A beginner’s guide to using negative keywords in PPC

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Let’s set the scene. You’ve signed up to Google Adwords, entered your payment details, maybe even created a few ads and got to grips with the different types of matches for keywords.

You may even have gone ahead and sent your ads live. Easy enough. But you are fully aware that it doesn’t end there.

PPC can be an expensive hobby and you’re determined that your PPC campaign will become a valuable marketing channel rather than a resented, money-burning pastime.

In order to make the most of your PPC investment, you are going to have to make use of both common sense and data to constantly tailor your ads. You want to hone in on specific buyer personas which, as a byproduct (or whichever way round you want to view it), rid your campaign of wasted clicks.

You can do this by assessing quality score, A/B testing ad formats, revisiting your keywords and adding nice features such as call out extensions.

But as the title suggests, we’re here to talk about negative keywords. In this article we will walk through the basics of negative keywords in order to get you up and running. There’s loads of more detailed PPC tips on Search Engine Watch, so if you’re after pro tips we suggest using the handy search bar!

What are negative keywords?

One of the steps in creating your adverts is to assign the types of search terms that you want your adverts to appear for. Hopefully you have been specific about your keywords, focusing on user intent and relevance.

As you would imagine, negative keywords are almost the complete opposite of your target keywords. They help you give guidelines to Google, dictating the types of search terms for which you do not want to appear.

When would you use negative keywords?

Google defines negative keywords as “A type of keyword that prevents your ad from being triggered by a certain word or phrase. Your ads aren’t shown to anyone who is searching for that phrase. This is also known as a negative match.

A common example of negative keyword use is ‘cheap’ (Google use ‘free’ as an example). Let’s say you make bespoke furniture or high-end watches; it makes sense that you would not want to pay for clicks from searchers looking for cheaper alternatives.

You also need to banish ambiguity. In her ultimate guide to AdWords keyword match types and negatives, Lisa Raehsler used a good example of ‘blueberry muffins’ in that the user intent could be for both recipes and bakeries – two very different user intents.

In such a situation you would then add ‘recipes’ or ‘bakeries’, whichever suits you, to your negative keywords.

Where do I enter negative keywords?

You may already have noticed the negative keywords tab when you were busy adding keywords for either a campaign or ad group – the tab is right next to the ‘keywords’ tab!

You can either enter Campaign level negative keywords which will apply the negative keyword across your whole campaign or alternatively you can also define them for specific ad groups depending on the complexity of your campaign. Simply select the ad group that you want to add your negative keywords to.

Note that, like keywords, you are able to define whether each negative keyword is exact, broad or phrase match. Amanda DiSilvestro explains more about these different types of keyword matches in her common PPC mistakes piece.

Finding negative keywords

If your campaign has already been running for a while, we would still not advise diving straight into your search terms tab. If you’ve ever read about the concept of ‘anchoring’ you would understand why – ever been asked to describe something without using a particular word, but all you can think about is that word? Same idea.

The data on search terms for which your website is appearing is not going anywhere, so why not take the time to use your own industry knowledge? Brainstorm the types of businesses, products or services that yours could be mistaken for and the search terms which would be used to describe them.

You are likely to uncover some negative keywords that haven’t been used by searchers yet – remember that if it shows up in your search terms, then you’ll have paid for it! After completing your brainstorming you can then use the search terms tab to identify further negative keywords.

SEO can play its part too. The worlds of SEO and Google Adwords can often come to blows, as teams compete for sought-after budgets and are inevitably looking to position their channel as the most effective.

We’re all on the same team, though, right? There is considerable overlap between the two, and PPC and SEO teams can actually work together, sharing data to benefit both campaigns.

If you are already collecting and analyzing data for your SEO campaign, it is advisable to dip into this data. It may well unearth potential negative keywords that your website is appearing for in organic search which have not yet found its way into your Adwords data.

Kill two birds with one stone by adding these negative keywords to your AdWords campaign or ad group and reassess your SEO strategy to hone in on that perfect buyer persona!

Keep checking in

If you don’t need to make adjustments to your campaign after setting it up, then I would suggest quitting your job and becoming a PPC guru!

Your campaign set-up may be top-notch, but things change: new data appears, different search terms develop and competitors change tactics. The knock-on effect is that you should keep checking in on your AdWords campaign (and negative keywords) regularly. If you don’t, you are either braver or sillier than I am (probably both).

Don’t waste your hard-earned cash by missing opportunities to maximize your investment; or, in the case of negative keywords, allow Google to charge you for clicks via search terms that are irrelevant to you and your business.

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