AdWords Duplicate Keywords: A Battle Against Yourself

It happens to the best of us: Duplicate keywords in our PPC accounts rearing their ugly heads and negatively impacting the health of campaigns. Duplicate keywords are a common issue plaguing PPC accounts today. And there are many reasons why AdWords duplicate keywords came to be and a lot of misconception about their value.

Oftentimes, advertisers think they might have double the chance of success if they bid on the same keyword more than once. But the problem is that duplicate keywords in your PPC campaign are not actually doing you any favors in the long run. And that’s what we’re here to talk about today.

“Stop Hitting Yourself”

Do you remember as a kid when your older brother or friend would pull the ol’ “stop hitting yourself” bit, whereby he or she would take your own hand and make you hit yourself in the face with it? Well duplicate keywords are a little like that. You’re only hurting yourself.

Gif of Laverne and Shirley

Here’s why: AdWords will only show one instance of an ad per keyword per advertiser. So if you’re targeting the keyword phrase “racecar driving lessons”, for example, in more than one campaign, Google will choose the ad that’s more relevant or better out of the two to show to users.

The reason for bidding on a keyword in the first place is to show up over a competitor’s ad. But if you are bidding on the same keyword as the same advertiser, then you’re bidding against yourself.

The result of this can be two things:

  1. You could negatively impact your own Quality Scores.
  2. You could end up increasing your cost per click .

We’ve seen it many times: AdWords duplicate keywords will eventually have one instance of the keyword that performs better. And there are some rare cases where accounts may experience a lot of success in spite of the duplicate. But it won’t last forever. Google advises against having duplicate keywords, so doing it intentionally goes against what AdWords recommends for participating in its platform.

From Google AdWords help files:

“Make sure you use a keyword only once throughout your whole account, including variations of your broad match keywords (as well as your phrase and exact match keywords if you haven’t chosen to streamline your phrase and exact match targeting). For example, the broad match keywords red car and car red are duplicates and will compete against each other. Since the better performing keyword will trigger your ad more often, you’ll want to delete the duplicate that performs worse.”

Intentionally going against Google’s recommendations on the paid or organic side of search usually catches up with site owners and advertisers in the end, and any success a person might be experiencing is essentially a fluke.

Sometimes Duplicate Keywords Aren’t Duplicate

There are times when bidding on the same keyword more than once is not considered duplicate in AdWords. For example, we have a client that bids on the same keyword about 10 times in their PPC account, but the secret is geotargeting.

If your ads are served up to different parts of the country or world for the same keyword, it’s perfectly OK to bid on that keyword phrase more than once because those campaigns are not competing with one another. (For example, “racecar driving lessons” with location targeting in Chicago and “racecar driving lessons” with location targeting in Boston are not duplicate keywords.)

Another example where bidding on the same keyword isn’t considered duplicate is the match type. For example, exact match versus broad match do not compete against one another. The following match types in your PPC account would not be considered duplicate:

+racecar +driving +lessons (modified broad match type)
“racecar driving lessons” (phrase match type)
[racecar driving lessons] (exact match)

To help illustrate this point, you can see an example of what match type trigger which ads from the following AdWords chart:

Match Type Chart from AdWords

Another case where keywords are not considered duplicate is when you’re targeting different networks, for example search and display.

How to Dump the Duplicate Baggage

So how do you get rid of those pesky AdWords duplicate keywords? We use AdWords Editor, which is a free downloadable app that can help identify duplicates, among other things.

Google gives a simple step-by-step process on how to use Editor to find duplicates here. When you have several instances of the same keyword, sort them within the tool using the many options Editor gives to evaluate the keyword performance across your PPC account.

From AdWords:

“The menu includes the following cost and performance metrics: maximum CPC, first page bid estimate, top of page bid estimate, Quality Score, average CPC and CPM, CTR, impressions, and average position.”

