Hi, I’m Shane Fitzgibbon, certified Google Ads expert. Contact me for a Google Ads setup help, management or an SEO quote.

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In our Google Ads Keyword Strategy, keywords will evolve from tightly filtered match types to full broad match.

Note: This keyword strategy will also work for Bing Ads.

When I first started using Google Adwords, we were on a $50 a day marketing budget in a highly competitive market. It seemed like an impossible task to make $50 per day produce the conversions we needed. In hindsight, having such a shoestring budget made us push the limits. We filtered our campaigns in every way, shape and form. Truth be known, we never would have filtered them to the same level if we hadn’t had such a small marketing budget.

Even though we didn’t see it this way at the time, it was a blessing in disguise. Our accounts and campaigns perform better to this day because of all the filtering we did way back then.

Birth of My Google Ads Keyword Strategy

The budget we started with (in such a highly competitive industry) pushed us to squeeze the most possible out of Google Ads. Over the next few years is when we developed our strategy. It not only took years to develop, it also took hundreds of thousands of dollars of Ad spend.

To my knowledge, there are no other posts or tutorials that explain this same strategy. I’m by no means claiming that this it’s unique to me only. There could be others that have developed this same strategy.


Keyword Match Types

It soon became very apparent that there’s a lot of power in keywords. It also soon became very apparent that their match types is equally important. Over time I realized that match types were meant to evolve. This became apparent after many split tests and just good old fashioned trial and error.

This led to us realizing that campaigns should start off with only phrase match, exact match and modified broad match keywords, not full broad match. Using only these three match types in the beginning allows you to balance traffic flow and relevancy. If you use full broad match in the beginning, you may have a lower (CPC) Cost-Per-Click but your (CPA) Cost-Per-Acquisition will be higher. This is because full broad match too many irrelevant searches to pull up your ads.


Modified Broad Match

modified broad match keywords and how to use them

If you’re new to Google Ads, you might be wondering what the heck modified broad match keywords are. Modified broad match keywords are in between phrase match and broad match. Broad match modifiers (+) allow you to make certain words mandatory.

Example – Black +iPhone +case for 6s Plus 

In this example, the plus signs in front of +iPhone and +case make certain that those words are used. The words black, for, 6s and plus can be missing or replaced with different words altogether.

Note – If this were a full broad match keyword the searcher could pull up your ad by searching “black iPhone 6s Plus.”

This would be a wasted click if you don’t sell iPhones, only iPhone cases.

The idea behind broad match modifiers is that you are able to prevent a lot of negative searches without killing your traffic.

A great read and explaination about broad match modifiers is Broad Match Modifier – Explained by Cloewood.

Phrase Match


Phrase match keywords and how to use them

Example – “Black iPhone case for 6s Plus” 

In this example, the (“) at the beginning and the (“) at the end of the keyword makes certain that the searcher must use all the words in the keyword in the same order. But unlike exact match, phrase match keywords can have a word or words added to their beginning or end.

For example, the searcher could type “new black iPhone case for 6s Plus for cheap.”

Long Tail Keyword (Phrase Match)

If a searcher adds words to the beginning or end of a long tailed phrase match keyword (a phrase match keyword consisting of three or more words) it will more than likely still be a relevant search. This is because there are enough mandatory words in a long tailed phrase match keyword to keep it relevant even with the addition of words added to its beginning or ending.

Note – Long tailed phrase match keywords allow for a good amount of relevant search combinations and very high relevancy.

Broad Match

Broad match keywords and how to use them

Example – Black iPhone case for 6s Plus

Being full broad match like so opens the door for many, many search variations. This would allow searches such as black leather case or black glasses case through. Full broad match keywords are only effective when offest by an abundance of negative keywords which we will get into soon.

A common misconception is that the more traffic, the better. Yes, traffic is great! But when the majority of traffic is irrelevant than more is not better. Mostly rrelevant searches means mostly irrelevant clicks which means a lot of wasted ad spend. It also hurts important stats within your campaign such as your (CTR) Click-Through-Rate. Why is Click-Through-Rate an important stat you ask? Because Google rewards a high CTR. If you have a 4% CTR and your next closest competitor had a 2.2% CTR, that shows Google your ad is almost twice as likely to get clicked on. Clicks are how Google earns money, so the higher the click through rate, the higher positioning you get for less.

Note – We have come to the conclusion that many paople searching online don’t read the whole ad before clicking on it. In fact, I would go so far as to say that many people don’t even read the first headline, or much past it, before clicking. If they did, even if they typed in an irrelevant search, the majority of them wouldn’t click on your ad because they would know it doesn’t relate to what they’re searching for.

