PPC Tip: When to Use Negative Exact and Negative Phrase Match

If you use the broad match type in PPC advertising, negative matched keywords are essential to keeping your campaigns under control. But are you using negative matches to their full potential?

If you’re new to PPC, the broad match type refers to bidding on a keyword like new york pet store and allowing the PPC system (like Google Adwords, Yahoo Search Marketing or MSN AdCenter) to match your ads to search queries that include this keyword, regardess of word order.

The way Google’s broad match type works can be broader-than-broad. It employs “Expanded Broad Match” which means your “new york pet store” ad could show for a search on “animal shelters in New York.” There is no opt out for Expanded Broad Match (not to be confused with the Automatic Match beta which is a little different) — it’s the default way Google does its broad match. The only way to prevent your ads for showing up for any search including animal shelters would be to add it as a negative keyword – either at the Campaign or Ad Group level.

For a pet store, especially an online pet store, adding animal shelter as a negative match should prevent animal shelters and shelter animal from appearing.

-animal shelter

But what about this situation: You sell books, music, DVDs, video games and software including Microsoft Office software. A hot seller is the Microsoft Office Home edition. You’re bidding on microsoft office home and checking your exact keyword referrals as per this hack, you found clicks for the following:

microsoft office home
home office
office space dvd
the office dvd
the office dvd UK
office software
ms office software
office home
home office
office home software

1. Office home and home office are completely different searches with different intents and landing page expectations. Broad match can trigger ads for any word order, and you can’t add -home office as a negative keyword and keep showing up for Office Home. Using -”home office” or -[home office] will help. Since you don’t sell home office furniture, it would make sense to apply the negative to the entire campaign.

2. You sell the movies “Office Space” and “The Office” series — UK and US editions. You don’t want to add “The Office” as a negative keyword at the Campaign level – it will prevent ads from appearing for relevant Ad Groups and keywords. Instead, you add…

-”the office”
-”office space”

…to your Microsoft Office Home Ad Group, and…

-”the office UK”
-”office space”

…to your The Office (US) group, and so on.

You may ask, if you’re bidding on Office Space and The Office DVD UK in other Ad Groups, why would you need to add negatives to other groups that don’t include those keywords? The answer is Quality Score.

Your Microsoft Office Home group may have a higher click through rate history, a higher bid or any other measure of relevance that makes up Google’s Quality Score (other PPC programs also use a Quality Score algorithm of their own). Or you may have reached your max budget in one Ad Group, so an ad from another appears.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to see the exact keywords that your broad match ads are triggering. If you’re not sure how, here’s a full tutorial to help you set up the right filters in Google Analytics. Even if you’re not using Google Analytics as your primary analytics tool, you should at least be using it for this. It’s the best keyword research tool to find the irrelevant “long tail” terms that are costing you money. I guarantee you’ll be shocked at some of the searches the Adwords system will match your keywords to.

You want to view the keywords by Ad Group. So when you’re in Google Analytics, follow this path:

Traffic Sources / Adwords / Adwords Campaigns / {select campaign} / {select Ad Group}

Unfortunately you can’t see all the keywords that trigger ad impressions, only the ones you pay for when the customers click. What’s more shocking than Adwords showing your ads for some keywords is that people actually click on them! I am amazed the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Store ads for 2010 Olympics gets clicked for searches like 2012 judo olympic tryouts!

In addition to constantly checking my Analytics reports, I also do proactive negative keyword research with the Google Keyword Research tool. Enter a keyword you broad match and let the keyword tool suggest synonyms. This will uncover some and not all of what Google considers semantically relevant – but the terms you’ll discover are likely the highest searched terms, so better to add negatives before your ad appears for them:

You really are never finished researching negative keywords.

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12 Responses to “PPC Tip: When to Use Negative Exact and Negative Phrase Match”

  1. Linda, is the phrase “this hack” in the paragraph just prior to the long list of MS office search terms supposed to be a hyperlink? (It isn’t currently.)

  2. Great article – everyone must understand and utilize match types and negatives – otherwise you’re letting Google decide how and where to spend your money. I’ve written extensively about this and a series of blog posts has been turned into a fairly detailed Match Type whitepaper available here: http://bit.ly/9gOj

    One small quibble: I wouldn’t say that it’s quality score that causes a keyword to get matched to one ad group when you have another that is more relevant. I think QS comes in much later in the process, else all matches to certain queries would go that direction and in practice only a few do. Whatever the reason, you’re right that negatives need to be used to control where queries are matched.

    Lastly, I’ll plug ClickEquations which is far simpler, complete, and detailed in providing search query reports, including nearly every search query *MATCHED* to the exact keyword and match type where it was used. And you can see all costs, conversion, etc. by query too. In the not-too-distant-future we’ll automate the move of those queries into new match type versions and negatives, as appropriate. Talk about endless improvement!

  3. @Jon,

    Thanks for catching that, I’ve made the correctiom.


    I’m interested in hearing your thoughts re: it’s not quality score that causes the mis-match. I could imagine the more relevant group has reached its budget hence Adwords matches to a less relevant group/keyword/ad combo. If that’s not the case, is this just a boner in the Adwords system? The quality score theory is that Adwords matches to a keyword or group with higher QS or higher bid (which impacts the QS) instead. I’m not following what you mean by QS coming later in the process?

    PS ClickEquations looks killer. One of the weaknesses of the exposed broad match filter approach is you can’t see conversion and cost data, although you can see matches to keyword and ad group, and if your ad group naming convention reflects match typing strategy like your “keyword trap” then you can deduce match type. So the conversion/cost reporting ability is huge.

  4. Goran Web says:

    I learnt about the Analytics filter that has given me access to view the actual words that are being displayed for the broad terms in Adwords and it really bugs me that for so many years we having been paying for such extended broad results.

    However all this said and done I still struggle with the negative lists as its a continuous work in progress as the long tail possibilities of how people search is endless.

    When you choose your negative words do you use, exact, phrase of broad. As broad could do the same thing on negative as it can on the keyword itself.

    If would have been really nice if you would add a tick box were I could know if you had responded to this post. It brings us back.

  5. @Goran Web
    I use broad for single word and phrase or exact for certain combos (like described above). I have tested both exact and phrase and for negative match, I don’t see a difference between the 2.

  6. Erin says:

    From another angle, do you think it would be wise to set your adwords keywords at broad and then compare your top keywords (from analytics) to adwords editor. Then you can add any good broad match keywords ggle came up with to your adwords keywords list.

    Just a thought.

    • @Erin, would you add them back as broad, phrase or exact match?

      Me being a Mac user, I can’t use Adwords Editor but I should grab a PC and play with it. Some useful features on it I’ve heard…

  7. [...] on email segmentation that’s well worth reading. Meanwhile, longtime FOT Linda Bustos shows how to use negative keywords to improve PPC performance. And Google has a video explaining their ad auction that can help you get more out of that service, [...]

  8. [...] I’d mentioned this a few weeks ago, but I still think it’s worth pointing out FOT Linda Bustos’ article pointing out when to use negative exact and negative phrase match. [...]

  9. Rohit says:

    Nice Article Linda – The choice of your keyword match type can have a huge impact on the performance of your campaigns.Adding a negative keyword to your ad group, campaign, or account means that your ads won’t show for search queries containing that term.We have post PPC Keyword Match Types on our blog.Have a look and leave a comment

  10. SEO says:

    Keywords research and proper placement of keywords in the content is the key. We should go for semi-competitive,long tail keywords and low competitive keywords. Good article !


  11. Its amazing to see the waste in your campign. Recommend these filters on Analytics more than any other work I’ve done.

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