Negative Keywords: Avoid Getting Run Over in Paid Search.

Negative Keywords: Get Up & Running With Paid Search. And Avoid Getting Run Over Along The Way.

22Mar, 2013

By Jeff Ferguson
CEO, Fang Digital Marketing

I’m currently training for an upcoming half-marathon. Most days, my training consists of running the lovely part of Los Angeles’ Beach Cities called “The Strand.” The Strand runs from El Segundo through Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach, and it has the benefit of having a separate walking/running path and bike path for most of its length. However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t get quite a few walkers and runners who try to get their workout in along the bike path.

One morning a week or so ago, I encountered a flustered woman coming up off the bike path who greeted me with, “Those cyclists are crazy! One of them almost ran me over!” While I felt for her, I did have to remind her, “Well, you are on the ‘bike path;’ you’re kind of taking your life in your hands, you know.”

She huffed off with this bit of advice, but it got me thinking about how some paid search advertisers user the broad and phrase match types without the use of any negative terms, yet complain that they were “almost run over” (hey, I run for distance, I have a lot of time to think about stuff).

In case you need a quick primer on these different match terms, it goes a little something like this:

Broad match is the default matching option. Essentially, broad match means that your ad may show if a search term contains your keyword terms in any order, and possibly along with other terms. Your ads can also show for singular or plural forms, synonyms, stemmings (such as “roof” and “roofing”), related searches, and other relevant variations. Going with the broad match default is a wise choice if you don’t want or need to spend that much time building your keyword lists…and want to focus on capturing the highest possible volume of ad traffic.

There’s also what’s known as “modified broad match,” or “broad match modifier.” You can add a modifier, a plus sign (+), to your broad match keywords if you’d like your ads to show when someone searches for close variants of your keywords in any order. “Close variants” include misspellings, singular/plural forms, abbreviations and acronyms, and stemmings. Unlike broad match, using broad match modifier excludes synonyms or related searches. Because of this, it adds an additional level of control. Using broad match modifier is a smart option if you want to increase relevancy…even if it means you might get less ad traffic than with broad match.

Using phrase match, on the other hand, allows your ad to show when someone searches for your exact keyword, or your exact keyword with additional words preceding or following it. Your ad will display when someone searches for close variants of that exact keyword, or with additional words before or after it. Remember, “close variants” include misspellings, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemmings, abbreviations, and accents.

Using phrase match can help you touch more customers, while still providing you with more precise targeting. In other words, your keywords are less likely to show ads to people searching for terms that aren’t related to your products or services.

You can find a far more detailed breakdown of these and other match terms at the Google AdWords Help Center.

When we build campaigns for our clients here at Fang Digital Marketing, we use all the various match types from the beginning. We do so in an attempt to not only garner conversions from the terms we think will drive the right kind of traffic…but also to discover new terms that our brainstorming and keyword research may have overlooked.

However, before we start any campaign, we always make sure we’re running on the right path by including a collection of negative terms against the broad and phrase match campaigns. This way, we make sure we’re not run over by a rogue keyword seemingly sent straight out of Hell – you know, sort of like Lance Armstrong…post-doping and intimidating scandals.

Here’s an example of just what we mean:

We recently began expansion of a campaign for one of our clients in the shoe business – specifically, women’s shoes. During that campaign expansion, we knew that the head term, “shoe,” was a potential goldmine of quality traffic. However, we also knew that if we gave it too wide a berth, our CPA and Quality Score would suffer.

Therefore, we approached the development of a negative keyword list in the same way we would create a regular list of keywords. First, we brainstormed internally for terms we knew were irrelevant to our client’s products, such as “men’s shoes,” “children’s shoes,” “work shoes,” and so forth. Then, we used our collection of keyword research tools on the head term, “shoe,” along with our brainstormed list of terms, to expand that list out further.

This allowed us to run a much tighter campaign…right out of the box, so to speak. And while we still had some optimizations to do after the launch, it was nowhere near the amount that would have been required if we had started without any negative terms at all.

Of course, our work wasn’t done just then and there. During the early days of the campaign, we constantly checked the Search Term Report to see which terms were causing conversions…and moved them over as exact match terms in other campaigns. Plus, if we noticed that a term was very obviously out of our purview for this campaign or, after a few days, was simply burning cash…we added the term as a negative as well. Over time, we needed to do this less frequently, but usually at least once a week.

This method is also great for older campaigns that are suffering from low Quality Score issues. While it is often suggested that campaign owners improve their Quality Scores by improving their click-through rate with better ads, it’s also helpful to remember that you can also improve click-through rate by lowering the denominator of “clicks/impressions” as well…by reducing the amount of irrelevant impressions a broad or phrase match term receives.

During our paid search audience process, we have seen this problem multiple times, especially in ecommerce businesses. For instance, say a client is selling “widgets” of some sort…but they’re good quality widgets, not swap meet widgets. Therefore, we can reduce the amount of search impressions for some of the more broad, widget-based keywords by removing terms that include “cheap,” “coupons,” “bargain,” and so forth.

Some bonus advice in this area:

Always remember the seedier side of the internet when building campaigns for certain products, as the online smut purveyors can really take the wind out of your sails as well. For instance, one of our first clients sold high-end meats by mail, and, well…you can only imagine what kind of vile and nasty terms came up in that keyword research – and we’re not talking about PETA postings here, either. We love and live our work here at Fang, but sometimes, keyword research can really make you lose faith in humanity.

At least for a little while…until you get back out there and get the blood flowing in training. Along the right path, of course.

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