Exact Match

Exact match keywords and how to use them

Example – [Black iPhone case for 6s Plus]

Exact Match keywords mean a search term must match the keyword exactly the way it is. This means no words added to the beginning, end, in between any words and no misspellings. 

On the surface exact match keywords may seem like the easiest way to go. I mean why not? You can make 100% certain that any search is 100% relevant using exact match. Although this is true, exact match doesn’t allow for very many search combinations. This means very limited traffic through exact match alone. 

So why not add thousands of exact match keywords to allow for more traffic? Because exact match, even used to the extent of using thousands won’t account for all possible relevant search combinations. It also wouldn’t account for misspelling that, although misspelled, still relevant. Believe me, you would be surprised at all the different ways people type searches in or how many people misspell words in their searches.

Exact match have their place in campaigns because they do give you control at the keyword level over that exact combination. This means you can set a higher bid amount on the exact match version of a key phrase. But with that said, exact match still needs the power that the other match types bring into the campaign.  

Negative Keywords

Negative keywords: What they are and how to use them

Negative keywords are just as vital to your Google Ads keyword strategy as your keywords. They are your main defense against irrelevant searches. They are used to block highly irrelevant words and word combinations.

Negative keywords are mostly found under the search terms tab within your account. They are found while you are doing (what’s typically referred to as) a search terms report.

Not adding nagative keywords is a common error I see in many accounts. And when I do see nagative keywords in an account, there are typically not that many added or they are added using the wrong match type.

Match type? We are talking about negatives, right?

Yes, negative keywords can also be added using the different match types. In fact, using the proper match type for your negative keywords is just as important as using the right match type for your keywords. Using the wrong match type for negative keywords can cause you to not filter enough irrelevant traffic or filter too much relevant traffic. With that said, it is very hard to go back and audit your negatives later, so take time to add them properly as you go.

Phrase Match Negatives

Let’s say you sale used iPhone cases but not new ones. In this case you would want to add the word “new” as a phrase match negative.

To make the word “new” a phrase match negative, add a ” to the beginning and the end of it.

By doing so, no matter how the word new is used, it won’t pull up your ad.

For more info on what a phrase match keyword is, read Phrase Match: What Is Phrase Match in AdWords? by Wordstream.

Broad Match Negatives

In this sceniro let’s say you sale plastic iPhone cases but not leather ones. In this case you may want to block the word leather in its broad match form. That way your ad will not only not show when the word leather is used, it also won’t show when a mispelling of leather is used.

To make the word leather a broad match negative, just add the word leather to your negative keyword list without (“) quotation marks or [brackets].

Exact Match Negatives

Exact match negatives are an important negative match type too. If you help lower debt and you use the keyword +debt help, you would want to add the negative keyword [debt]. That’s because the word debt by itself is not relevant.

Note – If you have already added a single negative keyword in broad match or nagative match form, there is no need to add it by exact match too.

Best Match Types to Start With

There is a great battle between trying to get as much traffic as you can and trying to keep the traffic as relevant as possible. This can only be balanced through your use of keywords and negative keywords.

Like I said earlier, if you start off using exact match, you will lower your traffic significantly and pay too much for the traffic you do get.

If you start off with full broad match you will be flooded with more irrelevant searches than relevant ones. You will then waste too much of your click budget on nonsense clicks.

By using phrase match and the occasional broad match modified keywords to start, you will have a better balance of high traffic and relevant searches.



Relevant Search Terms

Believe me, you can never guess what relevant search term someone will use to pull up your ad. Likewise, you can never guess all the negative search terms searchers will use until you see them in your search terms report.

When I first started using Adwords, I added as many negative keywords as I could think of. After I reached somewhere around 100 negative keywords, I thought that would be more than sufficient. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

We now have over 3,000 negative keywords, on average, in most of our campaigns.

You will not eliminate all negative search terms from the beginning. You can, however, eliminate many of them without killing your traffic. It’s all part of our keyword evolution process.

Keep in mind, our keywords will ultimately evolve to include their full broad match counterpart.


Additional Reading

The Importance of Nagative Keywords – An in-depth examination of the importance of negative keywords.

How to Properly Add Negative Keywords

properly adding negative keywords

How you add negative keywords is easy and yet oh so important. With that said, it crazy how often negative keywords are overlooked.

Believe me, though, there is a right way and a wrong way to add them.

Adding them the worng way can over filter or under filter negative search terms. When adding negative keywords, you must take the time to weigh out the search terms that will be filtered by the word and the match type you choose for it.

