Negative Keywords: Stop (Only) Excluding, Start Directing!

By , Owner, ZATO

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Hero Conf 2014 Guest Post

Editor’s Note: This article is a part of our Hero Conf guest post contest. Based on a combination of pageviews and editorial review from the PPC Hero writing staff, a winner will be chosen from the finalists we post throughout the week. Today’s post comes to us from Kirk Williams (@PPCKirk), owner of ZATO.

Negative keywords are often seen only as bouncers.  They stand at the doorway of your ad group or campaigns, waving through the accepted terms and folding their sculpted-bicep arms with sun-glassed heads cocked at an angle at those terms you want excluded… daring them to pass.  Don’t get me wrong, this is mainly what negatives were created for, and they do a darn good job of it.  But if we only think of them as bouncers, we are missing a major area of optimization.

traffic-copI prefer to look at them not only as bouncers, but also as traffic cops.  A negative keyword can be that lone hero, standing in the midst of the confused masses at a burned out traffic light, ensuring each of the cars gets funneled to the proper road.

A good negative kw strategy will identify negatives to be excluded from an account, campaign, or ad group but will also utilize a strategy in campaign creation that properly funnels keywords into the correct ad group or campaign.  This is especially essential for PLA ad groups in which you cannot bid on keywords!  Which, side note, is why we were all so upset when the new Google Shopping campaigns came out and did not allow for ad/product group specific negatives.

BENEFITS OF CONTROLLING AD SERVE WITH NEGATIVES

What does this do?  I see three key ways using negative keywords to control ad serve in the account has helped my clients.

(1)  It has the benefit of presenting more specific ad text to the searcher, which often raises CTR.

(2)  It has the benefit of getting the best Landing Page per query for that visitor so they are more likely to convert and have a better user experience.

(3)  It has the benefit of helping me maintain a more organized account, which makes optimization quicker and more effective.

To illustrate how I utilize negative kws to control ad serve in my accounts, I’ll demonstrate my strategy when I create a campaign or add a few new ad groups to a current campaign.

coffee-beansTEST CASE – Kirk’s Koffee Klatch

Let’s say I have a client who sells specialty coffee beans in the US (I wish I had a client who sold specialty coffee beans because I would work a lifetime supply into the contract… somehow.  But I digress).  Perhaps an overly simplistic campaign structure would look like this.

 

  • Campaign
    • Ad Group
  • Whole Coffee Beans – USA
    • Ethiopia Coffee Beans
    • Sumatra Coffee Beans
    • Kenya Coffee Beans
    • Buy Coffee Beans
    • Wholesale Coffee Beans
    • Green Coffee Beans
    • Buy Green Coffee Beans

What are some ways we can use negative keywords to not only exclude, but actually help control our ad serving?  Note the negatives I added under each ad group below (note, these do not include the negatives you would actually apply for exclusions.  Those are assumed):

  • Whole Coffee Beans – USA
    • Ethiopia Coffee Beans
      • -sumatra
      • -kenya
      • -wholesale
      • -buy
  • Sumatra Coffee Beans
    • -ethiopia
    • -kenya
    • -wholesale
    • -buy
  • Kenya Coffee Beans
    • -ethiopia
    • -sumatra
    • -wholesale
    • -buy
  • Buy Coffee Beans
    • wholesale
  • Wholesale Coffee Beans

TWO NOTES OF CAUTION

Is that all there is to it?  Well, there are two key takeaways you need to get before running through your jungle-book account with negative kw machete in hand, whacking anything that looks brown and vine-like.

(1) Be careful when excluding queries with modifier combinations.  You probably saw in my strategy that I didn’t just go in and add the modifier kw to every other ad group not containing that modifier.  That’s where the strategy comes in, because you have to be extremely careful to not accidentally exclude key terms for which you would want to appear that include both modifiers!

For example, if you excluded “-buy” from Kenya Coffee Beans and excluded “-kenya” from Buy Coffee Beans then you would not appear for the extremely conversion friendly query [buy kenya coffee beans].  You just lost a sale!

(2) Identify your “catch-all” ad group(s) based upon a unique/specialized modifier.  Here again is where strategies may differ, and that’s ok.

As you can see above, I decided to leave out any negative kws for targeting purposes from the ad group: Wholesale Coffee Beans.  This is because, knowing coffee bean sales, my client has a separate and specific landing page for “Wholesale” accounts geared towards “the big sale!”  I want to make sure any combination of queries that hits their site with the term “wholesale” gets funneled into the special place on my client’s website where this big fish can  be digitally wined and dined in order to make that large and repeating sale happen.  The other ad groups will probably go to a LP geared more towards the individual wanting 12 oz of beans to try.

Now admittedly, there will be some disagreement about the best way to employ this strategy, but as you can see there is a lot of potential here for increasing CTR and CR with better targeting.  Remember the PPC manager mantra, don’t leave the targeting up to Google!

What about you?  How have you successfully used negative keywords like a traffic cop in your account to better control ad serve?

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  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonmanion/ Jason Manion

    That’s good stuff – I definitely agree in theory. However, I’ve seen weird results once or twice when doing this before, where performance actually went down when using negative keywords to direct traffic to what should have been a much more highly relevant ad. So definitely watch performance – it looks good on paper, and should work, but I’ve seen unexpected results before.

