Keyword Expansion:
A Guide To Scaling Your
Account For Profitability

Brian Dao
Brian Dao
Senior Account Manager

On the whole scale of things, keyword expansion may not be the sexiest or most exciting part of managing an account. It may be a time consuming task, especially if you want to separate the golden nuggets from all the crap you might find.

Finding gold in a river full of keywords
Finding gold in a river full of keywords – image source

But ultimately, keyword expansion is a vital part of managing a client’s account. After all, keywords are the backbone of most PPC. It is upon keywords that your whole campaigns are built.
What exactly is keyword expansion, and why is it important? How do you exactly do keyword expansion, and do it correctly?
All that and more below.

What is keyword expansion?

The term is kind of self explanatory isn’t it? It’s in the title, Michael.
The term is kind of self explanatory isn’t it? It’s in the title, Michael. – image source

Keyword expansion is when you expand your keywords for your search engine marketing PPC efforts, through research or mining your own account.
After your meticulous research, you’ll be adding your keywords into your existing campaigns, or you build out new campaigns and ad groups using your new keywords as a base.

To put it as simple as possible, so our friend Michael here can understand, keyword expansion = adding more relevant keywords to your account.

Why is keyword expansion important?

Have you guys heard of the concept of Kaizen or “The Toyota Way.” The basic idea behind it is to continuously improve your processes, so you’re able to squeeze out efficiencies everywhere.
Taking that idea, and applying it into PPC account management, we need to be continuously expanding your keywords–so that we’re able to squeeze out that extra bit of performance.
There are new opportunities and avenues that are probably untapped, and there’s a great chance you might be able to get terms at lower CPCs than the current terms you’re bidding on. If you’re disciplined enough and get into the habit of regularly expanding your keywords, it will even help you get ahead of the competition.
If you’re not continuously improving your accounts through keyword expansion, you’re keeping your accounts stagnant. If your accounts are stagnant, you’re most likely losing money.
So, to bring it back, why is keyword expansion important?
Here’s a simple formula for you guys to remember:

More relevant keywords = more relevant traffic = potentially more conversions = more $$$
More relevant keywords = more relevant traffic = potentially more conversions = more $$$
More money means you can spend like Erlich Bachman here.
More money means you can spend like Erlich Bachman here. – image source

A couple of caveats before we continue

Before we get any further in talking about keyword expansion, I must throw out a couple of caveats. Notice how I emphasized the word relevant when talking about keywords above?
That is the key term here. Relevant keywords will help your account grow over time.
Another caveat is that in order to successfully manage a PPC account, things do not exist in a vacuum. Keyword expansion alone will not suddenly turn around a struggling account.
Proper campaign structure, smart bid optimizations, negative matching irrelevant terms, strong ad copy and landing pages along side with proper keyword expansion will grow your account–but on it’s own, keyword expansion will probably not do much for you.
There was a recent story on Business Insider about how Gary Friedman, the CEO of Restoration Hardware, claimed that he cut off all PPC digital marketing and sales at their store weren’t affected. Apparently, the agency that Restoration Hardware employed were bidding on 3,200 keywords, but only 22 keywords – all of them apparently branded – were generating any business for the company.
Sounds to me like the agency that Restoration Hardware were using sucked (i.e. hire us Gary, we’ll show you the power of PPC.), and just about all the non-brand keywords that they were bidding on seemed to be irrelevant and useless.
Irrelevant keywords – coupled with subpar account management – will at best just be a giant waste of time, while at worst, can blow your marketing budget and make your campaigns a giant mess to manage.
My point is keyword expansion is not a panacea for a struggling account. We’re in the business of account management, not keyword management, so it’d be smart to keep that in mind.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about actual keyword expansion and the tools available to us.

How exactly do you do it?

There are literally a million different ways to expand on your keywords. Okay, maybe not literally 1,000,000 different ways, but there are a LOT of different ways to expand your keywords. I can spend all day talking about all the different tools, but seeing as how this is an intro to keyword expansion, I’ll just give you an overview of some of the most common tools that are easily available to you.
So, let’s get started shall we?

