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The trick to optimizing campaigns with negative keywords

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We as human beings tend to have a compulsion towards quantity over quality, more friends, more photos, more collectable snow globes, but when it comes to bringing in leads through pay per click (PPC) marketing, every marketer understands that quality is better than quantity.

At least in principle.

Many marketers already understand that negative keywords, when added to AdWords campaigns, can help filter out unwanted audiences to generate a flow of more qualified leads, but too many marketers have difficulty putting it into practice.

Stubborn marketers need to learn to let go of those terrible leads, move past the high numbers and the garbage clicks and do what’s necessary for the health of their company’s PPC campaigns.

The importance of negative keywords

Every business will have its set of negative keywords.

If you are a boutique wedding cake shop, and you advertise online for “cakes” you are opening yourself up to a world of people who don’t want to buy wedding cakes, but may want other, unrelated cake options.

You may end up paying for people who click on your PPC ad after searching for things like “buy cake molds” or, even worse, “erotic cake shop.”

Of course you can adjust your keyword match type, to stay away from broad match and more towards exact, but rather than limit who can find you with exact match keyword types, adding negative keywords will do the trick.

Add negative keywords for things you don’t offer, like cake molds, erotic cakes etc.

Deciding on negative keywords

There are two ways to decide on what negative keywords to set.

The first way is through experience. When you look at your traffic, and the keywords that generate that traffic, if you see a lot of people are coming to a site after searching for something you don’t offer, add those search keywords to your negative list. The downside to this option, of course, is that you have to learn from mistakes, and you end up paying for unwanted clicks and adjusting your list as your campaign is running.

Making adjustments to your negative keyword list as campaigns are running is necessary, to always stay relevant, but there is a way of filtering out negative keywords in advance.

The second way is use the AdWords Keyword Planner tool. When you use this tool you can see the relevancy of related search terms, once you put in keywords you know relate to you.

If you are a fast food franchise and want to advertise, and you use the keyword planner to find negative keywords relating to “fast food” you’ll find that terms like:

  • fast food recipes
  • disadvantages of fast food
  • dangers of fast food
  • fast food effects

You don’t want your ad for McDonald’s to rank for “disadvantages of fast food” or even “fast food recipes” because those people are clearly not searching for a fast food dining options.

The great thing about using this tool to find negative keywords is the amount of data provided. There will be so many unrelated search terms listed that you can build a robust list of negative keywords and make sure to avoid unnecessary costs from countless people not looking to buy.

Universal List of negative keywords (every campaign should have)

If you want an easy place to start, that you might not find on the keyword planner, there are several universal negative keywords lists to help you filter out all the classic unwanted ad clickers.

Filter explicit content

For example, anything sexual or graphic in nature should be filtered out with negative keywords like:

  • Sexy
  • Hot
  • Nude
  • Naughty

Depending on your industry, not many people will be searching for a “Sexy PPC Software,” so you won’t be paying for much, or any, traffic through these searches anyway, but for a business selling calendars, filtering out erotic keywords is of huge importance.

Filter window shoppers

One of the biggest worries for most businesses running PPC ads is people window shopping.
Some people may only be typing in your search terms and clicking your ads to find photos, and are otherwise uninterested in purchasing your product. Negative keywords to filter include:

  • Photo(s)
  • Photograph(s)
  • Pic(s)
  • Picture(s)
Filter job hunters

Another group of people to filter out from your ads are job seekers who want to work at our company. You are paying for leads, not employees with PPC advertising, so adding filters relating to employment can help you get higher quality prospects funneling in. Keyword to set as negatives include:

  • Hire
  • Hiring
  • Employment
  • Employer
  • Job(s)
  • Career(s)
  • Full time / part time
  • Salary
  • Recruiter
  • Resume(s)
  • Work
Filter budget shoppers

And lastly, one of the best way to filter out those who don’t have the budget to pay for whatever product you are selling, whether it’s high end jewelry or complex software for enterprise clients, adding negative keywords around price are important. These keywords include:

  • Bargain
  • Cheap
  • Discount
  • Free

Spend time on negative keywords

Now that you know what keywords should be filtered out, the obvious next step is filtering them.

As I mentioned earlier, too many marketers hold on to their unwanted keywords like gold, because they rationalize too often.

Just because one time someone searched for “free product” and you ended up getting a sale doesn’t mean it’s a good keyword to keep paying for.

Think rationally and rather than think of the one or two sales you lose out on by filtering that keyword into your negative list, think of all the money you will save by not paying for people who click your ad because they see the word free and then leave when they see the actual price tag.

Be honest with your potential clients and be honest with yourself when it comes to building these negative keyword lists and running PPC campaigns. This isn’t the time to covet trashy, click-bait keywords, if you want to do that, try organic search instead.

Photo courtesy of Chris Piascik via Creative Commons.

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Jillian Zacchia

Jillian Zacchia

Content Manager at Acquisio, a leading digital marketing management solution. Jillian is also an editor and social media procrastinator. With a degree in Literature and Communications from McGill, she started her journalism career writing about lifestyle and entertainment for teen magazines, and after dabbling with wedding and travel writing she began the transition towards content creation for start ups, marketing and tech companies.

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