Paid Search Analytics – Are Missing Search Queries Costing You Money?

Let me ask you something: Which words did prospects actually type in before clicking your ad? If you’re using Google AdWords, that question can be surprisingly hard to answer.

What is a Search Query?

Let’s start with some definitions:

  • Keyword – the phrase you buy, paired with a match type, to reach prospects

  • Search Query – the actual phrase someone types in that triggers your ad

For example, if you buy the keyword philadelphia restaurant” as a phrase match, your ad could be triggered by the search query “french philadelphia restaurant”. This could be a problem if you’re selling Italian food.

Why do Search Queries Matter?

There is tremendous value in search queries. When you think about it, they’re really a low cost form of primary research. By examining the actual language your prospects and customers use, and how well those words convert, you can:

  1. Expand Your Negative List – Clicks from searches related to products you don’t sell are often wasted money. Build out your negative keyword list to stretch your budget.

  2. Build New Campaigns – No keyword research tool can give you all the ways people will search. As you see trends in searches, you can separate out new campaigns and ad groups to target those people explicitly. Maybe you start with “philadelphia restaurant” and discover that “good philadelphia restaurant” brings more attractive searchers.
  3. Prioritize Your Bids – You know your target ROI, but how much should you bid? If you just look at the keyword level, you could be missing out on some insight. Maybe “philadelphia restaurant” is unprofitable at a $1.00 bid, but “philadelphia restaurant reservation” is worth the spend.

How do I find Search Queries?

You can get some search query data in Google AdWords, but Google decides which data it will disclose and which queries remain hidden. To run a report, log into AdWords and click on the Report tab. Create a report and select “Search Query Performance”. Pick the time period, segment (ad group, campaign, etc.) and metrics that matter to you. Now run the report.

Now you can see some of the search queries with the metrics you chose (CPC, CTR, etc.). This is a good place to mine for synonyms, modifiers and the like. You’ll quickly notice, however, that AdWords doesn’t give you the full picture. Many times they lump a group of terms together as “XX other unique queries”, as in this image:

You can’t fix what you can’t measure. I’ve noticed that it occurs more frequently on words with fewer impressions. I’m a bit surprised that there could be unique queries for exact match terms. How is that exact match?

I recommend looking at queries at least once a week, especially if you’re launching a new product or experimenting with broad match. To get even more leverage out of your queries, run them through the same keyword research tools you used the first time around.

Want more online marketing advice? Alex Cohen is an optimization blogger over at Digital Alex. By day (and night and weekend), he’s also an interactive marketing generalist at Commerce360, a venture backed paid search technology company outside of Philly.

He is currently seeking speaking opportunities –


  1. says

    Hi Martin,

    Have you been able to get all of the queries? I used advanced filters to push queries into the language field and I still get a lot of “en-us” showing up.

    GA can be troublesome for measuring paid search.


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