    Oh, and I have worked with a specialty coffee roaster before. But to me, coffee is coffee. :P

    • http://kecreate.com/ Kirk

      Good thoughts. If results dropped the best bet is to check SQR to identify what queries were converting that have potentially now been excluded.

      Lucky you, I love my coffee (especially espresso!) :)

      • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonmanion/ Jason Manion

        I like coffee too, but my Folgers K-cup is as good as something like a freshly ground french pressed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. After all, they’re both brown, hot, and caffeinated.

        • http://kecreate.com/ Kirk

          Ouch. “You’re killin me Smalls!” ;)

          • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonmanion/ Jason Manion

            I think that client felt the same way about my uneducated opinions.

  • stuart

    Great Article – I am just about to start out with Google Shopping Campaigns having had a good experience with the old skool PLA Campaigns. – Am I correct in understanding that neg kws are a no no at Ad Group level for GSCs – and can only be applied at Campaign level?? This will definitely influence the way I structure this part of my account. I assume there is no problem with having multiple Google Shopping Campaigns each containing one Ad Group so that traffic can be directed/filtered in the way you describe in the article……

    • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonmanion/ Jason Manion

      At this point negative keywords only apply at campaign level. This is because essentially all products are in 1 ad group, and the “group level” is analogous to a product target (which never had negative keywords). Just watch your priority settings in the Shopping campaigns (low, medium, high) – those overrule bids, etc for determining where a product shows.

      • stuart

        Thanks Jason – that makes sense, I was hoping to split out by custom_labels and build a bidding structure around them – low, medium and high overrule bids though – That doesn’t seem very flexible – oh well I’ll work it out tomorrow, finish work in 15 mins.

    • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonmanion/ Jason Manion

      One other thing – if you had a pretty good setup on PLA campaigns, it may not be worth switching to Shopping. A finetuned PLA campaign can definitely beat one of the new Shopping campaigns, which I’ve learned the hard way.

    • http://kecreate.com/ Kirk

      Sorry, I replied to this previously but included a link so I think the comment was pulled.

      You’re correct that the new Shopping Campaigns do not allow for specific exclusions which is my biggest issue with them. I put quite a bit of my PLA strategy on targeting the top selling products individually for an e-com client so this is a problem for me. I wrote on my blog about a conversation I had back in November on these with a Google rep in which he said the PLA campaigns would not be sun-lighted, but I’m concerned regardless. :(He suggested at that time a combination of using both PLA and Shopping campaigns together.

      The multiple campaign thing can work, but practically speaking I’m not excited about adding 50-100 new campaigns to my already size-able accounts :/

  • Trishan Naidoo

    What I would love to see from G is the ability to add negative “lists”. At the moment we have to combine negative keywords with our “structural” negative keywords. Ideally we could add two or more lists which we could edit independently and also apply to different AdGroups as required.

  • sandy

    This is good. Just one question. why are there two ad groups for “Green Coffee Beans” and “Buy Green Coffee Beans” ..i mean it would have the Buy version would have been covered under “Buy Coffee beans” ..i guess this is what the structure wanted to divert all “buy” queries to separate ad groups.

    • http://kecreate.com/ Kirk

      Thanks Sandy! Obviously, there are different opinions and strategies on account structure, but I am a proponent of pulling as many modifiers out into separate ad groups as possible and then using negatives to help direct that traffic into the correct ad group.

      Humorously enough, you caught a slip of mine in writing the post. I meant to pull those “Green” coffee beans ad groups out to simplify the example and forgot to delete them from the first section :) Sorry about the confusion. But yes, I would still divide all of those out. The reason is because Green Coffee Beans are unroasted beans and are sought out by amateur roasters/coffee shops so they would have a different audience and would therefore need a different landing page then your average Joe (pun intended) looking for just some beans with which to make his morning coffee.

      The reason I separate out “Buy” from other ad groups is because that is generally a high converting modifier and allows me to invest even more effort into ad testing and LP testing for those conversion-minded visitors.

      Does that make sense?

      • sandy

        Thanks Kirk for explaining in detail. It all makes sense now. I did not that green coffee beans are different than the others. I am anyways not a big fan of coffee but prefer tea instead.

        • http://kecreate.com/ Kirk

          Good, glad that helped. There is always a place for good tea too!

  • Ben

    Hi Kirk,

    How do you feel about just going with the broad match modifier on every keyword approach instead of all the negatives in order to make sure you get the most relevant queries?

    • http://kecreate.com/ Kirk

      Hey Ben, I’m not sure if I know the exact approach you are referring to. Could you detail it a little more? To be clear, I rarely if ever use straight broad match, so the negative kw directing approach I am referring to is only used with Broad Match Modifier/Phrase/Exact queries anyway. Even with the more specific match types, they need help in guiding the terms into the correct ad group.

      Perhaps you can explain a little more what you mean by the BMM approach? Thanks!

      • Ben

        Right, I just meant you wouldn’t need nearly as many negatives, if you have a “+” sign in front of all your keywords.

        • http://kecreate.com/ Kirk W

          I’ve found that even with BMM or even P match, using mirrored negatives is still good practice. Like I said in the previous comment, I don’t use Broad match so in my strategy involving these negs, I am referring to BMM or P Match.