The New World Of Negative Keywords

With Google’s recent changes to keyword matching, negative keywords have become more important than ever.

Exact match keywords used to be just that: the search phrase had to be the exact words you were bidding on in that order. But now they will include close variants in your search results. These include misspellings, singular or plural forms, abbreviations, accents, reordered words, synonyms, implied words, and same search intent.

Google’s phrase match used to do what exact match is doing now.

Phrase match is effectively what broad match modified was since its discontinuation. Now phrase match will show search results that include the meaning of your keyword. That can be a pretty broad interpretation.

This is part of Google’s effort to get advertisers bidding on keywords based on the INTENT of the searcher.

That’s the reason you might be seeing a recommendation like this:

Google's recommendation to use broad match keyword types

That’s why negative keywords are so important now. Along with going over the fundamentals I’m going to share with you a couple of tips and tricks we’ve learned over the years.

So negative keywords are the search phrases we use to tell Google not to trigger our ads to show up. It’s a means of narrowing your keywords down to those searches more likely to be your ideal customer or client.

If you don’t have negative keywords properly set up it can cost you thousands of dollars in clicks from people that aren’t in the market for your product or service. Worse yet, your competitors that have their keywords set up correctly and include negative keywords, are getting in front of the very people you are trying to attract with your ads.

The negative keywords are in the navigation menu under Keywords. Click to open the drop down menu and you’ll see Search Keywords, then Negative Keywords, and beneath that Search Terms, then Auction Insights.

this a screen capture of the keyword drop down menu in google ads

Negative Keyword Lists

How do we decide what keywords should be added to our negative keyword list? When building a new ad campaign if you don’t have any history you’ll want start with the obvious. If you’re an attorney, obvious words might include pro bono, courthouse and district attorney. Using Google’s keyword tool to find keywords you would like to bid for will also yield keywords for your negative list.  

When you have an account that’s been running and there is history to work with, use Google to find the actual key phrases that people searched that resulted in your ads being triggered.

We’ll go back to the keyword menu and come down to Search Terms.

an image showing the search terms generated by divorce ads in google ads

Here you can see the actual terms people are searching for. Scroll through and check the terms against the keywords you are bidding on.

Common Issues Identified In Search Terms

Some of the most common issues we see are people searching for a town, city or state outside of the area you service. You might see a search for divorce lawyer in Miami, but your practice is in South Carolina. In this case Miami would be added as a negative keyword to prevent that from happening again.

If you have terms that are way outside what you should be showing up for, then the issue might be in your keyword match types. If they are too general, it’s easy to show up for unrelated searches. The divorce lawyer in the previous example might show up for “patent lawyer’ if the keywords aren’t set up correctly. Adding patent as a negative keyword will prevent your ad from showing up again for that search, but keyword match types are going to have to be checked or you’ll be fighting a losing battle.

Tips & Tricks To Optimize Your Keywords

I promised a couple of tips, or they might be considered tricks, to help optimize your account.

The first one is using phrase match or exact match keywords as negative keywords. Our divorce lawyer might offer a Free Consultation to entice people to click on their ad. What they don’t want to show up for is someone searching for a Free Lawyer. People searching for a Free Lawyer usually don’t have the money to pay a lawyer. But if you add Free as a negative keyword, your ads may not show up. Using Free Lawyer as an exact match or phrase match negative will solve the problem.

The next one is create a spreadsheet with the names and two-letter abbreviations of all the states. Copy and paste these into the List function for negative keywords. You’ll create a list that automatically prevents your ads from showing up for searches for your business using state names or abbreviations. Remember to remove the state or states in which you do business, and remove the abbreviation for the state of Maine. It’s ME and people searching for your products or services using the phrase “near me” in their search will be blocked from seeing your ads.

Another trick is to exclude every country in the world and every state in which you don’t do business. There are unscrupulous people in other countries that like to use the internet for nefarious purposes. Maybe they’ve been hired by your competitor to click on your ads. Wouldn’t that suck!

exclude all countries you aren't advertising to in Google

Whatever the reason, unless you are advertising for international business, you don’t want your ads showing in other countries.

Review Your Search Terms Regularly

Negative keywords aren’t a set it and forget it function of the keywords in your account. People are searching for the keywords you are bidding on all the time. Even with the best keyword matching, you’ll find searches that trigger your ads and aren’t relevant.

You’ll want to review your search terms on a regular basis looking for terms that should be added to your negative list. If you have high volume on your searches and get hundreds or thousands of clicks a week, you need to do this weekly.

Less than a hundred clicks per week and every 2 weeks is good.

So you don’t duplicate work, establish a schedule to check your campaigns. When you pull up the account, change the dates to the last 7 days or last 2 weeks so you aren’t seeing search terms that have already been added. The longer you do this, the easier it becomes, and the fewer terms you’ll find that are off base.

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