5 Ways to Build and Expand Your Negative Keyword Lists Today

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It’s no lie, a lot of PPC bloggers talk about how to build and expand your negative keyword lists. But I’ve been ruminating on negative keyword list expansion here lately, and you know what? It never hurts to have a gentle reminder or refresher course now and then! Negative keywords are an integral part of your pay-per-click strategy (or at least they should be), and it’s important that you keep that skill set nice and sharp. With that in mind, I’d like to share 5 ways you can build and expand your negative keyword list today.

  1. Search Query Report: This should go without saying, but Google’s Search Query Report is your friend. This report will give you insight into what queries your potential customers are using to find your ads. Make a habit for yourself of checking this report frequently (Weekly? Monthly? You decide.). Pull this report at the campaign and ad group level. Looking at this report from the perspective of your campaign will allow you to add “big rock” negatives at the campaign level. Then go back through the report from the ad group level and really begin to target your negative keywords for each ad group.
  2. Google Analytics: The Search Query Report isn’t perfect. There, I said it. Because of the infuriating “other unique queries” results that this report spits out, it forces all of us to broaden our research skills. Thankfully, you can use Google Analytics to get to the core of your search query data. To receive search queries for Google AdWords, you will need to set up filters to capture that data. For Yahoo! Search Marketing and Microsoft adCenter, you can utilize URL tagging to pull in search queries. Yahoo!’s {OVRAW} parameter, when included in your tagged URL, will pull in search queries from Yahoo! searchers. Microsoft’s {QueryString} parameter does the same, and will show you actual search queries. Utilizing all three of these tactics will allow you to review search queries in Google Analytics and discover negative keywords for your campaigns.
  3. Google Keyword Tool: Utilizing Search Query Reports and Google Analytics reports to find negative keywords is a reactive strategy. Those reports provide data for unqualified visitors who have already clicked on your ad and bounced – wasting your time and money. How can you take a more proactive approach? The first recommendation is to use the Google Keyword Tool. When you enter your search, make sure to check “Use synonyms.” This is one of the clearest ways to get a sneak-preview of how Google will broad match your keywords. Review both lists of suggested keywords – “Keywords related to terms entered” and “Additional keywords to consider.” Go over these lists with a fine-toothed comb and really think about search intent and how those keywords relate to your business. Another great way to use the Google Keyword Tool for negative keywords is the obvious one – choose Negative from the “Match Type” pull down menu. This will give you a great list of possible negative keywords based on the keywords you entered into the tool: Google Keyword Tool - Negative Keywords
  4. Search Assist: Using the search assist feature at any of the major search engines can be a very telling research tool. As you begin to type your search query into each engine, they will spit out suggestions to you along the way. As another proactive method for finding negative keywords, enter in your highest traffic keywords and see what suggestions they search engines are making – chances are you’ll be surprised. And it’s a safe bet that if your keywords are set to Broad Match (or Advanced Match in Yahoo!), than your ads are showing for all those search queries. If any of them are irrelevant, add them as negative keywords! Here’s what Search Assist looks like at Google, Yahoo! and Live.com: Google Search AssistYahoo! Search AssistLive / MSN Search Assist
  5. Generic Negative Keyword Lists: If you’re just getting started and would like to get a jumpstart on creating a comprehensive negative keyword list, there are plenty of prepared lists floating around in cyberspace. Here’s the PPC Hero Negative Keyword List. Or you can check out the KoMarketing B2B for PPC Negative Keyword List. Whatever niche you’re targeting with your pay-per-click campaign, these lists will get you well on your way to weeding out irrelevant traffic!

Hopefully this quick post will serve as a reminder (or a refresher) on ways you can easily build and expand your negative keyword lists. How do you find negative keywords? Please share!

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  • http://www.seoptimise.com Richard Fergie

    You can also use competitor analysis tools like SpyFu to see what search terms your ads have appeared on.

    I wrote a similar post with a few other ideas at http://www.seoptimise.com/blog/2008/11/6-resources-for-finding-negative-keywords.html

  • http://www.komarketingassociates.com/about/andy-komack.php Andy Komack

    Hi John – great post!

    I’d add that in addition to/instead of Google Analytics, any web analytics package that you have running will help you find the undesired words people use in their raw search query that trigger your ads.

    Of course, you typically have to do the same thing you outline in Google Analytics – tag your destination URLs to partition out PPC from organic traffic.

    We’ve been a big fan of Yahoo! Web Analytics from the days when it was Indextools. Bummer that new Yahoo! Web Analytics users do not have access to all of the old Indextools features (like drill down into Last Visitor Details). At least I think that Yahoo! still has that feature turned off for new users…

    And – thank you very much for referencing my B2B PPC Negative Keyword post!

    Andy

  • http://www.ppchero.com John

    @ Richard,

    You’re right about SpyFu. And your tip on reviewing the Google SERPs for terms that Google has found “semantically related” is great! Thanks for commenting.

    @ Andy,

    We’ve referenced your negative keyword list a few times. It’s a keeper. Yeah, I specifically mention Google Analytics in my post, but any ole analytics program will do. Yahoo! Web Analytics, Omniture, etc. As long as you can view raw search queries, you’re golden!

  • Pingback: Sculpt your Google AdWords Account with Negative Keywords | Search Marketing Sage

  • http://www.wordstream.com Larry Kim

    hello: my company (wordstream) provides a negative keyword tool that does what you describe here – you can pull in keywords from web analytics, 3rd party keyword tools, search query reports, etc – so you can be both proactive/reactive as you suggest. It simplifies the review process allowing you to quickly blacklist bad terms, and whitelist relevant terms so that you can focus your efforts on only those keywords that remain in an “undecided” keyword state. It also analyzes your keywords to generate negative keywords, and suggests workflow to provide insight as to where should i direct my negative keyword finding efforts next. Overall, good article – agree 100% about the importance of negative keyword expansion being equally important as keyword expansion.

  • http://onlinemarketing.albumcreative.com/pay-per-click-advertising.html Internet Marketing Agency – Album

    I like looking at an image map to see what other terms might appear with my keywords. I like using quintura.com.

    If you’re just brainstorming negatives, take a look at delicious and see how people are categorizing their bookmarks. It helps me remember terms that I might have skipped over.

    As always, great post!

  • http://www.KeywordTerminator.com Steve

    Hi John, thanks for a great article and a refresher on negatives. Negative Keywords can save you a lot of money, or if you are willing to keep your PPC spend the same, can make you a lot of money!

    Defining negative keywords can be a long, slow arduous task. Either by guesswork or by trawling through loads of enquiry data, most businesses just do not have the time to search for irrelevant keywords and simply end up with a few negative words in their campaigns.

    We’ve personally fallen foul of not implementing negative keywords which is why we built a great solution to automate the whole negative keyword process. You can check it out at KeywordTerminator.com and also pick up our Free White Paper, Be Positive – Go Negative.

    Cheers, Steve

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  • http://twitter.com/tuknov Mikhail Tuknov

    Negative keywords are very useful tactic in any PPC campaign, it will seed out useless clicks and increase CTR of your entire campaign.  Great tips! Thanks for sharing them with PPC community.