How to Use Negative Keywords to Reduce Wasted Spend

Search Marketing

Between RankBrain, machine learning and artificial intelligence, Google’s algorithm does a great job at determining what users want answers to and strives to provide the highest quality answers available. But as advanced as search queries may be, there’s still room for even more clarity. That’s where keywords come in.

When you are building a search engine marketing strategy in your marketing campaign, choosing effective keywords is the foundation. As important as it is to have strong keywords, many marketers overlook the necessity of incorporating negative keywords into their searches as well. In fact, forgetting to utilize negative keywords is one of the top mistakes marketers make with Google AdWords.

Negative keywords are words or phrases that essentially disqualify your page from a search. For instance, if your company offers coffee beans but not tea and “tea” is one of your negative keywords, then a search for “tea leaves and coffee beans” will not list your website as a result.

The most important reason to utilize negative keywords is to qualify your website so the result gives the searcher exactly what they want. Attracting people to your website with the wrong keywords will only increase your bounce rate, of which can hurt your rankings.

High bounce rates are especially significant when you are running PPC campaigns. If someone accidentally clicks on your ad, or is dissatisfied with the result and leaves your site, you are losing money. Incorporating negative keywords into your SEM campaign can help make sure your advertising campaigns target the correct audience, resulting in higher conversion rates.

Using negative keywords allow you to exclude specific search terms so you can focus more on the ones that truly matter to your target audience. Essentially, they work to provide better targeting to put your content in front of the most interested eyes while improving ROI.

If you’ve yet to make negative keyword lists for your paid search campaigns, these tips will help you steer clear of paying for the wrong kinds of clicks and attract new customers.

1. Target the Right Customers

Your paid search campaign’s goal is to attract customers, but not just any customer. You need to attract the right customer, and negative keywords can help you do just that.

Let’s say you’re looking to promote a new line of raincoats your company is selling and you want to directly reach customers looking for this exact product in your PPC campaign. Now, let’s say someone is looking for employment opportunities within your company. While they do want to reach your website, if they’re not specifically looking for raincoats, your ad spend isn’t going to be utilized to its best ability.

Using negative keywords can help you target not just any customers, but the right customers by offering clarity. In the example above, negative keywords can ultimately separate someone who is looking to buy your product from someone who is looking for a job.

For example, someone looking for a job will likely include words like “employment,” “hire,” “hiring,” “jobs,” “salary,” and the like in their search query. By adding these negative keywords to your paid search campaign, you can reduce the number of job seekers from finding and clicking through to your website.

For more insight on this, check out Darian Schoten’s great list of 75 negative keywords that should be included in your all of your AdWords and PPC campaigns.

2. Understand the Terms

The first step to take when creating your list to make sure you understand the differences between exact, phrase and broad match searches.

An exact match means the words or phrases used in the search match perfectly with the website’s keywords. A broad match means the search engine listed your result because your keywords were synonyms for the search. This can be helpful or hurtful to your site since it can sometimes bring irrelevant search results.

3. Weed Out Irrelevant Traffic

There are lots of opportunities for vague keywords to creep into your campaign and direct irrelevant traffic to your website — but negative keywords help prevents your ad from being displayed when a search query contains your keywords but isn’t relevant to your campaign. Search engine marketers will immediately recognize this similarity with link building campaigns.

Let’s say a bride to be is looking for local spa services to prepare for her upcoming wedding day. She types “spa services near me” into a search query. Your business comes back as a result via your paid search campaign — the only problem is you offer pool and spa services. Not only was her traffic irrelevant, but any clicks to your website can cost you. Creating negative keyword lists to avoid this issue will help weed out irrelevant traffic and won’t burn through your budget.

4. Focus on Customers Who Are Ready to Buy Right Now

Emphasis on right now. Not everyone who clicks through to your campaign will be ready to buy your product or services, even if they do plan on purchasing in the future. Ultimately, people who are in the research stage, most likely aren’t ready to make purchases and will return to Google two to three more times before making a decision.

Luckily, using negative keywords can help you avoid those who aren’t ready to buy just yet. By adding terms such as “compare” or “what is” to your negative keyword lists you can focus on buyer-motivated keywords and reaching those who are ready to make a purchase. This is also a good time to add words like “free” to your negative keywords since those looking for a free product or service will likely leave your site if they find you don’t offer any.

5. Avoid Cross-Campaign Matches

In cases where you’re running multiple paid search campaigns simultaneously, negative keywords can help segregate your efforts by a particular brand, product, or intent.

