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Use Negative Keywords To Reduce Your Google Ads Bill

Negative Keyword Matches

Use Negative Keywords To Reduce Your Google Ads Bill

We’ve been managing Google Ads (once called Google Adwords) accounts for more than 15 years. Over that time period, there have been huge changes to the way in which Google’s advertising platform works. Don’t worry – I’m not about to launch into a long list of all the changes that we’ve seen over the years!

But I do want to focus on one area: negative keywords. This is part of a Google Ads account that can be neglected, but which has become increasingly important in recent years. Read on and I’ll explain more!

The direction of travel

If we were looking to summarise the general direction of travel within Google Ads then we might look to a single word: automation. The entire system seeks to drive the advertiser to use an increasing number of automated methods to handle their advertising needs.

For those who are looking for a “hands off” approach to account management, this might seem like a good thing. Indeed, it can be in some cases. But it also means that the amount of control that you have over your Google Ads account is reduced, which can lead to some unexpected results.

Match types explained

To illustrate this, let’s take a look at the classic example of a standard search ad. In fact, this is what many Google users would think of as being a Google ad. The user types in a search query and a series of targeted ads appear.

As an advertiser, how do you choose which search queries should trigger your ads? The answer, in the case of a standard search campaign is that you would use a selection of keywords.

So let’s say that you offer a lawn mowing service (I’m taking this example direct from Google’s own help pages). Logically, you might want to appear when someone searches for a lawn mowing service. We’ll ignore the complexities of geographic targeting at this point, just to keep things simple. So you’re going to have lawn mowing service as one of your keywords.

Seemingly simple and yet this is an area that quickly becomes more complex. When you choose a keyword, you also select a match types. There are 3 match types available to you these days: exact match, phrase match and broad match.

Let’s discuss each in turn, taking the example of lawn mowing service:

Exact match

For an exact match keyword, Google’s system will attempt to show your ads when someone types in the keyword that you have entered, or when they type in something that Google deems to have the same meaning.

So, for lawn mowing service, this means that your ad might show for:

Lawn mowing service
Grass cutting service

Phrase match

With an exact match variant, ads might show if the keyword (or its meaning) appear within a query. Examples would be:

Lawn mowing service near me
Hire company to mow lawn
Landscaping service to cut grass
Lawn mowing service reviews

Broad match

As the name suggests, a broad match variant allows for broad targeting. It means that Google will show your ads on terms that it believes are related to your target keyword. So your ad might appear for queries such as:

Lawn aeration prices
Remove moss from my lawn
Buy a new lawn mower

I’m sure that you get the picture here: exact match keywords offer the tightest matches, while broad match keywords offer the potential for the greatest search volumes. Google’s system is currently rewarding advertisers who use broad match keywords.

But you may also see that there’s a problem here: broad match keywords might be cheaper to advertise on and drive more traffic, but they are also (if left to their own devices) going to drive a lot of low quality traffic. In fact, the same is true (to varying degrees) of all 3 match types.

This is where negative keywords can help: they allow you to instruct Google’s bidding engine to exclude your ads from appearing on some occasions. Let’s take a deeper dive into this area.

Negative keywords

Just as you can create keywords at the campaign or ad group level, so you can create negative keywords. You can even create negative keywords that apply across an account.

Similarly, just as “normal” keywords have 3 different match types, so do negative keywords. This means that you can create negative keywords on an exact match basis, on a phrase match basis, or even on a broad match basis (but be careful with that latter option!)

How are you going to know when your ads are appearing, which queries are triggering those ads and hence which keywords should be added to your negative keyword list. The answer is to be found in the Search Terms report, which is accessed from the left hand menu in your Google Ads account as below:

Now you can see exactly which queries are triggering ad displays. You can take a look at the campaign or ad group level.

With this information at your fingertips, you can start to rule out those search terms that aren’t closely enough related to what you have to offer.

Pro tip: When looking at the Search Terms report, make sure that the columns relating to conversions are visible. That way, you can be sure that you are removing search terms that genuinely fail to drive sales/leads in a profitable manner.

As you’ll see, it’s possible to simply select individual search terms from the Search Terms report and then create negative keywords. Simple and yet something that could save you a lot of money. That’s budget that can be better spent elsewhere!

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Keith Barrett
With more than 15 years of digital marketing experience, Keith Barrett is a fully Certified Google AdWords Partner. Offering insights into the world of PPC marketing in the UK, Keith is a Senior Consultant here at Search South. If you'd like to hear more of Keith's thoughts, then you can subscribe to our newsletter.