Google – The world’s largest search engine

Google – image source

Hey, you all know who Google is, right? If you don’t, are you sure you’re at the right place (unless you’ve been dealing primarily with Baidu or Yandex)? The world’s largest search engine is also where the majority of the PPC money is flowing through, and the big G offers a lot of tools to help you expand your keywords.

Google autocomplete

I mean, this tool is so simple, it’s kind of ridiculous. It’s literally using Google’s search engine to quickly come up with some keyword ideas that you might have missed.
The idea is so simple, that’s probably why people miss it.
Here’s a trick that I’ve picked up that I like to use. I like to type in an existing keyword, and then go through the alphabet to help you.

A, B, C, D...oh, forget it, you get the idea.
A, B, C, D…oh, forget it, you get the idea.

Google Keyword Planner

Now here’s a tool that most digital marketers are probably pretty familiar with. Google’s Keyword Planner is a tool that can help you quickly expand your keywords. Don’t know how they do their thing, but it can be straight up magical sometimes. This tool is so powerful that even the SEO guys will use this tool to help them out with their side of things.

Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner

A phrase, a website, and a category, all you need for Google to do its thing.

Google’s Keyword Planner in action
Google’s Keyword Planner in action

The super useful thing about Google’s Keyword Planner is that it will even tell you what the traffic for the terms that Google comes up with is likely to be, and what they think you should be bidding on (which I’d take as a grain of salt, but HEY, that’s just me).

Google’s Keyword Planner helps you figure out potential traffic.
Google’s Keyword Planner helps you figure out potential traffic.

Also, a reminder here to be smart. Remember what I said above about relevant keywords vs. irrelevant keywords. Just because Google says these are the keywords they came up with doesn’t mean you should add ALL of it, without using your head.

Google’s Opportunities tab

I think Google’s Opportunities tab is probably overlooked in the grand scheme of things. I know a lot of us probably roll our eyes and ignore all the “helpful” suggestions that Google gives us, that might not be that useful.
But hear me out for a second. I think some of the keyword suggestions that Google gives us through the Opportunities tab. Taking a look at one of my clients, I see that the keywords that Google are suggesting are actually *gasp* useful for my client.

Google’s Opportunity tab
Google’s Opportunity tab
It might be tempting, but never ever click the Apply button so recklessly.
It might be tempting, but never ever click the Apply button so recklessly.

Again, remember to use your head here, never ever (ever) just apply the suggestions that Google gives you in the Opportunities tab. Download their suggestions, and make sure to add the keywords into their own SKAGs.

Search Query Report

Now we get to the juicy part. The Search Query Report can be a gold mine in expanding your keywords.
These are terms that we know that people are actively looking for, and we know that these terms actually activating our keywords.
Doing your due diligence by combining the search query report regularly will also have the added effect of helping us reduce The Iceberg Effect, where the terms that show up in our Search Query Report aren’t the keywords you’re bidding on.
Thus, this is where the time suck will probably come in. Going through your search query, you should be on the lookout for relevant keywords that make sense in breaking out into their own SKAGs, as well as the irrelevant terms that you need to negate, in order to reduce The Iceberg Effect.

Search Query Report in action
Search Query Report in action

Bing – The second largest search engine…in the USA at least

Bing!  – image source

Let’s face it guys. You’re probably underutilizing Bing, the second largest engine in the USA. Microsoft has put in a lot of effort into Bing to make it competitive with Google, and they offer a lot of tools that are comparable to what Google offers.

Familiar tools, but slightly different results

Let’s face it, the tools that Bing provides for expanding keywords look very

Bing Keyword Planner sure looks familiar.
Bing Keyword Planner sure looks familiar.


Hey, this also looks very familiar.
Hey, this also looks very familiar.


