Google AdWords Negative Keywords

Implementing negative keywords into your Google AdWords campaign.

Search marketing experts almost never miss an opportunity to highlight the importance of negative keywords to your campaign’s success. As Perry Marshall puts it in his Definitive Guide to Google AdWords, “In some cases you can double your CTR just by adding in the right negative keywords.” We can’t promise results quite that dramatic, but negative keywords are still a crucial, and often overlooked, tool for improving campaign performance.

Negative Keywords Basics

Basics first: what are negative keywords? When you add a negative keyword to your list, your ads are not displayed when a user’s query includes that term. All you have to do is put a minus sign (“-“) before a keyword, (as in “-free”, “-foreign” or “-residential”), and it will be treated as a negative keyword.

To take the simplest example possible, let’s imagine an ad group with two keywords:

music [broad match]

-free [negative]

Because the keyword “music” is broad match, this ad group’s ads will be triggered for any number of queries, including “music,” “new music,” “soul music” or “buy music online.” However, because of the negative keyword, queries that include the world “free” — such as “free music” or “free music online” —won’t trigger this ad group’s ads.

Choosing Your First Negative Keywords

So how do you select negative keywords?

The first step is the same as that in selecting your other keywords: use a tool like Yahoo Overture or Google’s keyword tool. As always, though, the lists of keywords that these tools generate can be overwhelming; it helps to keep a couple of tips in mind when looking through them for negative keywords.

There are two things in particular that we want to look for:

  1. Products and services you don’t offer.
  2. Phrases that suggest an irrelevant definition of your keywords.

Let’s see these tips in practice: we’ll use Google’s Keyword Tool to generate variations on the keyword “pickle” for ACME Pickles, a company that sells pickled cucumbers, (also known, of course, as “pickles,” but we’ll see in a moment why the precision is important).

Here’s the beginning of Google’s list:

Products and Services You Don’t Offer

Let’s begin with the first tip: looking for products and services you don’t offer.

To keep things simple, we’ll pretend that ACME Pickles only sells “dill” pickles and not any other kind, like “bread and butter” or “sweet.” Therefore, ACME should add “-bread and butter” and “-sweet” to its list of negative keywords, so that searches for those varieties don’t trigger its ads. Sticking with our relatively extreme example, the manager of this ad group should also block out any other varieties and preparations that ACME doesn’t offer, including “-fried” or “-heinz.”

However, you shouldn’t be overly enthusiastic about this approach right from the beginning. Just because ACME doesn’t provide pickle recipes, for instance, it shouldn’t necessarily add “-recipe” as a negative keyword. (After all, people searching for pickle recipes may be intimidated by what they find and decide to just buy a jar.) Once your broad match keywords have run for a short period of time, you’ll be able to review which queries triggered your ads, and whether or not they led to conversions. ACME may find that “pickle recipe” was actually a valuable query.

Remove products and services you don’t have, but don’t decide too far in advance which tangential searches will drive conversions and which won’t. You could be surprised.

Irrelevant Definitions

After removing this set of keywords, it’s time to look for irrelevant definitions of your keywords.

“Pickled cucumber” isn’t the only way that the word “pickle” is used. As you can see at the bottom of the list above, another fairly common search is for “pickle ball.” Actually spelled “Pickleball,” it’s a game played with wooden paddles on a 20×44-foot court. Clearly, this has nothing to do with ACME’s offerings, so it should remove the term by adding “-ball” and “-pickleball” to its negative keyword lists.

Advanced Techniques

If you keep these two tips in mind, you’ll have a much easier time combing through keyword suggestions for words that you want to weed out. There are more advanced approaches you can take as well, including an analysis of search engine results pages (SERPs) for your keywords and a look at competitive ads that may be triggered on the basis of irrelevant keywords. For more on these advanced approaches, click here.