A Starter’s Guide To Negative Keywords

Written by Conor Ross

Conor is a Digital Analytics Specialist, having previously studied Psychology and an MSc in Research Methods at the University of Dundee, followed by a Marketing MSc at Queen’s University Belfast. He works particularly closely with the Google Data Studio and Google Optimise platforms.
November 13, 2019

 

Want to save money on Google Ads? Improve the quality of your advertising campaigns? Boost your conversion rate from PPC? Predict the ins and outs of the next Google Algorithm update?

Okay, this might not help with the last part, but we can assure you that while this may sound like dodgy clickbait, these are just some of the very real benefits of implementing negative keyword lists into your Google Ads campaigns. The optimisation potential of becoming familiar with how negative keywords work and when to use them is huge and boosted by the simple process required to get started.

 

Negative Keyword Exclusion List

So, how does adding negative keywords actually help my online campaigns? In the same that we use a set of keywords to target a specific audience and their search queries, we can create a list of corresponding negative keywords to ensure that these terms will not trigger your ad. For example, if you’re looking to advertise an online training course for Google Ads at £100 per session, adding “free online courses” as a negative keyword phrase prevents your ad being shown to anyone searching for free courses.

Establishing an exclusion list is an important part of the initial creation of your campaigns, with keyword research and strategy helping to dictate the excluded keywords and phrases at first. But it is equally as important to monitor this list as your campaign is active, making sure that there is nothing slipping through your net – and there almost certainly will be.

It’s especially hard, and likely impossible, to predict some of the search queries that will trigger your ad. Perhaps your traffic is of lower relevancy than you anticipated? Or a new meme is trending that conflicts with your content? Or a television character shares the same name as your brand or product? Believe us, it can happen!

 

Using The Search Terms Report

You can view the queries that have triggered your ads by using the Search Terms report in Google Ads. This will tell you the search term entered into Google, whether the search term has been previously added or excluded, the keyword match type that triggered the ad, and the Campaign / Ad Group that was shown. You can also view the relevant data for each query, including impressions, interactions, conversions, and crucially, the cost.

To access the Search Terms Report, you’ll first need to go to the Keywords tab in Google Ads, which you’ll find on the left navigation tab in the Google Ads interface. When in the Keywords report, you should see four options along the top of the report, near the date range selector. These tabs cover your existing keywords, the keywords you’ve already excluded, and search terms. Click on search terms to enter the Search Terms Report.

 

Where To Find Search Terms Report

 

The Search Terms Report is a fantastic breakdown of why your ads are being displayed, and how they are performing as a result. This means you can see which terms are generating high rates of interaction, and lets you identify queries that you want to target further by adding as a keyword, or those that you don’t think are relevant and are costing your business unnecessarily.

 

Creating A Negative Keyword List

Using the Search Terms Report, you can start to identify terms that are triggering your ads that aren’t relevant to the landing page or overall site. We recommend looking at the list of queries with multiple sorting options, looking at the queries generating the most impressions, most clicks, highest cost, and most conversions. From here, you can make an assessment as to whether a term is worth adding to your negative keyword list.

It may both be a blessing and a curse to see how much of your budget some of these terms have accounted for! You can’t stop people from clicking on your ads even when they’re not relevant but you can certainly stop the ad from showing. When you see how much you are, or could be spending on wasted clicks, you’ll want to implement a negative keyword list as soon as possible to make sure your advertising money is spent in the right places.

Select the search term or terms you’d like to exclude, and click Add As Negative Keyword. You can add the negative keyword at an Ad Group level, Campaign level, or to the Negative Keyword List. You can apply the list in the same way (at the ad group or campaign level) or you can add the list to all campaigns and it acts as a de facto negative keyword list for your entire account.

The final step is deciding which keyword match type to apply to your exclusion: exact match, phrase, and broad. Take extra care when selecting your match types, as you’re now aiming to exclude terms rather than target them and this may counterintuitive (a great excuse to read our previous article on the different match types).

Once you’ve worked through the Search Terms Report and compiled your negative keyword list, you can review this using the Negative Keywords tab in the Keywords Report. Don’t forget: You can also add negative keywords from scratch, from within the Negative Keyword List. This works exactly the same way as adding a word or phrase from the Search Term Reports.

 

A Simple Optimisation For Google Ads

We recommend dipping into the search terms report at least once a month, with a more focused review of the negative keyword list on a quarterly basis. You’ll not only ensure your money is being spent on the most relevant terms, but the quality of traffic reaching your destination and engaging with content will improve as well. If you’re restricted on budget, this is a brilliant and easy to way to optimise your spend. You can always release search terms back into the wild by removing them from your exclusion list, should they become relevant in the future.

Follow us on Twitter @GlowMetrics for the latest news on Google Ads and the rest of the Google Marketing Platform, and stay with the GlowMetrics Blog for detailed guides and tips. Please feel free to contact us at [email protected], or leave a comment below and we’d be happy to answer any questions!

 

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