Negative keywords are a tool that help keep you from wasting money on unqualified clicks. Now, before we talk about how to use negative keywords, we want to be really clear that negative keywords are not the same thing as “negative advertising,” a marketing strategy that profits through smearing competitors. Negative advertising is buying up ads on Google, Facebook, Twitter, or any other online platform that simply bash your competitor.
We strongly discourage people from using this sort of advertising because it often is not terribly effective and can cast your community in a bad light. Plus, why take time that could be spent creating great, positive advertisements for your community to do something less effective? Use the time and energy you would put into negative advertising to create better positive ads.
Instead, think of negative keywords as the opposite of normal keywords. When you build your Ads campaigns, you select keywords to target, letting you bid on precisely the keywords that you think your customers are most likely to type into Google. Negative keywords let you un-target search queries that are close matches to the keywords you have targeted, but that are obviously unqualified for your purposes.
Examples of When to Use Negative Keywords
Let’s say that you are the manager of Mountain Brook Apartments in Evanston, IL, and let’s assume that you have a Defensive Campaign protecting your own community’s name. Without negative keywords, your defensive campaigns would trigger your ad to run for the following search queries:
- mountain brook apartments fax number
- mountain brook apartments pool hours
- mountain brook apartments wifi password
- zip code for mountain brook apartments evanston il
Although all of these search queries are related to your community, none of them seem likely to be queries related to searching for a new apartment. Mainly residents would be looking for your community’s pool hours or zip code, so your marketing would waste clicks.
Or, let’s say that you have campaigns targeting your location value proposition (“evanston il” and “northwestern university”). Without negative keywords, these search queries would trigger your ads:
- jobs in evanston il
- vacation rentals in evanston il
- on-campus apartments at northwestern university
The first two queries obviously have nothing to do with renting an apartment. The third query is a bit more complicated. Yes, someone is looking for an apartment, but they are looking for an on-campus apartment at Northwestern University.
Obviously, you might be able to convert that person into living in your community instead. But if you are trying to do that, it’s best to design a campaign targeting on-campus apartment searches specifically. Then, your ad copy can say, “Find Out Why Students Prefer Mountain Brook Apartments to On-Campus Apartments”, which is highly relevant and intriguing to someone who had begun their search looking (they thought) for an on-campus apartment. The link, then, could go to a page discussing the head-to-head comparison.
Additionally, if you just run a normal location-based ad, people might think that your apartments are on-campus, and they will likely leave your website once they realize that you are not. Or, all those people will ignore your ad (since you aren’t on-campus), lowering your clickthrough rate (and therefore, your Quality Score), and increasing the average cost-per-click on that campaign.
Little by little, these small mistakes add up in PPC, reducing your efficiency, wiping out your budget, and keeping you from reaching the customers who actually want to find you.
Three Types of Negative Keywords
From the examples above, there are three main types of negative keywords you may want to use at some point.
- Amenity-Focused Negative Keywords
- Non-Buying Negative Keywords
- Location-Based Negative Keywords
We'll describe each one below:
Amenity-Focused Negative Keywords: Let's say you're in a small town like Wichita Falls, TX and you've purchased some ads on the keyword "apartments in Wichita Falls, TX." (Note: We don't recommend purchasing ads for "apartments in (city name)" if you live in a larger city because you'll never win top placement, you'll spend lots of money, and the traffic you get from them will be bad. But for smaller cities you can target those broader terms.)
Your ad is showing up when people search for apartments in Wichita Falls and things are going well. But pretty soon you realize that many of the leads you're getting are not qualified. Your community doesn't allow pets and you're getting tons of calls from people asking about pet policy. You might consider adding "pet-friendly" as a negative keyword so that if someone searches "pet-friendly apartments in Wichita Falls," your ad won'tappear. (You might also consider setting up ads targeting searches like "pet restricted apartments in wichita falls," or "no pets allowed apartments in wichita falls.")
If there's a feature or amenity that your community does not offer, then you may need to tailor your Ads campaigns based on that.
Non-Buying Negative Keywords: The next type of negative keyword you'll want to set up will be keywords that do not reflect commercial intent.
For instance, if you set up an ad for "Paradise Villa Apartments in Portland OR," that ad could show up when someone searches "Paradise Villa Apartments pool hours," or "Paradise Villa Apartments wifi password." Those searches indicate that the user is not looking to buy, but is looking for some specific piece of information about the community.
So if you buy an ad and they click on it, you just spent whatever you paid for that click on a user who was never looking to lease an apartment. So think about search terms someone might use that show they do not intend to lease an apartment and add those as negative keywords.
Location-Based Negative Keywords: In some cases, your community might have a more common name or a location-based name. For example, if you searched for "paradise villa apartments" you might find apartments in several cities named Paradise Villa plus apartments in Paradise CA with Villa in their name.
So let's say you're Paradise Villa Apartments in Portland, OR. You don't want your ad showing up when people are searching for apartments in Paradise, CA or when they are looking for Paradise Villas in Texas.
To fix this, you can add some negative keywords to filter out those searches and guarantee that your ad doesn't appear to users searching those terms. So you'd add "Center, TX," "Texas," "California," "CA," and a few other similar terms that will eliminate people using those queries. That means fewer people see your ad, but the people who do see it are more likely to be looking specifically for you.
Now that we have talked about what negative keywords are and what kinds of uses you might have for them, let's talk about how to set them up inside your Ads account.
How to Create Negative Keywords
First, click “Campaigns” on the big, green menu at the top of your Ads dashboard, and then click “Keywords” from the menu beneath the text “All Online Campaigns.” You should see this at the top of your screen:
Then, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, and click “Negative keywords”:
From there, select whether you want your negative keywords at the Ad Group level or the Campaign level, and then add whatever keywords you want, using the match types that you want.
Tip: Phrase match is really handy for eliminating specific keyword phrases in a way that won’t hurt valuable queries. So, “pool hours” and “wifi password” would eliminate searches from current residents trying to figure out when the pool is open or what the password is. Those keywords would not, however, prevent your ad from displaying for searches that prospective residents might perform, such as “does mountain brook apartments have a pool?” or “does mountain brook apartments offer free wifi?”.
How to Discover More Negative Keywords in Google Ads for Apartments
Part of the fun of optimizing campaigns over the long term is figuring out what sorts of strange things people type into Google that you don’t want to trigger your ads. You can do some brainstorming, planning, and strategic thinking to eliminate several unqualified keywords before you launch your campaign, but you can’t really know what’s going to happen until you actually put your campaign into the wild.
Thankfully, Google provides a tool that reveals the actual search queries that have generated ad clicks. (They do not provide all search queries that generate impressions, but all that generate clicks.) Here’s how to discover search queries that you might want to suppress through negative keywords.
Again, under the Keywords tab, click Details, and under Search Terms, click “All”:
If you check the box beside specific keyword(s) you have chosen, you can alternately choose “Selected” and look at only the search query/queries triggered by that/those particular keyword phrase(s):
From there, you can work through all the search queries, determining whether those queries are valuable, or whether they should be suppressed through negative keywords.