Google recently launched “brand lists” for Google Ads. In this article, I’ll explain why they did this, how to use them, and whether it’s worthwhile even to bother.

Why Did Google Introduce Brand Lists?

Over several years, Google has slowly but surely relaxed query-matching rules for all keyword match types. Heck, they completely eliminated phrase match, disguising it as eliminating modified broad match. Add to that Google’s very hard push to move advertisers to broad match keywords, add-in P-Max, and you’ve got little to no control over what queries you run for. Now this is all fine and good with automated bidding doing it’s thing, but there are still cases where advertisers need more control.

How to Use Google Ads Brand Lists 1

One of those cases is branded queries. This includes when advertisers want to target their own brand or competitor brands or block either from triggering their ad.

With this in mind and not wanting to roll back on their mandate, Google ceded “some” control over branded targeting.

How Do Brand Lists Work?

First, advertisers must register brands with Google or select from existing registered brands. One or more brands can added to brand lists, which, in turn, get associated to campaigns.

To register your brand(s) go to tools and settings > brand lists and create a new list. Add your brand or brands along with your associated domain. Google will typically take about a week to review and approve your brand.

Brand lists currently can use “restriction” targeting in search campaigns. This means you can target matching branded queries in the list exclusively. Also, brand lists can use “exclusion” targeting in P-Max campaigns. This means you can exclude (like using negative keywords) matching branded queries from the list. Importantly, this also includes shopping ads, display ads, and all other placements.

Note that exclusive targeting works like old-school phrase match with very close matching. Your ads won’t run for queries that do not include the brand or very close variations of the brand.

Of course, we don’t know exactly how well exclusions work since Google doesn’t share detailed P-Max search term or placement reports. We’ll have to take this on faith.

What Scenarios Make Sense for Brand Lists?

Search for Your Brand

If you’re currently running a search campaign for your own brand, it may be worth migrating to the brand list method. This is especially true if you see non-branded queries in your search term reports. Remember that Google has continued to relax matching, so if you haven’t checked in the past 3-4 months, you might want to look. Assuming you want to give brand lists a shot, here are few things to note:

  1. You must convert your campaign to all broad match – any exact or phrase match keywords will be removed and broad match keywords will be added for all brands in the list
  2. You must use Smart “conversion-based” bidding – if you’re using manual/ECPC or impression share bidding you’ll need to change it
  3. Using brand lists restrictions for search may still not shunt all impressions relevant to your brand to the brand list campaign – you still should monitor and add negatives to your other search campaigns as appropriate

In our experience, brand lists improved performance about 2/3rds of the time. If you implement this keep an eye on it, you can roll back if you want to:

  1. Start by removing the brand list from your campaign
  2. Disable the broad match campaign setting
  3. Adjusting your bidding method back to the original setting
  4. Add exact and phrase match keywords, pause the broad match one + set your bids if you are using manual bidding

Blocking Your Brand on P-Max

Many (read most) advertisers don’t like that P-Max is a black box, and especially that search query performance is not provided. One big specific problem is that P-Max will often serve up ads for the advertisers brand and generate a healthy volume of conversions, thus buffing performance figures. The advertiser keeps bumping the budget on P-Max not realizing that it’s blowing through tons of wasted ad spend.

Brand list exclusions is the solution here. Simply associate your own brand (list) to the P-Max campaign and you’re all set. At my agency we always use the notes panel to track when we make this change. It allows us to evaluate how much credit branded was taking for P-Max. Of course, serial testing is not super accurate, but you’ll get a pretty good idea of what the drop off is after a week or two without branded “padding.”

If you’re running search for your own brand I do recommend you always exclude your brand list in P-Max unless you’re running shopping ads. This will give you far better transparency of the volume and value that your brand is driving. If you are running shopping in P-Max be careful about block your brand completely since this will completely block your shopping ads from showing for brand related queries.

And of course, if you don’t want your brand to show at all in your account you can create these brand list exclusions but I also recommend adding account level negative keywords for all variations of your brand.

Competitor Brands

Targeting competitor brands with brand list restrictions works exactly the same as for your own brand. Create a new brand list and search for / add all brands you want to target. Create a new search campaign or adjust an existing one just as I’ve described above.

This method is more streamlined than running a variety of phrase/exact match keywords for your various competitors. And it’ll tend to run more relevant queries, especially when the brand is only one word or can easily be confused with generic queries… but still isn’t perfect, of course.

As always, targeting competing brands as keywords is an advanced growth strategy. Most advertisers find the CPA or ROAS prohibitive. This works best when you have a much better offer than entrenched brands.

Blocking Competitor Brands on P-Max

There are times when you don’t want to run for your competitor brands. The first and most obvious one is when you simply generate a low return from those keywords, which tends to be most of the time for most advertisers. This can also be useful if there are friendly brands you don’t want to run for. This can include similar brands/companies you possess or that other carwash across the street that your brother owns.

It can also be a useful tool for blocking brands you perhaps no longer carry, if you are a reseller. The procedure is the same as in the “blocking your brand on P-Max” section above.


Google Ads recently introduced brand lists, a feature that allows advertisers more control over branded queries.

Previously, Google relaxed its query-matching rules, making it harder for advertisers to control which searches triggered their ads. Brand lists let advertisers create lists of brands (including their own and competitors) and then use those lists to either target their campaigns to those brands (search campaigns) or exclude them (P-Max campaigns).

This can be useful for advertisers who want their ads to show only when people search for their own brand or for competitor brands they specifically want to target. It can also be useful for advertisers who want to prevent their ads from showing on searches for competitor brands (especially if those searches are unlikely to convert to sales).