This strategy comes in handy if you’re marketing products and services that are similar but have different budgets and goals. For example, let’s say that Nike is running different campaigns for Nike shoes and Nike apparel. Creating separate paid search campaigns for these products is challenging since Nike provides both shoes and apparel for a variety of sports, from basketball to golf.

With the creation of negative keyword lists, however, you can restrict queries and target only product-specific keywords.

For example, if you selling laptop computers, you wouldn’t want your promotional content to be displayed for search queries like:

  • Desktop computers
  • Buy desktop computers online
  • Deals on desktop computers
  • Office computer
  • Buy Dell PC

Once you have come up with a good list, you will want to set your negatives for terms like “PC” and “desktop computers.”

As a result, you will still be able to use similar general keywords in all of your campaigns, without worrying about broad match terms eating up your budget.

Getting the hang of creating negative keyword lists across multiple paid search campaigns can be challenging, but it is entirely worth the effort.

In the beginning, people are typically entering broader queries. For instance, if your business designs mobile apps, common searches might include phrases like:

  • How to monetize an app
  • How to make money with an app
  • Creating a profitable mobile app

As interest grows, you will need to select more actionable, in-depth terms. From here, you can get granular for each negative term to include in your lists for each of your campaigns.

Keep in mind, if you are running multiple campaigns of a similar nature, it’s incredibly easy to mix up with relevant keywords. Staying flawlessly organized here is critical. Using the wrong negatives can have detrimental effects.

6. Use Online Tools to Help

Brainstorming your own list of negative keywords can be helpful, but it’s fairly unlikely you will be able to come up with an exhaustive list by yourself. Luckily, there are plenty of keyword tools to help expand your keywords and give you more suggestions.

Wordstream offers a free tool in which you can enter in a negative keyword, then the site will show related words to consider adding to your list. Wordstream only allows for thirty searches, but it’s a great resource for compiling some related phrases to your bank of negative keywords.

Soovle offers a similar service, but it shows search engine results for multiple sites at once. One very helpful resource Soovle offers is Amazon search results. This can help online retail businesses (of which sell on Amazon) make sure they suppress keywords that are not related to their product.

7. Check Out Suggestion Compilations

A great way to assemble a starting point for a negative keyword list is to start with keywords that are commonly used by other companies. Benefit from the research conducted by other sites and save yourself some time and headaches by adding in common words you do not want to be associated with your site.

Let’s use the example of a coffee bean company once again. Your coffee company does not provide educational services; therefore, you will want to add words like “class”, “course”, and “training” to your negative keywords list. If your company is not hiring, you may want to suppress words like “barista position”, “coffee shop job” or “employment opportunities” so people searching for a job in the coffee industry will not be led to your site.

8. Test Your Search Terms Report

Chances are, if you have already created keyword lists, you are familiar with Google’s Keyword Planner. Google offers reports listing the top searches leading people to your website. From this list, you can determine which words not only work to connect your website to the search engines but if there are any irrelevant words that are drawing results.

To get your report from Google AdWords, you can access the list under the Campaigns tab, then Keywords, then Details. Select all under the “Search Terms” option, and Google will compile the list in a downloadable report.

The next step is to use this report to discover negative keywords. Filter the report to show only broad and phrase match keywords. This eliminates exact keyword matches so you can see which keywords are still bringing results but are not necessarily included in your list.

Analyze the conversion rates for these words so you can determine which keywords are not helpful to users who have clicked on your site. Add these to your negative keywords to eliminate results from those irrelevant searches in the future.

Going back to our coffee shop example, perhaps the search for “organic coffee beans” is leading to a lot of traffic on your website, but a low conversion rate – as your company does not offer organic products. In this case, you will want to add the word “organic” to your negative keyword list.

In Conclusion

As you build a PPC strategy for your website, it’s imperative you understand the thought process of your customers. Investigate what searches are bringing the highest number of conversions, as well as the highest number of bounce rates and wasted spend.

There are lots of resources out there to help you create a comprehensive list. But, it’s important to note this is not a one-time project. Just like your regular keywords, you will want to update your negative keyword list often. Doing can save you a lot of money and benefit your website’s visibility in the long run.

Ultimately, while negative keywords tend to be overlooked, failing to use them can burn through your ad spend and take the steam out of your campaigns. Fortunately, even adding just a few simple negative keywords to your campaigns can help who sees your ads, and just as importantly, who doesn’t see your ads.

Chaitanya Patel a PPC Account Manager at E2M, a full-service digital agency. He is passionate about PPC, which translates to SEM success for E2M and its clientele. He loves exploring all things related to paid search, digital marketing and is a certified professional with a decade-old experience in Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Google Analytics. Feel free to tweet him @patelchaitanya if you want to chat with him about anything related to paid search.