3 Common Mistakes with Paid Search Negative Strategy

PPC Paid Search Negative Strategy

May 3rd, 2016


When focusing on a big project such as onboarding a new client or restructuring a large account, paid search negative strategy can often be forgotten about, or considered as an afterthought to the major decisions surrounding a campaign. Big questions like what (positive) keywords go where, how the structure testing strategy forms around around the client’s needs, and reporting requirements. The latter, especially in larger agencies with more sophisticated clients, can often take a lot of time.

However, what doesn’t appear in an account can be just as important as what does, and an effective PPC negative strategy goes a long way towards making an otherwise good account great, or a potentially underperforming account live up to its potential. Here are three common mistakes that can be made by PPC practitioners of all abilities when formulating your paid search negative strategy.

PPC Paid Search Negative StrategyIf someone asked what your Paid Search negative strategy was for an account, could you articulate it?

1. Not Formulating a Paid Search Negative Strategy

No, that’s not a typo / double inclusion. It might seem obvious, but there is something to be said for sitting down and coming up with a paid search negative strategy in the first place!

In almost all cases your positive keyword strategy needs to be created first, separating keywords and keyword types by product / service type or sub-type depending on how granular you need your account and where you’ll require data for testing in the account. While another topic altogether, don’t forget that making everything too granular can sometimes restrict how quickly and easily you can conduct your own tests!

After the above has been taken into account, though, it’s time to sit down and consider what you need as a set of negative keywords, and how you want them applied.

There are plenty of examples of accounts that are created for small or growing businesses, where a negative strategy is generally comprised of dumping all keywords found in an SQR into a large shared library negative list. This might seem to work initially but falls apart very quickly at scale.

So now that you’re determined to go one better, we can consider these next questions…

2. Forgetting to Plan How you Want to Funnel Your Users

For example, in an account for an eCommerce website with multiple products Widget A and Widget B, you could separate into separate product campaigns and add “Widget A” as a phrase match negative in campaign B and vice versa. However, this is generally true only if the products are direct competitors (i.e. someone would buy A or B, but not both).

If the products are complementary (teacup & saucer for example), then you may want to use exact match instead – otherwise you might find that a potential customer searching for “saucer and teacup” will be negatived out of both of your campaigns. Whoops!

Other things to consider are whether many of your users search for reviews or comparisons. For instance, a search for “widget A vs widget B” might get negatived out of both campaigns. Do you want to do this on purpose, and create a third campaign containing only keywords with both products included, so that this can be used to land a searcher on a comparison page? That would be a great idea, as long as the landing page exists and the client is okay with not using an individual product purchase page as a destination for their paid media. Ensure that your paid search negative strategy has taken these questions into account.

3. Location, Location, Location: Not Considering Where Should Negatives Be Placed

Where you place your negative keywords isn’t thought of as important, until something goes wrong or becomes inconvenient to manage! Below I’ll break down three possible locations for your negative keywords, what should be placed there and why – bear in mind these are guidelines in general and may not be true in all cases, but are a good place to start. Where you place your negatives is an integral part of your paid search negative strategy.

  • Account / Shared Library level: As a general rule, I only ever have keywords that I never want to see in any query in any campaign at a shared library / account level. This includes being careful about match type as well, if you can even think of one instance where a keyword can reasonably be included as part of a longer-tail phrase then consider using [exact] instead of “phrase”.Why? Having a Shared Library list that you apply to a subset of campaigns is dangerous, because it only takes one accidental click of “Apply to all campaigns” to have traffic to a lot of campaigns suddenly cut off completely. Changes here (at time of writing) also don’t get reflected in Change History, making finding the source of the problem confusing until someone realises what has happened!
  • Campaign level: This is where most of my negatives are placed, including exact match into phrase campaigns, and phrase into broad match modifier campaigns (depending on account size, you might not opt to use all three match types).Why? It’s more to do with the negatives outlined above (at shared library level) and below (at ad group level), so things get kept tidy. There is one exception to this – your Pure Brand campaign on non-exact if you have one, where you also need to add in your other longer-tail branded keywords! For example, you don’t want [acme paint] to be picked up by “acme” in a Pure Brand campaign.
  • Ad group level: Negatives you place in ad group level would be very specific and relating to a single product or service at that level. This is fine and up to your discretion, however I caution against putting all negatives in at ad group level as standard as this can cause bloating of your AdWords accounts.Why? Imagine an account with 20 campaigns (10 exact and 10 phrase), each with 20 ad groups, and each ad group with 20 keywords. Placing all our match-type negatives (phrase into exact) at ad group level would create 20 times more negatives. Using campaign negatives you’d add 400 keywords, and using ad group negatives you’d add 8,000 to cross-match against each ad group. Imagine this at scale for an account with tens of thousands of keywords, and you can begin to see how this can become difficult to deal with very quickly.

There is plenty more to consider as well, not least of which how you choose to cross-negative and watching for pitfalls in more generalist generics and pure brand campaigns where additional cross-negatives are required to funnel your users appropriately – but these typically come into play with larger and more mature accounts as more advanced techniques.

All the best (remember, luck isn’t required to nail the above so you don’t need any of that!) and feel free to leave any comments / questions about your own paid search negative strategy below!