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Negative Keywords Are Key for Optimisation

This Week We’re Talking About Negative Keywords

Negative Keywords are Old School but very important for getting good results in search marketing. Paid search (PPC) marketing is the number one channel for digital advertising, so this is one of the most important things to get right.

It is well known how effective Search Marketing  can be, and that it is particularly useful for reaching potential customers looking to purchase close to the end of their journey.

But, it’s not quite the same game it was. Back in the old days the majority of the work in building out the accounts was compiling vast numbers of exact match key word variations, with many accounts having hundreds of thousands of keywords.

Google Tries to Help

Today, Google’s machine learning and other wizardry means it has become fairly good at working out similar meanings and so they now strongly encourage people to use simpler, ‘expanded broad match’ keywords that automatically match to a larger number of similar phrases. There is also the issue of low search volume making many keywords pointless to add in the beginning of building your campaign.

That’s not to say that there isn’t key word databases to research to build out. And, phrase and exact match are still useful, although exact match is now more like broad match, allowing word order variations as well as lumping singular and plural and other word variants in there. Longer term you should still build out exact match positive keywords from converting queries in plain old text campaigns. In Shopping, there is no positive keywords to worry about, so its all about bid modifiers and Negative Keywords.

The truth though is that Google doesn’t do a perfect job of this. Whereas there was a very considerable burden in building out exact match keyword databases, it’s now much more about bid modifiers, demographics, but lastly and yet perhaps most importantly – adding Negative Keywords.

So the machine learning and algos in Googles Magic Black Box haven’t really reduced workload if you want to get good results.

Start By Regularly Reviewing Search Terms

To really optimise with negative keywords it really helps to routinely review the search queries, and understand your products well. Of course you need a good grasp of the areas language so you can make sense of the intent of potential customers.

Certain tools also exist that can identify how much each individual word has appeared and what its cost is, and whether it is associated with conversions. This can be used to identify broad and phrase match negative keywords that can remove more traffic than exact match, without harming conversions. This tutorial focuses on the tools inside Google Ads only.

When performing search query analysis, it is useful to use the Compare Date Range feature in Google Ads. This allows you to check the total cost of that search term from the start of your campaign, and what its overal CPA or ROI is. By selecting in the compare date range say the last week (since the previous search term analysis) and clicking on the column at the top to sort by clicks that occured in your window for checking, you can see your new queries and whether they have been converting before over the whole campaign life.

Start by selecting the date range;

compare date range























As you can see, the green highlighted dates are the compare dates, to see this feature you need to toggle on ‘Compare’ to the left of the dates.

Now click Apply. Next, go to your keyword section on the left column menu, search terms at the top, and then select your columns –

search query date comparisom















I can select now the search terms that have spent money in my compare date range. In the example shown below I can select to add a search term as a negative exact match keyword to the ad group or campaign level. But I can also edit the search term by removing the [] brackets and replacing with “” or leave out. This converts exact match to Phrase and Broad respectively.

negative keyword









Here I selected [Insulated Plasterboard], which is exact match by default, because I could see this term has cost me £5 with no conversions and I expected a conversion. Because this ad group is a targeted rather than generic one, I remove the generic phrase from this ad group, but I don’t add the negative to a more generic ad group where it can still appear, but at a lower Cost Per Click, because I have set lower bids in that one.

Negative Keyword Match Types

Broad match negative keywords should be single words only, and you would normally add these to just the ad group rather than the whole campaign, unless it is obvious they are very unrelated to your services, and never convert.

It’s also a good idea to use the filter feature, and search for search word queries that contain individual words or phrases to see how often search terms containing these actually convert, and adding as broad or phrase match if they never do. We also have a tool that automatically checks every word combination up to 4 words in search terms, but you will need to use the methods outlined here.

A word of warning. Some search terms never convert well, but if you are too aggresive in removing them sometimes it has a negative effect on campaign CPA/ROI. This is because they may be much further up the funnel and are not expected to convert yet. Also, it may be effected by how you have set your attribution model in Adwords, for example by selecting Last Click, or First Click or Linear.

It’s also useful looking at search terms with very low click through rates. Select the CTR column, filter low to high. Adding the lowest CTR search terms as negatives can be beneficial. Since Quality Score is determined in part by CTR this will improve the CTR of your ads.

Layer Ad Groups with Negative Keywords

The best practice is to split your campaign out into ad groups which have common themes and products, but also have some ad groups that are very generic to allow less ideal search terms through with few negative keywords. As these will often spend like crazy, you would give those keywords or products a lower Max CPC, which sets how much you want to pay for each click.

The advantage of layering like this is especially great when you have remarketing set up, allowing you to reach the same consumer at different stages of their purchase journey.

Because it can be advantageous to add a lot of generic negative keywords to a whole campaign, it is sometimes better to have your generic ad groups in a separate campaign so that your targeted campaign can have more negative keywords applied at campaign level, which speeds up negative keyword optimisation, and your generic campaign has much fewer negatives and lower bids.

That also gives you a chance to optimise other things like ad schedules, and you can easily optimise to devices at campaign level, where the ROI may be very different for more generic search terms.

A good practice is to name your ad groups with any relevant information that helps you understand the products in them, and that helps greatly with identifying negative keywords.

If you would like any help with your digital advertising strategy then please do get in touch, we are experienced PPC marketers.



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