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.