About keyword and search theme prioritization within a Google Ads account

Your ads are eligible to appear when one of your keywords or search themes match a user’s search term on Google or on search partner sites. Learn more About keyword matching options and About search themes in Performance Max campaigns (Beta).

If multiple keywords, targeting the same domain, are eligible to match the same search term, they don't compete with each other in the auction. For example, you might have the keywords "skydiving course" and "skydiving training course" in the same ad group, and both could match the search term "training course for skydiving." Only one of those keywords can trigger an ad for the search term. The table below explains which keywords are prioritized to enter the auction.

Note: When your ad enters the auction, it’s then compared with ads from other advertisers, and your cost-per-click is what's minimally required to clear the Ad Rank thresholds and beat the Ad Rank of the competitor immediately below you, if any.
Priority diagram   Priority Match characteristics Explanation
Exact match keyword icon 1 Exact match keywords that are identical to the search term For the search term "skydiving license", the identical* exact keyword [skydiving license] in the Search campaign is prioritized over any other broad or phrase keyword or a Performance Max campaign.
Phrase and broad match keywords icon 2 Phrase and broad match keywords or search themes that are identical to the search term For the search term "skydiving license", the identical* Performance Max search theme “skydiving license” is prioritized over the phrase keyword “skydiving”. In this case, the phrase keyword isn't identical to the query.
AI based keyword icon 3 Relevance: AI (artificial intelligence) based keyword prioritization

The search term "skydiving certifications near me" could match to keywords in several ad groups, some of which may be more relevant, such as “skydiving license,” and others may be less relevant, such as “skydiving courses for beginners”.

In this case, only the most relevant keywords from the most relevant ad groups are considered. Learn more about how AI keyword prioritization works.

Ad rank icon 4 Ad Rank If you have several Search keywords or Performance Max search themes that share equal priority based on the criteria above, the ad or asset group that generates the ad with the highest Ad Rank will be prioritized.

*“Identical” includes spell-corrected search terms, such as skydoving license, but doesn’t include plurals or synonyms like license for skydiving.

How AI is used to prioritize the most relevant keywords

If your keywords aren't identical to the search term, AI-based keyword prioritization ensures that only keywords from the most relevant ad groups are matched to your search term. Relevance is determined by the meaning of the search term, all the keywords in an ad group, and landing pages within the ad group. Note that AI based keyword prioritization works on keyword based Search campaigns.


For a user searching “skydiving certifications near me”, consider the following ad groups containing broad match keywords:

Ad group “Skydiving License”
  • Keywords: Skydiving license, how much is a skydiving license
  • Landing page: Specific page outlining the licensing process
Ad group “Advanced Skydiving Courses”
  • Keywords: Advanced skydiving courses near me, advanced skydiving lessons
  • Landing page: Specific page for advanced courses

Because both advanced courses and licenses have related intent, a search for “skydiving certifications near me” can match both ad groups under broad match. Learn more About keyword matching options.

However, as per AI based prioritization, only the “Skydiving License” ad group enters the auction because “license” and “certifications” are significantly more related than “courses” and “certifications”.

Note that for a search like “advanced skydiving courses to get licensed”, keywords from both ad groups have a similar relevance, so the keyword with the higher Ad Rank enters the auction.

Structure your ad groups thematically to clarify which keyword should match for a given search.

Exception to preferences

A campaign is limited by budget

Your campaign's daily budget can affect whether the preferences above are applied. If a keyword is in a budget-restricted campaign, which means the campaign's budget isn't high enough to accrue all possible traffic, the keyword won't always be able to trigger an ad even if it otherwise could. This helps prevent the campaign from greatly exceeding its budget. Learn more about Tips for optimizing your average daily budget.

For example, let's say your campaigns are called "Skydiving license" and "Advanced skydiving courses". In your "Skydiving license" campaign, you have the exact match keyword [skydiving courses], and in your "Advanced skydiving courses" campaign, you have the broad match keyword skydiving courses.

All else being equal, the exact match keyword in your "Skydiving license" campaign would trigger an ad when someone searched for the term skydiving courses because it has a higher preference. However, if your "Skydiving license" campaign is budget-restricted, then the exact match keyword in this campaign would sometimes be unable to trigger an ad. This means the broad match keyword in your "Advanced skydiving courses" campaign could trigger an ad instead.

Structure your ad groups thematically to clarify which keyword should match for a given search.

One of your Search keywords or Performance Max search themes isn’t eligible to trigger an ad

There may be times when the preferences above don’t apply because a keyword isn’t eligible to trigger an ad. These reasons include:

  • A keyword has low search volume status. This is a status given to a keyword that has very little to no search history on Google. Keywords with this status are temporarily inactive and won’t trigger ads. So, if you have a low search volume keyword, you’ll notice a different keyword triggering an ad for a matching search term, even if according to the preferences above, your low-search volume keyword should have been the one to trigger the ad.
  • All creatives or landing pages for the ad group are disapproved.
  • Not all campaign or ad group targeting are satisfied. For example, if an ad group with an eligible keyword is targeting a specific location, and the user search term that matches that keyword isn't in that location, then that keyword wouldn't be able to serve.

An ad format doesn’t compete with your Search keywords or Performance Max search themes

The preference rules above don’t apply to any Shopping campaign and other parts of the Google inventory. For example, even if there’s an exact match keyword that’s identical to the Search term in the account, a Shopping ad format may still be shown alongside the ad for your exact keyword on that Search term.

Keywords, Dynamic Search Ads, and Performance Max

Dynamic Search Ads and Performance Max ads without search themes are equivalent to keywords that don’t exactly match the search term for selection preference. If a keyword isn't identical to a search term, Dynamic Search Ads and Performance Max ads are selected based on the highest Ad Rank in comparison to other Search keywords in the account. The same exceptions to preferences apply.

Search themes in Performance Max campaigns will have the same prioritization as phrase and broad match keywords in Search campaigns.

Learn more about Dynamic Search Ads and Performance Max.

Was this helpful?

How can we improve it?
Clear search
Close search
Google apps
Main menu