Tuesday 19 October 2010

Being Negative Can Help

Today I'm going to champion one of favourite Adwords features - Negative Keywords. What are negative keywords? If you think of the 'ordinary' keywords in an ad group as being a list of words and phrases that tell Google when to show your ad, you can think of negative keywords as being a list of words or phrases that tell Google when not to show your ad.

It's clear from posts in the forum that many users either don't understand how important negative keywords can be in campaign performance or don't know of their existence at all! Personally I'd be very surprised if every single campaign currently being run couldn't benefit from at least one negative keyword. So why are they so important? It's all about CTR (and a bit about wasted clicks).

CTR (click-through-rate) is that ratio of clicks to impressions (an impression is each individual display of your ad) and is a major factor used by Google to evaluate the performance of your campaign(s). Generally speaking, the higher your CTR (the larger the percentage of clicks to impressions), the better your campaign is performing, so a CTR of 15% is better than one of 8%, for example.

A lot of words are written about how to increase the number of clicks to improve CTR, but the 'flip-side' to this objective is to reduce the number of impressions. 10 clicks from 100 impressions is a CTR of 10%. 10 clicks from only 50 impressions is a CTR of 20%. But, I hear you say, why would I want to show my ads less often, surely that's insane?

In an absolutely ideal world you only want your ads shown to people who are really interested in your product or service and only in response to searches that match what you actually do or sell. Using good 'positive' keywords is the primary route to achieving this goal but unless you're only using exact matches in your keyword list (where the search term must match your keywords exactly) there's a danger that your keywords may trigger in a longer search phrase that is clearly not of benefit to you and is a wasted impression or worse, a wasted click. This is best demonstrated with an example.

Let's say you run a firm of accountants and want to advertise your services. You use a variety of accountancy type keywords in your ad group all of which are either broad or phrase match types. Fine, what's wrong with that? The problem is that while you'll get impressions and clicks for people who are actually looking for an accountant, you'll also get clicks from people who are looking for work in an accountants. Unless you have a very large turnover of staff this probably isn't the aim of the campaign. Here's what you might see in a Search Query report:

accountancy services

jobs in accountancy

accountants in York

accountancy vacancies

All those job-seekers are pushing your impression count up and many of them are probably clicking your ads as well to go to your site and search for contact details to send in a CV. Adding 'job', 'vacancy' and other variations to your negative keyword list - either at the ad group or campaign level as appropriate - could dramatically reduce your impression count, increasing your CTR, and will probably save you some wasted clicks as well, increasing your conversion rate.

In other industries it may be that the negative keywords should include brands you don't stock, colours you don't sell, specific services you don't provide; as I said at the top of this post, I think every campaign could probably find one or more keywords that would be useful as negatives.

So, the next time you're thinking about keywords, try to be a little negative.

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