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7 Tips For Finding & Expanding Your Negative Keywords

With the now fully accepted quality score mechanism implemented in all major PPC platforms (and soon to be MSN too), click through rate (CTR) is even more important now than it ever was. Broad match and advanced matching options allow your products and services to be found for terms you may not even have thought existed but that luxury comes at a price. The phrases you “never knew existed” can also be phrases and search terms you do not want your ads to show for. Having a comprehensive and well built negative keyword list can significantly improve not only your CTR, but your conversion rate too. Here are some of the methods that we use to build our negative keyword lists.

Caveat: Many advertisers think that they do not need to use negative keywords if they are only advertising using exact match keywords. While this may be true to an extent, it is important to still use negative keywords on the content networks. Exact match should also be used in conjunction with phrase and broad match to expand your keywords list.

1. Your Own Data.
Your own analytics can be an amazing source of negative keywords. Look at not only your PPC data but your organic data too. Print out a monthly keyword report and highlight those negative terms. If you are unsure of any, do a simple search for the keyword and see what results pop up. You might be surprised. Don’t forget to run a search query performance report on your PPC account to make sure your ads are not being triggered by terms you don’t want them to. The guys over at ApolloSEM have a fantastic article on extracting your search query data that Google doesn’t want to give you.

2. Google’s Keyword Tool.
Use the free Google keyword tool. Paste in your keywords and make sure you select the “Use synonyms” checkbox. You may be surprised what keywords show up that Google thinks are related to your product or service. Also, paste your URL into the “Website Content” box to see what the tool thinks what your site/page may be about. Check the “Include other pages on my site…” checkbox to get a more rounded view. Make a list of words you are unsure of.

3. Organic Search Results.
This may seem blindingly obvious, but try setting your search results to display 100 results. Search for your main keywords and notice the results that have absolutely nothing to do with your product or service. Visit those sites and take down negative keywords. Run those sites through the Google keyword tool too. Leave nothing to chance. Think about words people would be using to complain about your product or service or show it in a poor light.

4. Adsense And Other Ads.
Do a search for your keywords. Look at other advertisers PPC ads. Many may be completely unrelated or triggered by one of your stem keywords. There are so many advertisers that allow their ads to be displayed for completely unrelated or downright silly terms. Don’t be one of them. Also, try dropping an adsense unit into your page or site as a test. See what advertisers are displayed. Make sure your keywords are not displayed for keywords relating to their product (unless you have the same product!). Be as anal as you can and don’t forget to run the sites you find through the keyword tool again.

5. Use A Thesaurus.
Try running your main keywords through a thesaurus. There is no way you could possibly know every single synonym of your main keywords. A Thesaurus is not only great at expanding your negative keyword list but also your main keyword list. Find variations of your variations. Ask friends and family that have nothing to do with your product or service what words they would use to search for your product and run them through the thesaurus too. If you are advertising in a competitive space, missing a single negative and having your ad displayed for a search that will never convert can be extremely expensive. You might not even find out for weeks if your PPC management company are not monitoring your log files. Don’t find your negatives the hard way.

6. Obvious And Industry Related.
Try using your own knowledge of your industry and product. What terms are you certain people will be searching for that are either not related to your product or service or that are related and that you don’t provide? Sit down with your co-workers and brainstorm for ten minutes. Again, be thorough and leave nothing to chance. If you do not know your industry (you do know your industry right?) or product well enough, visit the manufacturers website or give them a call. Ask your customers if you need to. What words are similar or spelled similar to your product or service name? Also be aware that new products are being released every day. Set up a Google alert for your keywords.

7. Anti Tire-kicker, Penny-pincher & Freeloader Terms.
There are many terms that you will want to add to all of your campaigns to prevent your ads being shown for searchers at the beginning of the buying cycle, who are looking for the cheapest option or for searchers who are outright trying to steal your product or service. While your business may be competing on price, I think it would be safe to say that you do not want your ad being shown for searchers looking to rip you off or complain! Solomon Rothman has a great list of keywords that can start you off. Remember to use common sense when generating your negatives. If you offer a free trial or a free product, do not blindly use the negative keyword “free”. Use what applies to your business. Some of the negatives Solomon offers are:

Problem Negative Keywords

problem, problems, warranty, returns, parts, complaints, complaint, sucks, suck, hate, protest, indictment, illegal

And of course some freeloader related ones negatives to get you started too:

Technical Negative Keywords
warez, crack, serial, serials, cracks, rss, xml, hack, hacks

So there you have it. Seven simple ways to build a super negative keyword list to increase your CTR, improve your quality score, increase your conversion rate and give you a higher return on your ad spend. This is by no means an exhaustive list on how to create a negative keyword list but it’s a good start. Feel free to share your own negative keyword generation tips in the comments below.

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