Keywords and Keyword Research is aspect of Google Ads that has been around since the beginning, but is ever changing with the introduction of automation and dynamic search ads. They can be confusing to understand with the difference between match types but one thing has remained true since the start, without the right keywords your campaigns will falter. 

What keyword match types are available in 2024

Broad Match: The match type with the least control resulting in the highest reach and least relevance as it will also use variants of your chosen keyword
Phrase Match: Will also use your keyword in long tail search queries
Exact Match:
The most restrictive match type, limiting your keyword to queries that match your keyword exactly (with some close variants)

Do Keywords Still Matter in 2024?

Simply, yes, Keywords are still important in 2024 remaining at the center of Search campaigns and recently being incorporated into Performance Max also the introduction of Search Themes. Google’s push for automation with Performance Max which can run search ads has moved many ecommerce accounts to a very low usage level of keywords but the product is not there yet in terms of control to fully replace search campaigns and human input into keywords.

Despite the push for automation, there is also a push from Google for a higher adoption of Broad Match in accounts in 2024 which will of course broaden your reach across search terms and this highlights the importance of the other type of keywords, negative keywords.

What Are Negative Keywords?

Negative keywords are as important, if not more important than Standard keywords as now in 2024 they appear across campaign types that do not have standard keyword input such as DSAs and Shopping. Negative keywords simply instruct Google which search terms you do not want to appear against.

For example, some of the most common negative keywords we exclude are terms around “Second Hand” or “Used” for when the account does not sell used goods and also we can use Negative keywords to eliminate informational searches such as “How”, “Why” and “Can”. Negative keywords can also give nuance to campaigns, such as excluding brand terms from a DSA campaign to make it prospecting only.

How to conduct keyword research

Selecting the right keywords for your business may seem simple, yet it is seen in many accounts that the wrong keyword whether through selection or match type leads to wasted spend.

It is easy to think about keyword research in three pillars;

Informational: Searches around your product or service such as ‘How much is a Air Fryer’ and ‘What is the best water bottle’
Transactional: These are searches with intent to purchase beyond the research phase such as “Water Bottle that UV Filter”  and “Double 4.5 Litre Air Fryer”
Branded: Self-explanatory as any search term that uses your brand name

Brands tend to work up through the funnel first as bidding on informational searches requires either budget or lower expectations around direct return on ad spend.

Keyword Planner
To aid with Keyword Research Google provides the Keyword Planner as part of the Google Ads interface, this is discoverable through Tools > Planning > Keyword Planner.

You can use the Keyword Planner to discover new keywords through two core methods, entering products or services closely related to your business or entering your domain URL. If you use the first method you should look to enter your core service or product offerings to ensure the keyword suggestions are relevant.

Once Google has generated the keyword suggestions you will find a list of keywords presented alongside their average monthly searches, competition rating and bid suggestion. Using these suggestions you can create a plan by grouping similar keywords together in Ad Groups and selecting the appropriate match type that aligns with your budget and goals.

Keywords and Shopping Feeds
You cannot add keywords into Google Shopping or performance Max for targeting however you should look to add your keywords and phrases into your shopping feed. Your shopping feed’s Title and Description fields should contain keyword(s) you want to target for each product, this is often covered by the product name itself but if you have key phrases from Keyword research for Google Ads or SEO you should definitely add them in.

How to conduct a Search Query Report (SQR)

My personal favorite task to do in Google Ads is a Search Query Report (SQR), nothing is more satisfying and interesting than seeing the search terms that have triggered your ads for inclusion and exclusion from campaigns.

Where to find Search Terms in 2024
In the new interface Search Terms are easier to find. At an account level simply click on Insights and Reports on the left side and then Search Terms. It is possible to do this at campaign level, or use the drop down when at account level to see search terms at a Campaign level and Ad Group level.

You will notice this report is not available for Performance Max campaigns.

How to exclude search terms
There are two quick and easy ways to exclude search terms from campaigns, the first being if you click on Audiences, Keywords, and Content on the left navigation bar and then ‘Search Keywords’. From this page, toggle over to Negative Keywords and enter your negatives, save to campaign or Ad Group level to complete

The second option is on the Search Terms tab, here you can view search queries that have triggered your ads alongside competitive metrics to inform your decision. On this screen you can select one or multiple search terms with the tick boxes and then click add as negative keyword, finally save this new exact match negative keyword to the campaign or ad group level.

Why to exclude search terms
The most obvious reason to exclude a search term is that it appears highly irrelevant to your brand or products, for example if you are a sneaker brand and there are search terms appearing for high heels.

The other common reason is the data, the search term report gives us competitive metrics such as the Click-Through-Rate, Cost per Conversion and ROAS. If we view this data alongside spend and clicks it comes easy for us to recognize low performers to exclude as negative keywords. Always be mindful of the date range and total spend when conducting a SQR as you do not want to exclude a search term which is profitable long-term due to any recency bias.

Where to find Search Terms in Performance Max

The Search Term report does not exist in the same way for Performance Max however there is a way to get an understanding of your search terms. On the same Insights and Reports tab, click on Insights which will load an insight report for the last 7 and 28 days. Once on this page there will be Search Term insights which show ‘search categories’ that can be expanded to show search term examples.

For Performance Max insights you are restricted to a search volume range and broad search term categories which restrict you from discovering the exact search terms like in other campaigns.

Adding negative keywords to Performance Max
Unfortunately there is no direct way to add negative keywords to a Performance Max campaign at a campaign level, a common workaround is account level negative keywords as these work for Performance Max but as they are account level, they can not get into the specifics the campaign may require such as branded terms.

There is good news, you can contact Google to add negative keywords for you into specific Performance Max campaigns either through your account rep or this contact form: Performance Max Campaign Modification Request Form

How to use the Brand Exclusion List 

To exclude branded terms, whether they be your own or competitors, there is one more option by using the Brand Exclusions that is available at a campaign level within the settings tab hidden beneath additional settings.

Using this requires you to create a brand list and then selecting the brand(s) you want by name and URL. If you do not see your brand you can request to add it by submitting the name and URL of the brand for review by Google which can take up to 6 weeks.

Closing Thoughts

While a lot of the basics remain the same year over year, there is no question we are moving towards a Google Ads landscape with less reliance on keywords. However that seems like a distant future as for now, keywords still dominate conversation through all campaigns whether through selected or negative targeting.

Selecting the right keyword and keyword strategy is still the first step towards building a successful Google Ads account.