Negative Is The New Positive

I thought this week I'd take a short departure from SEO tactics and talk to you briefly about PPC. Yeah -- who knew? I found a little bit of PPC knowledge in a corner of my brain I forgot existed. End result? Hopefully you will benefit from it. Let's jump into some thoughts about negative keyword lists.

First off, there are three kinds of campaigns you can run for a PPC: exact match, phrase match, and broad match. Phrase- and broad-matching campaigns are great because they allow you to target that nice juicy long tail without having to know the thousands of crazy searches that searchers use that will bring them to your site with credit cards in hand. The downside of these campaigns is that there are also thousands of phrases in the long tail that will bring traffic, but no sales. This is where negative keywords become useful. You can avoid a lot of that useless traffic.

Negative keywords, in the simplest definition, are words that you do not want your PPC ads showing up for. For example, if you are running a broad match campaign for the term "iPhone" and you put the words "free" and "cheap" in your campaign as negatives, your ad won't show for terms like "free iPhone" or "cheap iPhone."  Or let's say you sell shoes, the sneaker variety. You probably don't want your ads showing for searches for "horse shoes," "brake shoes" or "snow shoes." Obviously, negative keywords are only useful in broad-match and phrase-match campaigns.



There are a bunch of reasons that you should really maximize your negative keywords. You want to stop your ads from showing for searches that:

-          have low or zero conversion rates

-          have high conversion costs

-          have expensive CPCs

-          have bad brand association

-          are not relevant to you or the searcher

Hands many of you use negative keywords in your PPC campaigns? How many of you use 50 negatives? 100? 500? Did you know Google allows 10,000 per campaign, or up to 5,000 per ad group? Are you using them all? Of course you're not. Do you have any idea how long it takes to cobble together a comprehensive list of negative keywords? You have to spend hours using your intuition, a thesaurus, Google's keyword tool, WordTracker, Keyword Discovery, Microsoft's Keyword Mutation Tool, a giant spreadsheet, to track it all, and a  bottle of Maker's Mark to keep you on track. Or you could head over to

So now you have your nice keyword list all sorted out and implemented properly. What you can you expect?

-          increased CTR

-          decreased bounce rate

-          increased Quality Score

-          increased ad ranking

-          increased conversion rate

-          decreased conversion cost

-          increased profit

I personally know several companies that have jumped into the negative keyword challenge and built out massive lists of thousand of negatives and are reaping the benefits today. I've seen the numbers and they are outstanding. One company saved 20% on its PPC spend while maintaining the same level of sales.  Do you know what they did with that 20% savings? Plowed it right back into their PPC campaign. Are you paying attention here, all you SEM agencies? Don't worry about PPC spends dropping because of this. Be prepared to impress the socks off your clients and have that savings come right back to you to keep buying all that juicy traffic.

Go forth and be negative -- it's a positive thing.

6 comments about "Negative Is The New Positive".
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  1. Joellyn Sargent from BrandSprout LLC, August 13, 2010 at 10:04 a.m.

    Great advice. I've used negative keywords very successfully to pare down the irrelevant clicks on a campaign. Why pay for traffic that's not a good match? It's a waste of money, and creates frustration among users.

    Negative keywords let you filter out unqualified browers before they even get to your site, resulting in higher quality traffic and better ROI. Who wouldn't want that?

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 13, 2010 at 10:46 a.m.

    No doubt, Smart, smart, smart.

  3. Alex Sepulveda from Rewire Marketing, August 13, 2010 at 8:25 p.m.

    It is very easy to find negative keywords that you should add to your account by running a "search query report" in your Google AdWords account.

    Here's how:

    - Log into your AdWords account
    - Click on the Reporting tab
    - Then on Reports
    - Then on the text link to the right that says Create a New Report
    - Under 1. Report Type, choose Search Query Performance and then fill in the rest of the parameters as you see fit (for date range, I generally look at the last 30 days)

    This will show you the keywords people who saw your ad actually searched for, and from this list you will immediately see the irrelevant terms that you should add as negatives. Voila!

    Another way of getting negatives is just to use the Keyword Tool (click on the Opportunities tab, then in the left hand navigation menu, under Tools, click on Keyword Tool).

    Just input the terms you're interested in finding negatives for, and then look at the results and you will also get good ideas of what to add as a negative.

    For example, I provide 'SEM management'. When I input this keyword, inevitably the Keyword Tool shows 'SEM management software' as a related query. Since I don't offer software, I have placed 'software' as a negative keyword on all campaigns in my account. (Note that it doesn't matter if you're only bidding on exact match because Google will often "expand match" your terms to highly related queries.)

    Hope that helps! Happy negative keywording. And do let me know if you have questions.

  4. Miki Dzugan from Rapport Online, August 16, 2010 at 4:36 p.m.

    On the other hand, if Google's "broad match" were not so overly broad you would not have to worry about your ads for "XYZ gadgets" being match to "ABC gadgets" and "DEF paraphernalia." And you would not have to add "ABC" and "paraphernalia" as negative keywords.

    What I would like to see is the option to exclude synonyms from broad match. Are you listening, Google?

  5. Mark Martel from Google, August 17, 2010 at 7:09 p.m.

    And excellent article on a best practice, @Todd.

    @Alex: Excellent suggestions for ways to build negative keyword lists quickly easily using free tools. I wanted to also note an even more direct way to see what searches led to clicks on your keywords:

    1. Sign in to your AdWords account at
    2. Click Campaigns.
    3. Click the name of the campaign you're interested in.
    4. Click the Keywords tab.
    5. Click the See search terms button.

    Select Selected if you want to generate the report for the keywords with marked checkboxes. Otherwise, select All to generate the report for all the keywords listed.

    The list of search terms will appear on the page. You can add search terms from the list to your ad group keyword list. Alternatively, if you want to stop your ad from triggering for particular terms, add those terms as negative keywords.

    For more tips on how to optimize your AdWords account, you can also check the official AdWords Optimization Center here:

    Commenter @Miki: There's a new AdWords matching feature called the broad match modifier. It effectively gives you more reach than phrase match and more control than broad match by -- among other things -- not matching on synonyms and related searches, but still allowing matches on close variants like mispellings, singular/plurals, stemming variations, abbreviations, as well as word order variations. Please have a look and let us know what you think:

  6. Miki Dzugan from Rapport Online, August 17, 2010 at 7:38 p.m.

    Mark, you are my new best friend. I did not know Google was working on that. Yea!

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