One-time keyword research isn’t enough. For solid SEO and PPC plans, you need to continue growing your keyword list — we’ll show you how with keyword expansion.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What keyword expansion is
  • How expanding keywords works
  • Best practices for keyword expansions
  • Tools for finding keywords to expand your lists

You could spend hours (or even days) finding the right keywords to add to your pay-per-click (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO) campaigns. But will you uncover all of the keyword variations your target audience uses?

Probably not. Enter: keyword expansions.

With keyword expansions, you can continuously add to your search keyword list to broaden your reach and traffic. But how do you find these keywords and select the right ones to add? 

Let’s get into it.

What is keyword expansion?

Keyword expansion is the process of adding additional keywords in your current keyword list to reach a larger audience. This action broadens your range of search terms that are relevant to your brand’s products or services. The outcome is, ideally, more visitors to your website and a higher volume of search traffic. 

“The goal is to target additional keywords to increase our capture of overall search volume related to our space,” explains Steven Dang, VP of Growth and Strategy at HawkSEM. “However, more isn’t always better. When undertaking keyword expansion, it’s more important to focus on quality rather than just quantity.”

Best practices for using keyword expansions to improve SEO

There are different ways to expand keyword lists to improve your SEO campaigns. Here’s a look at several options. 

1. Add synonyms and variations

Include synonyms, related terms, and variations of existing keywords to your lists. For example, if you’re targeting the keyword “digital marketing,” expand your list by adding variations like “online marketing,” “internet marketing,” or “digital advertising.”

2. Include long-tail keywords

“The idea is to capture more search traffic,” says Dang. “You can do this by targeting popular keywords or more overlooked keywords. Sometimes the former is too competitive, so it may make more sense to target less competitive, long tail keywords.”

Long-tail keywords are more specific and typically consist of three or more words. They may have lower search volumes, but can be highly targeted and less competitive. By adding long-tail keywords to your lists, you can attract more qualified leads.

For example, instead of targeting the broad keyword “shoes,” you can expand your list with long-tail keywords like “running shoes for women” or “affordable leather shoes.”

3. Discover new keywords

Reviewing search data in keyword discovery tools can help you identify new search terms relevant to your industry or target audience. By regularly conducting keyword research and analyzing search trends, you can discover opportunities to expand your keyword list to optimize content with.

child looking through spyglass outdoor in spring green field. Kid having fun against blue sky background. Discovery concept

Reviewing search data in keyword discovery tools can help you identify new search terms relevant to your industry or target audience. (Image: Adobe)

4. Analyze competitor keywords

Check out the competition’s content to pinpoint keywords they focus on. This can set a baseline and give you ideas for new keywords to use for your campaigns. For instance, you can target the same keywords or find gaps in your competitor’s strategy to get ahead in search engine rankings.

5. Incorporate location-based keywords

If you’re running a business in specific cities or targeting local searchers, expand your keyword list with location-based keywords. Let’s say you’re running a restaurant in New York City — you can add keywords like “best restaurants in NYC” or “top-rated dining spots in Manhattan” to attract local customers and boost your visibility in local search results.

According to a study done by Moz, nearly one-third of searches today result in a Google local pack showing up in the SERPs. In other words, people are looking for local services and products. By targeting local keywords, you can capture traffic from these queries.  

6. Optimize for voice search

With the rise of voice assistants and smart speakers, it’s important to keep voice search in mind. You can expand your keyword list by adding conversational, long-tail keywords commonly used in voice searches.

This means including question-based keywords like “What’s the best multivitamin for women?” or “Where can I find a plumber near me?” Doing so can grab voice search traffic and up your chances of appearing in voice search results.

7. Expand for different content formats

Keyword expansions can also include different types of content, like videos, images, or podcasts. You can add more keywords that are specific to these verticals to make your list longer.

For example, if you make videos, include keywords like “tutorial videos,” “how-to videos,” or “product review videos” to attract people with a preference for video and make you more visible in search results for those formats.

8. Update and refresh existing content 

You can improve your content by updating it with new keywords. Check how your current content is performing and find popular and relevant keywords to add to your list.

