Are you shelling out big bucks on PPC, hoping to get people to buy your stuff or set an appointment, but the Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) is just too high? If you’re looking to get rid of wasted ad dollars, the first place you want to check is the search terms your prospects are using to find you. Many times, our keywords are triggered by a phrase that has an entirely different meaning than what we are targeting. Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a plastic surgeon serving the Denver area. You’re probably bidding on a term like “breast augmentation Denver.” You definitely want a searcher with that intent seeing your ad, right?
Maybe not. Depending on the match type you’re using, your ad could be showing when someone types in:
- Free breast augmentation Denver
- Breast augmentation class action lawsuit Denver
- Breast augmentation Denver horror stories
- Breast augmentation Denver bad credit
In a competitive market, these terms can significantly increase your conversion cost. The good news is that ad platforms like Google AdWords and Microsoft BingAds allow you to add negative keywords to your campaign, thus excluding your ad from showing up if there are certain words or phrases that are not what you are trying to target. These “negative keywords” can keep your costs down and your click rates up, and knowing how to come up with them is a must-have tactic for your marketing arsenal.
The Power Behind Negative Keywords
Negative keywords allow you to filter who sees your ad if a phrase or keyword you’ve identified is in a prospect’s search query. By implementing negative keywords, you won’t be wasting precious ad dollars on dead-end traffic. For most PPC campaigns, you’re paying for every click—good or bad. The golden rule of PPC is that you only want those who are genuinely interested in your offer to click on your ad. Negative keywords prevent your ad from showing to people who have no intention of ever buying what you’re selling, therefore saving you money. The best keywords aren’t cheap. Expensive keywords like “insurance” will set you back nearly $55 per click. If you’re paying that kind of money, you want to make sure only people interested in your exact product click on your ad. Even if your keyword falls closer to the average $2.14-per-click range, you still want to attract the right people—people who want to learn about what you have to offer. Finding the ideal keyword can be tricky. You don’t want to cast too broad a net, and since negative keywords help ensure that mostly only interested searchers click on your ads, they keep your costs down—even if you bid on a popular broad keyword.
Note: Negative keywords have match types, just like regular keywords. You can choose exact, phrase, or broad matches to decide what you want to exclude. Here’s a breakdown of what those terms mean:
- Exact – This is the most precise option. Your ad won’t show if someone uses the exact terms, in the exact order, with nothing more.
- Phrase – If anything is added before or after the negative keyword, your ad won’t show.
- Broad – This is the default. With this match type, if someone merely types in your negative keyword in any order, then your ad won’t show.
Be sure to think through all the possibilities to make sure you’re not excluding words that may be of use to your ad campaign.
How to Come Up with Negative Keywords
You can find negative keywords the same way you find positive keywords: a little research and an exercise in putting yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer.
Generate a List of Negative Keywords
There are all kinds of free online tools that can help you come up with negative keyword lists:
WordStream has an easy-to-use negative keyword tool. You simply plug your keyword phrase into the box, and up pops a list of potential words to exclude. This also gives you the option to choose the match type—broad, phrase, or exact.
You can also find negative keywords right from your AdWords dashboard. By using AdWords search terms, you can see what the searcher typed in to find your ad. If you see terms that aren’t relevant to your ad, add them to your negative keyword list!
2 Negative Keyword Pro Tips
Tip #1: What you choose as negative keywords obviously depends on what you’re hoping to accomplish, but here are some common negative keywords that apply to many AdWords campaigns:
The list goes on, but that gives you the general idea of the types of clicks you definitely don’t want to be paying for—unless, of course, you’re running a free porn scam on YouTube. For your particular ad campaign, the list should also include overly broad search terms. The more you get rid of general search terms, the more success you’ll have.
Tip #2: Don’t worry about including too many negative keywords. AdWords can handle it. You’re allowed to have 5,000 keywords per negative keyword list and a whopping 10,000 negative keywords per campaign. That gives you plenty of room to exclude those ineffectual keywords that give you no benefit. Another bonus with AdWords? You don’t have to come up with a negative keyword list for every campaign. You can use 20 shared keyword lists per account.
An Example of How They Work
So how does all this play out in an actual PPC campaign? Let’s take a look. Say you’re a car dealer who sells the latest model of Ford Mustang. You may want to bid on the keyword phrase “Ford Mustangs.” To keep costs down and improve performance, it’s important to only bid on this phrase when it’s relevant to what you’re selling. This is where you can make use of negative keywords and refine what you’re bidding on. Since your aim is to sell new Ford Mustangs, you’ll want to exclude words such as:
- Old model years
- Anything else that doesn’t have to do directly with new Ford Mustangs
You don’t want someone who’s searching for a classic 1965 Mustang to click on your ad for a 2018 model. That’s wasting their time and your money. Of course, as a car dealer, you may also have a service department, in which case you wouldn’t want to exclude terms such as “parts” and “bumpers” from all your campaigns. With AdWords, you can tweak your keywords at the Account level, the Campaign level, and the Ad Group level, so potential customers are guided to landing pages tailored to their needs.
How Do I Know If Negative Keywords Are Being Used?
If someone else is managing your account, and you’re not sure they are deploying an effective negative keyword strategy, then request the following two documents, so you can review them personally.
- Request a copy of all negative keywords: If you’re outsourcing the management of your PPC accounts, then the first thing you should do is ask for a negative keyword report. Your account manager should be able to provide a document in Excel or CSV that has all the negative keywords currently in use with your account. This document can be complicated, but you should see words that you can identify as not being useful keywords to you.
- Request a copy of the Matched Search Query Report for the last 30 Days: This report will show you all the actual keyword search terms that users typed into the search engines that triggered your keywords. When reviewing the list, ask yourself if these terms identify your core customer. If they do not, you may have a problem.
If you are having trouble getting these reports, you can get them yourself. To do so, you’ll need access to your own PPC accounts (BIG red flag if you can’t do this). We’ll use AdWords as the example:
- Log into your account at http://adwords.google.com.
- Make sure you are looking at “All Campaigns” and the date range is “Last 30 Days.”
- Click on the “Keywords” tab.
- Click on “Search Terms.” These are the terms people are entering to find your ads. Do these look right to you? You can also download this list if you like.
- To get Negative Keywords, click on “Negative Keywords.” From here, you can see what negative keywords are in the account. Are these words you definitely don’t want to show up for?
Why You Need a Negative Keyword Strategy Now
Negative keywords are all about getting your ad in front of the right people. They help you control who sees your ads, so there’s less waste, and you’ll get more bang for your buck. If you use negative keywords effectively, your ad won’t show up in an irrelevant search, which means you’ll boost your ad campaign’s performance. By implementing a robust negative keyword strategy, you’ll enjoy:
- An improved click-through rate
- A better Quality Score from Google
- Perhaps most importantly, more conversions
If you’re ready to get more out of your existing budget, it’s time to be rigorous with negative keyword matches.