How To Use The AdWords Search Term View To Optimize Keywords & Negatives

Optimizing Keywords and Negatives is a task I recommend to my clients that they do regularly. In this How To, I will include some real-world experience along with the basics of how to use the AdWords Search Term View to optimize keywords and negatives.

What Is Search Terms View?

The AdWords Search Terms View shows us the performance metrics on the Search Terms that matched against our Keywords (more detail on the difference between Search Terms and Keywords is coming up later in this post). Advertisers can use this data to optimize the Keywords and Negatives in their account.

Optimization in this context usually includes adding Keywords (both new Keywords on an any Match Type and existing Keywords but on a new Match Type), and adding Negatives (again, both new Negatives and existing Negatives on a new Match Type).

The data can also be used to help remove Keywords and Negatives, optimize bids and ad copy, and to inform the organization of AdGroups and Campaigns. In this article, we will focus on the two primary optimization tasks: adding Keywords, and adding Negatives.

Why Optimize Keywords? How Often?

Most of our clients are doing this on a weekly basis at least. I consider this activity to be like gardening for PPC; we want to pull out the weeds and make sure we fertilize the pretty flowers, all the while considering the overall organization and appearance of the garden… and the process never ends.

This core and ongoing practice is essential because it helps us continually refine the traffic we are paying for and improve Quality Score, and also because it helps us find new ideas for AdGroups, Ads, and Landing Pages.

Generating The Search Term View

To navigate to the Search Term View, start by logging in to AdWords, then click the Keywords tab, then click on the “See Search Terms…” button and choose either “All.” This will generate a view of the Search Terms triggered by all of the Keywords in our account.

We can optionally narrow the list using the usual navigation with AdWords, and by selecting individual Keywords and choosing “Selected” instead of “All” from the drop-down.

Recommended Keyword Selection

I recommend choosing our AdGroup with the most clicks in the last 30 days (All Campaigns, then AdGroup tab, then sort descending by Clicks), then the Keyword with the most Impressions (Click on the AdGroup with the most clicks, this takes we to the Keywords tab, now sort descending by Impressions).

We will consider other approaches for narrowing down the list later in this post, but this will do for now. Check the box next to the Keyword with the most Impressions, then click the “See Search Terms…” button. When we click the button, it will drop a menu, choose “Selected.” This will take us to Search Terms View.

Getting Back

When in Search Terms view, there is now a link to get us “Back to Keywords.” This is how we return to the Keyword list we were just at. We can also navigate away from Search Term view by any of the other traditional means, such as the tabs or the quick menu on the left.

Columns In Search Terms View

In Search Terms view, the first column will show us the Search Term, and the next column will be the (Search Term) Match Type. The next two columns will be optionally included by AdWords. If your original Keyword tab was at the “All” level or represented more than one Campaign, then the Search Term view will show a Campaign column next. Likewise, if your Keyword tab represented more than one AdGroup, then it will show an AdGroup column.

One thing to note about the Search Term view is that a given Search Term and Match Type may have matched against multiple Keywords. In this report, that Keyword detail will not be shown; Each Search Term and Match Type combination is reported in one row, regardless of how many different Keywords it matched.

For example, if we have the Keyword “bike” in our account on Broad Match, Phrase Match, and Exact Match, and many different users searched on “bike”, the report will have one row for the “bike” Search Term, and it will be Exact Match. Behind the scenes, our Keywords may have each gotten credit for some of the traffic on their various Match Types, but this report will not show that.

Search Terms vs. Keywords

Search Terms are what the user typed into Google Search. Keywords are added to our account by us, and Google matches them to Search Terms based on their Match Type. For example, if we have a Keyword “bike” in our account on Broad Match, some Search Terms that might match include: “beach bikes,” “road bikes,” “bicycle,” etc.

Match Type in Search Term View

Match Type in Search Term View is the Match Type that Google used to match the Search Term to a Keyword in our account. This is not necessarily the same as the Match Type of the Keyword in our account. For example, if we have a Broad Match Keyword “bike” in our account, and the Search Term report is showing traffic for “bike”, the Match Type in this report would be Exact Match because the Search Term is an Exact Match with the Keyword.

Customizing Columns

The remaining columns can be customized in the usual way (Click the “Columns” drop-down-button, then choose “Customize Columns.”) See references at the end of this entry for a link to get help customizing columns.

Recommended Columns

My recommendation is to start with the following columns:

  • Impressions
  • Clicks
  • Conv. (many-per-click)
  • CTR
  • Conv. rate (many-per-click)
  • Cost
  • Total Conv. Value
  • Avg. CPC
  • Avg. Pos.

In my experience, these columns provide the information I need, in an order that makes sense to me for the task at hand.

Added & Excluded Terms

The Search Term view will also show us which Search Terms already exist as Keywords “Added” or negatives “Excluded” in our account.

Using Added and Excluded Terms in practice

While this feature is helpful, there are some practical limitations to be aware of. It does not tell us if the Keyword is “Added” to the correct AdGroup according to your account’s design structure – we need to check that ourselves.

Another limitation to be aware of is that this feature looks for literal matches. It does not consider coverage provided by the Match Type functionality in AdWords. Meaning, if we have a Phrase Match “bikes” Keyword, while it would cover the Search Term “fast bikes,” it will not be marked as “Added.” We have to check that ourselves.

