How many negative keywords are enough? I realize it would be comforting to have a solid number as a rule of thumb, but there is no magic number, no ideal threshold for negative keywords. How much time you should spend on negative keywords depends on many factors.
An Advertiser’s Risk Tolerance Impacts Negative Keyword Buildout
The risk tolerance of the advertiser matters. Herein lies a paradox, in my experience: When an advertiser is gung ho and risky, it’s best to build out more negatives. If an advertiser is conservative, you may think well you should build out even MORE negatives, because improved negative filtering certainly sounds more conservative. However, in my experience conservative turn on broad match very selectively for clearly relevant and unambiguous terms, or they turn on phrase match without turning on broad. In those situations, negative keywords mean less. You need good filters for risky Adwords endeavors.
The Specificity of High Traffic Keywords Also Affects Negative Keyword Buildout
How general the keywords you plan to use dictates how much research you have to do, especially for new campaigns in untested categories. I’ve made money generating leads for roofing quotes by using the keyword “roof”. If I made a new account trying to generate roofing leads without my existing knowledge, I’d want to carefully evaluate using “roof” broad match right out of the gate. The more simple or general your keywords, the more negative buildout is needed.
Keywords With Multiple Meanings
It’s a natural fact of language that words often have multiple, distinct meanings. Do the keywords important to your business have several meanings? That’s another key question. If you’re generating leads for a lawyer who specializes in workman’s compensation claims, the core keyword set is pretty straightforward and unambiguous. The term “workman’s compensation” that leads to most of the conversions has one clear meaning. On the other hand, if you were creating a campaign for an artist selling wallpaper images for computer backgrounds, there’s lots of ambiguity and multiple meanings in the core keyword set. The term “buy wallpaper” naturally means something very different to many people. Purchasing wallpaper means purchasing paper to cover walls in physical rooms most of the time.
Broad Match Versus Exact Match
How much traffic in your account comes from broad match words versus exact match words? The exact match type needs no negatives at all. If you see lots of traffic from broad match terms, negative keyword buildouts are that much more valuable. Note that the broad versus exact proportion often varies greatly from one keyword theme to another in the account.
Account Size Matters
How much traffic runs through the AdWords account? That matters, too when you’re asking how many negative keywords are enough. Proportionately small savings add up for big accounts, because even “small” savings are significant and worth pursuing for as advertiser spending $30,000 a month.
Large accounts also have more data to go over, so negative buildouts for them can and should focus more on mining traffic data than theoretical research. Using third party tools, Google’s own non-AdWords resources, and combing through sites to find how words are used on the internet are theoretical research that may save you money or may not. Sometimes your theoretical negative keyword research provides a fix for a problem you don’t or won’t have. On the other hand, processing actual traffic data has definite practical implications and surely saves you real money.
Content Versus Search
Some accounts spend more money on the content network than on search. This is often the case when a product or service is creative and innovative, but not well known. Contextual advertising creates its own need in these situations, and search traffic can be minimal. The 80/20 principle dictates spending more time on optimizing content campaigns than on improving negative keyword filtering in such cases.
When Restructuring Existing Accounts
Lastly, there’s one question that’s always interesting to ask when restructuring an existing account. How many negatives are in the account now? Yes, there are still advertisers that succeed despite themselves in this day and age with no negative keywords whatsoever. Of course, any good analyst has to add a lot more negatives in a situation like that than if the account already has thousands of negative keywords.
Director of Paid Search