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Google Accentuates the Positives of Negative Keywords

One tends not to associate good things with the concept of negativity. Something negative usually means a bad result; in ecommerce that can be events like a site not responding to visitors, or shoppers abandoning carts during checkout. However, Google reminded everyone that “negative” can be a good thing as well.

In the case of Google AdWords and their latest blog post on keyword usage, they encourage advertisers to embrace some sage advice from their new publication, “Keywords to the Wise.” This new guide provides some helpful hints for advertisers looking for maximum results from their campaigns.

Of particular interest comes Google’s take on negative keyword usage. Where most keywords are selected for their potential to attract a searcher with a relevant delivered ad, negative keywords serve to exclude ads from being delivered when those keywords or phrases comprise part or all of a search:

“Look for trends of keywords that are incompatible with your business model. Ex. A luxury goods retailer would exclude phrases that contain words like “cheap” and “discount.” Be careful of one-word negatives though. Someone may be looking for free shipping with your product, which is quite different than looking for a free product.”

In AdWords, the Keyword Planner helps advertisers manage these negatives when they are in use. Says Google of negative keyword usage: “On the most basic level, negative keywords prevent you from showing ads to people that are less valuable to you or less interested in what you have to offer, even though their queries may be syntactically related to the keywords in your account.”

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Though there’s a little more care involved with considering negative keyword planning, Google suggests not stressing too much about it. For keywords that aren’t particularly relevant to a given advertiser’s campaign, Google’s search engine likely won’t match those ads to searches based on low relevance.

EcommerceBytes.com also asked Mike Mothner, CEO of online marketing firm Wpromote, for his thoughts on the care and use of negative keywords in campaigns.

EcommerceBytes: For a small to medium online seller engaged in AdWords, what percent of an effective campaign should employ the use of negative keywords/key phrases?

Mike Mothner: To the question what percent of campaigns should use negative keywords, the answer is 100 percent of campaigns that use broad match (which virtually every campaign does) runs the risk of unintended matches that can be partly avoided with negative keywords, and therefore they should be used.

The use of negative keywords isn’t necessarily a ratio like, “of 100 keywords, 10 should be negative.” That would vary widely based on the keyword set in general and how much potential for broad matching there is.

EcommerceBytes: What common pitfalls do some advertisers fall into when they decide to implement a negative keyword strategy into their campaigns, and how might those be best avoided?

Mike Mothner: The biggest pitfall is not in the use of negative keywords on their own, but rather in not simultaneously growing the keyword set by adding in high quality keywords. At Wpromote, we generally follow a strategy of:

1) Begin with broad match keywords that will cast a wide net and reach tons of potential variations in queries;

2) Run a search query report to identify bad matched keywords to add to the negative keyword lists;

3) Use the same search query report to identify the winners, and add those to the campaign as exact matched keywords with targeted ads, so we can bid more precisely (and aggressively) on our winning keywords, get a higher Quality Score with a better matched ad, and so forth.

The pitfall might be failing to implement exact matched keywords to the campaign.

EcommerceBytes: Do any product or service categories that sell online stand out as needing to consider negative keyword usage in campaigns more than others?

Mike Mothner: Areas that require the most work with negative keywords are generally broad areas where you do not provide all the products or services that would fall under that umbrella. For example: broad travel keywords, when you just sell cruises. Or event tickets, when you just sell concerts.

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David A Utter
David A Utter
David A. Utter is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. He has covered technology topics from search to security to online business and has been quoted in places like ZDNet and BusinessWeek. He considers his appearance on NPR's "All Things Considered" with long-time host Robert Siegel a delightful highlight. You can find him on Twitter @davidautter and on LinkedIn.