Proactive Negative Keyword Targeting

03.21.17 // Mike Nierengarten

Wasted spend is infuriating. No one enjoys opening up a search terms report and seeing hundreds of dollars spent on irrelevant keywords. Who knew so many folks were searching for “u pull it software” when you set out targeting “IT software”? While regularly reviewing search term reports at the keyword level will help address much of the wasted spend, proactively addressing negative keywords is key to avoiding the frustrations of fruitless spending.

Honest Assessment of Where You Stand

Before embarking on extensive negative keyword research, it’s important to evaluate your campaigns’ current situation. Have you been running campaigns for years, regularly reviewing search terms, and adding negatives or are you just beginning your paid search endeavors? Do you need to scale quickly and are comfortable with some wasted spend or are you staring down a 3-month runway and every dollar counts?

If you’re running mature campaigns, you can consider opening up your campaigns to broader and broader keywords. If you’re budget conscious or just getting going, you need to start with a fairly tight keyword set. Someone searching for “hr software” is typically in a different stage of the buying cycle than someone searching for “performance management software”. Ensure you are targeting keywords compatible with your financial and lead management resources. These chosen keywords are your “positive” keywords.

You will be using these “positive” keywords as the basis for your negative keyword research.

Expand, Trim, and Review

The goal (albeit impossible) is to identify all of the keywords anyone will ever search that may appear for your keyword list. Keyword Tool does a solid job of identifying hundreds of related keywords folks may search. Using this tool alone will increase your keyword list 100 fold.

Once you have a substantial keyword list, it’s time to determine if these should be added as negatives. Unfortunately working through hundreds of thousands of keywords is a pain. You are going to want to automate cutting down on your full list of keywords.

One method to cut down is to take your full list and run a rankings report for your site and your competitors’ sites. The thinking is if you or your competitors rank for that keyword, it is probably relevant and should not be added as a negative. You can either cross-reference a list from a tool like SpyFu or use rank checking software. You can then narrow down your larger list to only those keywords where you and your competitors do not appear in search results.

Once you have a smaller list, consolidating those keywords is important. There is no sense in blocking both “payroll processing software” and “payroll software” if you can just add payroll as a negative keyword. You can use a tool like Textalyser to determine the density of each word within your keyword list. This will allow you to negatively target root words rather than a whole phrase.

Start Now

With Google regularly expanding when it serves ads, the time for negative keyword expansion is yesterday.

About Mike Nierengarten

Mike has been in online marketing since 2004 and started Obility in February of 2011. Mike is a numbers geek who feels more comfortable staring at Excel spreadsheets & Google Ads Editor than sitting in lengthy meetings. Mike saw Obility as an opportunity to rethink SEM management and focus solely on the unique needs of B2B clients. Mike enjoys board sports, exploring restaurants, and lively discussions about the economy. He is also a passionate traveler. His long-term goals focus on spurring economic growth and addressing inequality in the Portland community. View all Mike Nierengarten’s posts >