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Keywords on Google: everything you need to know

Keywords on Google cover

Understanding keywords is one of the absolute basics of online marketing. Whether you have an in-house specialist or pay an agency to do it for you, you should at least know the basics. In fact, be it search engine optimisation, SEM or being found on platforms such as Amazon or YouTube, keywords play an important role everywhere.

In this article, we present keywords from the perspective of Google advertising, learning about their nature, their role in SEM campaigns, the types of matches and some of the tools that exist to identify them.


What are keywords

Keywords are specific terms or phrases reflecting the main content of a web page or an entire website. In the context of the text provided, keywords represent the search terms that potential customers might use on search engines such as Google to find the website in question.

The accurate identification and strategic integration of these keywords on the landing page are crucial for the website's optimisation on search engines. When keywords are carefully selected and inserted in the content, search engines are able to better understand what the website is about. This favours a better match between the website and user search queries, therefore increasing the website's visibility on search engines.

Successful search engine optimisation involves the strategic positioning and consistent use of these keywords within the content of the site. Enhancing the positioning of keywords in search results helps increase the likelihood that the site will be noticed and visited by interested users, making the understanding and implementation of a proper keyword strategy essential for online success.

Keywords can generally be divided into two categories, i.e. long tail and short tail. Lets see what they are:

1) Long tail: these are longer keywords or phrases, often consisting of at least three words if not more. They have a lower search rate than short tails, but can be much more targeted with less competition.

2) Short tail: these are short keywords consisting of one or two words. Despite having a high search rate, these keywords can be very competitive and sometimes too generic.


Google advertising: how keyword targeting works in SEM

In the online marketing world, SEM (search engine marketing) is an advertising strategy that focuses on using search engines, such as Google, to reach one's desired audience.

In the context of search engine marketing, it is often assumed that people are actively searching for something, perhaps with the intention of carrying out a transaction or finding specific information. Keywords used in SEM campaigns are often commercially and transactional oriented, e.g. words involving the purchase of a product or service.

Advertisements in this area, run through programmes such as Google Ads, use the PPC (Pay-Per-Click) model, i.e. the advertiser only pays when a user actually clicks on the ad.

This makes it crucial that keywords used in SEM campaigns correspond with the destination pages and reflect the users' intent. Brand-related keywords also play an important role in ensuring an effective online presence.

1) Keep your landing pages in mind

To guarantee a high quality score for your ads and the pages they lead to, it is essential that keywords in the ads are also visible on the landing pages. For Google, this shows that the page has been carefully chosen to match the ad text and offers relevance to visitors. Attention to this detail is crucial, as Google rewards high quality with lower costs per click.

2) Excluded keywords

We have already emphasised their potential when talking about matches, and we will say it again here: the use of negative keywords is a powerful feature in SEM targeting. This option prevents ads from appearing for specific searches.

3) Matching options

If you look at your Google Ads account, you will notice that search terms are marked with symbols and brackets. This determines how precisely the search query must match the specified keywords to trigger the display of an ad. Establishing a balance is essential, as a less precise match broadens the reach of the ad, while greater precision makes the ad more relevant to the searcher.

In the next section we explore the various ways of matching that an advertiser can use to create Google Ads in detail.


Google keyword matching types

When we talk about keyword matching, we refer to how user searches (search queries) are handled in relation to keywords in an ad or on a website. They basically indicate the different ways in which keywords are matched to queries that people make on search engines. So what are the types of matching?

1) Broad match

example generic match before and after 2021 with keyword cheap hotels

Overall, broad-match keywords allow advertisers to show ads for broader searches that may include various forms of that keyword, synonyms, related searches and other terms. From 2021 on, however, Google has incorporated generic matching with phrase matching, so these matches have the same behaviour from that year onwards. So where's the difference?

Up to 2021, broad-matching keywords could be quite general as in the initial definition. Ads could thus be shown for a wide range of queries, sometimes even not strictly related to the exact meaning of the keyword. With the changes introduced by Google in 2021, broad matching became more restrictive, aiming to offer more targeted and relevant keywords. While continuing to include different forms and variations of the keyword, the algorithm tries to be more precise in showing ads only for queries that are relevant and pertinent to the ad content.

In the example above, before 2021, synonyms such as hotels, related searches and other terms could appear for the search 'cheap hotels'. Since 2021, however, searches include the term hotel and are therefore more targeted.