This will make your content better and more visible, attracting more visitors to your site.

9. Include user intent keywords

Understanding user intent is crucial for proper keyword expansion. Businesses can expand their keyword list by incorporating keywords that align with the intent behind a user’s search query.

For example, if a user is looking for information, businesses can target keywords like “how to,” “tips,” or “guide.” By targeting user intent keywords, businesses can attract more relevant traffic and increase their chances of conversions.

10. Monitor and adjust your keyword strategy

Keyword expansions are an ongoing process, so regularly monitor keyword performance, analyze search trends, and adjust your keyword strategy accordingly.

Staying up-to-date with changes in search behavior and regularly expanding your keyword list can optimize your SEO efforts and maintain a competitive edge in the digital marketplace.

Tools for identifying keyword expansions

There are several tools you can use to expand your keyword list for SEO and PPC campaigns. At HawkSEM, we use our proprietary software, ConversionIQ, to find high-quality search terms to drive conversions.

If you’re looking to add to your tech stack, here’s a list of tools for SEO keyword expansion.

1. Semrush

Semrush homepage

Semrush is an SEO tool offering various features for keyword research and competitive analysis. For instance, it provides keyword suggestions, search volume data, competition analysis, and related keywords. It also analyzes your competitors’ keywords, which can identify new opportunities and expand your keyword list.

How to use it for keyword expansions:

  • Enter your seed keywords or your competitors’ website URLs to generate keyword ideas
  • Analyze keyword difficulty and competition to prioritize your keyword targeting
  • Use the “Related Keywords” feature to find semantically related keywords
  • Explore long-tail keywords that have lower competition but high relevance to your business
  • Use the Keyword Magic Tool to generate related keywords and long-tail variations
  • Explore the “Related Keywords” and “Questions” sections for keyword expansions


  • Provides detailed keyword data sets and insights
  • Offers a variety of SEO features, including competitor analysis and backlink analysis


  • Pricing can be expensive for small businesses
  • Some advanced features may require a learning curve

Pro tip: Focus on low-competition keywords with high search volume for better targeting.

2. Ahrefs

Ahrefs software homepage

Ahrefs is another popular SEO tool that specializes in backlink analysis and competitor research. It also offers similar keyword research features as Semrush to help businesses and marketers find and analyze keywords. For instance, it has keyword suggestions, search volume data, keyword difficulty scores, and SERP analysis.

How to use it for keyword expansions:

  • Enter your seed keywords to generate a list of related keywords
  • Analyze keyword difficulty scores to focus on keywords easier to rank for
  • Use the SERP analysis feature to understand the search intent behind keywords and optimize your content accordingly
  • Explore the “Also rank for” feature to discover additional keywords your competitors are targeting
  • Use the Keyword Explorer tool to find related keywords and analyze metrics like search volume and keyword difficulty
  • Use the “Phrase Match” and “Having Same Terms” filters to find keyword expansions and variations


  • Provides comprehensive backlink analysis and competitor research features
  • Offers accurate keyword data and competitive insights


  • It can be pricey for small businesses
  • Some advanced features may require technical knowledge

Pro tip: Analyze the keyword difficulty and search volume to prioritize your keyword targeting.

3. LSIGraphLSI Graph homepage

LSIGraph is a free online tool that helps find semantic variations and related keywords based on Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) principles, which is a technique used by search engines to understand the relationship between words and concepts. It allows users to enter a keyword and generate a list of related terms and phrases to expand your keyword list. 

How to use it for finding semantic variations:

  • Enter your target keyword to generate a list of related terms and phrases
  • Identify semantic variations that can be used to optimize your content and improve relevance
  • Use the generated list to expand your keyword list with related keywords and concepts


  • Free to use
  • Provides a quick way to find semantic variations and related keywords


  • Limited in terms of advanced features and data
  • May not provide as comprehensive keyword insights as other tools

Pro tip: Optimize your content with the generated list of related terms and phrases. For instance, place them in your titles, metadata, and throughout your web pages and blog content. 

