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Don't Ignore the Negative

  |  June 3, 2011   |  Comments

A comprehensive approach to negative keywords for Google AdWords.

AdWords managers at all levels can benefit from reviewing their negative keyword strategy. Negative keywords serve to keep your ads from showing on certain queries. Without them, you can waste precious PPC click budget on irrelevant traffic.

Over the years, I have assumed management on dozens of PPC accounts, and have observed various states of negative keyword implementation. PPC managers spend a great deal of time on keyword generation and optimization, but sometimes integration of negatives includes only the basics, or worse - no negatives at all!

Just as keyword match types help to control your ad showing for relevant queries, the negative keyword helps by holding back your ads when the search is not relevant. This is particularly important when we need to broad match keywords to capture the most search traffic. Google will expand broad match keywords by matching with "variations," often making them too broad.

A comprehensive negative keyword approach has two phases:

  • Generating a starting list.
  • Building negative keywords on an ongoing basis.

Generating a Starting Negative Keyword List

  1. Brainstorm negatives. There are negative keywords that are obvious to your business and products that you've come to know over time. Use these as your starting list. If nothing comes to mind immediately, speak with several members of your team in marketing, sales, leadership, etc. to get ideas and their perspectives. Possible themes to exclude: product or features you don't carry, price points too high or too low, or competitors. All of this depends on your PPC strategies. If you have a competitive keyword strategy, obviously you won't want to use negative key competitors.
  2. Analytics. Examining your web analytics logs and looking at the organic keywords that send traffic to your website can not only reveal potential SEO problems, but also give you useful ideas for negative keywords.
  3. Keyword generation. Google's Keyword Tool now offers the ability to flag keywords as negatives using a drop-down menu to import into your campaigns. The menu gives you the option to select negative versions and match types of that keyword. For example, in a search for laptop computers, you have a range of options from a simple one-word negative broad match (used) to multi-word exact match negative (used laptop computers). Think carefully through how you want to use these before adding them in bulk.
image1-kw-gen-screenshot

Generating Negatives Over Time

Query reports. Google provides query reports that show real users search terms that triggered your ads to display. In the keyword tab, use the "see search terms" button to see keywords for any given ad group or campaign. From here, you can check keywords you want to use as negatives and click the "Add as a negative" button. You will have the option to customize how you want to implement the negative, match type, and at the campaign or ad group level.

image2-query-report-screenshot

Since these keywords come directly from user queries, this report provides invaluable, up-to-date information on searcher intent and behavior. You should be exploring the opportunities in this account weekly, if possible.

Again, think carefully through your overall PPC strategy before adding too many negative keywords. Keeping some less-relevant keywords may be part of your strategy if they send traffic and you don't mind paying for them.

Having a solid starting list is critical, and by continuously adding keywords over time from your reports, you will likely see the click-through rate steadily improve as they become more relevant. This in turn can increase your Quality Score with Google and conversions with searchers.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Raehsler

Lisa Raehsler is the founder and principal strategist at Big Click Co., an online advertising company and Google AdWords Certified Partner, specializing in strategy and management of SEM and PPC for search engines, display, retargeting, and social media ad campaigns. Lisa has led strategy on dozens of PPC accounts and puts her experience into practice every day as a thought leader in integrating clients' search campaigns with ecommerce websites, behavioral targeting strategies, and web analytics. She has participated extensively in the local interactive community, as well as at national search engine marketing conferences. Lisa's recent speaking engagements include SES, OMS, MIMA, HeroConf, and SMX conferences, as well as numerous private and public training engagements. As a columnist for ClickZ and Search Engine Watch, she writes on the topic of paid search. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRocksSEM.

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