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

By Kirk Williams | @PPCKirk | Owner of ZATO

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?