How to Diagnose & Work With Keyword Conflicts

By Brad



A keyword conflict is when you are blocking your ads from showing on active keywords. These are keywords you want to have running; and they aren’t showing your ads due to conflicts.

For instance, let’s say this is our keyword list:

  • Blue shoes
  • Blue Nike shoes
  • Green shoes
  • Green Nike shoes
  • etc

If our negative keyword list includes:

  • -Cheap
  • -Blue
  • -Adidas

Then there’s a conflict. We have the active keywords Blue Nike shoes and blue shoes. Since -blue is in our negative list; then our ad won’t show for a keyword that is active in the account.

Why does this happen?

The most common reason is that we looked at the query data, and see terms like this:

  • Cheap green shoes
  • Cheap blue shoes
  • Blue Nike shoes

Maybe we sell high end shoes; so we add the word cheap as a negative keyword in our campaign negative list or campaign negative.

Later on, we add more products and one set should use the word cheap. So we add lots of keywords with the modifiers cheap. However, since we didn’t remove the negative keyword, we can’t show for these keywords we’ve added to the account.

Other times this happens as someone is looking at the query data for one ad group and decides they don’t want to show for a term, so they add the term to the campaign level or campaign negative list to stop the term from showing. However, that can accidently cause other keywords to stop triggering ads as well.

Conflicts Can Get Impressions

One of the most common reasons marketers don’t realize a word is blocked is that it will have impressions.

For instance, let’s say this is our ad group:

  • Phrase match keyword: Cheap running shoes
  • Negative keyword: -running

Phrase match still matches to singulars, plurals, different stemmings, and misspellings. So even though you have the negative keyword -running, your ads will still show for these queries:

  • Cheap run shoes (different stemming)
  • Cheap runnng shoes (misspelling)

With the exact match changes, these variations will continue to climb.

Negative Keyword Conflicts Reports

In the search engines, you will often see alerts in your opportunities tab about conflicts; or in Bing, you can run a keyword conflict report.

However, some of these reports have issues; especially AdWords. AdWords examines ad group and campaign negatives. It does not include campaign negative lists. It also doesn’t always find your conflicts for ad groups and campaigns.

So while the search engines will give you some keyword conflict data; it’s common to miss many conflicts.

The ways to start to find these conflicts are:

  • Find ad groups that should have a lot more impressions than they are getting and do some diagnosis work (most effort)
  • Write some good Excel macros
  • Use Adalysis conflict reporting

A Better Way to Find Negatives

Most conflicts are created by a user applying a global negative list to campaigns without checking the data or adding a negative keyword to a campaign or list when examining an ad group’s data and not seeing how this will affect other ad groups.

As n-gram data lets you see the individual terms at the campaign level across all queries and ad groups, it’s best to examine your query data through n-gram analysis to see if a term isn’t converting anywhere versus just in a single ad group.


Keyword conflicts are important to resolve. You took your time picking the best keywords for your account. When a conflict arises, your keywords stop showing ads for these carefully chosen keywords.

Everyone knows that finding broken links and adding negatives are an important part of PPC management. However, finding and diagnosing keyword conflicts is an often overlooked step in managing a successful PPC account.

Don’t let a simple keyword conflict stop your ads from showing on great queries. Just diagnose and fix the problem.

If you are looking for a simple solution to this problem, take a look at Adalysis.

Further Reading

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