How keywords work

  • Keywords are words or phrases that are used to match your ads with the terms people are searching for.
  • Selecting high quality, relevant keywords for your advertising campaign can help you reach the customers you want, when you want.

Imagine you're craving a hamburger. You head to a restaurant, and see that the items on the menu are "Food" and "Meat in between bread." Even if this restaurant served the best burger in town, you might leave without ordering anything. They'd lose your business -- simply because the words they used weren't the same words you had in mind.

To get your ads to appear when people search for your product or service, the keywords you choose need to match the words or phrases that people use, or should be related to the content of the websites your customers visit.


If you sell frisbees, you can add "buy frisbee" as a keyword in your AdWords campaign. When people type "buy frisbee" on Google search, your ad might appear on the search results page. In addition, your ad could also appear on websites about ultimate frisbee.

You can also add negative keywords, so your ad doesn't show for searches that include those terms. This can help you reduce costs by making sure your ad shows just to the audience you want. Negative keywords work with your normal keywords to show your ads just to the audience you want. For example, if you sell dog clothes but your business doesn't carry any cat clothes, you can add "cat" as a negative keyword to make sure your ad doesn't appear to people looking for cat clothes.

When you select keywords, you choose how much you're willing to pay each time a customer clicks your ad (this is your cost-per-click or CPC). Choosing the most relevant keywords can improve the performance of your ads and help you maintain low CPCs.  

How keywords work on each network
  • Google search and search partner sites: When you build your ad groups, you select keywords relevant to the terms people use when they search, so your ads reach customers precisely when they're looking for what you offer.
  • Google Play: If you're promoting your mobile app, you'll pick keywords that are related to the ways people look for apps. It's best to add all of the keywords you imagine people might use, and keep in mind that Google may extend the scope of some of your keyword match types in ways that are specific to apps. For example, AdWords may make small changes (like adding or removing the word ‘app’) to search terms to better match with your targeted keywords.
  • Google Display Network: If you've chosen to show ads on Display Network sites, AdWords uses your keywords to place your ads next to content that matches your ads. Google's technology scans the content and web address of a webpage and automatically displays ads with keywords that closely match the subject or web address of the page. For example, on a webpage that includes brownie recipes, AdWords might show ads about chocolate brownies or delicious dessert recipes. Learn how to choose your keywords for Display Network campaigns.


Choosing relevant keywords

You want your keywords to be relevant and high-quality. That's because keywords that are too general make it difficult to reach potential customers, so you might make less money.

If you choose a generic keyword like "bags" to promote your luggage products, your ad could appear to people searching for unrelated items like "tea bags" and "vacuum cleaner bags." And that could lead to a lower clickthrough rate. Making your keywords more specific and adding words that describe what you sell might help you reach the right customers with your ads. In this case, you could choose more relevant keywords like "luggage bags," "carry-on travel bags," and "buy luggage online."


  • Choose your keywords carefully. Include terms or phrases that your customers would use to describe your products or services. Make sure your keywords directly relate to the theme of your ad and the page you're directing your customers to. Keywords of two or three words tend to work most effectively.
  • Group similar keywords.Try grouping your keywords into themes. These themes can be based on your products, services, or other categories. For example, if you sell rings, you can have a group of keywords for "engagement rings" and another group of keywords for "wedding rings." Then you can create separate ad groups for these groups of keywords and have specific ads for "engagement rings" and specific ads for "wedding rings."
  • Pick the right number of keywords. Most advertisers find it useful to have somewhere between 5 and 20 keywords per ad group.
Keyword bidding

Keywords also help determine how much you pay. Each of your keywords has a CPC bid amount. These bids specify the maximum amount you're willing to pay each time someone clicks your ad. This is called the maximum cost-per-click (max. CPC). However, you might not need to pay the full max. CPC amount for each click.

An auction is run every time a customer searches, which determines which ads show for this search and in what order. The AdWords system evaluates your keyword for each auction and calculates its Quality Score. The Quality Score is based on the recent performance of the keyword and your ad, how relevant the two are to the search term, and other factors. The higher the score, the lower the bid requirement.


If you're just beginning to use AdWords, you might want to use automatic bidding. With this type of bidding, you set a target 30-day budget, and AdWords sets your bids for you, aiming to bring you the most clicks possible within that budget. If you want more control over your keyword bids, choose manual bidding so you can set each bid yourself.

When setting your maximum CPC bids, consider the value of a click. How much is it worth to you to have someone visit your website? If it's worth a lot, then you might want to set a higher bid. In general, a higher CPC bid can allow your ad to show at a higher position on the page.

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