Wait a minute...
Wait a minute…


Deja vu
Deja vu

In fact, if I didn’t tell you that this was Bing, would you even know the difference?
However, Bing can offer give you slightly different results. Nowhere is this more obvious than the Bing’s Autocomplete, which operates differently than Google’s Autocomplete. My colleague Joel talks a little more about the difference between Google and Bing, including how their autocomplete is different than Google’s.
Is Bing worth it? That’s up to you decide, but if you see that the results are different enough between Bing and Google, I would definitely do it more often than not.
But wait, there’s one tool on Bing that Google doesn’t have…

Bing Ads Intelligence – The differentiator

The Bing Ads Intelligence Tool is a powerful tool that allows you to do some crazy keyword research within your Microsoft Excel.
The one caveat? It requires Visual Studio Tools for Office, which only exists for Windows. This means if you’re using a Mac (as I am, while writing this blog), you might be S.O.L.
Luckily, I’m not a Mac exclusive user, so I’m able to show off the tool for you.

Bing Ads Intelligence - Windows only
Bing Ads Intelligence – Windows only

The tool isn’t exactly the most user friendly, but Bing has provided a quick tutorial video where you can learn more how to utilize the system.

Main tools to spy on your competitors

Spy on your competitors.
Spy on your competitors. – image source

Yes, you can be a giant creeper like Kim here. Spying on your competitor can be useful in trying to figure out what keywords they may be bidding on.
These tools more or less do the same thing: they allow you to do just what I mentioned above, and see how much they might be bidding on those keywords (though I’m always skeptical of whether or not their estimate on cost and spend are accurate).
However, each tool has one thing that sets it apart from the other, which means you’ll have to pick out what you find is the most useful for you.
Here’s a quick overview of three main tools:


Here’s how you can see the (estimated) amount of keywords shared between your competitors.
Here’s how you can see the (estimated) amount of keywords shared between your competitors.

SpyFu’s claim to fame is the ability to compare 3 competitors at once in an easy and visual fashion. You can even compare yourself to 2 other competitors, which is invaluable in trying to figure out keywords that your competitors might be bidding on, but you might have missed.


SEMRush in action
SEMRush in action

SEMRush can be powerful in helping you see changes in trend as it relates to traffic and keywords, and cost of those keywords.
In addition to all that, SEMRush also gives you an estimate on how much a competitor’s budget is spent on the keywords they’re bidding on, which can be useful for you in determining whether or not a keyword is even worth bidding on.


iSpoionage in action
iSpoionage in action

Finally, there’s iSpionage (how do you pronounce this word?), the last of the big 3 tool that allows you to spy on your competitor. The big thing that sets iSpionage apart from SpyFu and SEMRush, is that in addition to spying on what your competitors are doing on Google, you get the added benefit of spying on what they’re doing on Bing & Yahoo as well.

Bonus tool – The Google/Bing Keyword Planner

Although we mention the Keyword Planner above, here’s specifically how you can utilize it to spy on your competitors…

Yes, you use Google’s Keyword Planner to spy. And it’s free.
Yes, you use Google’s Keyword Planner to spy. And it’s free.

I already touched upon how the Keyword Planner offered by Google can help you expand your keyword list. But when it comes to spying on competitors, the tool can also be useful to seeing keywords that you might have missed as well.

Other third party tools to expand keywords

In addition to using the tools provided to you by Google (or Bing), or spying on your competitors, there are also additional third party tools that can help you in expanding your keywords. It’d probably take another post or two to just list them all and how they work.
I’ll just tell you about 3 tools that I regularly go to. They all work pretty much the same. You basically type in an initial keyword (in this case, one you got from Keyword Planner), and they’ll spit out suggestions based on what these tools see when they scour the web. in action in action

First up on my list,, which arguably is one of the most useful third party tools you have at your disposal. Essentially, the tool will pull from Google’s own Autocomplete, so you won’t have to actually go through the whole process yourself. But wait, if you look at the screenshot above, not only does it pull from Google, it will also pull from Amazon, Bing, Yandex, eBay, to new a few.
This can be useful in a multitude of ways. Being able to quickly gather keyword ideas from so many sources almost at once certainly makes you more efficient, but also being able to pull from sources such as Amazon or eBay…if you’re in the eCommerce space, that makes this tool damn near invaluable.


