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AdWords – Keywords

Keywords are words or phrases that are matched to the things people are searching for, ultimately triggering an ad to show in the SERPs.

Keywords are arguably the most intrinsic part of any Search campaign, they are what will trigger or not trigger your ads. Keywords sit within ad groups along with ads… It is the keywords in an ad group that will trigger the ads in the same ad group. Thus, there arises an obvious need to keep these components closely knit to maximise on their relevance to each other.

AdWords - Keywords

Some Terminology

We have already described briefly what keywords are, but we refer to a n umber of similar things within this guide, such as Search Terms / Search Queries. Keywords are terms that you define and upload to your AdWords account; whereas ‘Search Terms’ or ‘Search Queries’ are the actual words that the user has searched for in Google to trigger one of your ads.

Hence ‘keywords’ and ‘search terms’ have the potential in many cases to be different combinations of words from one another.

Keywords Research

Keywords should be determined through the process of keyword research, simply adding terms that are seemingly relevant to your account is less than ideal. AdWords is a very data heavy system and that data is abundant in pretty much every area you could imagine. Consequently, all of your decisions should be driven by data.

We discuss keyword research and Google’s Keyword Tool in another article.

Components of an AdWords Keyword

Below we discuss each of the components of an AdWords keyword, we discuss in more depth some of these components in greater detail in other articles where stated:


This is where you enter the keyword you want to target, this can be anything; literally anything you can think of! Well, Google do have guidelines and we cover these below. We mentioned earlier that keywords need to be identified through research, which we discuss in more detail in another article.


Keyword match types are pretty simple but can take a little while to get your head around. Arising from the need to match a keyword (what you are targeting) to a search term (what the user is searching for).

Each match type (when implemented properly) moves sliders along two spectrums; exposure and relevance. Exposure is the volume of potential impressions and clicks that a keyword could get and relevance refers to how relevant that audience is likely to be to that keyword. All match types essentially have an inverse relationship with these two characteristics, which we detail below for each match type.

There are three main types of keyword with a fourth variation on one of those types, we discuss each below, we also discuss match types in more detail in another guide.

Exact Match

Exposure = Lowest

Relevance = Highest

Exact Match keywords trigger ads when someone searches for the exact keyword you are targeting, but will not show for variations of it. For example, if you target ‘red widgets’ as a keyword, someone would have to type into Google exactly ‘red widgets’ for it to trigger an ad. Plurals and misspellings are now included within this if Google thinks matched the user intent.

Your ads would not show if someone typed in any of the following terms for example:

  • Buy red widgets
  • Widgets red
  • Red big widgets

This is the narrowest way to target users, limiting your ads to show in the least number of instances, typically making search terms very relevant to your ads. Consequently, you do not need to use negative keywords in ad groups with only exact match keywords.
This can only be used on the Search network.

Phrase Match

Exposure = Middle

Relevance = Middle

Phrase match keywords allow your ads to be triggered by people searching for terms that contain within it your keyword. This means that your ads will trigger if words are added to the beginning or end of your keyword. For example, all of the following terms would trigger your ad:

  • Buy red widgets
  • Red widgets online
  • Buy red widgets online

You ads will not show however if your keyword has been split up or the order of the words changed, for example:

  • Red buy widgets
  • Widgets red

Phrase match keywords widen the net allowing less relevant search terms to trigger ads. This means that your ads will be limited in how relevant they can be to the search terms that trigger them. It also means you will get more traffic from these terms.

You will need to perform negative keyword research if you use this keyword match type in your account to limit the exposure of your ads for less relevant to irrelevant search terms. Continuing the example above, your ads could be triggered by someone searching for the following terms:

  • Men’s red widgets
  • Women’s red widgets
  • Children’s red widgets

As you can see, replacing the keyword ‘red widgets’ with almost any other product or service could lead to a lot a impressions (Views of your ads) for searches that are not relevant to the landing page, ad or keyword. Moreover there will often be a more relevant landing page to deliver traffic to for some of these search terms.

