Negative Keyword Research Tools and Tips

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.

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29 Responses to “Negative Keyword Research Tools and Tips”

  1. Carlo says:

    Hey Linda, nice overview on negative keywords. One tip I’ve found which works really well for e-commerce sites is to add negative keywords for “free” and “advice” and other keywords that indicate searches looking for free stuff and/or researching. You save paying for clicks that aren’t likely to purchase anything in the first place.

    Good stuff!

  2. Adrian Stepczynski says:

    Hi Linda,

    Great tips here.

    Another way to extract negative keywords is by running search query reports on your current campaigns.

    If your selling something its usually smart as Carlos pointed out to include words like:


    Good stuff.

    Adrian Stepczynski

  3. [...] It gets rid of a lot of freebie hunters and torrent searchers. But you really need to read some negative keyword list tips if you want to take your use of broader keywords to the [...]

  4. Thanks for your comments, and thanks to all who Sphunn yesterday’s post. Here’s the link to Sphinn this one:

  5. Interestingly enough, this article appeared in Sphinn today, and tells you how to create query reports:

    Again, tomorrow’s Get Elastic post will show you how to extract exact keyword referrals from your broad match keyword statistics…

  6. There are lots of ways to limit the number of hits you get, and better ways to structure search queries – if you know how. As most newbies to online research will attest, it’s usually a hit and miss affair by keying in a few keywords, mooching around the advanced search button (maybe if they can find it) and then trawling through the results listing. Anyway, found the following and thought it seemed like a good overview.

  7. Nick H says:

    Hi Linda,

    Thanks for your great post with its very clear explanation of how to use the various tools available.

    Here at Atomic Intelligence we have recently launched another tool — — which allows the user to compare the number of search results for a list of queries, and filter or “divide” these results by a second query.

    The filtering and “dividing” controls are relatively new to the search world. They can be used in different ways. For example, they allow a marketer to see which mobile phone maker is most associated with “3G” or “touch screen”.

    The current version is not really geared to search engine marketing, though it might have some tangential use. However, we are planning to address some of the tasks you mention in your post, and so stay tuned!

    Looking forward to reading your next post.

  8. Nice post, you got some good points there – thank you.

  9. I would like to see how to best use the suggest tool to get long tail searches.

  10. @Nick, AtomicIQ sounds cool. I’ll take a look at it.

    @AudioBible – suggest might not be the best tool for long tail, since it suggests pages in its index, not actual searches. But if you want to get longer strings, you have to start with (for example)

    audio bible
    audio bible a (suggestions will drop down)
    audio bible aa (nothing)
    audio bible ab (suggestions, need to refine further)
    audio bible aba (nothing)
    audio bible abb (nothing)
    audio bible abe (nothing)
    audio bible abi (nothing)
    audio bible abo (suggestions)
    audio bible about a
    audio bible about ab

    It’s a loooong process, but thorough keyword research typically pays off when you can tighten up your campaign.

  11. Adrian says:

    You can also use the above to find new keywords to bid on, as well as negative keywords.

  12. Lovely article on keyword research..I agree..negative keyword research is a great way to further improve the search engines especially in giving as results that are relevant and useful.

  13. al t says:

    Great Information Linda , will read your post more often


  14. [...] can also apply negative keywords, for example you sell parachutes, you should exclude “coldplay” and “what color [...]

  15. [...] else is cooking in Google search – Google Suggest is now unrolling across all data centers. So what? Some think this means the end of the long tail, [...]

  16. [...] regarding product recalls. A little bit of keyword research on “toy recall” with the Google Keyword Tool shows decent average monthly searches for related terms, which you can create content for and [...]

  17. [...] Negative Keyword Research Tools & Tips var ecov = “sh”; document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src=’’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”)); [...]

  18. Some good tips there.

    Every PPC marketer should be well versed in negative keywords and how to use them to maximise clicks and conversions while keeping the CPC low.

  19. [...] terms in Google Adwords and using the broad match type so it’s important to do exhaustive negative keyword research. Even though these are fairly specific terms, and we’d like to think all searches including [...]

  20. I do really admire the kind of research you have done on the negative keywords.
    I would love to read through your posts.
    Love it..You Rock!

  21. [...] has just launched the first negative keyword research tool. As I’ve mentioned before, negative keywords are key if you want to minimize money wasted on broad match campaigns in [...]

  22. I use market samurai, so far it gives me the “real” value of a keyword. Some keywords I find from google keyword tool apparently are not as good as they look.

  23. i started in this business 8 months ago and went straight to PPC and PPM campaigns trying to increase my exposure right off the start . I had no idea what i was doing , Negative keywords were one thing i didn`t understand to well and i been waiting for a clear posting.( you got some good comments too)
    Thank You
    I will be following your posts in the future
    You`ve been helpful
    Have a great day

    Mark D.

  24. Thanks for the great article. Very well written.

  25. Great post! is about launch and they will be offering a free Search Query Report analysis to uncover negative keyword phrases.

    Also, I’ve written quite a bit about search query mining on my blog:

    I even give you a FREE Excel template to help you with the analysis.

  26. [...] So how do you determine which negative keywords to use in your campaign? Do some research and a lot of thinking. Look at your analytics, for starters, to see which keywords are bringing people to your site, and which keywords you are paying for. Here is an excellent blog post on negative keyword research. [...]

  27. I can’t seem to find this now. Did they do away with it? The new interface seems to be missing it.

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