Sculpting Your PPC Campaign with Negative Keywords

When painting you start with nothing, add material, and have something. Conversely, when sculpting you remove material and have something. The average Pay-Per-Click campaign only focuses on the painting aspect (adding keywords) and ignores the sculpting aspect (negative keywords). Unfortunately this strategy results in low click through rates and inefficient budgets. By defining your campaign as what it is not you can get into the sculptor’s mindset.

What Are Negative Keywords?

Negative keywords are words or phrases that when combined with one of your campaign’s keywords will cause your ad not to be triggered and displayed.

Here’s an example:

Erin’s website sells hand made dog collars for fashion conscious dog owners. Her PPC campaign includes phrase match keywords like custom dog collar, hand made dog collar and fashion dog collar. However, Erin does not use any leather for her dog collars so she adds leather as a negative keyword. This prevents searches for “custom leather dog collars” from triggering Erin’s ads.

Negative Keywords are the Low Handing Fruit of PPC

Negative keywords are very simple, yet often go unused. Most people spend a lot of time refining their keyword list, tweaking their ad copy and improving their landing pages. Usually, you can achieve far greater improvements in your CTR and budget efficiency by focusing on the easy negative keywords.

Negative keywords PRE-qualify your visitors

The goal of negative keywords is to reduce the number of non-targeted searchers who see your ad and increase or maintain the number of targeted searchers who see your ad.

Some Real World Figures

Here is a PPC campaign for a web development company. They mainly service clients in one particular region and want to use PPC to generate leads. Their PPC campaign is broken down into specific ad groups with very targeted keywords. Their daily budget is small so they need to make the most of their clicks and need to ensure that their ad is only displayed for their target audience.

Here is an example of how one ad group was preforming before the implementation of negative keywords. (One Day)

Ouch! When I first saw this I realized that something was not right. The keywords were very targeted, the ad copy matched the keywords nicely and the landing page was highly related to the keywords and ad copy. So how can we explain the poor CTR?

First I generated a search query performance report to find all of the search queries that triggered the ads. I found a variety of words that I knew would make great negative keywords:

  • jobs
  • tutorial
  • career
  • course
  • free
  • cheap
  • template

Since the purpose of this PPC campaign is to generate leads for this business, displaying the ads for people looking for jobs, a career change, tutorials, templates or free work is a waste of impressions and will lower this ad groups CTR. Even worse, if these searchers click the ad, we’ve spent some of our budget on the wrong type of searcher.

Take a look at the performance of the same ad group the following week on the same day of the week. (One Day)

By adding negative keywords to the ad group we have managed to improve CTR and pre-qualify our searchers.

Easy Ways to Find Negative Keywords

For product/goods based PPC campaigns:

  1. Exclude searchers looking for repair and warranty information (fix, repair, warranty)
  2. Exclude searchers looking for technical information, operating instructions or other signs that they already own the item (how to, using, manual, guide)
  3. Exclude searchers looking for community and social interaction (forums, blog)

For service based PPC campaigns:

  1. Exclude searchers looking for jobs, work and careers (jobs, gig, work)
  2. Exclude searchers looking to learn about the service (tutorial, guide, how to)
  3. Exclude searchers looking out of your normal pricing levels (cheap, free, exclusive, custom)

To make the most of your negative keywords make sure your campaign:

  1. Has specific ad groups
  2. Uses highly targeted keywords
  3. Uses a quality landing page
  4. Has a measurable action (making a purchase, submitting a form)

Coffee is for Closers

ABT: Always Be Testing

When it comes to negative keywords be sure to test:

  • CTR (notably impressions)
  • Conversions
  • Ad copy performance

Once you’ve added a quality negative keyword list to your PPC campaign you’ll start seeing your CTR go up and your cost/conversion ratio go down. By pre-qualifying your visitors you’ll make the most of your PPC budget and your landing pages will receive highly targeted searchers.

Cox Bundled Service (Permission Not Included)

I’ve got cable internet and digital cable through Cox Communications, and so far have been quite happy with it. The internet is always up, super fast and the cable server hardly has any problems. Usually Cox is great when it comes to customer service, they’re always friendly on the phone and quick to answer questions. However, when I called earlier tonight to ask about a CableCard™ for my new Tivo™ the guy I spoke with was a departure from what I’m used to.

Preface the Pitch

If you’re going to pitch me something, the least you can do is make the experience up to the point of the pitch desirable. This customer service tech sounded like he really wanted to go home (it was about 15 minutes till closing time). He had a pretty bad attitude about the call and I was ready to get off the phone with him before he even got to the sales script part.

Relevance Sells

I was calling to ask a technical question about something related to cable television. I was pitched bundled phone service. The thing is, my wife and I live in the year 2008 and having a home phone is useless to us, had we needed a phone line I would have already bundled it. The second problem of this sales call was that I was pitched something that had nothing to do with my original call. A better approach for selling me something I don’t already have would have been to relate the sale with my question about the CableCard™. “Have you considered ordering the premium movie channels? With your new HD Tivo™ and this CableCard™ you’ll be able to record some awesome movies on HBO™ and Showtime™!”

I probably don’t want premium movie channels, or I would have ordered those also, but this sales pitch has such a better chance of being perceived positively by the customer.

  1. It’s related to what I’m calling about so I’m not thrown for a loop
  2. I’ve shown that I’m indulging in a Tivo™ over the Cox DVR so I might be likely to splurge a bit more and get some premium HD movie channels
  3. It shows that this employee is paying attention to what I’m saying and is actively trying to improve my experience with the company

Instead I got some stupid pitch for $2.05/month phone service.

Pretend to Care

At the very least this guy could have pretended to care but instead he made it obvious that he didn’t care (I wouldn’t either) but undoubtedly there is probably some quota or performance review where his manager counts all of the tick marks next to “BUY PHONE SERVICE” and tells him he’s a good person or a worthless POS.

It was obvious that this guy didn’t want to read his script or make his feeble attempt at selling this phone service, somebody told him to and it was clear. The problem is, had he not said anything and just ended the call with “Thanks for calling…” I wouldn’t have thought much of it. But, instead, he had to pitch me the irrelevant service with his bad attitude and I’m not going to forget about it, I’ll probably be on the defensive next time I call, hoping I don’t have to explain to someone that I really don’t want or need a phone.

Who Called Who?

As Seth Godin frequently reminds us, permission is key. By calling Cox Communications I gave them permission to talk to me. I think they’re aware of this since they’ve got it setup where they answer your question and then pitch. Unfortunately they soured it by having returning a bad attitude and irrelevant offering. If you’re going to accept calls from people and you plan to solve their problem AND give them a reason to open their wallet, you can’t half-ass one or the other (or in this case both). If you can’t graciously help people in a positive way, don’t bother asking for a hand out. There is a word for this that people use to describe peers, acquaintances and co-workers who act this way, “asshole”. Don’t be an asshole, seriously.