4. Competitive Research Tools like SpyFu 

Spyfu marketing tool website homepage

SpyFu provides valuable insights into your competitors’ PPC campaigns, including targeted keywords, ad copy, and estimated ad spend. By analyzing their strategies, you can discover new keyword opportunities and optimize your own campaigns.

How to use:

  1. Enter your competitor’s domain or keywords into SpyFu
  2. Analyze the keyword data to uncover their PPC campaign targets
  3. Evaluate their estimated ad spend, ad copy, and landing pages for strategic insights
  4. Identify new keyword opportunities and optimize your campaigns accordingly


  • Gain insights into competitors’ PPC strategies and keyword targeting
  • Discover new keyword opportunities to improve your campaigns
  • Access data on estimated ad spend, ad copy, and landing pages


  • Comprehensive data may require a paid subscription
  • Some keyword data may not be up-to-date or accurate
  • Requires manual analysis and interpretation

Pro tip: Use the “Top Pages” feature in SpyFu to identify the most successful landing pages of your competitors. You’ll gain insights into their content strategy, keyword usage, and overall user experience.

Tools to expand your PPC keyword lists

1. Google Keyword Planner 

Google Keyword Planner tool is a popular tool for PPC keyword research. It provides keyword suggestions, search volume data, and competition levels. It also offers insights into bid estimates and historical performance metrics.

How to use:

  • Sign in to your Google Ads account and navigate to the Keyword Planner tool
  • Enter seed keywords or your website URL to generate keyword ideas
  • Analyze the search volume, competition, and other metrics to identify relevant keywords
  • Refine your keyword list based on your campaign goals and budget


  • Integrating with Google Ads makes it easy to incorporate keywords into your campaigns
  • Provides valuable insights into bid estimates and historical performance
  • Offers search volume data directly from Google’s search engine


  • Limited to Google Ads data and may not include search volume from other search engines
  • Keyword suggestions can be broad and may require further refinement
  • Requires a Google Ads account to access the tool

Pro tip: Use the “Top of Page Bid (low range)” metric in Google Keyword Planner to gain insights into the competitiveness of keywords and estimate the budget required for your PPC campaigns. Prioritize keywords with lower bid estimates to maximize your ad visibility while optimizing your budget.

2. Keyword multiplier tools

Keyword multiplier tools generate variations of your seed keywords by adding prefixes, suffixes, or modifying the keyword structure. These tools can quickly expand your keyword list and uncover new keyword opportunities.

Some popular keyword multiplier tools include Google Keyword Planner,, Ubersuggest, and Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool.

How to use:

  • Enter your seed keywords into the keyword multiplier tool
  • Select the desired prefixes, suffixes, or modifications to generate variations
  • Review the generated keyword variations and choose the relevant ones for your PPC campaigns


  • Efficiently expands your keyword list by generating variations
  • Saves time compared to manually brainstorming keyword variations
  • Uncovers long-tail keywords and niche opportunities


  • Generated variations may not always be relevant or high-performing
  • Requires manual review and selection of relevant keyword variations
  • May not provide search volume or competition data for the generated keywords

Pro tip: It’s tempting to generate a ton of keywords, but focus on highly relevant and targeted keywords to drive quality traffic and maximize ROI.

3. Bottom-up brainstorming

Bottom-up brainstorming is a creative approach to keyword expansion that involves starting with specific products, services, or attributes and gradually expanding to related keywords. It helps uncover highly relevant keywords that may be missed through traditional keyword research methods.

How to use:

  • Start with a specific product, service, or attribute related to your PPC campaign
  • Brainstorm related keywords by considering different aspects, features, or benefits
  • Expand your keyword list by exploring synonyms, related terms, and variations


  • Allows for a more comprehensive and targeted keyword expansion
  • Unearths specific and relevant keywords that may have lower competition
  • Encourages creativity and thinking outside the box


  • Requires more time and effort compared to other keyword expansion methods
  • Relies heavily on brainstorming and may not provide search volume or competition data
  • May require additional research to validate the relevance and performance of the generated keywords

Pro tip: Involve your entire team, including marketing, sales, and customer support. Each department brings unique perspectives and insights that can uncover untapped keyword opportunities and help you understand the needs and preferences of your target audience.