So what if there’s a “tie” between the keywords’ performance? In this case, you can review things like the revenue each keyword brings in, or conversions or engagement metrics. It’s unlikely they’ll be an exact match in terms of performance, so that makes it easier.

So there you have it. We hope this helps clear up some of the misconceptions about AdWords duplicate keywords, and also gets you motivated to do some purging on your own PPC account as soon as possible, so you can improve your return on investment.

Filed under: PPC Management

  • Hi Pauline,

    I like your post it’s nice that you’re clear about what is considered duplicate.keywords. Perhaps it would also be relevant to point out that although +broad +match +modified, phrase match etc. aren’t considered duplicate keywords, it does require that you set your bid management accordingly so that you bid a little more for exact match. Then you make sure, that there is no fuss about with of the keywords will get the exact keyword.

    Hope it makes sense,


    • Pauline Jakober

      Yes, Kent, you have a good point, it is often the case in which we need to bid higher for exact terms, agree!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Hi Pauline,

    Thank you for your post! How about [red car] and [car red] (exact match)? Would these be considered duplicates?

    Thanks & regards,

    • Pauline Jakober

      Those would not be duplicates in my opinion but I would recommend using the Close Variants setting at the campaign level. By using this setting you can bypass having long keywords lists.

  • Hi Pauline!

    Another thing I practice is creating ad groups around Match Types and then put Exact keywords as negative in the ad group with Modified keywords. This removes any chances of keywords competing against each other.

    Hope it helps!


    • Ankit

      I used to do that till sometime back, then I realised that the exercise is pretty pointless since they are not competing

  • Preeti

    I am running keywords for different variations (broad, phrase and exact), broad keywords are getting trigger exact match keywords, how we can stop this?

    • Pauline Jakober

      Hi Preeti,

      If you are referring to the search terms reporting showing different match types than what you actually bid on, this is explained here:

      Go to: Understanding The Match Type Colomn: “It’s important to keep in mind that a search term match type listed in your report might not be the same as the match type you’ve selected for the keyword that triggered the ads. This is because keywords with broader match types can still match search terms in narrower ways. For example, if someone searched for purple flowers, and your broad match keyword purple flowers triggered your ad, the search terms match type would be exact match, even though in your ad group, purple flowers is broad match.”

      I hope that helps!!

  • Pauline Jakober

    Chandra, if you duplicated it exactly, then you’ve got duplicate keywords, right? This is not a good strategy. If you want to test both bidding methods, try one at a time.

  • Ivan Sathianathan

    Hi Pauline,

    We’ve set up some Google RLSA campaigns, which are duplicates of our existing campaigns targeted to people who have already been on our site. Would you consider these as duplicate keywords which would negatively impact the original keywords?


    • Pauline

      Hi Ivan, We had the same question when we first started adding RLSA into our PPC programs!

      Since RLSA campaigns are driven by a remarketing list, the keyword is not a dupe in my opinion. Furthermore, since the keywords in RLSA are often set to (old) broad match and generally broader, the keywords in RLSA are not usually the same as in our Search Network campaigns.

      I hope this helpful, thanks for stopping by.

  • Lach

    Cheers for the help.

  • Lach

    Actually, a quick question. What if you have three campaigns that are running at three different times of the day, is it still considered a duplicate? Or should you just have one campaign with multiple ad schedules and go from there?


    • Pauline

      Hi Lach, I would need more info about the three campaigns. Are they all essentially the same but set to go live during different parts of the day? If so, then no, I don’t believe they are duplicates.

      Curious to know why you have set things up that way? So you can see which time frame converts more often easier by just viewing the campaign data?

      • Lach

        Thanks for the reply, how good is Disqus?

        That’s correct. So essentially we had a lot of time/date data on conversions from a campaign that I was given to manage. So I took the best performing keywords & locations and broke them down into both a geo and day parted campaign, with their own dedicated lander. It is proving to be quite useful, I was just worried about the QS with duplicate keywords, however as none of them are running at the same time, like you said it should be all good.


  • Great information, thank you for the suggestion!

