A refresher in maximizing PPC advertising – Match types part two

On May 2, I blogged about changes to match types, specifically exact, phrase, broad and modified broad.

As promised, today’s post is about negative keywords and how they can influence the performance of your paid search campaigns.

What are negatives?

Negative keywords stop your ad from being shown for search queries that contain your negative keyword. For example, if you sell printers, but only new printers, you may want to have the word “used” as part of your negative keyword list.

Negative keywords can be used at both the ad group level and the campaign level in Google AdWords and can either be negative broad match, negative phrase match, or negative exact match.

  • Broad match is not recommended when using negative keywords as there is too much risk of a broad matched negative keyword conflicting with an identified keyword in your account (especially if that keyword is broad matched).
  • Phrase match is efficient because you can cover many keyword phrases with a single word – for example if you sell Fargo printers but not a particular line such as the DTC line, rather than creating negative keywords for every Fargo DTC model of printer, you can simply enter “dtc” as a negative keyword phrase and that will cover off the bulk of these printers.
  • Exact match would be more useful if there are only certain printers that you do not carry and want to use exact match to stop your ads from appearing when people search on these exact terms but you want to ensure that you do not accidentally prevent your ad from showing when people search for the printers you do carry.

Why use negatives?

Using negative keywords can increase your Click Through Rate (CTR), improve your quality score, decrease your Cost Per Click (CPC) and thereby improve your overall ROI.

A Refresher in Maximizing PPC Advertising – keywords


How can negative keywords increase your CTR? What if a person were searching for printer drivers (for example, “HP2600n printer drivers”) and your ad reads “We sell the latest printers from HP”. Your ad does not indicate that you offer driver downloads for the printers you sell and the searcher may click on a different ad that promotes drivers. You have just missed a click, thereby decreasing your CTR.

Quality score

Quality score is tied to your CTR as well as the relevancy of your keywords to your ad and to your landing page. If a person searches for “used printers” but there is no reference of used in your ad or on your landing page, this keyword and others like it (such as the phrase matched “printers”) are likely to have a poor Quality Score.

Cost Per Click (CPC)

CPC is also tied to Quality Score. Improving either CTR or Quality Score can potentially decrease your cost per click.

Where to add negatives – Ad group or campaign?

Should you add your negative keyword to each Ad Group individually or to an entire campaign or even multiple campaigns?

When in doubt, add them manually to one Ad Group at a time. But with a bit of forethought, you can add them to multiple campaigns or Ad Groups or even create shared lists that multiple Ad Groups or Campaigns can use!

For example, if you sell HP Cameras but not HP Printers, and these two Ad Groups are in the same Campaign, you certainly would not want to add “hp” as a negative keyword to the campaign as it would prevent your ad from showing up for searches related to “hp camera”. In this case it would be wiser to add it as a negative to the HP Printer Ad Group and any other Ad Groups where HP makes devices but you do not sell these devices. Sounds easy enough but it can become more tedious if you start adding in (and you should) specific model numbers of devices you do not carry.

How do I find negatives?

It is almost impossible to come up with a complete list of negative keywords off the top of your head. You may add in a few at the launch of your Ad Group but then you can use reports available in Google AdWords or Google Analytics to help you identify what the keywords searchers *actually* typed before clicking on your ad.

1. AdWords reports

In Google AdWords a good way to identify negative keywords after you have launched and been running a few days or weeks (depending upon how much traffic you are receiving) is to click on See Search Terms, and choose All, in your keywords tab.

A Refresher in Maximizing PPC Advertising – adWords reports

This will provide the exact search queries that were used to trigger your ads. Personally I prefer to download this entire list to Excel, filter to exclude keywords of exact match type (this means a searcher used a query that was an exact match for a keyword or phrase you have in your keyword list – let’s hope this is not a keyword that should be a negative!) and then I work through one Ad Group at a time looking for keywords to add to my negative keyword list.

I find the best success comes if I add a keyword to the negative list in both the singular and plural forms of the word in phrase match. By using phrase match I can cover a larger variety of keywords. There are times, of course, where exact match is required for better control.

2. Google Analytics reports

In Google Analytics, navigate to Advertising / AdWords / Matched Search Queries.

A Refresher in Maximizing PPC Advertising – adWords matched queries

Once there, add a second dimension of Keyword so you now have two columns: the matched search query on the left and the keyword (in your account) on the right. As an alternative to the right column being “keyword”, consider using “Ad Group”.

A Refresher in Maximizing PPC Advertising – adGRoup

From here you can either export to Excel and work your way through the list or filter within Google Analytics to focus on one keyword at a time.

Personally I find it much more efficient to work in Google AdWords but would love to hear your thoughts!

3. Negative keywords by theme

Google provides the ability to create themed lists of negative keywords that can be added to all or some campaigns. Whenever you’d like to add a new negative keyword, simply add it to the appropriate negative keyword theme list and the change will apply to all of the campaigns that share the list.

TA Refresher in Maximizing PPC Advertising – online campaingo create a negative keyword list in your AdWords account:

  • Select the Campaigns tab.
  • Click the Shared library link in the left navigation bar.
  • Click Campaign negative keywords.

You can edit a keyword list at any time but keep in mind that any changes made to your list will be reflected in all campaigns that share this negative keyword list.

Bottom line is that negative keywords helps to ensure you spend money on keywords that have a higher likelihood of converting and avoid spending on keywords that are highly unlikely to convert into a lead or a purchase.

For more tips and best practices on paid search strategy, check out our ppc cheat sheets.