July 21st, 2008 | 5 MIN READ

Negative Keyword Research Tools and Tips

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

Our last post covered tips on using Google's free Keyword Tool and how to apply your keyword discoveries to various aspects of marketing: SEO, PPC, site usability and even email marketing.

As promised, today we're going to dig deeper into negative keyword research. The tools we'll cover are the Google Keyword Tool, Google Suggest, Google Product Search and some surprises.

Negative keywords explained

If the term "negative keywords" is new to you, it refers to irrelevant or low converting keywords that you add to a pay-per-click campaign which tell the ad system not to show your ad when that keyword appears in a search.

To take advantage of the "long tail of search" (longer query combinations and product searches that are performed infrequently but can convert like crazy), marketers will bid on broad keywords using "broad matching" or "phrase matching." If you phrase match "learning toys" your ad would appear for "learning toys for 3 year old toddlers." Broad match would include even more searches like "best toys for motor learning." The problem is, often times these match types cause you to show up for searches that have nothing to do with your products, or that don't have a high "commercial intent" behind them. This hurts your overall campaign performance.

Why Google wants you to research negative keywords!

It's in everyone's best interest to prevent results like this:

Google makes more money if ads are relevant and searchers click on them instead of organic results, retailer can attract more clicks when there are less competing ads (especially from high budget software companies), and customers don't get so confused.

Here’s how you use various Google tools to build out your negative keyword list to avoid your ad from appearing for irrelevant searches when using broad or phrase matching.

Google Keyword Tool

When using AdWords, you can access the Keyword Tool from inside your account.

This section assumes you understand how the Keyword Tool works. Yesterday's post advised you to switch your match type to "Exact" to see exact search counts. Today we don't care about keyword popularity. We just want to find as many negative keywords as we can.

If you switch the match type to "Negative," all that changes is the square brackets from exact match are changed to the "-" sign before the keyword, so you can build your shortlist of negative keywords and import right into an AdGroup or Campaign, or save in text or .CSV format. This doesn't change the keyword suggestions,

But remember that Google's Keyword Tool does not give you enough negative keyword data, you still have to go digging further. You can manually add additional keywords, and then create one text file or .CSV

(Note that if you add "wooden" once, your ad will not appear for "wooden puzzles," "wooden blocks," etc. You don't need to add "wooden + keyword" to your list. If you do carry some wooden toys, you should consider creating separate AdGroups for only the wooden toys you carry (better landing page selection, higher quality score, better ad text), for which you would add negative keywords for the wooden products you don't sell - "blocks," "puzzles" etc).

Google Suggest

Type in your keyword, e.g. "learning games" and Google will drop down suggestions.

Keep in mind 2 things:

1. The numbers that show are not keyword counts, but results of pages in Google's index. The higher the number, the more competitive the keyword is, actually. But, because Google suggest shows long tail search terms, you can use this tool to pick out additional negative keywords the Keyword Tool didn't bother to show.

2. You can't see all the suggestions when typing in your broad match. You'll need to go through the alphabet, first typing a space and then "a" - if no results, you continue until you hit a letter with suggestions:

Sometimes you have to apply this going-through-the-alphabet system on top of a suggestion, like "learning toys for a..., b..."

You'll have to make notes on which keywords to add, maybe on a notepad. Make sure you add them to the appropriate campaigns - and you may discover new keywords to bid on in the process.

Google Shopping

Google Product Search is the shopping engine formerly known as Froogle, and confusingly labeled as "Shopping" from the links across the top of Google's home page, or when you're in Google Reader, or Gmail...

You can use Google Product Search to find negative keywords in a couple ways. Perform any keyword search, and scroll to the bottom to see more links, and check out the "Brand" and "Related Searches" links.

Clicking "More" expands the lists:

Adding brand names you don't carry as negative keywords is very important. When a search query involves a brand name, it's a strong signal that someone is looking to research or purchase a specific item, not check out other brands. So your general ad will have lower click through, which lowers the click through rate of your entire AdGroup, hurting all your keywords' ad positions and possibly raising your cost-per-click.

Not to mention your landing page quality score will be lower if it doesn't reference that brand. And, even if you do attract clicks, there a much smaller chance of conversion, though you still pay for the click. And if your broad matched keyword is very competitive, it could be an expensive click!

You can also turn to a review site like Buzzillions to glean brand names. Buzzillions aggregates reviews from retailers using Power Reviews, so there's a good chance most if not all brands are represented. Simply go to Buzzillions, type in your keyword, and check out the brands listed in the left hand navigation:

(Numbers indicate the number of branded items with customer reviews, not number of customer reviews or keyword popularity.)

Or, use eBay for negative keyword research, as I wrote about for SEOmoz' YouMoz Blog last year.

Google Analytics

Of course, using your Referring Keywords report, you can mine your Google Analytics data to weed out referral keywords that don't relate to your business. And you can segment out non-paid and paid searches from your reports.

But wouldn't you like to know which "long tail" terms your broad match and phrase match terms are bringing in? You can identify them with this Google Analytics hack.

Share on


Thanks for signing up!

You'll receive a welcome email shortly.

By submitting this you agree with our privacy policy.