Adding negative keywords limits the search terms that will trigger your ads, we discuss this topic in more depth in another guide.
This can only be used on the Search network.

Broad Match

Exposure = Highest

Relevance = Lowest

This is the default match type for keywords in AdWords. Broad match keywords are the most volatile, allowing a very large range of variations in search terms to trigger ads. Hence, using this match type will allow for any of your initial keywords can trigger ads for drastically different search terms.

Negative keyword research is crucial when using broad match keywords because Google will allow the follow changes between your keyword and the search term to occur:

  • Substituting of words (with synonyms of those words)
  • Related search terms
  • Plurals
  • Misspellings
  • Change the order of your keyword’s words
  • Words to be added to the beginning middle and end (throughout your keyword)

Pretty much anything Google thinks might be relevant could potentially trigger your ads. This is very damaging to account performance and can waste money on irrelevant searches that result in clicks. This also impacts overall relevance and Quality Score, both of which we describe in more detail below, but it will suffice to say that this will continue to worsen account performance.

The most common mistake beginners make is to have every keyword set to broad and have few too no negative keywords in the account. Read our guide on negative keyword research to get a better understanding of why this is so important and how to do it.

Campaigns using this match type will start to build ‘search query lists’, which is a list of all search terms that triggered your ads that resulted in a Click. This is great for account expansion, but you cannot see what search terms triggered your ads that did not result in a Click... These are the terms that need to be excluded with negative keywords.

Broad Match Modifier

Exposure = High

Relevance = Middle

Broad match modifiers are represented by adding a plus sign (+) to the beginning of words within a broad match keyword. Hence, the keyword must be set to ‘Broad match’. This is a powerful tool and in many ways removes the need for Phrase match keywords in accounts.

Broad match modifiers change the properties of the word (within the keyword) to which they are applied. When applied to a word they prevent Google for changing, removing or substituting that word... That word has to appear within the search term.

For example; if we have the keyword ‘red widgets’ and we add a plus sign to the word ‘widgets’, we get this: ‘red +widgets’. This would mean that ‘widgets’ has to appear within the search term, but ‘red’ could be changed, substituted, removed, etc.

You can apply the broad match modifier to all of the words, some of the words or one of the words within a keyword. Any word it is applied to much then appear within the search term, but all other properties of the broad match keyword remain intact. So, the keyword can have the following differences to the search term:

  • Words added to any point in the keyword (beginning middle, & end)
  • Plurals and misspellings are also included by default on all keyword match types

Hence this form of keyword can massively limit the exposure of your ads to less relevant terms in most cases (where the keyword has three or more words). This does not remove the need for negative keywords, but does reduce the amount of them you need.

Thus, this strikes a great balance between exposure and relevance.

This can only be used on the Search network.

Max. CPC

The Maximum CPC (Max. CPC) is the maximum you will be charged for a Click (on average) when one of the keywords triggers an ad.

The Max. CPC is the base figure and onto it are applied any adjustments that you may have in the account such as mobile bid adjustments or ad scheduling bid modifiers.

When set at keyword level, this bid overrides the default ad group CPC bid, taking precedent over it. So, if you have bids set at both the ad group and keyword level, AdWords will use the keyword Max CPC.

For more information on bidding strategies please follow the link.


Properties flow down from Campaign to ad group level to keyword level, so a paused campaign or ad group can have will not allow any keywords to trigger ads regardless of the status of the keyword.

There are three options for this:


Keywords that are ‘enabled’ are essentially live Keywords.


Keywords that are ‘paused’ are not live until they are set to be ‘enabled’


Removed Keywords are Keywords that have been deleted; they still appear in the account but are greyed out.

Bid Strategy

The default here is actual called <default> which defers to the bidding determined at the ad group level. The other pre-existing option is ‘Manual CPC’, which doesn’t need to be set unless that keyword is being managed differently that the rest of the keywords in the ad group.

