Punctuation & Symbols in Google Ads Keywords

Often, questions arise between PPC managers along the lines of “Can I bid on my client’s brand name with a dash in it (For example: Harley-Davidson, Molson-Coors, etc.) or will that be a duplication of my keywords?” 

As you may or may not already be aware, having the same keyword twice in a Google Ads account is a bad practice because it creates internal competition, which can drive up costs and lower the ad’s quality score. This redundancy can split traffic, reduce click-through rates (CTR), and confuse performance tracking, leading to inefficient budget usage and suboptimal campaign results. It’s better to focus on unique, well-targeted keywords for more effective ad performance. 

Having said that, here is your definitive guide to what symbols you can and cannot use in your Google Ads keyword targeting.

Symbols Causing Errors:

Several symbols do not work within Google Ads keywords. Attempting to include them will inevitably lead to errors in your campaigns.

Incompatible symbols:

  • ! = ? @ % ^ *; ~ `, (){} <> |

Ignored Characters:

  • . –

Interestingly, Google Ads disregards periods and dashes within keywords.

For example:

  • Google interprets ‘Milwaukee-Brewers’ and ‘Milwaukee Brewers’ as the same.
  • It also sees ‘granularmarketing.com’ and ‘granularmarketing com’ as the same.

This variation in punctuation has no impact on keyword functionality.

Valid Symbols:

Google Ads recognizes certain symbols like ampersands (&) and accent marks as valid. This means that ‘H & H Bagels’ is different from ‘H and H Bagels’ and ‘Caffe Latte’ is different from ‘Caffe Latté’. (Yes, those are both Seinfeld references!)

Special Punctuation Cases:

Brackets and quotation marks serve unique purposes in Google Ads. Brackets denote an exact match, while quotation marks indicate a phrase match, shaping the precision of your targeting. Without these punctuation marks, your keywords are broad match. While broad match keywords are not always bad, they can oftentimes trigger ads for irrelevant searches, leading to wasted ad spend and lower conversion rates if not used carefully.

Caveat: A caveat to this: Google is getting less strict about keyword match types, meaning your ads might show up for a wider variety of searches even if they don’t exactly match your specified keywords. This can increase your ad’s reach but may also result in less relevant traffic, another reason to always carefully monitor your search terms.

Impact of Capitalization:

Capitalization doesn’t influence keyword performance, but Google Ads adheres to your style. A general best practice is to always keep all of your keywords lowercase to avoid any keyword duplication in your account.

If you’re capitalizing for a brand term, you can control that in the ad itself, it does not have to be handled at the keyword level. Even with DKI (dynamic keyword insertion) ads, you can take a lowercase keyword and have the ad capitalize it using a special DKI ad setup technique. See Google’s guide below:

Understanding these nuances is paramount for optimizing our keyword strategies and sidestepping common pitfalls of duplicate keywords, wasted spend on irrelevant keywords and other general account inefficiencies. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or require further insights into this topic.