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

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