For some words, it makes sense to add them in a broad match form. For others, it may make more sense to add them in a phrase or exact match form. Some words you can block by themselves and others you will want to attach another word or two to it. This will all make sense as we continue further into our Google Ads keyword strategy.

One Word Negatives

By adding single negative keywords in an exact match form, you will hardly close out any negative traffic.

By adding single negative keywords in a broad match form, you will close out too many relevant searches. There are, however, exceptions to this rule.

For instance, if your company offers credit card relief, you would want to block the exact match version of the word credit, the word card and the word relief.

You would add the as exact match negatives by add a [ to the beginning and a ] to the end like such: [credit] [card] [relief].

In this example, if someone types in only (credit), chances are they aren’t searching for credit card relief.

Long Tail Negatives

Most long tail negative keywords, you will come across in your search terms report. This is where you will come across search terms such as “credit card debt relief for free”.

Credit card debt relief for free” is more than likely a negative search term, unless you like to work for free.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you don’t, though.

So in this case, you would want to block the words “for free” as a phrase match.

By cutting out the words (for free) and adding them as such “for free”, you will block all searches that use the words for free going forward.

Most Common Negative Keywords

In our Google Adwords keyword strategy, most of the negatives you add will be one or two word negatives. This is because they allow you to block a lot of irrelevant search terms with only one or two words. On the same token, they don’t block many relevant search terms.

Like I said above, though, there are always exceptions to these rules.

There are some words you can’t block on a phrase match level without blocking too much relevant traffic.

If you offer credit card debt relief, you can’t block credit, card, or relief at a phrase match level.

So if you come across the search term “credit repair” during your search terms report, you would want to block the words “credit repair” together or the word “repair” as a phrase match by itself.

By adding keywords as phrase match or broad match modified from the beginning and adding as many negatives as you can as a one or two word phrase match negative, you will quickly filter out the biggest part of bad searches.

(You will want to do a search terms report daily, adding negatives and filtering your campaigns as quickly as possible).

You want to keep your keywords in phrase match or broad match modified for 2 to 4 weeks. Do a search terms report daily, adding as many one and two words phrase match negatives as you can.

As certain keywords perform better and better, you can begin step 3.

Converting your keywords to full broad match keywords.

It’s a good idea to look at negative keyword lists to see what you can block before it costs you a click. Look at list like AdWords Negative Keyword List: 400+ Keywords You Need To Add by Paid Insights. Add any that would be a negative for what you offer. If, no matter how it were used in a search, it would be a negative search term, add it as a phrase match negative.


A Good Google Ads Keyword Strategy Equals a High ROI

It’s true, a good keyword strategy equals a high ROI. Based on my experience from the business owners I have dealt with, most most of them understand the importance of their marketing to their success and how extremely important it is to make it work. It must provide them the ROI they need to continue using a platform such as Google Ads.

The problem for many business owners is that they do not have an in depth enough understanding of Google Ads to properly refine it. And even if they could find the time to devote to their campaign, most business owners do not have the means to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars figuring it out, nor would they want even if they did.


Google Ads is highly competitive so a proper keyword strategy is crucial

Competitive Keywords

Another problem with self managing, or using under qualified management, is that Google Ads is a highly competitive platform. You must have a superior strategy to compete. If you don’t, you will be paying more than your competition for a lower ROI than them. In fact, you will be lucky to make a profit off of your marketing.

Finding a qualified account manager, or company to manage an account, can be a hard task. This is all the more reason to understand what to look for when scouting out qualified management.

Account Strategy

Believe it or not, you won’t learn good strategy tips from Google themselves. I have had hundreds of conversations with Google Ads account strategist who work at Google. Their main job is to help you with setting up your account and to get you to spend more money.

This also falls in line with the way Google has its default settings for new accounts. Many of Google’s default settings are not in your best interest. Unless you know about these setting and where to change them, your off to a major disadvantage in comparison to your competitors who’s accounts are more properly managed.

Google makes these areas a bit hard to find. And when you do change them, it first prompts a warning that makes it sound as if you’re going to hurt your campaigns performance by doing so.


The Importance of a Good Google Ads Keyword Strategy

I will start by first saying something that I believe just about anyone who manages Google search campaigns will agree with. 75% of your campaign’s performance will be based on your keyword and negative keyword strategy. With that said, what was the part of my keyword and negative keyword strategy that took me years to develop? It was learning how to target the right keywords using the right match types and likewise how to block the right negative keywords using the right match type.

