Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is easy to start doing. With an account and a credit card, anyone can get to the top of Google, Yahoo! or Bing in a matter of minutes. At least until they run out of money. An entire industry has grown up to help business owners avoid this, for a commission. There is one very good reason SEM agencies exist: it is easy to buy search traffic, but it can be expensive to learn how to get the right kind. Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing (soon to be defunct in Australia) and Microsoft adCenter (not in Australia yet) all provide a range of basic tools to their users to control the traffic that they receive, beyond putting keywords into a campaign.
One of the basics of SEM campaigns is understand how each search engine chooses queries that match the keyword as negative keywords operate differently in Bing/Yahoo than they do on your Google AdWords campaigns. Since Google is a majority of the web traffic in Australia this post will be focused on how you get better use negative keywords in your campaigns.
There are three ways that Google AdWords matches a keyword from a campaign to a search query:
- Exact Match – Your ad is displayed on searches that match the exact phrase
- Phrase Match – Your ad is displayed on searches that match or contain the exact phrase
- Broad Match – Your ad is displayed on similar phrases and relevant variations
Both Broad Match and Phrase Match increase a campaign’s potential reach while keeping the size of the keyword list under control. These match types can also produce unproductive traffic, as ads are triggered by irrelevant searches.
Negative terms are the best way to deal with this. A negative term stops Google from showing your ad for any search query containing it. This is vital in campaigns with keywords that are relevant for multiple industries. Well chosen negative keywords make a real difference to the cost per acquisition of the campaign.
Obvious Negative Keywords?
A Sydney-based marketing agency has launched an AdWords campaign. The business focuses on generating search engine traffic for their clients, and is based in just one city. They are bidding on the keywords “online advertising” using Phrase Match in one of their campaigns. The cost per acquisition has blown out, and now they need to trim the fat.
A quick look over a keyword report, with ‘All’ selected from the ‘See search terms…’ dropdown, exposes a number of obviously irrelevant, expensive terms:
- online advertising course
- online advertising job statistics
- Perth online advertising company
- online advertising industry news
Based on this information, there are a number of potential new negative keywords, both single and phrases:
- job statistics
Adding negative terms can lose sales for the campaign from other searches. For example, using ‘statistics’ as a negative term will also remove search queries like ‘online advertising statistics trends’, which might actually be productive. Removing ‘job’ may cut out valuable ‘online advertising job quote’ traffic. Negative keywords can affect more than the obvious, if you don’t have a closer look first.
Search Visibility & Negative Keywords
Instead of looking only at the cost per conversion of a campaign’s listed keywords, look at the numbers for the most commonly occurring words in the search terms that triggered your ads. Creating a list of all search terms containing all of the words from the problematic searches will show what impact using them as a negative keyword could have. Often a small number of words correlate strongly with unprofitable traffic. These can be removed from the campaign without limiting the flow of sales. If the cost per sale for all searches with the word ‘statistics’ is within your target, maybe a different response is needed.
For an accurate picture of what is going on in the campaign, this analysis needs a decent amount of data. You shouldn’t make a decision based on a small dataset if you have enough time or traffic to make a better analysis. There is a risk that the normal churn of clicks and sales will be mistaken for a trend or an impending disaster, you should also anticipate what is the expected result based on your change.
As the size of the campaign increases, so does the number of terms. Short of some heavy duty automation, or serious statistical analysis software, this technique is very labour intensive. However the idea that you can break a campaign’s traffic up into groups based on a few shared attributes is a useful tool to have. It can be applied to geo-targeting, day of the week, type of device, ads, placements, search and search partners, and even time of day.
Managing the Negatives in Search Engine Marketing
The keywords you select are just one thing that determines the quality of the traffic you will get in any SEM campaign. Other factors, such as changing search habits, competition, location, time, device and network all affect how well a campaign performs. Changes in any of the above will alter how the campaign works. Just as importantly, any change that is made to deal with this can affect the entire campaign. A campaign is more than just the keywords, and any change you make based on information from just one variable can affect a lot more than you planned.