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Your handy guide to building a negative keyword list

Keywords determine when your pay-per-click (PPC) ad will appear on SERP and who will see it. Having a solid understanding of how they work will help you to reach out to your target audience and get closer to your digital marketing goals.

You may have heard the term ‘exactish match’ since Google announced some changes to their match types in 2019. This started when Google announced they’d be matching more variants and allowing function words for exact match keywords. This means your PPC ads might be triggered for queries outside of your exact keyword.

For big advertisers with a large budget, this might not be a big concern. However, for smaller businesses with a niche market, being visible for more search terms could be using budget by driving the wrong customers to your site.

While this might have led to some challenges, we have seen it as a time to focus on our keyword optimisation to overcome the changes. One key way of doing this is by working on your negative keyword strategy to make sure you’re not showing for those unwanted terms.

So, today we’ve decided to outline how you can have maximum control over your negative keywords and ensure your ads are reaching your most valuable customers.

What are negative keywords?

When used correctly, negative keywords will benefit your business and keep you within your marketing budget.  So, what exactly is a negative keyword?

They are essentially the opposite of your target keywords. By adding a negative keyword, you are informing Google that you do not want to appear for a specific search query. So, if a user includes your keyword in their query – your ad won’t appear.

In case you want a quick recap of how keywords generally work in PPC, you can find our previous blog post here.

Different types of negative keywords

1. Negative broad match

This is the default type of negative keyword. As long as a search query contains all of your terms, then your ad won’t be triggered. Your ad still won’t be triggered if your terms are in the wrong order or part of a sentence. Here’s an example:

Your negative broad match keyword is “Marketing agency.”

You won’t appear for:

  • Marketing agency
  • Agency in London marketing
  • Digital marketing agency 

 You will appear for:

  • Digital marketing
  • Marketing London

2. Negative phrase match

For negative phrase match, your ads won’t appear if a user searches your exact keyword terms in the correct order. If a query includes your keyword phrase (in order) along with additional words – it still cannot appear. If your keywords are in the wrong order, then it can appear. For example:

Your negative phrase match keyword is “Marketing agency.”

You won’t appear for:

  • Local marketing agency
  • Marketing agency 
  • Digital marketing agency 

 You will appear for: 

  • Agency marketing
  • Agency specialising in marketing
  • Marketing London

3. Negative exact match

For this type of negative keyword, your ad will not show if a user search searches for your exact terms, in the correct order, without any additional words. If you’re worried about appearing for a specific query, then you can add it as a negative exact match. (Of course, we personally would never add ‘marketing agency’ as a negative! But, we will keep using this as our example). So here’s how it works:

Your negative exact match keyword is “Marketing agency.”

You won’t appear for:

  • Marketing agency

 You will appear for:

  • Agency marketing
  • Marketing agency London
  • Digital marketing agency  
  • Marketing

How to choose your negative keywords 

There are different ways you can find and research your negative keywords. Sometimes your negative terms will be obvious – but using real data can make sure you’ve covered all the right keywords. Our favourite tools are Google’s Keyword Planner and Search Terms Report. 

Keyword Planner 

A great tool that most businesses will benefit from using is Google Ads Keyword Planner. This tool allows you to look at real user query data and understand how people search.

How does it work? You can search for a term of your choice, the tool will display a list of related keyword searches. You’ll also be able to find out the search volume and competition for each suggested term. This is a popular way of gathering new keyword ideas – but is equally as useful for spotting those terms you want to exclude.

We suggest looking through your list and noting any terms that you wouldn’t want to appear for. Once you’ve found those irrelevant terms, you can add them to your negative keyword list to avoid driving the wrong traffic to your site.

Search Terms Report

A Search Terms Report provides you with a list of search queries that have triggered your PPC ad. This is another way of avoiding spending money or showing your ad to people who probably won’t be interested. 

On the report, you can sort your results in a way that will help you to put together your negative keyword list without up taking much of your time. You can sort by the highest number of impressions to the lowest – which will give you a good idea of how most people are reaching your ads.

A great part about this is being able to see which terms have the highest click-through and conversion rates. You can find those users that are seeing your ad but not engaging with it. You might find that some keywords you predicted as high-performing are not generating the results you expected. So, if you find a term that is relevant but not actually leading to clicks or sales – you could add that as a negative.  

Do your research

While data is great, there is no harm in doing some extra research, for example:

  • You can brainstorm with your team about any search terms you don’t want to appear for. It’s always helpful to get ideas from a different perspective.
  • You could perform an organic Google search using your keyword to find more negative terms. Everything that appears as a result of your search is considered relevant by Google. So, you can look through the first few pages and spot any terms that you don’t think are likely to lead to a conversion. This can help to find those ‘exactish’ terms.

Things to remember

  • Track the performance of your campaign and make adjustments throughout – things are always changing on SERP.  
  • Research, research, research! Using the methods we’ve highlighted can help you choose your negative keywords and avoid missing out on potential customers. 

How to add your negative keywords

Once you’ve got a list of negative keywords that you’re happy with, you’ll just need to add them to your account. Google Ads have got a helpful step-by-step guide to help you add keywords to your Search and Display campaigns. You can find it here

What next?

Adding negative keywords is a great way of maximising your PPC budget and driving those valuable clicks. If you want any help with your keyword research or your PPC marketing – get in touch. 

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