Basic tips for building a keyword list

You can build the right keyword list for your campaign to help show your ads to the customers you want. Your keywords should match the terms your potential customers would use to find your products or services. Learn more about how to Add keywords.

This article explains some basic ways to build a good keyword list.

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Think like a customer

Before you create a keyword list, think about how your customers search. Determine the main categories of your business, then draft a list of the terms or phrases that might fall under each of those categories. You can use your results to create a list of keywords that your customers would use to describe your products or services.


If you sell men's athletic footwear, you might start off with some basic categories that customers would use, like "men's sports shoes." You can also add "men's sneakers," and "men's tennis shoes," if you find out these are commonly used terms for your products. Expand your list further by including your brand and product names.

Target specific customers

You should select specific keywords that directly relate to your ad's theme if you want to target customers who may be interested in a particular product. Using more specific keywords would mean that your ad only appears for terms that apply to your business. Keep in mind that if the keywords are too specific, you might not reach as many people as you'd like.


If you sell men's athletic footwear, you might choose specific keywords like "men's basketball shoes," a type of shoe you offer. That way, for example, your ad would be eligible to appear when someone searches for these types of shoes or visits a website about basketball.

Reach more customers

You should select general keywords if you want to reach a large group of potential customers. When you use general keywords, Google may show your ad for searches that aren’t always related to your business.

Before you use general keywords, keep in mind that:

  • You might find it more difficult to reach your target audience
  • You might have to spend higher bid amounts if your keywords are competitive

You should always test your results to make sure that general keywords work for your needs. No matter how general your keywords are, they should always be relevant to your ads and website. You can also layer broad targeting with the Smart Bidding bid strategy. With Smart Bidding, Google's AI can prioritize the best performing searches regardless of match type. Learn more About Smart Bidding.


If you're a large shoe store, you might choose a general keyword like "shoes." That way, for example, your ad would be eligible to appear when someone searches for a wide variety of shoes or visits websites about fashion.

Group similar keywords

To show more relevant ads to potential customers, group your keywords and ads into ad groups based on your products, services, or other categories. If multiple keywords match a given search term, Google chooses the keyword to serve based on the ranking outlined in this article about similar keywords in the same ad group. Having the same keyword in different match types shouldn’t increase your costs or decrease performance in any way.

If instead you add all your keywords and ads to one ad group, a customer searching for "women's evening shoes" may be served your ad about "men's tennis shoes." Learn more about creating a new ad group.


If you own a shoe store, you might create 2 ad groups: 1 for running shoes and 1 for evening shoes. Your ad group for running shoes could include ads with keywords like "running shoes" and "running sneakers." Your ad group for evening shoes could include keywords like "evening shoes" and "dress shoes."

That way, potential customers could be served your ad about evening shoes when they search for "evening shoes" but not when they search for "running shoes."

Note: You don’t have to add every variant of every keyword, as all match types can capture traffic from closely related variations of your keywords.

Use symbols in keywords

You can use 2 symbols, ampersands (&) and accent marks (á), in your keywords. Keywords with these symbols are considered 2 different keywords, like sidewalk cafe and sidewalk café.

Below you'll find some of the symbols that our system doesn't recognize:

Ignored symbols

You can use the following ignored symbols, but in most instances, they won’t have a significant impact on your keyword options.

  • Periods - You can add periods (.) to your keywords, but they aren’t considered when Google compares your keywords. This means the keywords “Fifth Ave.” and “Fifth Ave”, for example, are considered identical keywords.
  • Plus signs - If you add plus signs (+) to your keywords, they will usually be ignored (for example "blue+car"). In some cases, however, if a plus sign (+) is at the end of a word (for example "C++") it won’t be ignored.

Invalid symbols

You'll receive an error message if you add keywords that contain any of the following invalid symbols. Note that asterisks (*) can only be added to negative keywords.

  • Ampersats: @
  • Backslashes: \
  • Carets (circumflexes): ^
  • Commas: ,
  • Equal signs: =
  • Exclamation points: !
  • Grave accents: `
  • Greater than and less than signs: <>
  • Open and close brackets: [ ]
  • Open and close parentheses: ( )
  • Percent signs: %
  • Pipes (vertical bars): |
  • Question marks: ?
  • Semicolons: ;
  • Tildes: ~

Additional symbols

  • Minus '-' symbols: While the minus '-' operator is ignored for matching, it does impact how terms in keywords are matched. Adding a minus ‘-’ to the front of a term in the keyword will cause this term to be ignored for keyword matching. For example, if you have a negative keyword “dark -chocolate”, it’ll be considered the same as just “dark”. Spacing also matters. If the ‘-’ is between 2 words (for example, “wellbeing”) or if there is a space between the minus ‘-’ and term (for example, “- red”) then the symbol will be ignored.
  • Site and search operators: The "site:" operator will be removed from your keywords. That means if you add the keyword [ dark chocolate], it’ll be considered the same as [dark chocolate]. Search operators will also be ignored. For example, if you add the search operator "OR" to the keyword dark chocolate, like OR dark chocolate, the "OR" command will be ignored and your keyword will be just dark chocolate.

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