Negative Keywords with Brad Geddes: Best Practices for PPC Digital Advertising

PPC Best Practices for Using Negative Keywords

Use of negative keywords in PPC campaigns can reduce irrelevant ad impressions, improve CTR, improve quality score, and improve conversion rates – all without increasing costs.  Misuse them, and negative keywords can hurt a campaign and block relevant traffic.  Author expert Brad Geddes visited with OMCP to lay out the core practices of using negative keywords.

The OMCP Online Marketing Best Practices Podcast is where top authors and industry leaders share authoritative best practices in online marketing which are covered by the OMCP standard, competencies, and exams.  This is an OMCP pilot program that may continue based on member interest and support. Stay subscribed to the OMCP newsletter to get new episodes.

Download your MP3 of “Negative Keywords Best Practices for PPC with Brad Geddes” here.

Best Practices for Using Negative Keywords:

Michael: All right, welcome back to the OMCP studios, and with us today is Brad Geddes, co-founder of AdAlysis, founder of Certified Knowledge, author of Advanced Google AdWords, and faculty chair at Simplilearn Market Motive. Brad is an OMCP certified instructor and has made significant contributions to industry standards, just like OMCP. I’m your host Michael Stebbins, and today we’ll be discussing, negative keywords. Brad, welcome to the OMCP Best Practices Podcast. Thanks for coming in.

This episode is brought to you by:

Bing Ads. Connect with valuable customers searching for your business. Use the Bing Network to reach an audience that spends 25 percent more than the average searcher.

 Concordia College–New York’s fully online, advanced-technology master’s degree programs in Digital Marketing and Digital Media 

Brad: Hey Michael, thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Michael: It’s fun to be together again. I’m really excited to get into the best practices for negative keywords, but before we get started, I think there are some who haven’t read your books or attended your classes or heard you speak. Tell our audience who you are and what is it that you do.

Brad Geddes, Award-winning author, entrepreneur, and speaker

Brad: Oh, sure. So I am Brad Geddes and I have been in Paid Search for way too long, since ’98. These days, I’m co-founder of AdAlysis, which is an ad testing tool that also focuses on actional based data. I’ve been out to, gosh, Google twice so far, this year helping them with some things. And, you know, this time of year is conference seasons and I’m always a fan of fresh up to date great content. So I’m getting decks ready for Munich, west, hero con, then back out to London to have a fun spring traveling the show circuits.

Michael: I know you’re speaking quite often, and towards the end, we’ll list out some of the chances for people to come and see you. I know that over the years (and I think you and I met, was it probably around ’05 or ’06?) you’ve helped some really big companies and some small companies with their digital advertising, PPC strategy. Clearly, you’re an authority on the process–the industry knows this. And before we started, you and I went over a bulleted list of best practices for using negative keywords. Are you okay if I just read those off and then we’ll launch into each one?

Brad: That works for me. Perfect.

Michael: Okay. So the seven that we have here are:

  1. Regularly monitor your search queries and conversion rates to find negative keywords.
  2. Find search queries or n-grams (and we’ll talk about what those are in a moment) that you don’t want to show for.
  3. Determine the match type necessary to stop your ads from showing for those queries.
  4. Determine at what level the negative needs to be added, whether it’s the ad group campaign or campaign list.
  5. Add negatives for singulars, plurals, and misspellings.
  6. Add the negative keyword in the appropriate match type to the correct level.
  7. Research negative keywords on a regular basis to ensure that you are only showing ads and spending money on search queries that help you achieve your business goals

So Brad, first off, we talk about regularly monitoring our search queries and conversion rates to find negative keywords. Can you walk through what that looks like?

Brad Geddes shares PPC best practices with with OMCP at SMX 2017
Brad shares PPC best practices with OMCP at SMX 2017

Brad: Sure, so just quick definitions, right?

A negative keyword is a word that when it appears in your search query, your ad doesn’t show.

And of course, a search query is what a user types in the engine.

So what you want to take a look at is in your search query data. What are your ads actually showing for, and say, “All right, these words, really good, let’s keep them on our account.   These words, performing poorly, let’s remove them from our account.”  Now, one of the important aspects to look at when you’re doing negative keywords though, is not just looking at a keyword and saying, “This word doesn’t work.” Right? You have to look at a word and say, “It’s not working and why is it not working or am I missing a data point.”

