Are you the master of your search terms?

Or do they control you?

Here’s one way you can detect what situation you’re in. Read on.

Putting keywords in an ad group, and writing ads for that ad group is something that we do because we want to show a certain ad for a certain search query. An ad that matches that query (answers it), is relevant for that query, and entices the searcher to click on it.

But are we making sure that for the search terms that we attract we are showing the right ad?

Of course, if we have several ads in an ad group (and we should), and the ad group is set to rotate the ads more evenly (and it should be), a certain search term may be matched with any ad in that group.

But that’s ok. Because everything placed in an ad group (keywords, negative keywordsads and through them destination URLs, be they ad or keyword destination URLs) should be centered around the same theme. One theme to rule them all.

What we do not want to happen is to show, for any search term, an ad which is not related, or one which is less related than the ones we intended to show.

And it can happen. We can have an ad group with more general keywords, which runs for a while, builds a little history, and then, even if we have another ad group – more relevant for certain search queries – we see that ads from the former ad group still show.

The more we work on an account, the higher the chances of something like this to happen. Sure, we can diagnose our keywords, when we create a more specific ad group, to see if a search term triggers ads from the right ad group, but we don’t do it every time. And sometimes we need to wait quite a bit before the changes are active. And we cannot think of all the search queries which may match certain keywords to see if, for all of them, the right keywords are picked and the right ads are shown.

Search terms, keywords and ads

If you’re interested to see how Google AdWords’ system picks a certain keyword when more of them match a search query, here’s the document describing the algorithm.

What I wanted to find though was some kind of report which could tell me, periodically, if the search terms which triggered my ads stayed all within one ad group, or if they spilled across more than one.

And that report is a basic search terms report, adjusted a little bit in Excel.

I prefer to do it by generating an account-wide report, and to make sure that search terms don’t creep into ad groups across several campaigns.

Create a search terms report and create a pivot table containing the following:
– Search term and ad group as row labels
– Ad groups as values.

Set the value field settings for “Ad groups” to “Count”. This should show you the number of ad groups which contain a keyword that triggered a certain search term.

Then sort by count of ad group, descending. You’ll probably see that some keywords appear in three ad groups, or more. And when you look at the ad groups, you’ll see that they’re not different, but that some search terms are reported three times in the same ad group.

That’s because of the match type. Not the match type of that keyword, but the match between the search term and the keyword that was triggered by it. A broad match blue widgets keyword can attract search queries such as cheap widgets, which is a “Broad match” for it, cheap blue widgets, which is a “Phrase match” for it (the search terms include the keyword), and blue widgets, which is an “Exact match” for that broad match keyword (the search query and the keyword are identical, letter by letter).

So even if a search term only triggers keywords and ads from one single ad group, you may see it reported up to three times in the same ad group, due to the fact that in your downloaded report you may have three different rows in the same ad group, each containing a match type between search term and keyword.

Search terms and ad groups pivot table

Not good. You don’t want to scroll through rows and rows of data in your pivot table only to see if those search terms were linked to the same ad group several times or to more ad groups one time.

So what you need to do is to go to your report and select the search terms and the ad group columns, and filter that list, in place, for unique search term – ad group pairs (remove duplicates). Then create a pivot table which contains, again, search terms and ad groups as row labels and count of ad groups as values. Sort the table by count of ad groups, descending.

If, at this point, you see more than one ad group for a search term, it means that search term was able, through certain keywords, to trigger ads from different ad groups, and even campaigns. It also means you’re not in control. You can, if you want, see which keywords attracted those search terms.

In this situation, through negative keywords and bid variations – where appropriate – you can control which ad groups show ads for certain keywords, and master your search terms.

If you want to see where (in which ad group) certain search terms performed better, you should use the first version (before removing duplicates) of the pivot table, and see, per search term, which ad group (through its ads) suits a certain search term better. You can do that by including CTR, conversions and other relevant metrics in your pivot chart.

And you should tweak your settings until you make sure that each search term gets to be paired with the best ad, every time someone enters it in Google’s search box.

About Calin Sandici

Father of two and husband of one, at the crossroads of Google AdWords, Analytics and E-Commerce.