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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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Oct 31

Managing your pay-per-click program shouldn’t feel like you’re wandering in a haunted house. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • A few of the most common PPC problems
  • Actionable solutions that’ll help you overcome these problems
  • Pro tips to boost your PPC program

Ghouls, monsters, zombies, and an underperforming PPC campaign — scary stuff, right?

When it comes to paid search, it can be easy to spend your whole budget and still get underwhelming results. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We’ve highlighted 4 common PPC problems, complete with solutions that can help turn things around. Just beware: there’s spooky stuff ahead.

HawkSEM blog: 4 Common PPC Problems — And How to Fix Them

Create ads that match your keywords closely to create more detailed reporting and become that much more likely to attract qualified leads. (Image via Unsplash)

PPC Problem #1: You’re driving traffic, but not conversions

So you’ve decided on the copy, finalized the design, organized your campaigns, and launched your ads. Now, you’re seeing traffic numbers go up — that’s great! But conversions are another story.

Traffic is one thing, but if you’re not seeing conversions, something is amiss. So, what gives? It may be a matter of where you’re sending that traffic on your site.

Solution: Create optimized landing pages

If your ads send leads to your homepage, you’re not making the best use of your traffic. When people click your ads and land on your homepage, it’s not always clear where they should go or what they should do next.

By sending this traffic to optimized landing pages instead, you can deliver a minimalist visual experience with a clear message that makes it easy for your leads to know exactly what action they should take. You can even tailor these various landing pages to different audience segments and speak directly to them.

Properly optimized landing pages have elements like:

  • Consistent verbiage with their corresponding ads
  • A clear CTA
  • A mobile-friendly format
  • Easy shareability

PPC Problem #2: Your leads aren’t qualified

Sure, it’s great to have a large influx of leads coming your way. But if, upon closer inspection, the bulk of your leads aren’t qualified, you’re using up time and money that could be better spent elsewhere. 

By not taking advantage of all of the keyword and targeting strategies at your disposal (like using too many overly broad keywords and not leveraging retargeting and negative keywords) you risk having a high volume of leads that don’t actually translate into sales.

Solution: Revisit your targeting strategy

It may be time to look into the audiences you’re currently targeting. Where are they in your buyer’s journey? By targeting your prospects who are further down the funnel and closer to the decision-making stage, you can create hyper-focused campaigns that’ll increase your odds of converting them into closed business.

It’s also a good time to look into single keyword ad groups (SKAGs). Experts define SKAGs as ad groups designed with a one-to-one relationship between the root keyword and the ad. These groups can include multiple variations and long-tail keywords. 

By creating ads that match your keywords closely, you can pull more detailed reports and become that much more likely to attract qualified leads. 

Pro tip: While most brands know about targeting on social media platforms, don’t forget about Google and Bing audience targeting, too. When it comes to leads, it’s a game of quality over quantity. 

PPC Problem #3: Your PPC program relies too heavily on automation

Automation can be great for time-saving and repetitive manual tasks. But being too hands-off with your PPC program can have drawbacks.

This can result in underperformance along with a lack of understanding about what’s going right and what needs attention. When you opt for the “set it and forget it” model, you risk wasted spend and losing control of the whole operation.

Solution: Keep the human element intact

At its core, marketing is about connecting with people. Because of this, it’s essential that you keep the human element at the core of any marketing strategy or initiative.

Leveraging tools to make your job easier is a win, but they work best when paired with a hands-on approach. This means taking the time to understand your audience (in a way no algorithm can), revisiting your goals, and iterating when necessary. By continuing to test, track, and reconfigure your PPC program, you’ll land on the combination that works best for your company — with or without automation.

Pro tip: If this all sounds overwhelming or like something you simply don’t have time for, consider partnering with a digital marketing agency focused on ROI. They can identify your company’s strengths and weaknesses, put the right systems in place, and help you start to see those numbers heading in a more pleasing direction. 

HawkSEM blog: 4 Scary PPC Problems (And How to Fix Them)

It’s easy to spend your budget in a flash when you’re managing PPC campaigns. (Image via Unsplash)

PPC Problem #4: You’re not sticking to your budget

When you’re managing PPC campaigns, it can be easy to go through your allotted budget in a snap. But, as we said above, if your campaigns are bringing you a high volume of leads without resulting in substantial ROI, then there’s work to be done.

But, wait! Don’t throw more money into Google Ads to try to boost profits and fix your wasted ad spend issue just yet. Alternatively, you don’t need to necessarily modify your budget just because you’re consistently underspending and not hitting your budget. 

Solution: Identify your “money keywords”

We’re all about money keywords — the keywords that bring you the most PPC ROI. By zooming in on the right data, you can get a better idea of your money keywords and the ones that can be scrapped.

First, check out your PPC performance over the last 3-4 months (as long as your current strategy has been in place at least that long).

Go into your Google Ads account in the Keywords tab. Next, then identify all the keywords that haven’t produced any conversions during those months (you can organize this info in a spreadsheet or PivotTable) and dump them. It’s worth noting here that brand keywords are a different story, as these can help boost your quality score, even if they don’t result in conversions.

At the end of the day, it’s not all about clicks and traffic, both of which may decrease after you eliminate those keywords. Look at which ones are driving the best lifetime value (LTV), then put as much of your budget as you can towards your money keywords. 

Pro tip: If you’re not hitting budget, increasing your cost-per-click (CPC) bid limit and expanding your audience location can help. By creating a simple budget tracker that includes things like your overall budget, average spend rates, and actual monthly spend rates, you can get a firmer grasp on where you are and where you want your program to be. 

Your paid search strategy shouldn’t be a mystery, and it shouldn’t feel like you’re simply throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. By identifying your PPC problems and arming yourself with the solutions, you can turn a broken program into a high-performing strategy that yields big results.

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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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