Broad Match + Negative Keywords = A Profitable Long Tail

It’s common to hear advice that you should use long tail keywords and that you should be careful when using broad match. After all, broad match keywords do not convert higher than either phrase or exact match.

The problem is that often these two pieces of advice can be contradictory.

If you start using keyword phrases with exact and phrase match that are five, six or even seven keywords in length, you can start to either run out of possible keywords you are allowed to have in your account or you can miss a large number of impressions due to the vast number of ways that people search.

This quote from a Google blog post says it all:

Did you know that 20% of the queries Google receives each day are ones we haven’t seen in at least 90 days, if at all?

When you couple that Google fact with Hitwise’s latest numbers that more than 18% of searches contain five or more keywords, it can be a daunting task to try finding all of these keywords. After all, if you have a basic AdWords account you are limited to 50,000 active keywords.

How can you use long tail keywords and constrain broad match? The answer is easy: use negative keywords.

Introducing negative keywords

Negative keywords are filtering words that stop your ads from showing.

Let’s say you sell coffee mugs and you have tens of thousands of words pertaining to coffee mugs in multiple match types. You then run a search query report (a report that allows you to see the actual search query that caused your ad to be displayed) and find that when the search query contains the word “Starbucks,” such as “Starbucks personalized picture blue coffee mug,” your conversion rate is 0%. All those clicks you are paying for are a waste of money. However, “personalized picture blue coffee mug” is already a long tail keyword, and you have thousands of these words, so how do you still use these word in phrase or broad match yet not pay for the clicks when the search query contains “Starbucks?”

The answer is simple: add the negative keyword “Starbucks.” Now, when someone types a search query that contains “Starbucks,” your ad will no longer be displayed. You will not accrue any impressions or pay for any clicks. Your ad simply will not be displayed.

Negative keyword match types

Just like regular keywords, negative keywords also have match types. Exact match and phrase match keywords work just like their regular keyword counterparts. If you use an exact match negative, the search query must be the exact same as your negative keyword for your ad not to be displayed.

However, broad match negatives are different than broad match keywords. Broad match negative keywords do not match to misspellings, plurals, or similar words. Therefore, if you found that your ad was being displayed for both search queries that contained the word “Starbucks” and “Starbuck,” you would need to use both negative keywords.

Negative keyword reach

You can add negative keywords to either an ad group or to a campaign in AdWords.

In Yahoo Search Marketing accounts negative keywords are called excluded words and can be at the account or ad group level (here are instructions for adding negative keywords to your Yahoo account).

At Microsoft adCenter, they are called negative keywords and can be added to an ad group or campaign (here are instructions for adding negative keywords to your Microsoft adCenter account).

When you add a negative keyword, it will affect all settings below the level you add it. For instance, in Yahoo, if you include a negative keyword at the account level, it will affect every campaign and ad group in the account.

At adCenter and AdWords, if you add a campaign level negative keyword it will only affect the ad groups in that campaign.

At all the engines, if you add a negative keyword at the ad group level, it will only affect the keywords in that ad group.

To continue the Starbucks example, since the word “Starbucks” does not convert anywhere in the account, you would add this negative keyword to each campaign. However, if you happened to have one ad group that was focused around “Starbucks Coffee Cups” then you would add the negative keyword “Starbucks” to all the ad groups except the one focused on selling Starbucks coffee cups.


Before I get flamed for advocating broad match, let me just say that as with most things, moderation is your friend. Broad matching a keyword that only contains one, two or three words can lead to very poor results and should be approached cautiously. However, broad match is not inherently bad, especially when applied to the long tail and controlled with negative keywords.

Follow these 3 simple steps to use broad match effectively:

  • Measure broad match using the search query report
  • Refine broad match terms by adding exact and phrase match equivalents to higher search volume terms and higher priced terms
  • Control broad match by adding negative keywords.

You should spend time on negative keyword research just like you do on regular keyword research. By growing your negative keyword list, you can refine your ads and keep them from being shown on irrelevant queries. This will help raise your CTR, increase your conversion rate, lower your cost per action and ultimately save you money by not paying for irrelevant clicks.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is the Founder of Certified Knowledge, a company dedicated to PPC education & training; fficial Google AdWords Seminar Leader, and author of Advanced Google AdWords.

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    Nice post!

    \However, broad match negatives are different than broad match keywords. Broad match negative keywords do not match to misspellings, plurals, or similar words.\

    I would like to add that broad match negatives are different that broad match keywords in one more way. When, say, you have the keyword \astrology\ your ad may appear for the search term \weather\ thanks to the expanded match feature. In other words, broad matching gets really broad here.

    So, what do you do? You add the keyword \weather\ as a broad negative. However, when one searches for \weather greece\ your ad still shows! In other words, broad match negatives are way less, well, broad than broad match keywords. I see this happening everyday and it is really bad -for the advertiser at least, not for Google.

  • SearchFanatic

    Just remember, negative keywords count towards your account keyword totals in Google.

    Also, if you are worried about the broader search terms you can always setup a new adgroup for them (if you find them relevant to your business but maybe not the group); another way to filter out the “irrelevant” traffic.

  • George Michie

    Hi Brad,

    We’re fans of well-regulated broad match as well. Our experience, and data, suggests not that broad match + smart negatives is the wrong approach, but that using them instead of building out a long tail is a mistake because of the less targeted copy, landing page and bidding.

    Yes, you need broad match + negatives to catch the crazy permutations, but the more permutations you can manage effectively the larger/more profitable the program will be.


  • GE.GAO

    I am a fan of both Brad’s and George’s blogs and I am going to agree with both of you on this thread.

    The core issue is always about ROI and “I” always includes human input.
    While I usually follow George’s method, Brad’s method makes good sense on those accounts where the revenue from the long tail is marginal and incremental.

  • Luke

    The problem that I find is figuring out what terms people are searching for and then NOT clicking on my ads. AKA what are all the impressions I am getting from? Anyone found that answer?

  • Greg Bogdan

    I use broad match for most campaigns, though I am opting more and more for phrase match and for conducting more extensive keyword research to discover relevant keywords. Google’s broad match algorithms often extend to words totally unrelated and it is very time consuming to add so many unrelated nonsensical negative keywords. Applying negative keywords on phrase match consumes enough time as it is.

    I could ignore many of the unrelated broad match keywords (those that Google let’s me see) since they comprise only a fraction of my ad spend, but I just don’t like may ads displaying when they are not relevant. Maybe it is the email marketer in me that wants my brand and my ads to be relevant. You could argue that it is like placing a billboard along the highway to try and capture attention, even if it is not relevant to most readers, but I am not comfortable extending that to search where users have specific motivation and where they are already somewhat distrusting of paid search ads because so many clicks lead to pages that are a big surprise and not relevant.

    In addition, I am concerned about relevancy and brand reputation. Having my brand or my ads display on so many odd and unrelated phrases can leave the impression that we are bidding on these unrelated words, which we can’t deliver post-click content on anyhow. I also want more control over when my ads display. Casting a smaller more focused net might cause me to miss out on redirecting a customer that was not searching for what I was offering or missing on a few long tail unrealized keywords, but I do not lose sleep over it. Broad match has low CPC, but bounce rate is oftentimes very high and post-click conversions are very low.


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