Choosing Negative Keywords for Your PPC Account

Irrelevant Search QueriesSo much attention is paid to the keywords you select to bid on in your PPC accounts, but sometimes the keywords you choose to not bid on can be equally important to your accounts success. Those are the keywords I want to talk about today. Whether you’re just getting started with your first PPC account or you’re a seasoned agency veteran, negative keywords should be a part of every account build, review, or ongoing optimization process.

No Brainers

Let’s start with the easy ones first: the no brainers. These are keywords that are pretty common sense. Example: you sell cars, so “free” would be a good negative keyword. Same thing if you’re simply trying to sell things online rather than hire people. More often than not, “job”, “jobs”, “career”, etc. are great keywords for almost any account.

A great place to start with these are the many free negative keyword lists that are out there. Here and here are a couple examples of places to start. Check those lists out, evaluate the suggestions they make, and add the ones that are no brainers for your account.

Gonna Need Your Brain

This next set of keywords are the majority of negative keywords you’ll come across. When reviewing data, I break these down into two categories: long term chewers and low quality converters. Let’s break these down.

Long Term Chewers

These are individual words within a search query that simply never seem to convert. Think of them as termites. They go unnoticed as they chew little bits of your budget away, weakening your campaigns effectiveness. They’re not very apparent when checking through search query reports because they don’t always show up in the same exact phrase or even with other similar words in the phrase. They’re simply a word that permeates into multiple different types of queries and evades most negative keyword optimization sessions. So how do you find these keywords?

Recently, PPC Hero wrote a post including a free download of a SQR macro that will do just that. Download a search query report for something like the past six months and take it for a spin. The end result is a breakdown of stats based on individual keywords within your search query report. Sort this list by descending cost and exclude those keywords with no conversions. Now you’ve saved yourself some cash!

Low Quality Converters

Another group of keywords you can gather either from the SQR macro or simply by looking in your account are those keywords that convert but aren’t necessarily what you’re looking for. For example: you sell bikes online and someone searches for “local bike store” and converts. This is where things get a little foggy. The search term doesn’t match up since you’re not local, but they converted. These are what I call low quality converters.

For these keywords you can do a few different things. Leave everything alone: they converted so it’s fine. Add local as a negative keyword: it converted this time, but I don’t want to chance wasting my money moving forward. Both of these are good options and should be weighted appropriately for your account goals.

A third approach, and my personal favorite, combines the two. For this, you would add “local” as a negative keyword in your original campaign. Then take the search query that converted from the report, “local bike store”, and create a new campaign with that as one of the ad groups. More often than not, you should use only exact match of the keyword but some instances might allow for using phrase or even broad match modified keyword variations as well. Now you’ll still get the traffic for those searching for “local bike store” but the data will be separate from your regular campaign. You can also adjust individual keyword bids accordingly and you can write ad copy specifically calling out the benefits of ordering online vs buying from a local store; most likely maximizing the chance of another non-conventional conversion.

Over time, you can keep and eye on these queries to see if they still convert at a reasonable CPA. If they do, great! Just continue a regular optimization schedule like you would any other keyword. If not, simply pause the ad group and those low quality queries will be gone from your account forever!

What other methods do you use to find negative keywords for your account? Share in the comments below!

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4 Responses to “Choosing Negative Keywords for Your PPC Account”

  1. Thanks for pointing out the SQR macro, will have to date a look at that.

    I wrote a post about finding negative keywords that has several resource lists of potential negative keywords, as well as other ways of finding negative keywords, even before bad queries show up in the SQR. It’s at http://moz.com/blog/negative-keywords-for-positive-roi

  2. Thanks for the comment Keri! I remember that post. Great stuff in there! I was a big fan of using pop culture lists (books, music, movies, etc.) to come up with some less than obvious negatives.

    The macro is really great – definitely worth checking out. I’ve learned that it’s most effective when used for longer term data. 3 months is usually my minimum. Lots of good info you can get out of it for positive and negative keywords alike.

  3. Great post, particularly the low quality converters.
    One method I always use for finding additional negatives is the thesaurus, because you may think of one word such as “picture” but it won’t work for its synonyms such as “photo”, “pix”, “portrait…ans so forth.
    Here is the article I wrote: http://proactiveppc.com/howtofindnegativekeywords/

  4. Thanks Louise! Love your post as well. I never knew there was such thing as a visual thesaurus. Very cool!

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