Stop Paying for Stupid Clicks: Negative Keywords for Positive ROI

Posted by KeriMorgret

One of my guilty pleasures is looking through the search query reports (SQR) of an AdWords campaign for the cringe-worthy search queries that led to someone clicking on a PPC ad. Really Google? You felt that goat transportation cost was related to my keyword of freight costs? Or that a babe cam search should show my ad for digital camera? Sadly, these matches and worse can happen if you lack proper negative keywords.

This screenshot shows what happens when your campaign does not have enough negative keywords. It is just as important to have negative keywords as it is to have regular keywords.

  • People really DO click on anything and everything, including these off-target ads, and the advertiser gets charged for that click.
  • Most people are smart enough to not click, so the advertiser isn't directly charged. They just get hit when it comes to their quality score (affecting your cost per click and ad ranking) , which is based in part on your clickthrough rate (CTR). If nobody is clicking on your ads, Google is apt to lower your quality score and increase your cost per click.

I'm going to help you brainstorm and greatly expand your negative keyword list. Evan Steed, co-founder of Meathead Movers, has been brave enough to let me look at his AdWords account and share some real-life examples with you here (and in my February 29th SMX presentation) from an account with no negative keywords. Meathead Movers is based near my hometown on the central coast of California, and they do some awesome things in the community, including moving women out of domestic violence situations for free. That's always impressed me, and I'm glad to be able to give something back to a local business.

Start with the Search Query Report

Download your search query report, and review what people actually entered to trigger your ad. You'll find some good candidates for negative keywords here, and you can start developing organized negative keyword lists.

Go Beyond the Search Query Report to Find Negative Keywords

I use the search query report for gathering negatives I had missed, and to find ideas for entire classes of negative keywords. This all started when I found "honeymoon with a stranger" in a search query report, found out it was a movie title, and got the idea to search IMDB for other titles containing honeymoon. Suddenly I had "zombie honeymoon", "honeymoon for three", and a large variety of other keywords in my negative keyword list. I saw lots of honeymoon resort ads showing for these queries, and realized not too many people were using this method, and started thinking of other ways to find negative keywords.

I prefer to have a good negative keyword strategy in place before I even launch a campaign, to prevent some of these stupid clicks from ever happening. Here are some of the resources I use.

The first resource is an engaged brain. Words often have many meanings, and this can cause you trouble. If you are marketing only to the United States, it's tempting to dump a list of all countries except the US into a list, but remember that Georgia is both a US State and a country. Also, make sure that you don't use the same word in your campaign as in your negative keyword list. Microsoft AdCenter has a nice feature that will alert you to these keyword conflicts.

Existing Negative Keyword Lists

Review existing negative keyword lists that other people have generated. If you do nothing else, review these lists. You'll find near-universal keywords (like ebay, craigslist, sex, porn), keywords to exclude job seekers (resume, position, salary, job), keywords to exclude information seekers (how to, about, what is, how do I), and many more.

Geography Lists

This is helpful for excluding people searching outside of your area of service. Even though Meathead geo-targeted their ads to appear only where they offered service (they only offer moving services in the state of California), people are looking to move from California to another state. Lists like this are also helpful in building your regular keyword list, as you can easily find all of the counties in a state, and all of the cities in each county, and develop targeted ad groups for your product or service.

Movie Lists

I use IMDB's title search and check Feature Film, TV Movie, and TV series to get the most common titles without being bogged down in every single TV episode title ever made.

In the display options at the bottom, I choose to display compact and sort by number of votes descending. This gets you a list of the most popular movies at the top of the list, and you can easily copy the titles that make sense for your list.

Music Lists

Leo's Lyrics does a good job of listing song names in a compact format. In this example, with so many titles being just "move", I'd consider adding some artist names to a keyword list, along with the words lyrics, artist, and album.

Book Lists

For books, I haven't found a great way to get just the most popular titles in an easy manner. I'd just scan Amazon and Barnes and Nobel online and sort by popular items.

