By Mylene Curie

When it comes to keywords coverage, the general rule is the more the better! But as always, there are exceptions to the rule. And keywords punctuation is one of them.

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Understanding how Google handles punctuation is crucial, especially if you're running international PPC campaigns. In some languages, such as French and Spanish, the use of special characters, symbols and accent marks can make a big difference in terms of impressions, Quality Scores and conversion rates.

Can keywords contain punctuation?

1) Ignored symbols. AdWords ignores most of the punctuation, and keywords containing dashes and periods are treated as identical. Therefore the "space" will serve for both terms, with and without the dashes/periods. Learn more.

2) Valid symbols. These are accent marks and ampersands. Café and cafe for example are considered as different keywords and will trigger the ads separately.

3) Invalid symbols. Keywords that contain the following symbols won't be accepted and may cause an error message: ! = ? @ % ^ *; ~ `, \ (){} <> |

How does Google handle the apostrophe?

Google insist that punctuation including apostrophes are treated the same as spaces, but we have performed detailed tests with the following results.

CTR - Keywords with an apostrophe have an average CTR three times higher than those with a space.
Quality Score - Keywords with an apostrophe have higher Quality Scores (6-7+) than those with a space (4-6).
Duplicates - A couple of keywords are flagged as duplicate keywords. But the vast majority of them behave as distinctive keywords, with unique Quality Scores, competitive landscapes and ad rankings.

It will be interesting to analyse the keywords trends and performances on a longer time range. But for now, it seems that the apostrophe is no longer automatically stripped out as it is with other punctuation. The apostrophes do matter in AdWords keywords and can have an effect on impressions, CPCs and conversion rates.

How can I improve my campaign performance?

  • Play it safe and be detail-minded. Submit the keywords in all variations, with/without the apostrophe, and bid on these variations separately, especially when using the exact or phrase match targeting options.
  • The apostrophes should be included for any plural variations, whether or not these are followed by the letter "s", say "Tom s widgets", "Tom's widgets" and "Toms widgets".
  • The same applies to keywords that are used in the middle of a word or as part of a name.
  • If you're running a campaign on Bing, submit all variations as well. Otherwise, your ad won't show for searches with an apostrophe.
  • If you're running a campaign on Yahoo, the primary keyword will be matched to common misspellings, plural forms and multiple variations.
  • Identify any duplicate keywords and keep the ones with the highest Quality Scores and conversion rates, once you've got enough data to support your decision. This will make the overall campaign more effective, affordable and manageable.
  • That's my final word on punctuation...for now!

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