Transactional Keywords in AdWords: Say Yes to ROI

Excerpted from the AdWords Workbook 2017. Let’s revisit your keywords and explain how to input them into your Search Campaign > Ad Groups. Keywords drive search, and – therefore – keywords drive AdWords on the Search Network. Here are the steps from the perspective of a customer

Customer need > search query on Google > click on ad > landing > sale / sales inquiry

 Or, translated into our scenario of a San Francisco residents who needs cat boarding for Fluffy, during his vacation to Cabo San Lucas:

I need to have my cat taken care of on vacation > keyword search on Google for “cat boarding San Francisco” > see / click on ad for Jason’s Cat Emporium > land on Jason’s website > fill out inquiry form to check out the Emporium for my cat, Fluffy > Agree to sign up Fluffy, and the deal is done.

Using this simple process model, you can see that your steps on AdWords begin with defining the best keywords to advertise on.

Step #1: Identify the search keywords that you want to advertise on.

It all starts with the keyword. The customer need “becomes” the keyword, and the keyword that the customer enters into Google needs to find a match in the keyword that you enter as a keyword trigger into AdWords.

Customers enter keywords into Google.

Advertisers enter keyword triggers into AdWords.

While Google calls both of these keywords, it’s helpful to distinguish between the keywords that are entered by the searcher, and the keyword triggers that you, as an advertiser, enter into AdWords. Keyword triggers as we shall see, need to be notated in AdWords in one or more of three distinct ways:

Plus Signs

+cat +boarding = telling Google to run your ad on any variations of the words cat and boarding, but no substitutions.

Quotation Marks

“cat boarding” = any keyword query by the searcher that includes that phrase.


[cat boarding] = the exact phrase, only, as entered into Google.

No Plus Signs No Quotes No Brackets

The “sucker choice” is to enter in the words cat boarding into AdWords with no “+” sign, no “quotation,” and no “[” bracket.

Never Just Enter Keywords into AdWords!

The reason, of course, is that if you just enter

cat boarding

Google can substitute nearly anything for those words, and before you know it, you’re running on

dog hotels

Because to Google the word cat is like the word dog, and the word boarding is like hotel…Entering keywords with no quotes, plus signs, or brackets is a “gotcha,” so don’t do it!

Core Keywords

Refer back to Chapter 2, and your Keyword Worksheet. You should have identified core keywords that reflect the major structural patterns of your products or services. Take a look at the website (, and you’ll see an very structured organization of keywords in terms of landing pages on the website.

Auto / car insurance

Home insurance

RV insurance

Motorcycle insurance

Commercial insurance

In addition, as you look at their landing pages and read the text out loud, you’ll notice helper keywords such as quote, rates, or companies that further make a keyword transactional. In fact, here’s a screenshot of their ad running on “motorcycle insurance”

Transactional Keywords in AdWords

And here’s their ad for “boat insurance:”

More on transactional keywords in Google AdWords

You’ll see that Progressive runs very specific ads for “boat insurance” that go to a very specific landing page for “boat insurance” vs. very specific ads for “motorcycle insurance” that go to a very specific landing page for “motorcycle insurance” and so on and so forth.

AdWords rewards a very organized, hierarchical structure, as follows:

One core keyword > one specific Ad Group > one or more specific ads > one specific landing page

Identify Transactional Keywords

On your own Keyword Worksheet, you should have identified 5-10 core keywords plus another 10-20 helper words that ensure that your keywords are transactional in nature. You also want to keep an eye on keyword volume and value because, since AdWords is expensive, you generally want to advertise only on keywords that are likely to lead to a sale. In general, (but not always), educational keywords should be avoided.

A San Francisco orthopedic surgeon, for example, might have core keywords such as:

Knee surgery

Knee surgeon

Hip surgery

Hip surgeon

Shoulder surgeon

Shoulder surgery

Orthopedic Surgeon

And helper words like San Francisco, best, top, top-rated, arthroscopic, second opinion, etc. (He will NOT advertise on “knee pain” as that “educational keyword” will have a lot of volume, generate a lot of clicks, cost him a lot of money, but end up with many bounces as these are people who are not close to the decision to engage with a knee surgeon).

Similarly, for Jason’s Cat Emporium, we will identify transactional keywords such as:

cat boarding

cat hotels

long-term cat care

cat kennels

cat grooming

cat toys

And avoid educational / non relevant keywords such as:


cat vets

dog boarding

And realize that some relevant keywords are problematic (because they may signify other animals such as dogs):

pet boarding

animal boarding

And some helper keywords are negative (poor or cheap people)



To review what we learned in our Keywords Chapter, your first Todo is to build out your keyword worksheet, organize your keywords into core keywords, and identify transactional keywords that are also (hopefully) high volume / high value. I would also create a column, and designate the core keywords as “hot” (definitely your customer), “warm” (probably your customer), “cold” (probably not your customer). It’s also a good idea to notate keywords like pet boarding that are problematic because they include both your customers and non-customers. (We’ll return to ambiguous keywords when we discuss writing ads in the “Attract / Repel” style).


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About Jason McDonald

Jason McDonald is a top-rated San Francisco SEO Consultant. His consulting services include search engine optimization consulting, social media marketing consulting, and Google AdWords consulting. Jason's motto as a consultant is that he doesn't do SEO 'for you' but rather he does SEO 'with you.' That goes as well for his social media marketing consultant activities and Google AdWords consultant services. Besides serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jason consults with clients in Silicon Valley (San Jose), Oakland and other cities throughout the Bay Area. Beyond the Bay Area, Jason is available as an SEO consultant, Social Media Consultant, and as an expert witness in litigation involving social media marketing, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising.