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Written by Caroline Cox on Jan 9

Yes, your PPC campaign should have negative keywords — here’s why

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to define negative keywords
  • Tips for building a negative keyword list
  • How negative keywords stack up again standard keywords
  • Negative keyword best practices

Like noodles for spaghetti, sunshine for plants, and gin for martinis, keywords are an essential part of pay-per-click (PPC) campaign success.

Maybe you’ve got a paid search campaign that’s bringing in a ton of leads, but the conversion rate is low, meaning you’re spending precious ad dollars on unqualified clicks. We’ve seen upwards of 90% in wasted ad spend when clients don’t include any negative keywords in their account.

On the other hand, if you feel confident that you’ve selected the right keywords that are hyper-focused on your audience, that’s great! But if you’re not also leveraging negative keywords, you may be missing out on making your PPC campaigns as targeted as they can be.

Taking advantage of negative keywords can do wonders for eliminating window shoppers and bad leads. According to Google, a negative keyword (also known as a negative match) is a keyword type “that prevents your ad from being triggered by a certain word or phrase.”

Meaning: if someone searches for a phrase including a term you’ve deemed a negative keyword, your ads won’t show up. 

Want to make sure you know all the benefits of negative keywords for PPC? Let’s dive in.

HawkSEM: How Negative Keywords Benefit Your PPC Campaigns

When you’re mining your reports for keywords to exclude, you want to include their variations as well. (Image via Unsplash)

Negative keywords vs. standard keywords

Using keyword targeting helps ensure your paid search ad is tailored to your audience. When you’re paying for each individual click, you want those who click your ad to be qualified leads. Negative keywords work the same way, just in the opposite direction.

When you add negative keywords, you’re telling the ad platform (such as Google or Bing) that you don’t want your ad to appear for certain searches. 

If your company makes tasty salsa, for instance, then you may want “salsa” to be one of your keywords. But if someone’s searching online for “salsa dancing” or “salsa lessons,” they’re probably not looking for your product. By adding these as negative keywords, you can filter out people searching with these terms, thus saving you from spending money on bad leads. 

Pro tip: When it comes to queries with more than 10 words in them, negative keywords can’t be applied.

Building your negative keyword list

It’s a good idea to conduct your research the same way you conduct your standard keyword research, particularly before and during a campaign launch. 

Search Engine Watch advises you to start the process by thinking about the types of businesses, products or services that your brand could be mistaken for (like our salsa example above). Next, brainstorm the search terms that might be used to describe those businesses.

There are some terms — like “address,” “free,” and “login” — that you’ll probably want to select as negative keywords right off the bat. After that, you can also refer to your SEO analytics and see what search terms are bringing visitors to your site. Are there any that clearly stand out as negative keywords? Add those to your list. 

The different types of negative keywords

As with standard keywords, there are various types of negative keywords. 

For PPC campaigns, negative keywords can be broad match (keywords that don’t have punctuation around the words), exact match (if the search contains the exact negative keyword you’ve specified, the ad won’t show), or phrase match (meaning your ad won’t show if the exact keyword terms, in that order, are searched). But that doesn’t mean they function in all the same ways.

As of the past few years, “exact match” doesn’t always mean exact for standard keywords. It does, however, when it comes to negative keywords. Google explains that the main difference between these two types is that you need to include variations of these keywords if you want to exclude them. These variations can include:

  • Synonyms
  • Singular or plural versions
  • Misspellings
  • Any other close variations

This is why, when you’re mining reports for keywords to exclude, you want to exclude their variations as well.

Pro tip: When you’re entering your keywords into Google Ads, you can add them at both the ad group and campaign level. For negative keywords, you generally want to apply them to the campaign level, not just the ad group level, so other keywords can trigger that term.

HawkSEM: How Negative Keywords Benefit Your PPC Campaigns

Regularly go into your ads account, head to “search terms” in your Keywords tab, and mark any keywords you see that stand out as being irrelevant. (Image via Unsplash)

Adjust your negative keyword list as needed

Just like your standard keyword list, your negative keyword list shouldn’t remain stagnant. You always want to be optimizing and iterating to make sure your PPC ads are as targeted as possible. 

How often you iterate on your list will depend on various factors, including your campaigns and bandwidth. No matter what “consistent” means for you and your team, it’s a good idea to regularly go into your ads account, head to “search terms” in your Keywords tab, and mark any keywords you see that stand out as being irrelevant.

The takeaway

For all the reasons above, it can be hugely beneficial to add negative keywords to your PPC campaigns. Not only does this help weed out those who aren’t in the market for your product or service, but it saves you money by helping you only pay for clicks that will (hopefully) become customers. 

With a bit of brainstorming and some campaign tweaks, you can be sure that your PPC campaign won’t attract the wrong crowd. 

Want to take your PPC to the next level this year? We can help.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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