Joe Bernal, Expert Services Manager, Search @ Kenshoo
Negative keywords are just another part of the paid search marketer’s toolbox but can be extremely effective when used correctly. In today’s post, Kenshoo’s Joe Bernal explains a handy tactic he likes to use called “negative keyword funneling” that forces the search engines to match ads the way he wants them to be matched.
Besides the keyword itself, the most important targeting factor in paid search is match type.
Match type is so foundational to the channel that it rarely even registers to most search marketers that it’s a targeting variable—it’s just simply “part of SEM.” However, the right way to treat match types are as targeting variables, and if you do, you open your mind to some powerful ways to use them.
When a search marketer couples a keyword with a match type, it changes the way that the search engine pairs user searches with advertisers. For example, a combination of the keyword ten-speed bike with the broad match type, instructs the search engine to match that advertiser anytime a user searches for close variations of that keyword (i.e. buy a ten-speed bike) or anytime the words within the keyword phrase appear in any order in the search (i.e. where do I buy a bike that is ten-speed).
If you are very familiar with match types, feel free to skip to the next section, but as a refresher, the best explanation of the various match type options comes directly from the Google help center:
Oh yes, and there’s one more kind of match type you should be aware of…
Now just called “negative keywords”, negative match was launched as a way for marketers to control when they do not want to show up in a user search, even if a user searches for their keyword.
From the Google Ads Help post Negative keyword: Definition:
“A type of keyword that prevents your ad from being triggered by a certain word or phrase. Your ads aren’t shown to anyone who is searching for that phrase. This is also known as a negative match.
For example, when you add “free” as a negative keyword to your campaign or ad group, you tell Google Ads not to show your ad for any search containing the term “free.” On the Display Network, your ad is less likely to appear on a site when your negative keywords match the site’s content.”
In paid search, where daily spend for some of the biggest advertisers can run in the six-figure range, it’s just as important to block irrelevant traffic as it is to bring in relevant traffic.
This is where a sound negative keyword strategy comes in handy since not keeping a tight rein on the queries that match your keywords can really lead to wasted spend and decrease your ROI. Most advertisers will have a common shared negative list used across their campaigns but it’s best practice to run Search Terms reports on a recurring schedule to not only identify potential keywords to add to your program, but also negative keywords to block.
A good example of this is if your brand sells vacation cruises—one of your top keywords might be “cruise.” But you don’t want to waste your budget when people search for “Tom Cruise.” At first glance, you may look at this example and say, “well, maybe people searching for Tom Cruise would also be interested in taking a cruise?” Sure, but certainly less often than people actually searching for a vacation cruise.
And, remember, search engines penalize SEM accounts that garner low click-through rates (they do get paid for clicks, after all), so search marketers are wise to use negative match this way so that they don’t incur these penalties. In this case, a search marketer would pair “Tom” as a negative match with “cruise” so that “Tom Cruise” searches don’t trigger their ads to appear.
Often, search marketers load their most valuable keywords into their accounts as three match types: exact, phrase, and broad match in order to get matched to as many searches as possible.
But, by doing this, sometimes a user search can trigger all three match types which can confuse the search engines. For example, if an advertiser has ten-speed bike in their account paired with all three match types, if a user searches for ten-speed bike, should the search engine match it to the broad match ten-speed bike, the phrase match ten-speed bike, or the exact match ten-speed bike?
It’s a bit unclear what goes on behind the scenes when a search engine has to choose which version of a keyword in an account to match to, but in my experience, it makes sense to try to get as many exact matches as possible.
Exact match benefits the advertiser most because it should lead to a higher quality score which the engines reward because they want their ads to be as relevant and valuable to searchers as their organic search listings. Some of those incentives include lower costs-per-click, better ad positions, and more eligibility for ad extensions and other ad formats.
An often overlooked, handy negative tactic is called “negative keyword funneling.” By adding exact match negative keywords across non-exact match campaigns/ad groups, you can force the search engine to force the exact match queries to match to your exact match keywords versus matching them to phrase or broad match.
If you want to try negative keyword funnel—as with any new tactic—it’s best to first test it out with a small budget on a non-critical part of your account. If you get promising results, slowly roll it out to other parts of your account and proceed cautiously. I’ve found this tactic to work really well, but of course, results will vary.
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