Wikipedia Lists

Wikipedia is a great source of lists on nearly any topic. Search "list of [keyword] wikipedia" and you'll often get a great list, along with references for other sites that have similar lists. If you are an animal shelter that only has cats and dogs, you might go for the list of domesticated animals in Wikipedia so your ad doesn't show for people wanting to adopt a pig (and you might want to head to their list of cat and dog breeds as well when you develop your regular keywords).

Government Lists

Governments are great for more than just good backlinks. For regulated industries, they often have lists of  approved companies in that industry. You can use that for a negative list in your branding campaign, and as a keyword list in a campaign targeting people searching for your competitors. Another handy feature is that there is often an export option in these lists to download in a text or CSV format.

Top Lists

Forbes and other sites have endless top 10 and top 100 lists of all kinds of subjects. In Evan's case, I'd use some of the celebrity names as negatives to block his ads from being shown when someone searches for information on a celebrity moving to Los Angeles or Santa Barbara or another of his target cities.

Affiliate Lists

Some affiliate programs have detailed lists of negative keywords that can provide inspiration. If I were advertising for something related to Whitney Houston, I'd add the list of JC Whitney (an auto parts retailer) variations to my negatives list.

Paulson Management Group and Link Connector have several lists of negative keywords for specific campaigns.

Finding alternate meanings

You don't want your financial institution showing up for queries for blood banks and food banks. How to think of some of those other meanings for words ahead of time?

Wikipedia Disambiguation pages

Google Queries

Meathead has a new service for packing in addition to just moving. They knows they need to exclude Green Bay Packers, but wants ideas of what other meanings packing can have beyond the moving industry. Searching for [packers -"green bay" -moving -movers] yields a company in their service area called Island Packers, agriculture packing, and a restaurant called Packers.

Vocabulary lists

Meathead had a query for moving furniture. They don't focus on rearranging furniture, so needs to have an exclusion list for their campaigns that focuses on furniture. An ESL vocabulary list provides a nice text-based list for easy copying and brainstorming.

Yahoo Answers

Yahoo Answers provides some natural-language ideas for negative keywords that you might have otherwise missed.

Keyword Research Tools

Soovle shows suggestions from any number of engines (you can choose) for your keyword. It's another way of quickly spotting off-topic trends.

Übersuggest scrapes Google Suggest and other suggestion services to come up with lists.

Short Words

If you have a short keyword or an acronym, check to see if it's also an acronym for something else, a stock symbol, or an airline code.

Link Builder and SEOs

You also don't want to show your ad to people looking to build links related to your keywords. Rand's post has a number of phrases you'd want to exclude, like "submit url" "add site" "suggest a url".

Trending Topics

Keep an eye on Google Trends and Twitter Trends for a new phrase that has come into prominence. Google seems to not display ads for suddenly trending topics much of the time (like not showing ads when you searched for [cruise ship italy] right after the cruise ship sank), but it's also good to add in negatives to keep yourself covered rather than completely trust in Google's algorithms.

Bonus Round! Tools to Harvest Data

Not every site is going to have a nice plain text list ready for you to copy and paste. I've found a couple of tools that are helpful for harvesting data and making it easily usable.

Dafizilla Table2Clipboard lets you easily paste data with its formatting to Excel, where you can then manipulate the data for just the information you need.

Outwit Hub offers a variety of ways for you to extract data from web pages. This tool deserves several blog posts of its own on its overall uses for SEO, not just in collecting keywords.

Wrapping Up

Whew! There's a lot to think about when finding negative keywords. Is it all worth it? Check out an interview with Ken Jurina with case studies where using tens of thousands of negative keywords has helped businesses save 5% to 40% on their PPC.

What are some of your favorite ways to find negative keywords, and what are some of the worst search queries you have seen?

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February Linkscape Update: 66 Billion URLs

Posted by randfish

After some wrestling with Amazon's EC2 and the tragic loss of many hard disks therein, we've finally finished processing and have released the latest Linkscape update (previously scheduled for Feb. 14). This new index is, once again, quite large in comparison to our prior indices, and contains a mix of crawl data going back to the end of last year. In fact, this is technically our largest index ever!

