Having an effective negative keyword strategy is one of the cornerstones of a successful PPC account. Negative keywords, implemented correctly will save you money, increase the relevancy of your audience and improve your click-through rates. I’ve listed what I consider to be the 9 main considerations when working with negative keywords. Hopefully those of you new to the PPC industry will find some benefit in reviewing these tips. They should also serve as a good refresher for more experienced managers.

1. Run regular SQRs

For those of you new to the game, SQR is a slightly dated term from when you actually had to run Search Query Reports in AdWords. Nowadays this information can be found in the ‘Keyword details’ menu in your keyword report.

The SQR is the bread and butter of your negative keyword strategy – it tells you the exact terms searched for which have caused your ads to show. From this you can directly see which terms your ads are showing for, but that aren’t relevant to your business – for example if you were generating impressions on ‘medical insurance’ when you only sell car insurance, you’d know to go back and add ‘medical’ into your negative keywords.

With new accounts, or accounts heavy in broad match, you’ll want to do this at least once a week. More mature accounts with a regular history of running SQRs can do this every few weeks instead.

2. Distinguish between Campaign and Ad Group level negatives

You can add keywords into your account at either the campaign or ad group level. Knowing where to place them is a key part of having an effective negative strategy. Broad sweeping terms for products or items you don’t sell will probably want to be added in as campaign negatives. Let’s take an example of an ecommerce website selling kitchen items. You might have a campaign for ‘Microwaves’ (seems plausible, right?). Assuming you don’t offer extended warranties, or repair services, ‘warranty’, ‘fix’, ‘repair’ might be negatives to add at the campaign level.

Within your Microwaves campaign I assume you might have a ‘Panasonic Microwaves’, ‘Bosch Microwaves’ and a ‘Whirlpool Microwaves’ ad group. For the Panasonic ad group, you want to include ‘-bosch’ and ‘-whirlpool’ into your ad group level negatives. This traffic is still relevant within your campaign, but not within that particular ad group – there is somewhere more relevant you want that traffic to go, which brings me on to my next tip…

3. Use negatives to funnel your users to the right places

As above, use negative keywords to direct people to the right part of your website and to avoid overlap. Running with the kitchen theme from the point before – if you have specific campaigns for specific products, make sure to include them as negatives in other respective campaigns. Here’s a quick illustration of how you would do this:

4. Don’t add too many at once!

This applies particularly for large accounts where it makes sense to do huge SQR audits and bulk negative keyword uploads. You can do more harm than good by adding in all your negative keywords in one go. If your account tanks, you will find it hard to pinpoint exactly which negative keywords caused the issue and will have to take them all out again.

The biggest issue here is that conversion attribution modelling is still fairly basic – in one account we added a ton of negative keywords for phrases such as ‘do I need’, ‘should I buy’ etc. which all had a horrible conversion history and cost/conversion in the account. After a week our results were way down – it turned out that 27% of our conversions were from users who were using those phrases on their phone, or on other machines (maybe at work), and then went to buy through our main keywords later.

Because even the mighty Google Analytics can’t track people cross platform that well, what we thought was a huge negative keyword audit improvement was in fact a huge mistake we had to rectify by deleting our huge list of negatives.

5. Use Negative Keyword Lists to save time

Negative keyword lists are the easiest way to manage account wide negative keywords and the good news is that they are really easy to set up if you haven’t already done so.

Go into your Shared Library and select your ‘Campaign negative keywords’.

From here click to add a new list and you will see something like shown below.

You can add in all the negative keywords you never want your ads to show for. It could be that your company has a similar name to an unrelated product or service (or even to a movie – I’ve had it happen to me a few times).

Here’s where you save yourself time and effort – you can now easily apply that list across as many campaigns as applicable without having to do mountains of copying and pasting. For any new campaigns you set up, you can go back and add to your list of campaigns covered by your negative keyword list really easily.

6. Know the difference between irrelevant and poor at converting

Some keywords we just want out of our accounts because they are completely irrelevant – the name of a product you don’t sell, for instance. However, other times you might be adding in negative keywords because they have shown not to convert in your account.

Maybe you’ve found that searchers using specific phrases never convert – ‘compare’, ‘reviews’, ‘rating’ etc. However, you want to be careful of just lumping these in with your normal negative keywords. You might be better off spinning them off into new campaigns with lower bids and different landing pages.

7. Be smart with your match types

As with regular keywords, negative keywords have match types. Make sure you know when you want to get rid of a very specific query with a negative exact, and when you are looking to remove anything surrounding a specific term with negative phrase or broad. Let’s say you sell Stuffed Polar Bear animals (bare with me!), and you are getting a lot cross contamination on the search query ‘polar’ – a popular brand of watches. You don’t want to add in ‘-polar’ as that will hurt people searching for ‘polar bear stuffed toy’, so instead you need to use a negative exact of ‘-[polar]’.

8. Check on your existing negatives

Take some time every few months to go over your existing negative keywords every few months to make sure that you aren’t blocking any traffic that is now relevant to you. If you are running the PPC for a book shop that doesn’t sell magazines you might add ‘-magazines’ as a negative keyword. However, if you decide to start selling magazines in 6 months’ time you might not remember that magazine is in your negatives list – this is more common than you would think. Checking your existing negatives is also the easiest way to see what you might be missing!

9. Use enough data

We’ll end on a common sense note. Make sure you don’t start adding in keywords because they haven’t converted for you lately – look back far enough to take account of seasonal trends over the year.

As always, if any of you out there have any tips that work well in your account, please share them in the comments below.