  • Peter Kortvel

    Pauline, what if I want both of my ads to show for one keyword?

    • Pauline

      Google will not double serve ads. It’s one or the other.

  • Gavin

    What if you want to compete against yourself? Say, you have two products in the same marketplace (premium and basic) and give yourself twice the chance of clicking on your ads instead of the competitors. Do you set up a new account to achieve this?

    • Pauline

      No, that is a short lived strategy. Keep one account and think of variations of how to use keywords to diversify your efforts.

    • Fawn

      That’s also against Google’s double serving policy. Like Pauline said, the best strategy is to choose keywords that target these two products to their correct audience. Or, just use one ad that describes both, if they’re super similar.

  • pradeep

    what about broad keywords which are more than one word like “options trading” as compared to “options trading education” ? Are these two duplicate keywords in broad match ?

    • Pauline

      Hi Pradeep, those would not be considered duplicates.

  • James Hardenberg

    Can you give an example of a situation where duplicate keywords affect quality score? I mean, if Adwords is choosing only one ad, when 2 words are eligible to get shown, only one of those keywords generates an impression, the other don’t. So, when exactly does quality score become affected in this specific situation?

    And you gave an example in this article, you said:

    The following match types in your PPC account would not be considered duplicate:
    +racecar +driving +lessons (modified broad match type)
    “racecar driving lessons” (phrase match type)
    [racecar driving lessons] (exact match)

    I’m do not completley agree, because, [racecar driving lessons] (exact match) is a duplicate of +racecar +driving +lessons and “racecar driving lessons”, because all of them are able to get shown when I search for the query: racecar driving lessons. They can all be shown when I search for this specific query.

    I look forward to your response, thanks!

    • Pauline

      Interestingly enough, we just had a client request we use both plural and singular form of a term – we no longer do that since that would be a close variant. We added a plural version to test this out and the newer version has a Quality Score of 3 while the original (singular version) has a 7. The plural version cost per clicks are $2 more because of its low score.

      I’m not sure why you think using different match types of the same keyword is a duplicate. I don’t understand what you mean by “all of them get shown” do you mean three of your ads will be shown with this method at the same time? The different match types provide various levels and instances of when your ad will be shown.

      This is a great article about match types:

  • James Hardenberg

    Small addition: I think you ment with the “quality score” issue, that the CTR gets split over the two duplicate keywords, is this right? So, it’s not that both duplicates would generate an impression at the same time, on one query, but rather over the long term, impressions gets split between those two words and therefore, the CTR (and therefore also Quality Score), doesn’t increase as fast as it could be.

    • Pauline

      Hi James, if you have two keywords vs one doing the same thing, wouldn’t the CTR be split provided you have the same amount of impressions? Perhaps you can test out some instances of the scenarios you discuss here?

  • pat damico

    Hi, Thank you for this. It is solving potentially a mystery as to why my impressions dropped when I added new campaigns with duplicate keywords. Here’s my question… would a broad match phrase Arizona Drug Rehab be considered duplicate with Arizona Cocaine Rehab? Similarly, would it be considered duplicate with Mesa Drug Rehab? Pat in Boston

    • Pauline

      Hey Pat, those wouldn’t be dupes. Manage those broad match types closely, check for negative keywords to add often.

  • Griffin

    How would duplicate keywords in your account be effected by the targeting you choose? For example say you bid on “racecar parts” in Ad Group A, while targeting City X. In another ad group (B), you also bid on “racecar parts” but this time you are targeting City Y.
    Now this targeting would obviously have to be done at the campaign level, but that was done to avoid overlap between cities, for ease of reporting and to have specific ad copy and ad groups for each City.

    If that does not make sense, I would be happy to try and clarify.

    Also, I noticed that your quote below the AdWords help link does not live on that page any longer. Could you please provide a link to the new page?



    • Pauline

      Hi Griffin, using the same keyword in two different campaigns and that each target two different cities (or any location) is not considered a duplicate.

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