Using negative keywords to improve paid search campaigns

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One of the most frequently overlooked ways to improve click-through rates (CTRs) on paid search campaigns is the effective use of negative keywords. Negative keywords are used to filter search impressions that include words or phrases unrelated to the product or service you are selling. For example, suppose you are attempting to generate leads for the keyword phrase “Human Resources Consulting.” Some of the negative keywords to consider are: job, careers, institute, articles and start-up. Blocking these generic keywords will improve traffic relevancy and distribute your ad spend more effectively across searches that are meaningful to your business. Even if you are already using negative keywords, be sure to update them regularly. Properly used, negative keywords can increase conversion rates, reduce costs per click and improve keyword positioning.

Want some ideas for finding negative keywords? Here are some great free tools:

Google AdWords Reports - A good way to find negative keywords is using Google AdWords Reports. Go to the Reports section and generate the “keyword query report.” This provides a list of all searches that caused your ad to appear. The first time you review this report you will be amazed at the number of keywords included in queries that are not relevant to the product or service being sold. Adding these keywords to the negatives list will reduce impressions and improve the quality of visitors who click your ad in the future. When reviewing the list, there will be many instances where it states “5 other searches.” This is Google's way of not giving away everything, but over time you will find more and more keywords to add to your negative list. The keyword query report should be reviewed daily for the first couple of weeks and then weekly thereafter.

Google Search-Based Keyword Tool - This is a relatively new tool for Google that, when logged in, analyzes your account and offers suggestions on keywords that can be added to campaigns and suggested landing pages. This tool offers up to 800 suggestions. As you scan through the list, you find keywords to add to your negative list. Perform searches on many keywords that already exist in your campaigns to find suggestions for negative words that should be added.

Once implemented, there should be an immediate improvement in the CTRs of your campaigns. Yes, you may see a decrease in impressions. But these impressions were of no real value for lead generation anyway. Of course, there are other variables that could be affecting your CTR. These include ad copy, bid price, keywords you're bidding on, geography settings, and time scheduling of your ads—all of which need to be tested. However, adding negative keywords will help refine these other variables.

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