Negative Keywords to Make a Positive Impact on Your Pay-Per-Click
When running any type of online pay-per-click (PPC) ad
campaign, most business professionals spend a lot of time planning
their keywords. They know what phrases customers use to find them,
and they make sure their site is findable with those specific search
terms. Unfortunately, these same keyword-savvy businesspeople often
miss one important element of pay-per-click keywords: Defining
negative keywords. In other words, they fail to spell out how they
do not want customers to find them.
“Wait a minute,”
you may be thinking. “Why would I want someone not to find me? I
want all the Web traffic I can get.” While you certainly do want
lots of Web traffic, even more important is getting the right
Web traffic. Negative keywords help you accomplish that.
Negative or “excluded” keywords are the list of search terms
under which you do not want to show up in search results.
Google AdWords, Yahoo! Paid Search and MSN AdCenter all offer you
the option of selecting “negative” or “excluded” keywords to add to
This option is important because search engines make matching
decisions on your behalf, and if you don’t have a list of negative
keywords in your PPC accounts, you could end up paying for wasted
clicks. By missing the chance to determine how you do NOT want to be
found, you are letting Google, Yahoo! or MSN match your ad to what
they think is relevant, rather than to what you know is relevant.
This can hurt your branding, identity and market position – not to
mention the money you are wasting by paying for a click for
something you don’t sell or offer.
To put the value of negative keywords in perspective,
consider the following example. Let’s say that you’re in the
business of selling fine timepieces, such as Rolex, Breitling and
Concorde, and that each of those brand names is in your keyword
campaign. If you only offer authentic, certified watches, you will
want to exclude certain words from your account so you do not show
up in any searches that include the words “knock-off,” “discount,”
“imitation,” or “fake.” Otherwise if someone types “fake Rolex” into
the search bar, and if “fake” is not one of your negative keywords,
then you will show up in that search, which is a bad result for you
and for the searcher.
If, however, you create a list of negative keywords and you
include them in your ad campaign, then you will not show up on any
search results page when someone types in “fake,” knock-off” or
“imitation.” By using negative keywords you exclude yourself from
“Rolex” searches that aren’t looking for the real thing.
To make identifying your negative keywords easier, follow
1) Use the negative
keyword tool in Google AdWords:
To aid in building your negative keyword list, Google AdWords
provides a “negative” keyword suggestion tool inside their “Keyword
Tool.” The negative keyword tool is buried, so you have to look for
it. Obviously the PPC providers don’t want to encourage negative
keywords because they make money every time someone clicks on your
ad, whether it’s relevant to the search or not.
The negative keyword tool will tell you all the “intelligent”
associations being made on your campaign keywords. These keywords
will change seasonally, so keep a close eye on them and keep adding
new negatives each month (see tip #2). Make sure to set your
calendar or Outlook settings to remind you to check your “negatives”
suggestions in Google’s Keyword Tool.
2) Check for new
negatives by month and season for trending:
Your negative keywords could change every month or
season. Thinking in terms of “seasons” will help you expand both
your keyword and negative keyword lists in many ways, since people
cook different things, wear different clothes, buy different
products, seek different services, and consider major purchases in
different seasonal patterns. Even if you do B2B sales you have
seasons, such as when you’re ramping up for a big conference, when
budgets get renewed, or when quarterly earnings reports are due.
To get a better idea of how seasons change what people buy
and do, consider the search term “cooking.” As you approach the
holiday season, people will search for holiday recipes, including
turkeys and roasts, rich decadent desserts and comfort foods. But
once January rolls around, cooking searches focus on non-fat
cooking, healthy cooking, and diet-specific cooking foods and
techniques. In the summer months you’ll see outdoor cooking and
barbeque cooking dominate.
So no matter what you sell or offer, you can’t just sit on
the fact that you have a certain list of negative keywords. You have
to know the seasonality of your own business and change your
negative keywords accordingly.
Apply global negatives and ad group negatives differently: A
global negative keyword tells your PPC provider that you are NOT
that word under any circumstance – no matter what the searcher types
into the search bar. For example, if you sell high-end designer
purses, you are never “cheap,” never “counterfeit” and never
“knock-off.” These would be some of your global negatives.
But let’s suppose you also have some color and style keyword
ad groups, because you know that people who search for designer
purses frequently type in the color and style they want. If it’s
winter and you don’t sell light color purses, such as white and
cream, in the colder months, then you’d want “white,” “cream,”
“beige,” and any other light colors to be some of your negative
keywords for the specific ad group. Then when spring rolls around,
you can delete those negatives and replace them with other colors
you don’t sell for that season. When you’re applying negatives to a
certain ad group, you can be more specific than with your global
4) Pick your
negative keywords carefully:
Don’t add negative
keywords to your account without carefully considering each one.
After all, if your negative keywords are too general, you might miss
out on some valid Web traffic. For example, just because someone
types in “cheap” doesn’t mean that person wouldn’t buy something
expensive. Therefore, add negative keywords carefully so you don’t
negate the buying cycle or shut down traffic.
Also, don’t confuse mistakes, errors or misspellings with
negative keywords. They are not the same thing. You DO want to be
found under common mistakes and misspellings, whereas you do NOT
want to be found under your negative keywords. For example, you do
NOT want to add North Carolina to your list of negative keywords if
you’re a hotel in Hilton Head, South Carolina. You want to include
this common error in your keywords, as this is truly knowing your
customers inside and out and catering to them even if they make a
mistake. So pick the obvious negative keywords, but don’t go
Negative Keywords =
By utilizing the
negative keyword function to the fullest, you will separate yourself
from your competitors and make the most of every click you pay for.
Advertisers who take advantage of this tactic get better, more
qualified visibility for their ads, and ultimately get better
conversions for their investment dollar.
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