Everyone knows what keywords they want but they rarely consider the words they DO NOT want. Proper negative keyword management is often the key to unlocking the full potential of your AdWords Account.
Most keyword models will attract some traffic that is not related to your business. Keywords often cross into other industries and niches or end up with a modified intent depending on how the word was used in a query. This is usually not a surprise, but sometimes you’ll find out about a whole new subculture that uses your keywords after you start your account. For example with a home restoration company we work with we were fully prepared to defend against car and art restoration searches. We were not however expecting below the belt body part restoration! In another client it has taken 600+ negative keywords to get down to the traffic we really wanted for one positive keyword.
Impressions are NOT Free!
Some people think this is no big deal since the downside is that your ad shows up when it really does not fit. Their thinking is that this is pay per click so who cares? Well you should. What happens is that your click through rate is lower than it should be because the ad is off topic. This results in a low quality score which causes you to have to pay more for the clicks you buy. Remember that your ad rank is your bid times quality score so it does count. The end result is that there is a hidden cost in the formula for impressions. This is why you care -because it costs you money.
With Power comes Danger
Negative Keywords are a very powerful tool in AdWords and done properly they are the reason that paid traffic is generally better quality than organic. On the organic side you compete only for the keyword with no negative consideration so the traffic is a little sloppier. Negative keywords are also dangerous because unlike positive keywords there is currently no report on the search queries that were impacted by the negative. It is very easy to have a negative word removing good traffic with no real way to know this. I have been asking every Googler I meet for a negative keyword search query report for as long as I can remember but for some reason it just never has happened.
When you start to think about negative keywords you have to look at the goals of the website and generally what we find is that search queries have a base concept with various qualifiers. In a broad sense we often find that the qualifier moves the word into general classifications. While the qualifiers vary some of the common ones are products, services, employment, physical location, and DIY. In most cases a business will only want a subset of a base concept.
For example a plumber might want the word “Plumber” but a qualifier could make this a bad search term. For example “Plumber Manual” is probably DIY (Do it yourself) traffic and “Plumber Supplies” is probably a product search and “Plumber Los Angeles” with a geographic location is exactly what the plumber wants from that word. The challenge is when the search is just “Plumber” and here you have to guess if the service classification is a high enough percentage of the searches to make buying the broader term a good deal for the business.
Sources of Negative Keywords
There are lots of sources for negative keyword ideas starting with the SQR (Search Query Report) in AdWords. This report shows the search terms that matched the keywords and it’s a great source of new keywords and negative keywords. I normally download the entire report and add a column for the negative terms and the start the review. This way I can sort by the negative keyword column and grab those and copy them back to the system.
The other tools I like to use for developing my negatives are Google Search and Google Trends. In search I run the base concept without a qualifier and I look for words that I would not want in the snippets. This generally picks up the easy ones and the ones that are most likely to create the most bad traffic.
In Trends I look at the related terms for traffic I am not interested in. With the word plumber for example we find lots of traffic for Joe the Plumber and since this is a political term from the 2008 election it is not likely to be good for my plumber clients. So Joe becomes a good negative word. When you look at the history you can see when that was really a big problem in 2008 but now it’s a much lower level problem.
Pick a level – Pick a method
Negative keywords can be implemented at the campaign or adgroup level and that can be done with individual words or lists. I favor the lists because it simplifies the maintenance but sometimes you need the control of the individual words. With word level control I can exclude Joe in one ad group but keep it in another. For example if I have a group targeted at my competitors and I have one whose name contains Joe or Joseph I certainly do not want Joe as a negative in that Adgroup but in general plumbing keyword I probably do.
Lists are newer in negative keywords but they have been around for over a year now. One list that I almost always have is an account wide negative. These are terms that I do not want anywhere in the account and common entries here are things like free, spam, cheap, but one persons trash is another’s treasure so if your offer is free make sure that’s not in your negative list. The cool thing about lists is that you can attach them to as many campaigns and adgroups as you want and you enter a new word once and everything thing is done. Adding keywords direct at the campaign or ad group means that a universe negative has to be entered many times and the risk of error grows with the complexity of the account.
Pick a type
Negative keyword come in broad, phase, and exact but they do not operate the same as the positive keywords of the same type. For example a broad positive keyword will jump to its plural form, stems, word order, just to name a few. On the negative broad it is limited to that keyword and the word order. If you want the plural and singular form excluded then it is two keywords. We suspect this is because in positive keywords Google benefits from the liberal matching but in negatives they do not. So as they say in Vegas the house or in this case Google always wins.
I could go on for days on the finer points of negatives but I will close with just a few words – Marketing is a game of inches and negatives are one of the key tools you have to beat your competitors so learn, experiment, and great things will happen.