Think Negative

Negativity has its rewards (in SEM, at least). If you aren’t thinking about negatives, you’re losing money on your campaign.

The top two paid placement vendors, Overture and Google, have broad and phrase matching options, including a negative match feature. Broad and phrase match options provide you with additional inventory that otherwise would be missed. But not every broad match is a good fit for your ad and your business.

That’s why you have to think negative. Negative matches are the ability to specify keywords that will result in your ad not being shown.

First, Google. When a searcher enters a query, they express an interest in a specific topic. Often, the longer the query, the more targeted their intent. To serve targeted ads against these targeted searches, Google looks in the AdWords system to find the most appropriate broad, phrase and exact match ads. Of course, any advertiser who selected an exact match to the search query would appear to be an excellent match. A broad match on a portion of the query may also be good. That’s why Google pulls what their system considers to be the best ads from a pool of exact, phrase and broad match ads.

If you’re running broad or phrase match, chances are high some search word combinations won’t fit your target audience. These combinations won’t convert well, either.

Say you don’t compete on price. The keyword “discount” in conjunction with your product or category keyword can result in the wrong kind of clicks. Luckily, there’s the powerful negative match keyword. In Google, specify them in the “edit keywords” option for an AdGroup. Enter negative match keywords preceded by a minus sign (-). By eliminating clicks that don’t fit your preferred profile, overall conversion percentage increases. Budget is spent more efficiently.

To determine which keywords to add as negative matches:

  1. Use the Google Keyword Suggestion Tool to see broad and extended keywords your ad may be shown against. The tool alerts you to matches for which your ad is shown.

  2. Use Web analytics software or a third-party search marketing firm’s campaign technology to track and differentiate each broad match click. Determine what broad searches are most prevalent and if they convert well. For many broad matches, you won’t be able to get a statistically valid sample for each broad search word. Your best bet is to use some intuition, as you will with keyword suggestion tool results.

While using Web analytics or working with a search marketing firm, also look for extra-popular broad match inbound keyword searches. If you have a Google AdGroup for “Caribbean vacation,” and you’re getting significant traffic through “Caribbean cruise vacation,” it may make sense to break “Caribbean cruise vacation” into its own AdGroup with new creative.

Here’s why: In Google (and more recently, Looksmart), an ad is positioned and even priced based on relevancy, as measured by click-through rate (CTR). In these engines, you want the highest position at the lowest cost. By writing an ad targeted to the breakout “Caribbean cruise vacation,” you may get more clicks for a lower CPC (cost per click), due to higher relevance and higher CTR. You can create a separate landing page for that traffic, either with power posting using a spreadsheet program, or in the ad/creative.

Overture’s concept is similar, but to take advantage of the system you’ll already have done standard matching for as many keyword phrases as you can think of, as standard match is always served first. If you missed a search phrase, an analysis of tracking or log data will alert you that a new standard listing may be worth writing. By adding these new listings, you grab the ultra-targeted traffic, often at a very reasonable CPC.

Again, you can tune landing page messages to a specific search listing, track conversion uniquely, and increase campaign efficiency — sometimes dramatically. Overture’s major tactical difference is that each listing is limited to 15 negative keywords. For most marketers, that’s plenty. If you want more, prioritize the negatives based on volume (use the inventory keyword research tool), then cover all the standard, phrase and broad match listings you can for acceptable phrases, using the negatives on these strategically.

You can use a strategy similar to negative match in XML paid inclusion. Each XML listing delivers traffic to your site on a basket of keywords, as with broad match on Google or Overture. In XML, some keywords may be a bad combination. If search words in your feed are diluting quality, take them out manually. If the keywords are in the query but not your feed, there’s no simple solution. You’ll likely rank high for a search that includes the word in a phrase, even if your site doesn’t include the word.

Broad search listings aren’t for-better-or-for-worse. Take control of your campaign and eliminate waste. Eliminate low quality keyword phrases through the power of the negative match.

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