Should You Remove Redundant Keywords?

By Brad


General, Keywords, PPC Management

On your recommendations tab in your Google Ads account, you’ve probably seen a very common recommendation: Remove redundant keywords.

While this is a common recommendation, should you follow it? Will it help or hurt your account, especially with how many match types have expanded?

Let’s take a look at how Google matches search terms to keywords and PMax campaigns across your account.

How Google Matches Keywords in Search Campaigns

When someone searches, Google looks to see:

  • If you have that exact same keyword (spell corrected) in your account. If yes, those words are set aside and are usually entered into the auction.
  • If the keyword is in multiple campaigns, Google first looks to see which one is “most restricted.” This usually means which one has a lower budget, serves to fewer devices, or is in a smaller geography. They want to serve the keyword from the most restricted campaign since not all of that keyword’s impressions will fit that campaign over the course of a day.
  • If the keyword is in multiple ad groups, Google generally uses the keyword with the highest ad rank from the potential ad groups. Please note that a few other steps happen before the ad rank can be assigned, such as deciding on the ad and determining the bid.

How Google Ads matches Keywords

This image is taken from Google’s PDF Unlock the Power of Search.

In Google’s example, of course, they use broad match. The same flow will occur regardless of your match type.

  • If you do not have the keyword in your account (regardless of the match type), then Google can match it to any keyword they deem is “close enough” to the search term based on your match type and Google’s logic.When Google starts matching search terms across your account where you don’t have keywords, you usually end up with redundant search terms.

Redundant search terms occur when the same search term is shown from multiple ad groups in a campaign. In many cases, there is often a “best” ad group for a search term, but Google will still show it across all matching ad groups.

For instance, this account has 12 different ad groups with keywords that match the exact same search term. The CPA of the same search term varies from $24 to $43 depending on which ad group it is displayed from. This difference is often because the ad and landing page differ by ad group.

Search terms canibalizationWhen this account added the search term as a keyword and a few negative keywords, its overall CPA for this search term dropped, while its overall conversions went up.You might think that Google would keep matching the search terms to the ad groups where they removed the redundant keywords. That does not happen. Google does not remember what was removed and use that logic in ad serving. We’ve seen many accounts remove redundant keywords only to find inappropriate ad groups showing for search terms that previously came from the proper ad group.

If you remove redundant keywords, you are telling Google they can serve multiple ad groups for the same search term, often to the detriment of your account’s performance.

How PMax Fits into this Equation

Google publishes a set of rules on how PMax ‘respects’ your keyword targeting.

performancemax optimization

Source: Google help files.

While this sounds nice, in reality, it often does not happen this way. The following account has a very good Quality Score, competitive bids, and a 0% impression loss due to budget.

Here is a lead gen account’s highest impression PMax search term data. The column “exists as a keyword in search campaigns” means that the search campaign has that keyword and, based on Google’s rules, should have been displayed instead of the PMax search term.

This screenshot is from Adalysis. We determine if PMax search terms are also keywords.

First, the very high conversion rate terms are misspellings of their brand name. While Google says that they first correct for misspellings, that did not happen in this case. To be fair, it looks like someone was trying to type in the URL. For example, if (it was not) the brand term was Little Caesars Pizza, the search term was littlecaesarspizza. This account needed to expand its brand exclusions from PMax.

Considering their brand keyword’s search CTR is 53%, conversion rate a little over 40%, and their CPA is $0.23 (which we can’t see for PMax), they want to show their misspelled branded keywords from search since PMax isn’t doing as well for their brand. That means they need to add misspellings as keywords or go through Google’s convoluted process of adding negative keywords to PMax.

Most of the non-brand keywords have more impressions than their PMax equivalent (we’ve seen many instances where PMax search terms have more impressions), which is encouraging.

However, when the search ads show for the same search terms, the CTR and conversion rates are higher for search than for PMax. This is the search data for the same non-branded keywords as in the earlier PMax screenshot.


This means we would prefer to show search ads instead of PMax ads for the same search terms since we would get more clicks and conversions.

Should You Remove Redundant Keywords?

  • When you add a keyword to a search campaign, you create relevant ads for that keyword and choose landing pages designed for that keyword. Then, you watch the search terms to ensure they are relevant to that keyword.
  • If you remove keywords, search terms can start to show in both relevant and irrelevant ad groups, which will lower your CTRs and conversions.
  • When you add PMax into the equation, it can get even messier. PMax is designed for you to give Google some targeting guidelines and assets and then have them decide when to show your ads and what format they will take. PMax ads cover a wide range of search terms and are rarely as closely tied to a search term as your search ads are.

So, should you remove redundant keywords?

The answer is a resounding “No.” As soon as you do not have a keyword in your account, Google can take control of your ad serving and often serves ads from poor matching ads and landing pages.

In fact, we’ve seen many top advertisers add more keywords over the past few years. With Google’s expanding match types and how messily PMax fits into the equation, you are telling Google they can do what they want if you don’t have that exact keyword (in any match type). If you have a keyword, you are trying to take some control over your ad serving to ensure the user has a good experience with your ad and landing pages.

The recent changes to Google have caused many advertisers to add more keywords, not remove them. So next time you see the “remove redundant keywords” suggestion, feel free to dismiss it, knowing you made the correct decision.

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