Here are the latest stats:

  • 65,997,728,692 (66 billion) URLs
  • 601,062,802 (601 million) Subdomains
  • 140,281,592 (140 million) Root Domains
  • 739,867,470,316 (740 billion) Links
  • Followed vs. Nofollowed

    • 2.21% of all links found were nofollowed
    • 57.91% of nofollowed links are internal
    • 42.09% are external
  • Rel Canonical – 11.11% of all pages now employ a rel=canonical tag
  • The average page has 71.88 links on it

    • 60.98 internal links on average
    • 10.90 external links on average  

We also ran our correlation metrics against a large set of Google search results and saw very similar data to last round. Here are the latest numbers using mean Spearman correlation coefficients (on a scale of 0 to 1, higher is better):

  • Domain Authority: 0.26
  • Page Authority: 0.37
  • MozRank of a URL: 0.19
  • # of Linking Root Domains to a URL: 0.26

Our index stats also check the comprehensive of our crawl data against a large set of Google results, and we've got link data on 82.09% of SERPs in this release. This is slightly down from last month's 82.37%, which we suspect is a result of the late release. Crawl data ages with the web, and new URLs make their way into the SERPs, too. To help visualize our crawl, here's a histogram of when the URLs in this index were seen by us:

Crawl Historgram for Feb. 28th Index

We always "replace" any older URLs with newer content if we recrawl or see new links to a page, so while there may be some "old, crusty" stuff from December, the vast majority of this index was crawled in mid-to-late January.

In the next few weeks, we're working on a new, experimental index that may be massively larger (2-3X) this one, and closer to what's in Google's main index at scale. This is very exciting for us and we hope, for all of you who use Open Site Explorer, the Mozbar, the Linkscape API and tools from our partners like Hubspot, Conductor, Brightedge and our newest API partner, Ginza Metrics (check out some cool stuff they're doing with Moz data here).

Feedback, as always, is welcome and appreciated!

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How Google Makes Liars Out of the Good Guys in SEO

Posted by wilreynolds

This past week I gave the keynote presentation at Searchfest in Portland and I hit on a few themes that seemed to resonate with the audience, and with Rand. So I wanted to share them here. It’s what I have been passionate about trumpeting for some time now. And it’s that the "Good Guys" of SEO, the people who do the things like building great content and community are being made into two faced liars every day by Google. Every day we tell our clients to build good content and Google will reward them we know that it’s a white lie most times, because the other side of that coin is and ALSO build anchor text links so you can actually rank well, because community building is not enough of a factor yet.

Just examine for a second this backlink profile to a sub page for a competitor to one of our clients:

What does a backlink profile like that say to you?

I think the above image from one of my slides illustrates this best…I showed how a client of mine who is getting killed by a website who is just targeting tons of anchor text only links on GARBAGE sites and is KILLING my client in the rankings. This is a truth we are all used to by this point that is nothing new. But let’s take a look at Google's rules. Go to that URL and do a Control F for the word "link" – you will find three instances. None of them talk about link building as a tactic to help you rank better, just to be leery of having to link to an SEO company. While that is a good tip, there is not one tip that talks about building links as important, HUH?
A little more searching and I found this resource.
Notice here Google says: The quantity, quality, and relevance of links count towards your rating.
GREAT! They've admitted that the number of links, the quality of links, and relevance count – sweet!
But if you look at that screen grab above, do you see relevance, do you see quality? I don't, I see quantity and anchor text.
Later on Google says:
The best way to get other sites to create relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can quickly gain popularity in the Internet community. The more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.

Hmmm, let's see how this plays out. But before we do, do me a favor:

Take five seconds to think of the SEO companies that you respect most, whom you consider to be constantly creating unique relevant content in this industry and whom you think of as thought leaders, and participants in the community.
Ok, now go type in SEO company, SEO consultant, or SEO agency on Google (unpersonalized) and report back on whether or not you saw one of those companies / consultants / agencies you hold in high regard anywhere in the top 10.
Let's take three companies with active blogs, lots of social engagement, and tons of high quality links and compare them to sites in the top 15. The companies I picked were SEOGadget, Distilled, and SEER Interactive (us) all come to mind VERY quickly. I am not mentioning by names of the companies I picked who where ranking top 15, but let's examine some differences
Looking at our site stats according to SEOmoz
  • SEOGadget has over 50 pages with 10 or more linking root domains
  • Distilled has over 100 pages with 10 or more linking root domains
  • SEER has over 30 pages with 10 or more linking root domains (we got some work to do!)
The "other guys" never had more than two, yet they are killing us on the rankings.
I knew putting this data in a chart form would illustrate this best:
First I looked at RSS subscribers, by going to Google Reader and searching for their blogs like this:
Wow that description sucks, I gotta work on that…anyway…