The second part of this strategy was how to make a campaign more powerful as it became more refined. We’ll start examining this strategy with the whys of keywords.


Properly Adding Keywords and Negative Keywords

Keywords that are too broad will open the gates to aa enormous amount of irrelevant traffic. Traffic that costs you clicks but doesn’t convert good and hurts your ctr (click through rate) and quality score.

In an opposite way, keywords that are too tightly targeted will keep your ads from showing for many relevant searches. And the traffic you do get will come at a premium price because you are showing for such few keywords. Not to mention, they will most likely be the more expensive keywords.

These same rules applies to negative keywords but in the opposite way.  If you block certain negative search terms too broadly, you will block many relevant search terms in the process.

The opposite is true if you block negative search terms too tightly. You will not block enough negative search terms. Believe me, there can be way more negative search terms than you might expect. I manage accounts that have 10,000 plus negative keywords. Most negative you will discover while performing a search terms report.

Search Terms Report

Search terms report

A search terms report is a report that shows you every keyword or key phrase searchers have typed in to pull up your ads. This is where you will determine what stays and what gets blocked. I will illustrate this below with a few sample search terms.

Let’s say you offer home refi’s and mortgages, but not commercial refi’s or mortgages and you see the search terms below.

Note – The search terms that have one or more negative keywords in them are red. The ones that are completely positive are green. The one that is blue is in between positive and negative. It requires a judgement call, or collecting enough conversion data on that particular, or similar search terms, to determine whether or not to block it.

  • Refinance my businesses building
  • Refinancing a commercial property
  • Home refinance calculator
  • Become a licensed home mortgage agent
  • Home mortgage quote
  • Test to become a licensed mortgage broker
  • I want to refinance my home 

Improper Way to Add Negative Keywords

Blocking by exact match: Google hopes you will just check the little box next to the negative search terms and click block. This will block it at the ad group level in its exact match form.

By going this route, you will block very little irrelevant traffic and it will take you way too long to optimize an account. Your client would probably fire you as their account manager way before you ever got it refined.

Why does this block very little traffic? Because it only blocks a search term in its exact match form, but searchers use phrases in thousand upon thousands of different arrangements.

You might not believe how many different search terms people can use until you’re performing search term reports on a regular basis.

So for the negative search term above, Become a licensed home mortgage agent, blocking it in it’s exact match form would not block the phrase, Becoming a licensed home mortgage agent even though the only difference is the word become has changed to becoming.

Blocking by Broad Match Improperly 

causes you to block many relevant search terms.
For instance, the search term how to become a mortgage broker is a negative phrase. But not every part of the search term is irrelevant. Now let’s say you block the words “how to” in a phrase match type. This would also block relevant search phrases such as how to get my home refinanced.

The above two examples of how to not block negative search terms is why I say this is where real management comes in. This is the part of managing a Google Ads account that take 75% or more of your management time.

This is where, if laziness kicks in, your campaigns will not become properly optimized.

I also believe that this is not a very well known strategy. If it were, I would have come across a post explaining it by now. Or a video even. 

How to properly block the negative search terms in gray

Let’s take the same search term we used in our example of how to not block search terms, how to become a mortgage broker, and see how to block it properly. Rather than block “how to” we will block “how to become” because after some thought, there are no ways that you can think of that any search term including those three words in that same order will be relevant.

To take it one step further, you can decide whether the word become by itself is negative. After some more thought, it seems that any search with the word become will most likely not be relevant.

This is what I consider a strong negative keyword. By blocking the word become in a phrase or broad match type, you will also block a vast number of irrelevant searches going forward. You will be blocking any phrase that includes the word become.

Disclaimer: Before blocking single words in a phrase or broad match type, put a lot of thought behind it. You do not want to block words in this manner that are also going to block relevant traffic.

If you are unsure about blocking a single word in a phrase or broad match type, wait until you have more conversion data in your search terms report with that word in it. This will reveal to you whether you should block it or not.


Your keyword Strategy is equally Important

Your Google Ads performance is going to be based on a combination of your keyword strategy and your negative keyword strategy.

Now you are probably beginning to see why I said that maintaining the keyword and negative keyword aspect of your account will be 75% + of your account management. The other 25% will consist of making bid adjustments at the demographic level, device level, location level, keyword level, ad level, ad group level and a few more. These changes and adjustments will be based on conversion data which I will explain the importance of and how to implement in a later post.


High Traffic & Relevant Search Terms

These are two areas of vast importance, yet they typically pull against one another. When you achieve high traffic, many times you’re flooded with irrelevant searches which results in a lot of irrelevant clicks.

