specialising in eCommerce Marketing and lead generation.

Some of our core digital marketing services include SEO servicesSEM services, Google Ads management servicesGoogle Analytics services and more.

Feel free to reach out if you’re interested in working with us. Connect with us via our service enquiry form. You may schedule a call for more information and to know more about our digital marketing services.

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Picture of Ian Ong
Ian Ong
Marketing Director @ Roots Digital, a digital marketing agency in Singapore. Aka the guy responsible for growing the digital marketing agency.
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