So, for instance, you might have a really long customer journey, and the average user, I mean, globally, visits websites six times in the conversion process. So, these are the very first, you know, one and two clicks, and then a user buys later on a different keyword. Those keywords aren’t necessarily bad, right? So, one is, make sure that those keywords aren’t contributing elsewhere if you’re focused on sort of full frontal marketing. And number two is to say, is the query itself isn’t poor, it’s from the wrong ad group, but you should have a different ad and landing page. But if you look at your conversion rates, look at your queries and you’re saying, “This word is not working for you.” Well, that’s a waste of spend. And so we want to make that a negative [keyword] so we can not show our ads on these irrelevant queries, and force our impressions and of course budget, into words that are really working for us.

I hear this all the time. We make the word “free” a negative keyword…

Michael: Real simple examples that I’ve seen used in early classes are things like, “free” or words that might indicate that somebody is not qualified. And then, specifically as we’re monitoring, what are some of the things that reveal these queries specifically?
Brad: So I first want to address that comment, because I hear this all the time. We make the word “free” a negative keyword or we make “hacks” a negative keyword. So, if you are in an e-commerce company and you sell big screen televisions, and you say, “Well, we don’t sell free TVs, we sell TVs. We should make “free” a negative keyword.” That means when someone does a search for “big screen TVs with free shipping”, your ad won’t show. And this is why we use data, right? To do this. And you use your brain. Like also at times someone, I remember we were working with a software company and they were like, “Look at the word, like, “hacks” and “free download” and “torrent” with our brand keyword. We don’t want to show up, it’s all negatives.” And we said, “No, no look, there’s a lot of search volume. It might be the positioning that needs to shift, not the words themselves.”

And so they made ads that said, “Do you know the costs of removing malware worth $59?” Removing malware is $1098, so you just want to buy the software, right? And, it was a little bit different than that, but that’s where…you have to think about that as well.

Michael: Thank you for sharing that. And in terms of finding the queries, how do they pop out at us? I mean, there’s not necessarily a negative keyword report, so how do we… What makes these things pop out?

Finding Negative Keywords

Brad: Sure. So there’s two ways to find your negatives, right? One is, you go on to your account, go to the keywords tab, you can flip up over to search queries, right? And do some simple filtering like, queries with no conversions, and then sort at highest, lowest spends. The top queries that come up are probably your most potential likely negatives or words that maybe need to be addressed in your marketing differently, because they have no conversions and they are spending your money. Now, that’s the most common way people do it. The biggest downside of that is that, that simplistic analysis doesn’t show you patterns across queries. So, this is where n-grams are useful, and technically, it’s n-gram is one, bi-gram is two, tri-gram et cetera, phrases that occur across queries.

So, for instance, let’s say that I’m a plumber, and I look at my account and I’ve got a query that’s, plumbers. Another one that’s, licensed plumbers. Another one that’s, plumbers in Los Angeles. Another one that’s, plumbers in San Francisco. Now, n-grams, don’t say I have four queries, and n-gram says I have four instances of the word “plumber”. I have two instances of the word “in”, I have one of “licensed”. So you might look and say, “Oh wow, and this word “in” appears across my queries. I do really well or maybe very poorly.” And so, because n-grams look at patterns across queries, you can, A, aggregate data more so you can really get great data on saying, wow, when this appears, we don’t do well. And then by adding an n-gram, you’re blocking queries that contain those four phrases, as opposed to just blocking the query itself, and having some variation pop up elsewhere.

Brad has a full schedule training on behalf of Google and at other industry conferences. Photo credit DFW SEM

Michael: Match types as you say in your primer that you have on Adalysis, which I will provide a link for in the transcription. Match types determine the order of how negative keywords function in blocking search queries. So we have exact phrase in broad and we need to determine the match type necessary to stop your ads from showing for those queries. How do we do that?

Determining Match Types for Negative Keywords

Brad: Sure. So, with match types, negative keyword match types, these never get expanded to similar keywords, plural, singular, misspellings, et cetera, right? They are the query. So, this using your match type exact means that is the query, phrase means the query contains this word in order, and broad means these words are anywhere in the query in any order. It may determine how you want to block certain things. So, for instance, I have a friend who’s worked at Disney for years, and they have the keyword “Disney videos” does not do well for them. But if a user adds anything to the query, Little Mermaid Disney video, Disney video, you know, rentals, whatnot, they do pretty well. So, they can’t make the word Disney a negative because that’s their keyword, that’s their brand. They can’t make video a negative because of course, they actually want to show videos.