On the flip side, many times when one achieves high relevancy, they get a very limited amount of traffic. This leads to paying a premium price for the traffic that you do get.

Achieving high traffic and high relevancy is exactly what this keyword strategy addresses.


Keyword Refinement

This is another unique, and highly valuable, part of this strategy which I have never come across on any other tutorial. I’m not saying this strategy is unique to me only, but I have never found it on any other tutorial.

Many tutorials will stress the Importance of not using loosely targeted broad match keywords (as much as Google would love you to). They are correct. Using broad match keywords out of the gate will cause you to throw a lot of money onto the Google Ads black hole. But there is more to this tip of not using broad match keywords. In fact, much more because stopping at that tip alone will only get you so far and only (maybe) make your account powerful enough to have a decent performing campaign. This tip alone will not help you create a high performing campaign that performs like a well-oiled marketing machine, assuming that is what you want. I know what they say about assuming but I feel like that’s a safe assumption.

Assuming you have already set up conversion tracking, we will learn the last step. Converting your keywords into full broad match. If you have not already set up conversion tracking, you will want to before making your campaigns live. You can set it up by going to tools, clicking on conversion tracking and going through the setup. As you see keywords converting at a lower price, convert them to full broad match by removing the + in front of any words. If they are phrase match, remove the “” from around the keyword sentence.

After converting a word to full broad match, lower it’s bid amount by around 25%.

Continue to add as many one and two words negatives daily as you can. Before long you will be able to cut down doing search terms reports from everyday, to every other day. Then from every other day to every three days. Ultimately, you will get to where you only have to do a search terms report about once a week.

As your campaigns become more and more filtered, you can trickle up your keyword bid amounts. By this point, you will have a high performing campaign with high, relevant traffic and low CPC.

Where Most Keyword Strategies Leave Off

Where they leave off is at the most important part. You want your campaign to evolve from only having modified broad match, phrase match and exact match keywords to also having looser modified broad match keywords and even completely board match keywords. Yes, there is a time to include broad match keywords into your campaign. This is as your keywords become more targeted as a result of you amazingly awesome negative keywords strategy. The more you add negative keywords in the proper way, the more refined your keywords become. As your search terms become more and more relevant as a result of your negative keywords, your can begin to open up your best performing keywords in a broader sense a few at a time. The idea of doing it this way is to always keep high relevancy search terms from the beginning of your account until it’s opened full throttle.


Match Types in the Beginning

Key words at the birth of your campaign should be a combination of [exact math], “phrase match” and +modified +broad +match keywords. This is how you keeps the relevant searches as high as possible while also gaining the most traffic possible. You could never guess every negative keyword before you build a campaign. If you could, you could just open all your keywords to full broad match from the git go. But unfortunately, you must spend some marketing budget along the way to refine your campaign.


Keyword Refinement

As your keywords become more targeted you will notice your click-through-rate improving as well. This is important because Google rewards high click-through-rates. Why? Because this shows them that your ads are highly relevant to the people seeing your ads. It also tells Google that your ad has a higher to much higher likeness of getting clicked than your competitors’ ads. Clicks is where Google makes their money. So, let’s say you have an average 5.21% click-through-rate and your next highest competitor has an average 2.54% click-through-rate. Google will give you a higher position than your next highest competitor for much less cost per click. Not likely to have that much higher of a click-through-rate compared to you competitor, you say? I can assure you that a 5% click-through-rate or higher on average is not unrealistic. And when the average click-through-rate is 1.19%, having your next highest competitor at an average click-through-rate of 2.54% in not unrealistic either.

Ultimate effect of Our Google Ads Keyword Strategy

You will ultimately get exposure for your ads by almost every relevant search term related to your service or product because you have fully broad match keywords by the end of its evolution. You will have blocked just about every negative search term that cost you valuable marketing budget and hurts your click-through-rate. You will get better positioning than your competitors for much less per click. You will ultimately have a campaign that does not require nearly the amount of refinement and optimization that it did in the beginning. This does not mean it won’t require ongoing management, it means the management required will be a fraction of what it took in the beginning.

A word of encouragement I would like to add to anyone reading this thinking it sounds like a long path to refine a Google search campaign properly. The strongest negative keywords that will refine your account the most and save you the most wasted budget come in the beginning. This is because they are the negative words or phrases that would be most often used. So getting the most costly negatives out of your account will happen quickly in comparison to the less costly negatives.

Additional Reading

How to Create a Website – A detailed, step-by-step guide on how to build a WordPress website. Guide includes an abundance of easy to follow along with images.

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