All other bid strategies are things that you will need to have created yourself, in advance in the online version of AdWords. You can learn more about bidding strategies by following the link.

Bid strategies can be applied to ad groups, campaigns, and keywords but precedent is taken from the lowest level where a setting exists.

Final URL

The final URL replaces the ‘destination URL’ which was phased out in mid 2015. Essentially doing the exact same thing, the Final URL is a place where you can set the landing page for this keyword. Final URLs need to follow the rule detailed below:

  • The ‘Display URL’ (see ads for more info) domain needs to match the domain of the Final URL
  • Cross domain redirects are not allowed in Final URLs
  • The URL must work (Cannot be a broken link, error of any kind or a missing page)

Bear in mind that it is more commonplace to set this within the ad rather than the keyword. If your ad groups are structured properly you should not need to specify unique URLs for each keyword in the ad group.

Keyword level Final URLs override Final URLs set at ad level.

Final Mobile URL

The Final Mobile URL is where you can specify a different landing page for visitors that are using a mobile device. Thus you can have two Final URLs for a keyword. If the Final Mobile URL is not used, then the Final URL is used as the default.
The rules for this are the same as the above rules for Final URLs.

Keyword level Final Mobile URLs override Final URLs set at ad level.

For the same reasons described above, it is recommended that your ad groups are structured such that you do not need to specify the Final Mobile URL at keyword level.

Quality Score

QS is an estimate of the quality of your keyword, ads and landing page. Improving the QS can lead to lower prices and better ad positions.

We mention this because the QS (Quality Score) is an attribute of the keyword and when viewed, you must look at a keyword report to find it. QS is also one of the most important metrics in the entire AdWords account. We say this because in it determines how much you will pay for a click in each position an ad can appear in. This is calculated in conjunction with your Max. CPC, but if a QS is too low, your Max CPC will need to be higher in order for ads to appear on the front page.

We cover Quality Score in more detail in another guide, which you can read by following the link. For now it is worth noting that the Quality Score can be improved through account structure, keyword research and landing page optimisation.

Other Statuses

The above ‘status’ specifically refers to the parameter that you can define within AdWords. This however refers to the status attributed to a keyword by Google / AdWords.

These statuses primarily give an indication of problems with keywords that need to be addressed, we have listed each of them below:


Keywords that are eligible, have no problems and are working as intended.

Eligible: Limited

These are keywords that are eligible to run but are being limited by something, below are the three possible causes of this:

Low Quality Score

If the QS is too low, a keyword will often not show at all. Google have deemed the overall relevance and quality to be too low for their users.

Low Search Volume

Some keywords simply have very low search volume and consequently get little traffic. This is a ‘soft’ warning as keywords can be left in the account in this state with little impact if for good reasons. Some keywords are seasonal and will consequently not be relevant all year round for example.

Below First Page Bid

This is another ‘soft’ warning and one that can come with mixed signals. Keywords that have a bid set too low will not appear on the front page of Google. But this is an average and often keywords will be appearing on the front page some of the time. Either way, exposure will be limited with keywords seeing this status.

Not Triggering: Critical Issues

This is the most important status as it refers to keywords that have been disapproved, see below:

Keyword Disapproved

Disapproved keywords will not trigger ads and need to be addressed to avoid potential escalation, depending on the volume of them present. See the guidelines section below to understand why keywords might be disapproved.

Not Eligible to Run

This refers to keywords that are not eligible to run due to the user set ‘status’ or the keyword, campaign or ad group described earlier in this article.

Keyword Paused or Removed

If the keyword is paused or removed it is not eligible to trigger ads.

Campaign or Ad Group Paused or Removed

If the campaign or ad group containing the keyword is paused or removed it will prevent the keyword from triggering ads.

Campaign Pending or Ended

Campaigns can have a start and end date set, if the campaign is outside of this specified date range, the keywords will not trigger ads.

Keyword Bidding Explained

We have discussed the various components, behaviours and attributes of keywords within this article, but we also want to cover briefly the mechanism or system that facilitates keywords to trigger ads on the search network.

