Be careful what you ask for: The Case for Negative Keywords

Whenever I visit the South I have to remember that if I want to order an iced tea at a restaurant I have to specify unsweetened tea.  Otherwise I’ll get sweet tea.  It’s a good reminder that there are times and situations when we need to be crystal clear and specific.  This is especially true on the Internet, where we need to be VERY specific about what we want – and don’t want.

A prime example of this is pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns.  (If you’re unfamiliar with PPC, here’s a previous article describing how pay-per-click works.)  One of the most important aspects of running a PPC campaign is specifying the keywords (or phrases) that you believe users are most likely to use in their search.  This is what will ultimately trigger your ads.   Perhaps the second most important consideration is specifying negative keywords – the words or phrases that are outside the scope of your ad campaign but could potentially cause your ads to appear.

As an example, one of our clients had been running a PPC campaign for their online store. They asked us to take over because they weren’t getting the results they thought they should be getting.  Were we ever surprised when we looked at their account!  This client had been paying for keyword phrases that had NOTHING to do with the products they offered.  They sell stationery, themed papers, and invitations.   Yet, they were paying when someone searched and clicked on golf themed toilet paper!  How did that happen?

One of their broad keyword phrases was “themed paper”.  So their ad could potentially be seen by users searching for anything even loosely related to this phrase.  They DO sell golf themed paper, but NOT toilet paper.  It’s this lack of attention to the details that can cost you a ton of money with PPC.  A couple of clicks here and a couple of clicks there can add up fast.  By setting up a large set of negative keywords (such as toilet paper), we were able to bring their costs down significantly.

We’ve found this to be true for others who are managing their own PPC campaigns.  When asked how well their program is doing, a common response is “it costs too much for what we are getting.”  In many cases, this could mean one of a few things:

  1. The company didn’t adequately research the proper keywords or phrases to include in their ad campaign(s). They may have taken a wild guess or assumed they already knew what should be used for keywords. 
  2. Too many keywords or search terms were broadly defined.  As a result, their ads might appear when users enter a search term that is only loosely related to their keyword phrases but is outside the scope of their offer. 
  3. No negative keywords have been specified.   Many people are not aware that PPC keeps track of search terms that users enter when ads are shown.  Through analysis of this data, a list of negative keywords can be compiled to eliminate unrelated words or phrases. 
  4. And finally, in some instances, companies simply don’t give their program enough time.  It can take months of continuously defining and refining keyword phrases, finding your niches, and determining the optimal wording of ads that will ultimately lead to a successful campaign. 

So remember to specify negative keywords when running your PPC campaign!

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