Search Engine Marketing, also known as Pay Per Click Advertising in many circles, can drive some outstanding results for businesses of all sizes in pretty much any industry. The key is to build the campaigns properly, including both the overall structure, the keywords targeting, and finally, how you work to discourage bad clicks. Negative keywords are one way to do this, so let’s look at how to use them, and what the most common negative keywords are that you might want to deploy for your own campaign.
First, You Should Understand Match Types
If you already run PPC campaigns, you should be intimately familiar with the concept of match types. For those of you who are not, the premise is that you can set a “match type” for a keyword to decide how broadly or narrowly the search engine will cast the net when targeting that keyword.
The most open match type is broad match, where your ad will show for nearly any close match to the keyword. This includes things like synonyms, misspellings, and more. Broad match can include the string being targeted, or any derivation of it including additional words, a different order of words, etc.
The most tightly targeted match type is exact match. When you use exact match, the search engines will only show your ad when the precise string of characters targeted is queried. For example, if I am targeting an exact match keyword like [orange floppy sandals], the ad will show up when (and only when) someone searches for only the characters included in the brackets.
There are various other types of matching that Google and Bing can do, both of which fall between broad and exact in nature. If you hear of “phrase match” and “modified broad match,” that’s what I’m talking about. Rather than turn this into a post about match types, let’s get on to the point…
Why Use Negative Keywords?
Negative keywords are, essentially, just another match type. But they operate differently than all of the aforementioned options.
When you use negative keywords, it introduces the logic of “target everything but…” What does that mean?
If I target a broad match of orange floppy sandals, as mentioned previously, I may want to omit some of the more far reaching matches that Google will make for the broad match. For example, Google may see the word “floppy” and try to show the ads for queries about “floppy disks.” Or they might see the word “orange” and show the ad when someone searches for some genus of orange, the fruit. Naturally, I’d want to filter those out, hence the “target everything but…” logic.
How to Identify Negative Keywords
Once you have your PPC campaign alive and running, you will want to spend time identifying and deploying new negative match keywords from the start. This is one of the ways you can get your click thru (CTR) rate up – by eliminating “bad impressions,” where you show up on unrelated searches, you’ll see an improved CTR even at the same volume of clicks.
Did you realize that you can see the actual search queries which drove impressions and clicks in your AdWords campaign? This is the way to figure out what bad matches Google has made, so you can assign negative keywords accordingly.
To view the queries, start by selecting the “Dimensions” tab from the campaign view, as shown in the image below.
Once you select this item, the detailed list of search terms will load for you to review. This list is outstanding, and it provides several columns of information about each term:
- The search term itself (i.e. the keyword searched for)
- The match type, including designation of whether it was a “close variant” or exact match to the keyword originally targeted
- Added / Excluded – indicating whether you have added the keyword to the campaign as a positive or negative match. Note that this view is also a great way to identify new exact match keywords that serve up your ad based on broader match types.
- Clicks – filtered for whatever span of time you designate in the dropdown at the top of the view
- Impressions – also filtered for time frame
- Average CPC (Cost Per Click)
- Cost – total spend on that keyword
- Average Position – in the sidebar, i.e. where the ad showed up when it did appear
- Conversion Information – which you can customize according to what you care about in your own campaign
As with most of the AdWords detail views, you can customize the columns to your preferences. This is what we typically use to get an overview of what is and is not working in our or client PPC campaigns within Google AdWords.
Master List of Negative Keywords
When you are first launching a PPC campaign, and do not have history to pull from, it helps to have a “seed” list of keywords to include in negative match. Most SEM agencies and providers have a standard master list that they use in client accounts at time of launch.
Below is our own Master List for campaigns. We have tested and used this list for years, and it is rock solid as a starting point for getting campaigns off with less of a learning curve in the early days. I have grouped the keywords by category, so that you can filter out any negative keywords which would conflict with your own offering, should that happen to occur.
School Related Negative Keywords
Adult Topic Negative Keywords
Add in unsavory terminology as needed (we will not include curse or vulgar words, but you can figure out what they are)
Job Seeker Negative Keywords
looking for work
Non-Purchase Information Only Negative Keywords
Other Negative Keywords to Consider
Negative Keywords For B2B vs. B2C
Depending on whether you are targeting businesses or consumers, you may also want to filter out some of the following terms.
B2B Filter Out:
business to consumer
B2C Filter Out:
business to business
As you can see, there are a range of areas where you can better hone your keyword targeting for PPC using negative keywords. Use these lists to help get your own campaign off on the right foot. This is a pretty exhaustive, summary, but I would not be surprised to learn that there are more keywords we left off the list. What negative keywords are you using that we omitted? Share in the comments below, and we may want to update the post to include them.