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Identifying Negative Keyword "Blockers"

The Background on Negative Keywords:

An important element of any Paid Search campaign is proper usage of negative keywords. Any advertiser running broad matchtypes knows this, and utilizes both campaign and adgroup level negatives to block clicks stemming from an undesired ad and query match. As an example, adding "free" as a negative keyword, will prevent the keyword "audio soundboard" from serving for a query on "free audio soundboard". It's easy to add negatives, and there are various restrictions to the degree of "negativity" depending on how they are setup. (See Appendix for details on uses of negative matchtypes)

For simplicity, let's talk only about adding keywords on Google. Yahoo and MSN have similar abilities, but this article isn't about the differences. In Google, negative keywords can be added at the campaign level or adgroup level. This allows the advertiser the flexibility to target sets of keywords where the negative word is necessary, but avoid excluding other keywords within the account.

For instance, "free" may be a negative keyword that you want to use to prohibit your broadly matched "audio soundboard" keyword from matching to a query on "free audio soundboard". But keep in mind, there may also have the keyword "free shipping guitars", which you do want to have an ad displayed for.

The Problem:

This is where adding negative keywords can, for lack of a better term, negatively impact your campaign performance. I like to refer to these negative keywords as "blockers" for positive keywords in your account (those that you do want to show for, but a negative keyword matching inside of the positive keyword is "blocking" it). I've seen cases where a negative keyword is added to a campaign, and 2 years later, new keywords are added to the existing campaign. The new keyword may not receive any traffic, if they conflict with the existing negative "blocker" keywords. The ultimate problem is that these occurrences are largely silent, unseen by an advertiser and/or their Paid Search manager. Google only alerts the advertiser to the issue on a keyword-by-keyword basis via their Ad Diagnostic Tool . Google does not have a way to view these potentially inadvertent "blocker" negative keywords in bulk.

The Solution:

Here at RKG, we have a tool that identifies potential negative "blocker" keywords. That is to say, we can identify areas where a negative keyword may need to be removed from an adgroup / campaign, or the positive keyword needs to be re-assigned to a new adgroup / campaign to allow for the advertiser's intended ad serving. This can be extremely beneficial, particularly when thousands and thousands of negative keywords have been added to an account over time, and some are likely to be stale, causing this undesired effect. Google would be wise to create such a bulk identification tool for all advertisers to use and incorporate it with their opportunities tab. I suspect this is happening in thousands if not millions of cases daily, seemingly under the radar! It's worth taking the time to look for yourself, or (shameless plug) hire RKG to manage your Paid Search efforts, and we'll do the work for you!

Appendix: It's important to note the ways in which matchtypes effect negative keywords on Google. (Google Help Page)

  • Broad = Must contain this/these word/s anywhere in the query to be considered as a negative.
  • Phrase = Must contain this/these word/s and in this order within the query.
  • Exact = Query must match this/these word/s exactly, with no other words present in the query.

Example: Negative keyword is "free trial"

Negative Broad Matchtype: -No Keyword served for query = ‘free magazine trial subscriptions’ -Keyword is served for query = ‘free magazine subscriptions’

Negative Phrase Matchtype: -No Keyword served for query = ‘free trial magazines’ -Keyword is served for query = ‘free magazine trial’

Negative Exact Matchtype: -No Keyword served for query = ‘free trial’ -Keyword is served for query = ‘free trial magazine’

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