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Negative Keywords Can Make or Break Your PPC Campaigns

Pay-Per-Click is growing

You want to establish long term brand awareness and trust? Build a sturdy SEO platform.

You want to convert both curious and ready-to-buy consumers and get your name in front of them right now? Establish a compelling PPC campaign.

People searching with commercial intent click on paid search ads over organic search listings by nearly a 2 to 1 margin. And Google is showing an increasing preference for promoting paid search (we won’t get into all the mounting evidence here).

But be careful. If you jump into the paid search game too hastily, you’ll be wasting money on uninterested consumers. Make sure you get the most for your money by using negative keywords in your ad campaigns.


“Who is this ‘Dead Mau5’ guy??”

What are negative keywords?

Keywords are those search terms for which you want your ads to appear. Negative keywords are exactly what they sound like; keywords for which you don’t want your ads to appear.

Why are they important?


If you were running ads in a more traditional medium like television, you wouldn’t want your beer commercial to run during Saturday morning cartoons. It would be a waste of money to run your ad in front of an audience with no interest (and in this case, no purchasing power, either).

The same principal applies to PPC.

By managing your negative keywords well, you are ensuring that your ads will only show up for the most interested, relevant consumers, increasing your click-through-rate and probability for conversions.

Quality Scores

Quality scores are Google’s assessment of how useful your ad is to the consumer. They are a huge part of Google’s formula for deciding whose ads to display for any search term (the other being bid price).

When an AdWords campaign is initially launched, Google calculates your quality score by determining the strength of interrelated relevance from the keyword group to the ad copy to the directed landing page.

Once the quality of this chain is established, the ad’s click-through-rate (CTR) becomes much more influential in determining your quality score, as they are essentially votes cast by live people.

Of course, if you haven’t managed your negative keywords well, your CTR will be low since your ads will be appearing in front of uninterested eyes that have searched for unrelated terms. And with low CTR, your quality score will sink. And with a sinking quality score, your ads won’t appear as often, even for the search terms that are highly relevant to your business.

How to identify and use negative keywords

The Big List

If you are just launching a new PPC campaign, you should consider this list of negative keywords. This comprehensive list, organized by category, is a good starting point for eliminating common search terms that may otherwise trigger your ad.

Language Quirks

English has a lot of weird words. Guard against confusion by choosing negative keywords that are associated with the linguistic cousins of any keywords you actually want to use.

For example, if you sell women’s shoes, you may want to show up for a search like “red pumps.” But you don’t want to show up for searches looking for “bicycle pumps” or “water pumps” so include negative keywords like, “air,” “bicycle,” “basketball,” “water,” etc.

You also have to account for human error. If you sell delicious pastries you probably want your ads to show up for a search like “nearby desserts.” But some people looking for the sandy, arid regions may misspell “desert.” Include words like “Sahara,” and “sand,” in your list of negative keywords if you don’t want your ad showing up for adventurers and archeologists.

It’s difficult to predict every possibility for confusion, which is why you should always consult your search term report (especially in the first few weeks of your PPC campaign).

Search Term Report

This is your number one ally in figuring out how to optimize your negative keywords. The search term report will tell you what keywords people searched for before they saw and clicked on your ad.

This information is incredibly useful for managing your bids and focusing your ad copy to get the best CTR and conversion rates.

It’s also useful to see when your ads are showing up for completely unrelated keywords. When you discover these, add them to your negative keyword list and keep your PPC campaign highly efficient.

If your ads are showing up for unrelated searches and people aren’t clicking on your ads, you will still be able to identify the flaw through an overinflated impression count on a particular keyword group. Eliminate keyword groups that have incredibly high impressions and low CTR.

In summary

Google has just been rated the number one media company for advertisers, beating out traditional platforms for the first time. To capitalize on paid search, you have to be just as smart and efficient with your PPC campaign as you would with TV or print campaign. Use negative keywords to cut the fat, and get your ads in front of the people that are actually looking for your product.

Sam Mock

Sam Mock is the Content Director at Chicago Style SEO, a full service Internet marketing firm. He can't wait for the day when writers unite to storm the gates of Google and gorge themselves on Cheez-Its in the break room. Connect with him on , and Twitter.

1 Comment

We have gone from having almost all our keywords ranking somewhere above 75+, to having five keywords in the top 10, and 10 keywords in the top 20, we have seen some real progress. Related Posts:Google Tag Manager Guides: How to track PDFs in Analytics…How the Panama Papers Can Be Traced Back to a WordPress…The Rise of... continue reading

Chris Strupp, Marketing Manager – Chicago Flyhouse