Keywords vs. Search Terms

Keywords vs. Search Terms

Dansk svensk gaardhundI was looking though an Adwords account from another Adwords agency. One of the most used keyword was “Danish Swedish”. It was in top 10 with most impressions, clicks and cost. With that keyword people where searching for the search term“Danish–Swedish Farmdog” more than 80% of the times. It is alright if you are a dog breeder, but this client is a translation agency looking for big companies (It was not difficult to win that client after I show them this example).

As you can see it is important to distinguish between keywords and search terms in your Adwords account.

  • Keyword: A keyword is what trick your ad in Adwords
  • Search term: Is what the searcher have written in the search box

Adwords used to make it very difficult to find search terms, hidden away in a drop-down menu. Now you find it to the right of the search keywords.

Why should you sort the search terms?
I used to gain a 400% improvement by sorting the search terms. Nowadays other agencies are a lot more thorough and the gain have drop to around 100%.

Here is what you get from sorting your search terms

Negative keywords
The main gain is thought adding negative keywords. Because you can see what people where actually searching for (“Danish Swedish”= keyword vs. “Danish–Swedish Farmdog” = search term). I add unwanted search terms under each Ad Group and take out specific keywords and add them on campaign or account level as negative keywords.

Understanding what potential customers want
bigfish_v_littlefish_blog-300x125Going through the search terms tells you what people want. Keywords tells you the subject; Search terms tells you their questions and demand.

If you can tap into you customers mind-set, you can design the customers journey, launch new products successfully, avoid 90% + of all questionnaires and a whole lot of other business decisions become easy, when you know what potential customers want.

Exact keywords
Sorting search terms become adding 98% of them as keywords in exact match (I also like to insert the new keywords in modified broad) after some time of developing the negative keyword lists. By doing that you know more specific what exact keywords people are using and are able to take action to optimized everything better. It become less of a question of what to do and more a get to work and do it.

If we add “farmdog” as a negative keyword, in our example, we immediately save 80% of the cost. We also improve the general quality score of the account. The biggest gain is then you start understand what searchers want and are able to give it to them. Not only do you get a high CTR and a low CPC, but you also gain a big market share.

Adwords also gives better ranking and low click price if you have the keyword as an exact match.

Broader aim
When you sort search terms for unwanted traffic, you can start aiming broader and get the difficult to get traffic without all the traffic that don’t convert.

Quality score
Adwords quality score for search termsAfter some time I usually see average quality score get close to 10 if the site can match the traffic. When I add search terms as keywords they get a high quality score right away. I believe it is because there are similar keywords with high quality score and CTR is very high for most search terms.

When you analyze the quality score, remember to adjust the columns in Adwords, so you specify the 3 elements. It makes it much easier to analyse what to do.

The account quality score is also improved by adding all the irrelevant keywords into the negative keyword lists.

Adwords Conversion Optimizer
When you are doing your keyword research, including sorting your search terms, Conversion Optimizer can do wonder for you. Adwords also say that they are investing significantly in improving their automatic bidding system.

Most of the time I see an improvement of 5-30% by adding Conversion Optimizer(or one of the other bidding metric) to do my bidding, but the real advantage is the time saved by adjusting bids on many thousand keywords.

Adwords Conversion Optimizer When sorting search terms
By sorting your search terms, you are helping Conversion Optimizer to do a better job, by providing lots of keywords to optimized.

Organic traffic spillover
Over the last years Google have become increasingly good at weed out spam results. The cost have been the long-tail results. One way to get the valuable long tail traffic, is to use Adwords by pointing long tail keywords with relevant ads/pages. That way you are giving user data to Google that you page attracts searchers with a high CTR and they find your page relevant, which result in high-ranking.

By giving people what they are searching for, the easiest way possible, is a sure way to make them happy. Happy people convert and come back. To be able to give people what they are searching for, you need to know their search terms.


  • So if you design your campaign around “search terms” as you are calling them as opposed to keywords, there is a better chance of conversions? Isn’t that the basic idea behind the keyword selection in the first pace? I guess Google has just made it difficult by classifying the two terms separately on AdWords.

  • Hi Samalgate,

    Yes, I think you are right. Long tail keywords are a kind of search terms.

    People that is used to do keywords research knows what to expect, when they start having ads shown for a general keywords. The problem is the general misconception of thinking that everyone is thinking like yourself. Looking at your search terms is a great wake up call and a chance to do something about the problem.

    Yesterday I was talking to a masseuse about her showing up in Google for her new clinic. She want to be shown for the keyword: Massage. If you don’t get a list of irrelevant search terms in your mind, I think it is your wake up call to start doing something.



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