What they don’t want to only show is when the query is Disney videos. So that’s an exact match negative, only so if the query is this. Now, if you’re just saying, hey, the word free. We look at the word free and it’s not doing well, there is no exception, it’s just a bad keyword for us. Then we’d want to make, in that case we’re saying, the word free is any in the query, let’s make it a negative. So we’d want to add this the broad match minus free to the account, so we don’t show when it contains that query. So if there’s very specific orderings or very specific instances, you might need exact or phrase match. Most people if you’re just blocking route words, words that, you know, across queries, broad is all you need. But if you look at broad and say, it’s going to really mess up these other good queries, then either take a look at organization, which we’ll touch on in a moment or look to see if there’s another match type that’s a better fit for what you’re really trying to block.

Michael: Brad, I know that negative keywords don’t automatically cover singulars, plurals, and misspellings. So, how do we make sure that we add them for each of those?

Adding Misspellings and Plurals

Brad: So, number one, do not just start adding every possible misspelling, plural, and singular because there’s a maximum of two million keywords in an account or it’s maybe three million now and two million negatives. And while that sounds like a ridiculous number, if you take a, you know, 10 letter word, that actually is thousands of variations of misspellings. So, in most cases, you want to take the same approach saying, you know, if this has enough data, then let’s make it a negative keyword and not just practically start adding lots and lots of them.

Now, if you look at a word and say, we don’t want to have the singular and the plural version, then fine, add both singular and plural, but don’t… Chasing misspellings can be a rabbit hole when you really start looking at how misspellings can be. Unless it’s a common one or, you know, medical industry has a higher incidence of misspellings, especially with like drug names and diseases than like, Android phones, right? Huge difference in how easy these things are to spell.

So, most cases use data, but if you’ve got a list of words or, you know, maybe some brands you don’t want to show for, then just add the single and plural at the same time. But for the rest of the spellings, take a look at the data before you walk down that rabbit hole.

Michael: Once we have the negative keyword set up, we understand singular, plurals, misspellings, we know at the campaign ad group level, what is the process for getting them into our accounts?

Getting Negative Keywords Into the Campaigns and Ad Groups

Brad: Sure. So, the question is, at what level do you want to block? So, you can do it at the ad group level. Now, ad group level negatives should not be used because you never want to show for something across the account. They’re more for ensuring the correct ads are displayed. So, for instance, let’s say that I’m a hosting company, and I’ve got one ad group that is hosting, another one that’s cheap hosting, another one that’s cheap VPS hosting, and I’m using say, broad match or modified broad. Problem is, a word like VPS hosting, because it contains the word hosting and the word VPS, could show for my hosting ad group, my cheap posting ad group, my VPS hosting, and I as an advertiser lost control over ad serving.

So, in that case, right, and the word in that case actually that matters is VPS, Virtual Private Server. It just don’t matter anything in that particular query. That’s the word that the advertiser cares about. So I could add negatives to my other ad groups like, minus VPS to my hosting ad group, so it can never show. So, ad group negatives are really about forcing a search engine to show the correct ad when multiple ad groups could show for a query. Now, if you don’t want to show from something, you just say, we don’t want this keyword ever to show, there’s two ways to do it. You can go to your campaign level and add it to your campaign, make it a campaign negative keyword. This affects the ad groups in that campaign.

Now, if you’re a smaller account, you just have a few campaigns, that’s the way to do it. If you’re a larger account and you’ve got tens or hundreds or thousands of campaigns, suddenly trying to manage campaign negatives when you really want this negative to be in all of your campaigns or maybe 50 of your campaigns. There’s a feature called Campaign Negative Lists, where you can make a list of negative keywords, you can then apply that list to one or more campaigns, and then however you modify the list, adding more negatives, removing negatives, it’s automatically used in all the campaigns that way. So, if you’ve got just global negatives, campaign lists are fantastic. If you’re a smaller account, campaign is great and then ad group for organization, not really saying don’t ever show me.

So don’t always leap to the fact that that, if it is bad, make it a negative. 

Now Brad, you mention that feature, but I’m assuming that’s in AdWords from Google, is that also in other platforms such as Bing Ads?

