The Value of Negative Keywords

Seasoned PPC advertisers no doubt are very familiar with the different roles that keywords modifiers fulfill and why they are necessary. If all keywords were broadly matched all the time then PPC advertising would be nigh on useless. The amount of traffic swept up through unintended keyword variations and synonyms would degrade campaign performance incredibly. It is very good then that we do have these modifiers at our disposal. Let us review them briefly:

  • Broad match

This is of course the base level of all keywords and not a modifier of any sort. Words in broad match are typed as is with no special syntax. If the keyword hat was set to broad match then search terms in the nature of old hat, hats and caps would all be matched to hat.

  • Broad match modifier

By adding the plus symbol (+) as a prefix to each keyword that must be set to broad match modified you can insure that no synonyms will be substituted for that word. The keyword +car would be matched to a search term like cheap cars but not fast vehicle.

  • Phrase match

By encapsulating your keyword phrase in quotation marks you make sure that the phrase must be used exactly as is in user search terms, with the exception that any amount of additional terms may be accompanied before and after the phrase. The phrase “build a house” may be matched to how to build a house.

  • Exact match

Leading and ending a keyword phrase with square brackets classifies it as exact match, which means it has to be entered exactly in Google search as shown. There may be some slight variation such as misspellings or plurals allowed. In effect [red flowers] may only be matched to red flowers.

The reason for going into depth about explaining how keyword modifiers work is to drive home the understanding that unless if you’re only using exact match, which is not recommended, you will be capturing search traffic that has not been necessarily qualified as completely relevant to your ad and business. Nonetheless it is crucial to use broader keyword modifiers than exact match to capture all the variations of searches that aren’t used regularly, but are still relevant and have a high ROI. These so called “long-tail” search terms constitute up to half of the traffic for any relevant term, and thus cannot be ignored lest your competitors bid on them unopposed.

So what we want to achieve is keep our keywords broad enough to capture all the variants of relevant traffic while staving off irrelevant traffic. We do so by using negative keywords.

Negative keywords prevent search terms from being matched to your other keywords if they contain keywords that you have deemed as irrelevant. For example, you wish to use the keyword phrase +cleaning +service to capture long-tail search terms. However you do not wish to advertise when the search terms contain the word job, as in cleaning service job. By adding just the word –job to your keywords, or better yet to your negative keyword list that can be applied campaign wide, you will prevent all variants of cleaning service job from reducing your ROI.

In addition you can also use phrase and exact match modifiers on negative keywords to further focus your exclusions. So using –[motorcycle] will still allow fast motorcycle to be matched to your regular keywords.

Identifying what negative keywords to employ may be a daunting effort, especially if you are using simple broad keywords that can capture a lot of unintended traffic. The best practice is usually to focus your regular keywords somewhat, to optimise for high CTR and ROI, while using negative keywords to only prevent the most damaging search term variants from appearing. The Google AdWords Keyword Planner Tool is very useful here. You only need to enter your regular keywords and scan for high traffic irrelevant searches to exclude.

If your campaign has been active for some time then you would have gathered some data on what user searches triggered clicks to your website. Exploring the search terms page, under the details button on the keywords page, you can identify searches that resulted in clicks that may not be relevant. These are prime candidates to be added as negative keywords in some fashion. This page does not help you identify search terms that did not result in clicks, thus reducing your CTR, but are less of a concern than wasted clicks.

Using negative keywords, and using negative keywords properly, is a vital component of all search campaigns in Google AdWords.

Yuri Shatalov
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