As a rule of thumb, we want to be pushing mature accounts towards Search Term Reports that show every Search Term is “Added” or “Excluded.” (Note to AdWords: this would be a nice feature improvement.)

Adding Keywords

We can add Keywords directly from the Search Term View. To do so, check the box next to the Search Term(s) we wish to add, and click the “Add as Keyword” button. We will be given an opportunity to set a specific bid and destination URL. The Campaign and Adgroup are indicated as well.

The Keyword field accepts power posting syntax for Broad Match (no punctuation), “Phrase Match”, and [Exact Match] Keywords. For example, to add “fast bikes” on Exact Match, edit the Keyword field to be [fast bikes]. Click “Save” and the Keywords are added to our account immediately.

Adding Keywords in Practice

My recommendation is that we should almost always be adding Keywords on Phrase or Exact Match. This is based on my best-practice recommendation of using Broad Match to help us find additional terms, and assumes this AdGroup already has a Broad Match Keyword (or maybe a select few), that is doing that research for us. If so, then we want to run as much of our traffic as we can through Phrase and Exact Match Keywords.

Adding Negatives

We can add negative Keywords in a similar way. Check the box next to the Search Term(s) we wish to add, then click “Add as negative Keyword.” When adding Negatives, we have the option to add them as Campaign or AdGroup Negatives. Click “Save” and the Keywords are added to our account immediately.

Adding Negatives in Practice

My rule of thumb for Negatives is to always add them on Exact Match, maybe add them on Phrase Match, and to only add them on Broad Match in exceptional cases. With the tools we have available today for Keyword targeting and Search Term reporting, we have the ability to be very targeted with our Negatives. We can add Keywords on Broad Match, then use Negatives on Exact Match or Phrase Match to filter unwanted traffic.

In my experience, using Broad Match Negatives runs too high of a risk of blocking words unintentionally. For example, if we have a Keyword for “beach bike” on Broad Match, and are matching the Search Term “bike beach” (which, in this example, we do not want), then we can block that by adding “bike beach” as a Negative on Phrase Match. We would not want to add “bike beach” as a Negative on Broad Match because we would most likely end up unintentionally blocking the good searches for “beach bike.”

Pro Tip: If you have a dedicated rep, he can produce a “Negative Blocked Report” – a report showing you the Search Terms that were blocked by your negatives, and the potential traffic you are missing. It is a good idea to review this occasionally to check if you are inadvertently blocking good traffic.

For example, I recently had a situation where we copied an AdGroup and did a find/replace on the keywords, but neglected to review the negatives. The new AdGroup was blocking itself based on the negatives from the original AdGroup.

Download The Search Term View

We can also download the Search Term view; Just click the “Download” button.

Working Online vs. Downloading and Working in Bulk

Once we start working with this report, we may be tempted to start working it in bulk, by downloading it. Once downloaded we could manipulate the report, generate Keywords and Negatives and upload them in bulk via AdWords Editor, for example.

While I am a big fan of doing things in bulk in Excel then uploading them via AdWords Editor, this is one workflow that I prefer to do directly on the website. I find that I am constantly changing my view from one AdGroup to the next, changing the dates, etc., and that the instant gratification of adding Keywords and Negatives in place, instantly, works for me. our mileage may vary, of course.

Choosing Which Keywords To Work With

When choosing which Keywords to work with, there are many different approaches. While getting started, my recommendation would be to start with 30 days, the AdGroup with the most Clicks, then the Keyword with the most Impressions, as recommended above. This is a great bellweather.

If the Search Terms are all over the place here, then we have a lot of opportunity for optimization. Whereas if our biggest term is generating almost all Exact Match and Phrase Match Search Terms, then we are doing a great job keeping our Keyword Targeting tight. I like to work Keyword by Keyword in this way for my most-trafficked Keywords.

We can also work AdGroup by AdGroup, which will pool more data into the report for us to work with, while still keeping the theme tight. I do not usually find it useful to work with this report at the All or Campaign level, because the Keywords tend to be all over the place. One notable exception; It can definitely be useful to work at the All or Campaign level when adding Negatives. You may want to discipline yourself to cycle through all of your AdGroups over time.

Choosing where to go next will really depend on how much data we have in our Account, and how much time we wish to invest. As a rule of thumb, optimize 5-10% of our traffic weekly, and be sure to work through those less-trafficked AdGroups and Keywords over time as well.

Benefits of Optimizing Keywords &Negatives

The benefits of optimizing in this way should include increased traffic (and/or more targeted traffic), improved Quality Score (through improved Keyword and Ad CTR), improved bidding efficiency (we will be able to refine our bids for a tighter subset of traffic), and often improved Conversion Rate (by filtering out unwanted traffic).

We will also find this is a great way to find Keywords we may not already have coverage for, and for getting insight into how our customers search for our products, which can lead us to create new Ads and Landing Pages. Good luck out there.


Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | How To: PPC | How To: SEM | Intermediate | Search Marketing Toolbox


About The Author: is Director of Advertising Services at Stone Temple Consulting. Crosby has extensive experience in search engine marketing including growing small accounts to multi-million dollar success stories at companies such as and

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  • larrycobb

    Would you elaborate on “Negative Blocked Report”. I don’t see any reference to such a report in adwords.

  • Pat

    your G rep can run it for you. it’ll show you keywords you’ve blocked with your negs, often mistakenly.


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