Search Terms VS Keywords: Do you know the difference?

search keywords vs search terms
Search terms will inform updates to your keywords (bids, match types, negatives lists, etc.). We have found this a cornerstone discipline that allows advertisers to positively impact performance systematically.

In this article

When it comes to Search Engine Marketing (SEM), particularly the Pay-Per-Click (PPC) bidding models of Google Adwords, Microsoft Ads, and the like, knowing the differences between search terms & search keywords is fundamental to improving ad targeting and avoiding wasteful spending.

What is a Keyword?

A keyword refers to the word or set of words an advertiser bids on in an effort to trigger specific ads for specific audience targets.

What is a Search Term?

Within the confines of SEM, ‘search term’ refers to the actual text entered into a search engine that triggers an ad impression.

i.e. What a person enters into a search engine. This may include misspellings and other anomalies due to normal human error.

In the Google and Bing advertising platforms, the search terms report displays a list of the actual searches entered into a search engine or search partner that initiated an ad. What’s important to note, is that here, you may find search terms that do not match the keywords you’re actually bidding on. If this is the case, you may need to pull some search terms into your negative keyword listings.

Search terms reports will inform your Negative Keyword Lists (aka blacklisted search terms) in addition to helping advertisers develop new ideas for creatives, landing page content, and ad copy.

Example of a Search Term

John lives in Philadelphia and is hoping to buy a Father’s Day gift for his dad online. He types “Tool Sets” into a search engine, such as Google or Bing.

“Tool Sets” is the search term.

Pretend you’re the owner of a Hardware Shop that is either near Philadelphia or ships to Philadelphia, and you manage a Google Ads or Microsoft Ads account.

Since you’ve added the word “tools” as a Keyword to your Search Campaign, your ad may show on John’s search engine results page (aka SERP).

search keywords vs search terms
Search Terms are the words entered into a Search Engine that triggers an ad
search keywords
Search Keywords are the terms bid on in an Advertising platform

How to view your Search Terms report in Google Ads

To view your search terms report, Google Ads recommends that you follow these steps:

  1. Sign in to your Google Ads account.
  2. Click All Campaigns in the navigation pane on the left, then click Keywords in the page menu.
  3. Click Search terms from the list under the “Keywords” menu.

In the report, you’ll find data on the search terms that have been used by what Google considers “a significant number of customers” that have triggered impressions and clicks.

Managing keywords based on search terms data

Search terms will inform updates to your keywords (bids, match types, negatives lists, etc.). We have found this a cornerstone discipline that allows advertisers to positively impact performance systematically.

Search Terms & Negative Keyword List Building

  • You may find Search Terms are not relevant to your business model.
  • The different Keyword Match Types chosen by an advertiser in the Campaign Settings can have a big impact on Search Term relevance.
  • Microsoft Ads expounds on Keyword Match Type saying, “Generally, the more precise your match type, the higher your click-through and conversion rates, and the lower your impression volume tend to be. Finding the right balance between conversions and impressions can help maximize the ROI of your campaign.”
  • Speaking in broad terms, Broad Match Type bids have the highest potential for irrelevant or waste-term bidding.
  • Due to the more refined targeting of Phrase and Exact match types, these Keyword bids, which are more constrained, tend to see lower percentages of irrelevant terms, but you’ll still want to keep an eye on the Search Terms for ALL match types of ALL keywords in an account.
  • If you find a search term that isn’t relevant to your business model, you’ll want to add it as a negative keyword.
  • By adding extraneous search term bids to your negative keyword lists, you can prevent your ads from showing to people who are searching for things you don’t offer and thus wasting less money.
  • For example, if you sell “tools”, and you noticed that the search term “Tool band” is triggering your ads, you might want to add “band” as a negative keyword.

How to create a search term report on the Keywords tab in Microsoft Ads

  1. From the collapsible menu on the left, select All campaigns > Keywords > Search terms.
  2. Select Download and then select the Format and Segment of the report.
  3. Select Download.

Create a search term report on the Reports page

  1. From the top menu, select Reports > Default reports > Performance > Search term.
  2. Make any desired changes to the report’s conditional formatting, date/time range, account scope, or columns.
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