As for syntax, since this is the broadest search mode, it is sufficient for the advertiser to enter keywords without using inverted commas or special symbols.


2) Phrase match

example generic match before and after 2021 with keyword cheap hotels

With phrase-matched keywords, advertisers show their ads when the search query contains the specified keyword, even if there are other words before or after it.

If generic matching became more restrictive with the changes introduced in 2021, phrase match, on the other hand, was modified to be more flexible and adaptable to different variations in user search queries. Prior to the changes, phrase match required the keyword phrase to be present in the query without any other intermediate words. After the changes, phrase match allows more flexibility, enabling a keyword to appear at any position in the query.

Maintaining the example of the keyword 'cheap hotels', until 2021 this term had to appear in the search query without any other words separating it. For instance, 'very cheap hotels' would not have been considered a query that would have triggered the ad, whereas with the changes made since 2021, one can insert terms between words without having to worry about a match not being triggered.

In the case of match keywords, the syntax required of the advertiser to use them is the use of quotes (e.g. 'digital cameras').


3) Exact match

Exact match is the least flexible type of match, as it requires a perfect correspondence between the keyword itself and the user's search query. There is obviously a disadvantage to this for those wishing to reach a wider audience, because while it allows maximum control over who potentially sees the ad, it will also reach fewer searches. However, even in this case there are minor exceptions, as small variations are still allowed, such as spelling mistakes, plural/singular or the inversion of the order of keywords. 

As for the syntax, exact match keywords must be entered by the advertiser using square brackets [watch]. 

For clarity, if we use the keyword [clock], terms such as woman watch, man watch, watch woman, watch man are acceptable. A query that would instead not trigger the search is how to repair a watch.


4) Negative keywords

The last type is that of negative keywords, i.e. the terms included by an advertiser for which the display of the ad should not be activated. Why using them? By including these keywords, it is possible to perform a more focused targeting and thus avoid unrelated traffic. It is, however, good to bear in mind that excessive use of excluded keywords could considerably limit the visibility of the ad and consequently also the reaching of potential customers. The syntax for this type of keyword is to use the - sign before the search terms to be excluded. 

Negative keywords can have the following matching in search campaigns: broad, phrase or exact (is that ringing a bell?). If we specify a negative keyword with a broad match, any search query that includes that word, regardless of its position or surrounding words, will not trigger the ad. A negative phrase-matched keyword, on the other hand, only prevents the display of advertisements when the search query includes exactly that sequence of keywords in the same sequence. Finally, a negative exact match keyword only prevents the display of advertisements when the search query matches the excluded keyword exactly in the same order.

For display campaigns, on the other hand, excluded keywords help prevent ads from appearing on websites or videos that are not related to the advertising message.


Keyword search tools

home page concept with search bar
Source: Freepik

There are numerous tools available, both free and paid, to conduct keyword research. Most paid SEO tools include specific functionality for keyword research. Here are some of the tools that we also use for our keyword research:

1) Google Suggest

Auto-completion starts suggesting terms from the first letter entered in the Google search field. What many people do not know: These are the terms most frequently searched for on Google in descending order. The tool is suitable for an initial overview and brainstorming, as well as for finding ideas for long-tail keywords. It is not suitable for in-depth analysis: the search volume is not included.

2) Google Keyword Planner

The use of this advanced tool is restricted to those who have a Google Ads account used for paid advertisements. Google Keyword Planner provides information on the monthly search frequency of a specific term and suggests additional keywords based on the keyword advertisements or URLs specified.

3) Google Trends

It highlights the evolution of the way people search for a specific term or topic over the past 12 months. This tool provides a visualisation of the presence of controversy around a specific current topic. A trend curve illustrates fluctuations and trends, often revealing interesting aspects, with the possibility of regionally differentiated analyses. Finally, related topics and terms are proposed.

4) Ubersuggest

Neil Patel's tool visualises the search volume for a specific keyword, suggests further keywords, and offers an assessment of the ease or difficulty of achieving a prominent position in the search results pages for that term. In addition, Ubersuggest presents a list of pages already positioned for this keyword, thus offering a competitive analysis and much more for those who subscribe to the service.


Are you looking to optimise your SEM and SEO campaigns through the effective use of keywords on Google, but are experiencing challenges in doing so? We could be your ideal partner for successful results. Rely on our experience to maximise the online visibility of your business and reach the right audience. Find out how we can help you get the most out of your digital marketing strategies, contact us now.