Negative keywords are the backbone of any PPC strategy. Ever since Google all but eliminated the ability to specifically target keywords by expanding phrase match to include broad match traffic, negative keywords have become even more important.

After conducting hundreds of PPC account audits over the years, the most common mistake I’ve seen is when people click on the checkbox next to a search query and click “add as negative keyword.”

Streamline your negative keywords to save you time and money by using what I call the lowest common denominator method. This will dramatically reduce the number of negative keywords you need to maintain.

The method

In a nutshell, the lowest common denominator method is when you use the least amount of words possible for your negative keywords. Most of my negative keywords are one single broad match word. I sometimes use two words as a phrase match when necessary, and, on rare occasions, I will use three or more words.

A good example of a search query would be “used cheap red shoes signed by Michael Jordan.” If all you sell is new high-priced red shoes and you don’t sell anything with a signature, I would create three negative keywords:

I would not add Michael or Jordan because I sell Air Jordans. If all you did was add the entire search term as a negative, there is a good chance you just wasted your time because that exact search might never be typed in again.

Things to watch out for

Be careful when creating negative keywords. The solution above will probably do what you expect it to do, but if you have not done your research, you might be getting rid of something important.

It might be a good idea to do a search query report to find out if the negative keyword you are adding has ever got a conversion. Using a full-funnel search approach should ensure that any negatives you add do not break the conversion chain.

When I take over an old account, I don’t always remove all the old long-form negative keywords because it is more work than it is worth. I add the new streamlined keywords based on the old negative keywords. One exception might be that there are too many negative keywords. 

Most people don’t realize that there is a limit to the number of negatives you can add to each campaign. You can not have more than 10,000 keywords per search campaign. This includes lists attached to the campaign, campaign negatives and ad group negatives. Once you hit 10,000, Google will ignore anything over that. It is even less for display and video campaigns that limit you to 5,000 keywords.

Using the Google Ads mobile app

When adding many negative keywords, I use the Google Ads Editor. But if I’m checking an account daily, I will use the Google Ads cell phone app. The app functionality is limited, but it can be convenient for finding negative keywords.

I use the app a lot when watching TV, riding in the car or waiting for my wife to get ready. I go through my client’s accounts, look at the keywords from the previous day or week, and see if any negatives need to be added. All you need to do is click on a keyword you don’t like and then click on “add negative keyword.” This will open a box to edit the keyword before saving it.

I set it to broad match and delete everything except the one word I want to add. At the top, make sure you’re adding the negative keyword in the right place. I add most of my keywords to negative keyword lists even if the account only has one campaign. I find this is the best way to keep your negative keywords organized.

I often use several different keyword lists to help keep my negative keywords organized. This can be helpful if the account gets bigger. If the search query is like the “red shoes” example above, you must repeat the process and add each negative keyword.

Only use the mobile app as a supplement to your negative keyword strategy. A while back, Google stopped showing all search queries, and now, the mobile app shows even fewer keywords than the desktop version.

Proactive negative keywords

So far, we have only talked about creating negative keywords reactively. Another way to create negative keywords is to be proactive. This is when you have not seen search queries yet, but you want to avoid paying for them.

Here are three ways to be proactive with negative keywords:

  • Find negative keyword lists using Google search. You will find many great lists that others have already put together.
  • Google Keyword Planner. This is a great tool for finding keywords to bid on, but it is also suitable for finding negative keywords.
  • Find other lists: Check Wikipedia, real estate research websites, third-party PPC keyword research tools or any industry research tools for the vertical you are working on.

Conclusion

As I mentioned earlier, be careful when adding negatives. You don’t want to break a conversion chain or keyword funnel.

Don’t just add negatives and forget them. You might want to do a yearly audit to reconsider some of your negative keywords. What was bad one year might be good the next. Adding a single word negative keyword could stop hundreds or thousands of irrelevant clicks.

When you use a long exact match negative keyword, you only stop that one specific keyword and many times, that keyword is never typed in again, and you didn’t solve anything.

Just like most things in business, you want to keep things simple. In this case, keep things short.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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About The Author

David is the owner of WME Training, a small agency dedicated to Google Ads training and consulting and has been working in digital marketing since 2003. He has spoken at conferences like Pubcon and State of Search on SEO and PPC. He had a podcast with Webmaster Radio called PPC 101 and has been a guest on several of the most popular podcasts on that network.




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