4. Microsoft and Google Ads Search Query Reports

Microsoft Ads and Google Ads provide search query reports with the search terms people used to trigger your ads. These reports can identify new keywords and search trends.

How to use:

  • Regularly review your Google and Microsoft Ads Search Query Reports to identify new keywords
  • Look for search terms that are generating clicks and conversions to optimize your keyword targeting
  • Identify search queries with a high impression count but low click-through rate to refine your ad targeting and improve relevancy
  • Access the search query reports in your Microsoft Ads and Google Ads accounts
  • Analyze the search terms that have triggered your ads and identify relevant keywords not currently in your list of keywords


  • Provides real-time data on the actual search terms used by your target audience
  • Helps identify new keyword opportunities


  • Limited to the search terms that triggered your ads
  • May require ongoing monitoring and optimization

Pro tip: Use negative keywords to filter out irrelevant search terms and improve ad targeting.

Why should you expand your keywords?

Expanding keywords is important because it allows businesses to stay competitive in the ever-changing landscape of SEO and search engine marketing (SEM).

By continuously expanding your keyword lists, you can:

  1. Reach a wider audience: Target a broader range of search terms and reach a larger audience to increase your visibility and attract more potential customers to your website.
  2. Increase organic traffic: Drive more organic traffic to your website by adding relevant keywords to your content to improve your site’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) and attract more organic search traffic.
  3. Improve campaign performance: Discover new keywords with lower competition and higher conversion rates, resulting in more effective search campaigns.
  4. Capture more search traffic: Get more organic traffic by targeting popular keywords with high search volumes. This can result in increased visibility and higher chances of attracting potential customers to your website.
  5. Target long-tail keywords: Use long-tail keywords that are more specific and have lower competition. Long-tail keywords may have lower search volumes, but they can attract highly targeted and qualified traffic, increasing the chances of conversions.
  6. Optimize PPC campaigns: Optimize pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns by discovering new keywords with lower cost-per-click (CPC) rates and higher conversion rates. This can lead to cost savings and improved ROI for businesses running PPC campaigns.
  7. Stay competitive: Maintain your competitive edge by adapting to evolving Google search trends, targeting new opportunities, and retaining a strong online presence.

“By targeting more organic keywords and generating useful content for such keywords, Google will display our organic link more frequently in searches related to these keywords,” says Dang.

4 bonus tips from a PPC pro

You’ve got the best practices down and tools to use. Now, it’s time for some expert tips to maximize your results. Here are words from our PPC expert, Steven Dang.

  1. Don’t forget about your landing pages. For PPC, we ensure landing page content expounds on the PPC keywords in a meaningful and useful manner. We can also ensure headlines or H1/H2 titles sufficiently reflect or relate to the keywords we wish to focus on.
  2. Keep it expanding. There’s no set cadence, but revisiting at least once a month to assess or evaluate the need for keyword expansion isn’t a bad idea. Keyword expansion should be a continuous and ongoing exercise.
  3. Quality over quantity. In general, it’s better to stay focused on adding relevant keywords rather than just increasing the number of keywords for the sake of it. In other words, we need to ensure the quality of the keywords is good and actually adds value.
  4. Negative keywords are positive. Sometimes, the opposite might be appropriate, especially if there are low-quality or poor keywords in your account. Negative keywords are just as important as positive keywords, so make sure your negatives are up to date as well.

The takeaway

Keywords are great, but leaving your SEO and PPC campaigns with the same ol’ search terms for months on end won’t improve your outcomes. If you want to continue expanding your campaign’s reach and opportunities, then you need to grow your keyword list with highly relevant terms consistently. 

With the tips and tools above, you can begin the process of expanding your keywords lists. However, if you lack the time or patience to do this regularly, you can always enlist the help of our PPC and SEO experts.

Contact HawkSEM for Free Consultation