PPC Money-Waster #2: No Negative Keywords

What’s a Negative Keyword?

A negative keyword is a keyword you enter into the AdWords interface that tells Google that you don’t want to show up for that particular word. Why do you need to tell Google what you don’t want to show up for, you ask? Read on, my friend…

The Problem

When you use broad match & phrase match keywords (check out my last post about Excessive Use of Broad Match Keywords) your ads will inevitably end up showing up for keywords that may be completely irrelevant, or at least aren’t 100% desirable.

Here’s an example of where we’ve seen a negative keyword save one our clients a considerable amount of money. The client I’m thinking of is a glass company – they do custom glass work (railings, glass walls/partitions, showers, mirrors). The negative keywords ‘car’ and ‘auto’ have likely saved them thousands of dollars. The phrase ‘auto glass’ alone is searched over 60,000 times per month in Canada (over 450,000 for my American friends). A paid search account for a glass company that incorporates broad match keywords absolutely would trigger their ad for a search query for anything ‘auto glass’ related.

The Solution

The solution to not using negative keywords… Use negative keywords!!!

Now, as opposed to racking your brain trying to figure out what all of these negative keywords are going to be, there are two simple tools that you can use to build up a negative keyword list that will prevent your ads from showing up for some money-wasting search queries.

Google Keyword Tool

The Google Keyword Tool has multiple uses, including finding terms for paid search and organic search, but it can also be a good way of finding negative keywords as well. Start off by entering in some of your target keywords. Start scrolling through the results and you’ll inevitably find some keywords for which you don’t want to be showing up.

Search Queries Report

Using the Google Keyword Tool represents a proactive way of doing negative keyword research and ensuring that you never show up for a certain word. For existing AdWords advertisers, examining your search queries report represents a reactive way of making sure that you never show for a given word again.

When you’re logged into your AdWords account, go to the Keywords tab, and then find the Keyword Details button. You can either select to examine the actual search queries for all keywords, or just for certain keywords that you select. Scrolling through this report will show you the actual queries that users typed in that resulted in your ad being displayed (and for the most part, queries that resulted in a click on your ad). When you find a word that you don’t want to show up for, that should become a negative keyword.


Negative Broad Match

Unfortunately it’s not so simple that you scroll through your search query report and see the phrase ‘car mirror’ come up, and then say to yourself, “Well, I don’t want to show up for anything ‘car-related’, so I’ll go ahead and add ‘car’ as a negative keyword”. If you go to your negative keywords and enter –car (that would be a negative broad match keyword) your ads will continue to show for the plural, cars. And you’ll definitely keep showing up for words like auto and vehicle. A negative broad match keyword, does not work in the same way that a regular positive broad match keyword works, in the sense that it matches your keyword up to ‘close variations’.

Negative Phrase Match

So you’re browsing through the Google Keyword Tool and you see the keyword ‘how to clean carpets’. If you’re a carpet cleaner, you may not like that keyword because it suggests the user has no interest in your services, but rather, they’re looking to perform the work themselves. In this case, it’s best to enter -“how to” as a negative phrase match keyword. This will prevent your ads from showing up on any keywords that have the phrase ‘how to’ in them. It would not be considered a best practice to enter  –  how to without the quotes, because that would create a negative broad match keyword. This would still prevent your ad from showing up for ‘how to clean carpets’, but it would also prevent your ad from showing up for a search query that arguably, could be a desirable keyword like ‘how much does it to clean carpets’. Your ad wouldn’t show for this term because both the words ‘how’ and ‘to’ are in the user’s search query.

Negative Exact Match

Sticking with the carpet cleaner example, a negative exact match can come in very handy. If you’re using the broad match keyword ‘carpet cleaner’, Google may very well show your ad for the search query ‘carpets’. But as a carpet cleaner, do you want to show up if a user is searching for just carpets? What is that person really searching for? Odds are, in this case, they’re not looking for a carpet cleaner. So you can add the negative exact match keywords [carpet] and –[carpets] which will prevent you from showing up if users search for those exact terms.

Negative exact match keywords are very useful in preventing your ads from showing up for single-word keywords that typically have a very high volume of searches, but it’s very difficult to determine the intent of the user.


About Steve Gould

Steve Gould is the President of Fidelity Internet Marketing. We help small- and mid-sized business owners understand what web marketing is all about & drive qualified visitors to their website that turn into customers.