UberSuggest in action
UberSuggest in action

Similar to, UberSuggest also pulls from Google’s Autocomplete tool, though the results that show up on UberSuggest might differ slightly from what is shown on And unlike, you can’t pull from other sources such as Amazon.
So, what sets UberSuggest apart from UberSuggest will let you crawl Google Shopping, Google Image, and Google News for keyword ideas from some pretty unique sources. On top of that, they also have a neat Word Cloud feature that gives you a visual view of the keywords that show up the most, which can be valuable in identifying some key patterns when expanding your keywords.

Nifty little word cloud in UberSuggest
Nifty little word cloud in UberSuggest


FreshKey’s tool at work
FreshKey’s tool at work

FreshKey is the last tool on my list to explain further. The big difference between FreshKey vs the other tools is it’s actually a program that you can download and use. It works on both Macs and PCs.
Like the other two tools I mentioned above, it essentially uses Google’s Autocomplete to quickly come up with a list of keywords you can expand into. It also has the ability to use Amazon as a source, so again, for e-commerce accounts, this tool is pretty valuable.

Best practices

Now that you know how to go about expanding your keyword selection, the next question is what’s the best way go about expanding your keywords. Keep in mind that this is not rocket science — what works at a beginner level may also work at an expert level. Some tasks and tools are just that simple.
Well, with that being said, here are some best practices to keep in mind.
1) Use all the weapons at your disposal. As you can see above, there are a LOT of tools out there for you to use to expand your keywords on PPC campaigns. Don’t limit yourself to one. Use all of them (where it makes sense, of course.) Who knows what hidden insight you might discover.
Google (and Bing) autocomplete can help you get some quick ideas. Keyword Planner will help you come up with keywords backed by search data and CPC estimates from the engines themselves.
Most of the third party tools I’ve mentioned help systematically crawl the Google (or Bing, or Amazon, or other sources) auto-complete features. Spying tools such as SpyFu or SEMRush help you identify possible holes in your current keyword list, and finally, the Search Term Report will actually let you see what people are searching for that activates your keyword.
Between all these weapons, you won’t be short of ideas for keywords.
2) Do it often. Get into the habit of working on keyword expansion regularly. Not that you necessarily need to be using these tools above every week, but at the very least, you should be combing your Search Query Report every week or every other week to mine those valuable keywords.
This doesn’t mean you’ll be adding keywords every week, but you’ll at least be doing valuable research in determining whether or not you should be adding new keywords at all.
3) Filter out bad traffic on new keywords with negative keyword lists. It’s only natural that as you add new keywords, you might find that users might sometimes use crazy irrelevant search terms that you never even thought was possible. An added benefit of working on keyword expansion regularly through SQR is that it allows you to get rid of irrelevant traffic, thereby saving you money over time.
4) Don’t forget about misspellings too. Let’s face it. A lot of people suck at spelling. Don’t forget to include common misspellings as part of your keyword expansion, especially when your brand might have a complicated name. Even a name as easy as KlientBoost can be easily misspelled.
5) Structure your new keywords properly. As I’ve said above, adding a million keywords, even if they might be relevant to your business, doesn’t mean jack if you’re not structuring it correctly. Make sure to SKAG out those keywords, so you can properly manage the new keywords you’ve added.
6) Be smart about it. As I mentioned early in this entry, if your account is in a mess, keyword expansion alone is not going to save it. And just because Google, SpyFu, or FreshKey spits out a giant list of keywords, does not mean you should be adding every single one of those keywords into your account. In fact, that’s the opposite of being smart.
You know your account best, and you’ll know the keywords that will fit your client’s business the most. Adding every single possible keyword that is suggested to you is neither a good use of your time or effort, and can potentially waste your money.

Wrapping up keyword expansion

Well, there you have it. The premier guide to keyword expansion, and how it can help expand your horizon and your wallet (potentially). And let’s face it, keyword expansion is not the most fun aspect of account management. It can be time consuming and it can be monotonous.
But proper keyword expansion, coupled with smart bid optimizations and a great campaign structure (SKAGs!), can help you squeeze out better performance from your account.
Now go out there and expand your keywords.

Expand your keywords, expand your mind.  
Expand your keywords, expand your mind.  – image source

How do you guys go about expanding your keywords? Is it something that you do often, or do you only do things like this once in a blue moon? Any secret sauce that I’m missing?
Feel free to leave your comments below.

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