I don’t have a lot of pet peeves – one is people who read what I type over my shoulder as I type it, and the other is when people use the terms keyword and search query interchangeably. Keywords and search queries are both components of pay per click and related – but they are not the same. Know the difference between these two terms and you have a highly profitable PPC account, confuse the terms and find your PPC account in shambles. When your PPC account is in shambles you get very angry at the internet. When you get angry at the internet you find yourself yelling at your screen in a Starbucks commanding the people on the Internet to buy your product. Don’t yell at your screen in a Starbucks – we are here to help! In this blog first we help you to understand the difference between a keyword and a search query. First we define a keyword, then we define a search query, and finally we tell you how to use this new-found knowledge to your advantage.

Keywords: Keywords only exist on the advertisers end. Keywords are words or phrases you bid on in pay per click, and you input into your PPC account. You bid on keywords in the hope that users search the words and phrases or similar words and phrases in their search query, which trigger your ads – leading to clicks and sales.

Search Queries: Search queries are what the user actually types in to Google to trigger your ad to show. They exist on the user’s end. Search queries may be misspelled, have words in strange order, or only be somewhat related to your keyword. Search queries are the words and phrases that are actually typed in by a user to trigger your ad.

Here is the best diagram I have seen to illustrate the difference:


Image from our friends at WordStream

Why Search Queries Are Your Secret Weapon:

You have access to see the users search queries that triggered your ad to show. This report is found within your adWords account in something called the search query report. The search query report allows you to see how users search and how they actually act upon their searches. At NDIB we are not huge fans of surveys because we find that consumers often say one thing in a survey and perform a different action when it is time to actually take out the credit card and make a purchase. However, when you have access to search queries you have real life behavioral and business data. You know exactly the terms and phrases that users do and do not make purchases with when they search.

How to see the search queries:

You run a search query report. While you can view the search query report at any level, we prefer to do this at the AdGroup level. If your adGroups are structured correctly you have tight groups of similar/thematic keywords. By viewing the search query report at the AdGroup level gives you a good idea of what is and is not working within a thematic keyword set. In the AdWords interface go to the keywords tab and then go to details>search terms> all. (see picture below)

ppc search

You then have a list of every search query that a user typed in, as well as if it resulted in a conversion (digital marketing jargon for a goal like a sale or form fill out).

Advantages From the Search Query Report

Once you know exactly the terms and phrases that users are and are not searching for and converting on, it is time to use this knowledge to your advantage. There are two main ways to do this:

1. Relentlessly Filter Out Users You Do Not Want

There are people online who may be great people, but they are complete time wasters in terms of PPC time and spend. They generally fall into one of two categories:

A. People whose search query triggers your ad to show, but the search query doesn’t make much semantic sense for your business. With the way some companies setup adWords accounts, search queries trigger your ads that are not semantically related. Let’s say for example you are selling surfboards (NDIB is based out of Philly and all I can think about is the beach in this cold weather). If you have the keyword surf board and it is set in broad match your keyword may trigger ads to show for search queries such as boogie boards or surfing clothes or even surf music. These search queries don’t relate to your keyword, and you may not even sell those items – but Google is a weasel like that. What you want to do is go to your search query report and see the search queries users search for that do not make semantic sense to your business, and add them as negative keywords.

B. Users whose searches do make sense, but they are looking for a version of your service you don’t offer. The biggest offender that I see with this type of user is when users type in the word free in their search query. You may offer surfboards, but you probably do not offer free surfboards

If you run a search query report and see users click on your ad for search queries you don’t want to show for, add those search queries as negative keywords.

Negative keywords tell Google that when someone searches with the words or phrases in a search query that you do not want your ad to show for it. For example if you add the word free as a negative keyword your ad is never triggered by a search query that has the word free in it. To add a keyword as negative:

  1. Run the search query report

  2. Click on the keyword
    Arrow for Google

Select Add as negative keyword

negative keywords

This screen appears:

screen appeThis screen appears


You can add negative keywords at the campaign or the adGroup level. How you decide where to add negative keywords depends on your account structure. Generally we add negative keywords at the campaign level which means that it blocks that word or phrase out for all of the adGroups in the campaign. Sometimes, though it makes sense to add the negative keyword at the adGroup level. An example of when we add negative keywords at the adGroup rather than campaign level is when we manage eCommerce accounts. We may have one adGroup for men’s shoes and one for women’s shoes. In this case we add the negative keyword men’s to the women’s shoes AdGroup.

Much like regular keywords, negative keywords also have match types. You want to take advantage of these to tell Google exactly what you want.

Negative exact match –To have a negative exact match put the words or phrase that you do not want to trigger ads in square brackets. It should look like this [keyword]. This prevents matches for search queries that only match for that keyword. Exact match is how it sounds, the search query must exactly match to trigger the negative keyword.  For example if I add the negative keyword [free] in my account than my ad is not triggered by the search query free, but would still be triggered by free surfboards or surfboards for free. 

Negative phrase match – This is the one I find myself using the most. To activate negative phrase match put the negative keyword in quotes. It looks like this: “free surfboards”. If you activate negative phrase match your ad does not appear when someone types in the words or phrase in the exact order and the words are next to each other. In the example your ad is triggered for the search queries free surfboards in Santa Barbara or West Beach free surfboards but your ads are still triggered if they search surfboards that are free.

Negative broad match – This is the broadest in terms of restriction. Any term you add in your negative broad match keyword blocks that word in a search query from triggering your ad. To add a term in negative broad match simply type the term into the AdWords interface. For example if your negative broad match is Business Courses you do not show for search queries such as Courses about business, or courses for your business. However, this negative keyword match type doesn’t take into account variations such as plurals. You ad is still triggered by the search query Business Course.

2. Get New Keywords and Optimize Around These Keywords

Search query reports allow you to see what an actual user typed in before they to click your ad and makes a purchase. If you see users consistently type in words or phrases in their search query that lead to a sales and you don’t have those words or phrases as keywords, then add them as keywords (not negative!). To add keywords from the search query report click on “add as keyword”.

Add the keyword
But Adam, if I am already matching for the search query with my current keywords why do I want to add it as a keyword? This is a great question. What you want to do is add the search queries that lead to sales as keywords then optimize to them as specifically as possible. When it is added as a specific keyword you can then tell Google which ad to show and which landing page to go to. You want your keyword, ad, and landing page to be as similar as they can be. In the example from the screenshot above I would then create an ad that matches has the words ppc management services (which causes them to be displayed in bold, increasing click-through rates) as well as a landing page that is specific to ppc management services rather than a more general ad that may be about PPC consulting. By being as specific as possible you increase sales and lead generation.

How have you used search queries and keywords in the past?