Pruning the Bushes: Using Negative Keywords

Negative Keywords

I’m a homeowner to use the common parlance.  Technically I’m just watching the home that the bank owns.  There are many great things about owning a home – American Dream and all that.  But you also get a lot of super fun tasks like lawn mowing, raking leaves, and hedge pruning.  Things aren’t so bad once your kids are old enough to take those over – I’m thinking age 6 is good for sharp objects and large machinery – right?  But until then, goodbye late night partying from spring to fall (unless you have kids under the age-6 heavy yard work threshold, in which case you’ve already said goodbye).

Owning a paid search account with Google AdWords or Yahoo! Search Marketing or Microsoft adCenter (or Yandex or Baidu for our foreign or exporter friends) isn’t all that different.  You have to keep up with your keyword lists, pruning out bad matches and keywords just like overgrown leaves and branches.

One of the best things Google did for businesses is also the worst.  They made paid search marketing so easy to do that they got a ton of businesses involved, ranging from small to large, that really didn’t know much about this tactic.  Now if the organizations spent the time to research, test, and learn, no problem.  Power to the people – they can have a tremendous amount of success marketing through PPC without having to pay an outside agency (who may or may not know any more than they do about paid search) fees.

But, they also got several people involved that did the ol’ ‘set it and forget it’ tactic.  Put in some keywords, give Google your credit card, and maybe check in twice a year.  Danger, Will Robinson!

Forget issues about opting into content match automatically – let’s just start with the keyword issue.  And let’s go beyond that and say that you’ve picked some decent keywords, which unfortunately is not always the case.  Trust me – we audit a lot of AdWords campaigns.  On more than one occasion, we’ve seen people adding in their city as its own keyword.  Not as a modifier, which surely was what they intended, but as its own keyword.

So, you have a good set of keywords, but your ROI isn’t looking so hot.  What’s your first step?  Look at your keywords.  There are plenty of potential issues like landing pages, ads, and campaign settings, but if you don’t have the keywords right, you’re going to get smoked like salmon.

First, you need to look at your keyword list and its performance.  What are the conversion rates and costs per conversion?  How about click-throughs.  Depending on the size of your account, you ought to be monitoring on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis.

The other thing you need to do is look at the keywords you actually ended up advertising on.  For people not familiar, there are a few different types of keywords – we’ll use AdWords lingo here.  Broad match keywords mean Google will match up your keywords with searches it thinks are related to those keywords.  Usually, contain some or most of the keywords in your keyword string, but might not contain any.  Phrase and exact match only map out to searches that are much more specific that are related to the keywords you enter.

Then there are negative keywords (which can be negative broad, negative phrase, or negative exact).  They are your friends.  Hug them, love them, pet them, and call them George.

You used to have to run reports in AdWords to be able to find out which actual searches triggered your ads; now you can do this just through the keywords tab.  You can also find out this information in adCenter;  you can, too, in Yahoo!, but you’ll need your rep.  Try running this report – it’s eye-opening.  Sometimes you’ll want to give it a big old smooch because you’ll find out some phrases that turned into sales or leads for you that you would have never thought of.  Other times, you’ll want to send some nihlists to meet Google in the bowling alley parking lot and demand your money for the garbage searches you paid for.

You need to go through this information and make sure you’re adding the keywords that work and – especially – using negatives to protect you from the bad traffic.  You won’t believe what a difference this will make in your ROI if you’re using any broad match keywords.  I’d wager for most accounts it will lead to a minimum 20% difference if you haven’t been using negative keywords before and the rest of your campaign and Website experience is in decent order.

Oh and I should mention that we also produce custom negative keywords lists if that’s something you want to outsource while keeping your management in-house.  You can see a fuller list of the ppc services we provide here.

So good luck and get pruning!

Justin Seibert

About The Author

Justin Seibert is the President of Direct Online Marketing. Justin holds a Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University. He contributes a wide range of online business-oriented topics, including the subject of exporting. His contributions can be found on publications such as the Pittsburgh Business Times, Advertising Age, SES Magazine, and La Voz del interior. Justin and his family enjoy learning about new cultures during their travels.

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