Brad: Bing has either just rolled it out or is rolling it out, I forget which. It will be in Bing… Okay, I should not say the word will be with a search engine, it is supposed to be in Bing in 2017. I don’t know the date of course.

Michael: Okay. And as of today, this is February of 2017, just for those of you who are listening, so we’ll look for that feature from our friends Bing Ads to make sure. All right, so, we went through our six steps, and then the seventh is to keep researching negative keywords on a regular basis, to ensure you’re only showing ads and spending money on search queries that help you achieve your business goals. Brad, do you want to expand on that or is that enough said in that sentence?

How To Do Continued Research to Reveal Opportunities

Brad: No, actually I really do want to expand on that because when… So I do a lot of account audits, and it is so common to see an account with, you know, 10 campaigns and 4 campaigns have 76 negatives, 4 campaigns have 894 negatives, and 2 have 396. And you can tell the date. Someone decided to go for a campaign, look at the negatives, create negative lists, apply to a few campaigns and never went back again. And so you’re constantly spending money, you’re constantly going to show for new queries, which means you do need to keep examining your negatives and even when you add new products or services.

Look at your negatives to make sure you’re not removing yourselves from your new products. So, it’s good to just put an event on your calendar every two weeks, every four weeks, review queries for new negatives, right? Review queries for consistency in negatives, review new keywords to make sure they’re showing that you didn’t cause a conflict with keywords you want active.

Michael: So Brad, we’ve gone over these excellent practices that are going to be on the exams and of course, because of your contributions to the standard, they are part of the standard in the competency outcomes. Any final guidelines that applies to negative keywords that isn’t necessarily on the exam or competency standards that we haven’t covered yet?

Analysis Eliminates False Negatives

Brad: Yeah, that’s a great question. So yes, so, when you really want to think about negatives, right? You’re thinking about, A, removing yourself from impressions, which means, you really want to make sure these are poor impressions. So, using your analytics system, whether it’s Google Analytics or another analytics system that really pulls in query data so you can understand how negatives fit in either the customer journey ecosystem, the assisted conversion values, the attribution management values, which are well beyond just basic biddings, gives you a great picture. Because there are times you look at data and say, that’s a negative, it should be gone. There are times it’s either a wrong ad group or you could change the marketing message.

So don’t always leap to the fact that that, if it is bad, make it a negative. You know, think first, do we want to get rid of these queries or do we want to try a different marketing position for these queries? And then if it fails, let’s make it negative, save our money. But give yourself that chance because once you’ve added them, right, you’re gone from those impressions. So make sure you really don’t want to show for them before you add them. They’re great to use, you’ve got to use them, just double check what you’re removing yourself from before you start adding lots of negatives.

Michael: A big thank you to you Brad Geddes. And for our listeners, check out Brad’s ad testing tools at, and be sure to pick up Brad’s book, Advanced Google AdWords on Amazon. And you can get into one of Brad’s classes on Simplilearn Market Motive or in person at SMX conferences or other Google events–that I know you teach Brad–that are coming to your neighborhood. I know some of your schedule is at Brad, where else can people engage you?

Brad: Usually Twitter, I’m @bgtheory at Twitter. I spend some time at LinkedIn as well. If you send me a message on Facebook, it’ll sit in my unread folder like everything for the last couple of years, but Twitter is usually a really good one to hit me up on.

Michael: Excellent. Thanks Brad. So listeners, what Brad shared here today is very well aligned with the OMCP standards of competencies and on the exams. It makes a great study guide if you’re teaching or ready to take the exam yourself or for corporate teams who are preparing for readiness testing.

I’m your host Michael Stebbins, and you’ve been listening to the OMCP Online Marketing Best Practices Podcast. OMCP maintains a certification standards for the online marketing industry in cooperation with industry leaders, just like Brad. Join us inside of OMCP to maintain your certification, get special offers, and engage with other certified professionals, universities, and training programs that teach to the OMCP standards. Membership is only $40 each year, so we’ll see you inside of OMCP as a certified professional, where we’ll be learning and improving our professional careers and teams, together.

Be sure to check out this episode’s sponsors:

Bing Ads. Connect with valuable customers searching for your business. Use the Bing Network to reach an audience that spends 25 percent more than the average searcher.

 Concordia College–New York’s fully online, advanced-technology master’s degree programs in Digital Marketing and Digital Media 


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