How Google Are Killing Negative Keywords (and why it’s not surprising)

I take a week off work, and I return to news of Google’s latest major change to their Adwords PPC platform. Having used Adwords for over a decade I’m used to regular, major changes. The last one was Enhanced Campaigns, which killed off the lucrative opportunity to run mobile-only ads on Adwords using a website designed specifically for mobile. This one is a tad more subtle, but equally annoying.

Following the decision to remove matched search query data from Analytics for organic results, Google have now decided to extend this to Adwords, meaning that we can no longer see the exact search queries which resulted in clicks (unless you’re using exact match keywords). Google claim to be improving the security of their users, but it’s a real pain for PPC professionals.

By removing this data and replacing it with ‘not provided’, it means advertisers are blinded to what people are actually typing in to the search engine before they click on an ad. Sure, you can still see the keyword which generated the click, for example ‘life insurance’. But this is next to useless for the marketer using broad match or broad match modified, because the actual search could have been ‘alternatives to life insurance’ or ‘life insurance for a 98 year old with a terminal illness’.

The reason search query data is so valuable to anyone doing PPC is because it allows you to improve your conversion rate. By spotting queries which are highly unlikely to convert into a sale or application, and adding them as negative keywords, you cut out wastage and improve your overall ROI. Now that Google only lets you see data at the keyword level it makes that process impossible – you’ll have to think up your negative keywords yourself, or abandon broad match altogether.

This move is unlikely to affect large brands, as these guys pay little attention to reducing wasted clicks anyway (nor are their agencies, on a % of spend, inclined to encourage this thriftiness either). But for small businesses the negative keyword list can mean the difference between a positive and negative ROI from their PPC efforts. Any kind of data removal is bad for business, and this is particularly bad.

So why is this move not surprising? It’s clear that while Google offers the negative keyword function, it’s never been a fan of us actually using them. Why? It reduces the amount of clicks they accrue from your budget. Create a new campaign and you won’t see an option to add them on the settings page or the new Ad group page: Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 11.15.18


A quick heads up would have been nice, considering that your keywords are broad match by default and Adwords newbies are not necessarily going to know that ‘blue widgets’ is going to include searches like ‘how to make a complaint about my blue widget’, or ‘turquoise widgets’ or ‘why are blue widgets so c**p and where can I get a red one instead’.

To add negative keywords you either need to use ‘-‘ before the keyword in question when adding new keywords, or go into the keywords tab of your new campaign once it has been created, and scroll down until you see the expanding ‘negative keywords’ link which allows you to add them at either Ad group or campaign level.

I always advise clients that their negative keyword list should be longer than their normal keyword list, especially when using broad match modified which is the ideal combination of volume and targeting. Don’t take my advice and it will result in more clicks and greater exposure for your ad, but on searches that are not likely to convert, leading to a lower ROI.

To be successful with Adwords (and internet marketing in general) you must roll with the punches and adapt to the changes. In this case the workaround is to focus more on phrase and exact match keywords. If you do use broad match, use a combination of previous data and your own common sense to compile as exhaustive a negative keyword list as you can.


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About The Author

Michael Madew

PPC expert with over 10 years' experience in creating and managing highly profitable PPC campaigns on Google Adwords, Bing Ads and other paid search platforms.

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