When a person searches in Google an auction is run, that determines what ads are shown and in what position. QS is calculated as keywords are evaluated and combined with your bid (CPC or otherwise) to determine the outcome of the auction. The outcome of the auction is the final result... The ad position, the cost per click, for each ad that appears.

Thus Google is balancing relevance and Quality and Bids in order to deliver the final results.

How Keywords Work on Each Network

Keyword behave differently on each of Google’s networks, we summarise this below:

Google Search Network (and Search Partner Sites)

Keywords are selected based on their relevance to your products and services and trigger ads to show to people when they are searching for your keywords or similar variations of them. Allowing you to target people with ads relevant to what they are actively looking for at that moment.

Google Play

This refers to the promotion of mobile apps and relates to the searches and ways used by people to find those apps.

Display Network

Here keywords are used to find related content on other websites, next to which your ads appear. In this instance your keywords are related to the content the user is engaging with rather than the searches the user performed.


Google has a lot of guidelines and policies, we have highlighted those here that are relevant to keywords but have a more comprehensive guide to Google AdWords Policies.

There are some hard and fast rules for keyword usage in AdWords that need to be covered:

Trademarked Terms

For some years now, depending on what region of the world you live in, it has been possible to bid on Trademarked terms, such as company brand names. Hence it is completely legitimate to add keywords to an account that bid on trademarked terms. You cannot however, use the trademarked term within the ad copy, making these keywords typically have very low-Quality Scores.

Prohibited Content

Google prohibits the advertising of certain products and content, thus targeting these with keywords will result in a disapproved keyword, but probably also a disapproved account. Violating these rules could result in your account being closed. The items listed below are all prohibited by Google:

  • Counterfeit goods
  • Dangerous products or services
    • Recreational drugs
    • Psychoactive substances
    • Instructions for making explosives or weapons
    • Tobacco
  • Products or services that enable dishonest behaviour
    • Hacking tools and software
    • Academic cheating services
    • Fraudulent documentation
    • Services for artificially inflating web traffic, ads, etc
  • Offensive or inappropriate content (promotion of the following)
    • Hatred, violence, discrimination, intolerance and bigotry
    • Content that is likely to shock and / or disgust
    • Exploitative content

Restricted Content

This is content that can be advertised through Google but on a limited basis and only for those that meet the requirements that Google lay down. Failure to meet with the requirements beforehand will likely lead to account closure. Bidding on these keywords is a very strong indication to Google that you will have had to met their requirements. Restricted content includes:

  • Adult content
  • Alcohol
  • Copyrighted content
  • Gambling
  • Healthcare
  • Political content

For more information on Google policies please follow the link.


As a footnote to this guide we felt it important to mention ‘relevance’ due to its importance in QS.
Keywords in an account should all be relevant, or as relevant as possible to the website and specifically the landing pages they deliver traffic to.

Keeping keywords in small groups of closely related terms within an ad group enables you to maintain relevance between the keywords and the ads. This also afford you the ability to have more specific landing pages, relevant to all keywords in the ad group.
Doing this, maintaining relevance throughout the account will improve QS significantly and drive overall performance. Good indications of relevance, outside of quality score are as follows:


Click Through Rate is a strong indication of the relevance an ad has to the search terms that trigger it. No metric in isolation has much meaning, but once a baseline or an average for a set of keywords has been established, taking into account things like average position and network, CTR is a very strong indicator of relevance.

CTR directly effects QS and so it is vital to have this be as high as possible for the position the ad appears in.

Conversion Rates

If you track conversions and the aim of the traffic is to convert it, conversion rates below average could indicate a low relevance between the search term and the landing page.

Engagement Metrics

Metrics such as average time on page, bounce rates, etc when below average, are also where relevant to the goals, are good examples of irrelevant keywords or search terms, ads or landing page.


Raptor offer a range of PPC services such as PPC audits, keyword research, training and account management.
To find out more, please click the link below.