Half-Truth #1 – If people subscribe to my blog, that will show Google that I am writing good content and people want it, and that should help me rank, right?

Reality: Not even close pal. The four mystery SEO companies have seven subscribers to their blog combined.

Half-Truth #2 – If I engage with people on Twitter and social channels – that will show Google that I am engaging my audience, and I'll be rewarded with rankings, right?

Reality: Nope. Connecting with people on social can get you links in many ways but if you did that well and didn't get anchor text, you'd probably fail.

Half-Truth #3 – If I engage with people on Google+ and get added to circles, Google can DEFINITELY see that – that will show Google that I am engaging my audience, and I'll be rewarded with rankings, right?

Lastly, I looked at Google Circles (obviously you can buy Google accounts to add you to circles, but I am hoping Google can see more engagement not just counts), here is what I got:

Reality: Not yet. But I sure hope it comes.

What message does this send to SEO providers?

OK Big G – We are all playing by your rules, building community, working our tails off on social, and getting our butts kicked, why are you recommending I tell clients to do those things if they aren't helping us?
It's sad to think that if I wanted to rank well for keywords in my industry, writing this post, getting comments on it, and engaging in the community by answering questions counts LESS to help us rank well for targeted competitive keywords than me getting 20 anchor text links on a tag page? A freakin tag page! So when I spend time doing the HARD work, I get fewer rankings than those who take the lazy way out?

Is that really the message Google wants to send?

Think about the daily high wire act every one of us undertakes, too much anchor text – you win temporarily and risk getting banned too little you risk your reputation as an SEO company and are likely to be branded a snake oil salesman.
But let's also think in the same way we consult with clients, we tell our clients every day that people "Google things" and when they perform searches, they make sometimes make purchasing decisions, based on those searches, right?
So when people search Google for "SEO company" and they find this smut outranking the goog guys of SEO…Google is perpetuating the cycle they want to end.
They are "letting" the bad guys rank, which only gets them more clients, and pollutes more of the web with crappy sites that have over aggressively linked. Let's also act like noobs for a second – if a client is picking between SEO Gadget or Outspoken Media and one of the companies who ranks on page 1, then guess what they might say to Richard or Rhea? The prospective clients may say that they don't have the social proof, which would be true. It's logical to say, well Google MUST like what company X is doing because why else would they reward them with such high rankings?
People don't think about "algorithmic weights" and "over optimization" they believe in what they can see, and what they SEE is that the company ranking #1 or #2 has the social proof that maybe SEER or Distilled does not when it comes to the rankings.

C'mon Google! You are perpetuating the problem.

REAL SEOs wish that we NEVER had to worry about anchor text, we are the people who care about this industry and want to do the GOOD work. The real question is why does Google make us into liars everyday in the eyes of our potential clients? If we follow Google's rules to a T, we will likely never get the rankings, and if we don't get the rankings, we are branded as snake oil salesman.
Personally I can't wait for Google+ to start impacting results more. I want to see our TRUE industry leaders rankings to FINALLY be rewarded by our hard work in the community and I bet a LOT of others are with me!
If you are saying Wil help me get anchor text in a better way, then I want to give you a few ideas on how to get your targeted anchor text:
  • Include the keyword in your domain name, so consider that when registering domains or microsites
  • Include the keywords in your digital assets, so whether it is a scholarship or a whitepaper, just the "suggestion" of titling a scholarship or whitepaper with your target keywords will help
  • Link internally with targeted anchor text in blog posts, when people copy your posts or scrape them, they will pull in your anchor text and you'll have a chance to get links

Hoping the good guys get rewarded soon!! Or we'll all be selling snake oil!

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