Improve Paid Search Performance with Negative Keywords

Written by Ryan Cormier


In life, we learn at a very early age that being negative will get you nowhere, as it will likely result in some type of failure or consequence. There are, however, a few specific instances where being negative can result in something positive.

One of those is paid search, or pay-per-click (PPC) marketing - keep reading to see exactly what I mean.Mastering the process of running a successful PPC campaign requires a lot of time, effort and dedication. Often times, advertisers (and PPC marketing companies) forget the importance of negative keywords because they focus too much on other elements of their campaign(s).

What is a negative keyword, anyway?

A negative keyword is a word or phrase you do NOT want to trigger your PPC ad.

I already know what your first question is going to be: Why would an advertiser spent time and money setting up a PPC campaign, only to restrict its reach by adding negative keywords to their target lists? Great question!

When running a PPC campaign, the advertiser specifies a set daily budget they want to stay within. Every time someone clicks one of their ads, the advertiser pay Google a specific amount for that click. This is known as the Cost Per Click, or CPC.

Negative keywords are crucial to campaign success because, if you are not careful, showing ads for searches that aren’t 100% related to your products or services can max out on your budget. FAST. Negative keywords allow you to minimize the incidence of your ads being shown for irrelevant searches, which helps increase your ads’ Click-Through Rate (CTR), and ensures that your daily budget is going towards clicks from users who are most likely to take a desired action.

Let’s look at an example:

Below is a recent real-world example that will help you visualize the importance of negative keywords to a paid search campaign:

negative keywords

You can see that the user was looking for a navy blue suit made by the brand Pronto Uomo. What is the first thing to catch your eye? If I had to guess, I would say it is probably the section of photos on the right side of the screen. Those are called Product Listing Ads, or PLAs, and they’re great for e-commerce because of the visual weight they carry on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

If you look closer, though, you will notice the ad at the top of the screen that says “Americas Navy” (there is a yellow ad tab under it). Despite the fact that the user’s search contains the word “navy,” this ad should never have been served, as it is completely unrelated to the Navy.

Chances are, this ad receives very few, if any, clicks, resulting in a low CTR. Low CTRs indicate to Google that users so not find an advertiser’s ads relevant, and can negatively impact the performance of an entire paid search campaign.

So how can the Navy fix this? Easy! All they have to do is figure out which words they do not want to trigger their ads. In this instance, because a popular search is “navy suits,” all they need to do is add the word “suits” as a negative keyword within their campaign(s). From there, any time a user searches anything related to “navy suits,” the Navy’s PPC ad will not appear.

It would probably be a good idea to go ahead and add in a large number of other clothing items and products that come in navy, such as cars, dresses, sweatshirts, hats, shoes, etc. We would also recommend adding the word “old” as a negative keyword to avoid showing ads to users who are searching for clothing items offered by retailer Old Navy.

How should I build out a negative keyword list for my PPC campaign?

Here at Forward Digital, we know how difficult it can be to master a PPC campaign. A great way to get started is to research lists of negative keywords to help your PPC campaign. There are lots of great online resources that can help get the ideas rolling, such as this great negative keyword guide from KO Marketing.

Another option is to analyze the keywords and phrases that actually triggered your ads to see if any of them are irrelevant to your campaign(s). You can do this by going to the Keywords tab in the AdWords interface, clicking on the “Details” button and selecting the “All” option below “Search Terms.”

If you see a keyword or phrase that shouldn’t be triggering your ads, simply check the box next to it and click the “Add as negative keyword” button at the top of the page. It’s a great idea to do this every 2-3 weeks to make sure your ad targeting is working properly.

Need help with paid search?

 If you have any questions, or are interested in having us run your paid search campaign for you, contact us today for a free consultation!

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