Here’s the good news about Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising. It converts 50 percent higher than organic (unpaid) traffic. Thirty-six percent of searches have local intent, making PPC ideal for law firms trying to attract clients within their region. PPC ads can boost brand awareness by 80 percent, and they have an average ROI of 200 percent. Now, here’s a bit of bad news. Research shows that advertisers are spending 61 percent of their budgets on search terms that never convert. That means they are literally wasting 61 percent of their budget by either not getting clicked on or attracting the wrong clicks. How does this happen and how can you avoid it? One key to a successful PPC campaign is your negative keyword strategy. Negative keywords ensure you are not paying for clicks that don’t deliver a return on investment. Read on to learn how to optimize your negative keyword strategy. 

What Are Negative Keywords?

Think of negative keywords as a filter. They are a keyword targeting option offered by Google (and other search engines) that allow you to filter out who sees your ad. For example, if you are a divorce attorney, you are probably bidding on the keyword “Divorce Lawyer.” That means your ad could show for searches that include those two words. However, what if someone types “Pro Bono Divorce Lawyer.” Guess what? Your ad is still going to show because you bid on “Divorce Lawyer” and their query includes those two words.

negative keywords funnel

So, you are going to get a call from someone looking for a free legal service. You just paid for a click that is not going to convert. Plus, the client only knows your ad came up for “Pro Bono Divorce Lawyer.” In their mind, they got tricked. In the end, you have wasted your ad dollars and hurt your brand. However, if you put in “Pro Bono” as one of your negative keywords, your ad would have never displayed for that user. Negative keywords cancel out your keyword bid if they are present in the searcher’s query. 

Creating an effective PPC campaign isn’t just about selecting keywords then sitting back and watching the conversions roll in. It is a constant process that requires monitoring and tweaking. You need to constantly be expanding keywords while you eliminate the unproductive ones, through negative keywords. Maximizing the relevance of your keywords is the only way to increase ROI.

How do you know you need to utilize negative keywords? Take a look at your average conversion rate (CVR), which tracks the amount of conversions by ad. If you see a lot of clicks, but not a lot of conversions, your keywords need some work. Users are clicking on your ad, then realizing it took them where they did not want to go. 

Negative keywords can be assigned at the account, campaign or ad group level and come in these three match types, just like the keywords you bid on. 

  • Broad match is just that, broad. Your ad will not display on searches that contain all of the words in your negative keyword phrase. If multiple variations of a phrase match, your ad will not show, even if the words are in reverse order. For example, if your negative keyword was “Pro Bono Divorce Lawyer,” your ad would not show even if the user typed “Divorce Lawyer Pro Bono” or typed “Probono” as one word. However, it would appear if they just typed “Divorce Lawyer.”
  • Phrase match means your ad will not show for any search that contains the exact order of the phrase you used in your negative keyword, even if the searcher uses extra words. Using the example above, if your negative keyword was “Pro Bono Divorce Lawyer,” your ad would not show even if they typed “Pro Bono Divorce Lawyer New York.”
  • Exact match means your ad will not display when the user types in an exact match. For example, if your negative keyword is “New York Pro Bono Divorce Lawyer,” your ad could still display for any combination of those words. It would only not be displayed if the user typed those words exactly. 

Three Ways to Identify Negative Keywords

An effective negative keyword strategy is easier said than done. Adding too many negative keywords and you might risk eliminating potential clients. Not using negative keywords and you risk wasting your ad dollars and lowing your ROI. How can you craft an efficient list of negative keywords. Here are three key ways. 

1. Use the Keyword Planner

The keyword planner is not just effective for finding keywords to bid on. It can also help you identify negative ones to exclude. When you search for a certain keyword, such as “lawyer,” Google will automatically generate a list of related keyword searches. They even give you data on the keyword, including search volume and competition. Scan this list to identify keywords you know do not apply, and add them as negative keywords. 

2. Analyze Your Search Terms Report 

First, understand that keywords and search queries are not one and the same. Keywords are what you assume your potential clients will type in their search engine. Search queries are what they actually end up typing in. One keyword can literally match hundreds (maybe thousands) of search queries. Let’s say you pick a keyword of “Personal Injury Attorney.” That keyword would match queries like “Best Personal Injury Attorney in Cleveland” or “How Much Does a Personal Injury Attorney Cost?” 

An effective way to identify negative keywords is to examine actual user query data, and Google makes this easy through its Search Terms Report, which reveals exactly what users are typing in when they search. However, this can be a cumbersome process, so you’ll need an efficient method of combing through search query lists. As you analyze the Search Terms Report, evaluate your metrics and ask these three questions. 

  • What is the Click-Through-Rate (CTR)? This tells you the average number of times an ad was click on when displayed for that specific search query. If the CTR is below average then searchers are not clicking on the ad that is triggered for that query. It’s just not relevant to what they are searching for. It should be added as a negative keyword. 
  • What is the Average Conversion Rate (CVR)? We talked briefly about CVR in the last section. A low CVR basically means users are clicking and not finding what they want. While this could indicate that your landing page isn’t communicating your services well, it most likely means you just don’t have what they need. If that query has a low CVR, you need to add a negative keyword to avoid triggering an ad when those keywords are used again. 
  • What is the Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPA)? CPA is the amount you pay each time an action is taken as a result of your ad. For attorneys, it could be filling out a contact form, calling your office, registering for a newsletter or just reading your blog. However you measure CPA, if it’s too high for certain queries, you need a negative keyword to avoid those queries. 

How do you get a list of search queries to comb through? Navigate to the “search terms” interface in your AdWords platform. Click on the icon that looks like a funnel. This is your filter. You can type in parameters you’d like to filter by or pick from a list. Be sure to enable the right columns for the metrics you want to see. To do this, just click the three vertical bars next to the filter. You can now set your filters using less than, greater than or equal to parameters. For example, set a filter to see all search queries with a CTR of less than 12 percent, or a CVR of less than 30 percent.

You can also use multiple parameters for one filter, and combine sorting features with filters. For example, sort by the highest number of impressions. This will yield a list of the most common search queries that trigger your ads to display. Take that list and filter it with parameters that relate to CTR or CVR. You’ll see a list of search queries that meet your criteria. From there, simply check the queries you want to add as negative keywords and choose the match type. 

Here’s a pro tip. Even terms that you think apply to your firm, but maybe they just aren’t performing well, can be moved to the list of negative keywords. Remember PPC is all about ROI. What keywords give you the most bang for your buck? It’s just not worth it if the CPA on a keyword is too high. 

3. Listen to Your Phone Calls

Let’s get back to how measuring CPA can help flag negative keywords. For law firms, the “action” you are looking for when someone clicks on your ad is often a phone call. So, it makes sense that monitoring those phone calls for irrelevant callers will help you with your list of negative keywords. First, be sure your intake calls are being recorded and someone is reviewing them at least once a week. It’s time-consuming, but you’re bidding on expensive keywords.

The average cost-per-click for keywords related to personal injury law alone is $55 per click. It’s worth the effort. Listen for the reason why the case was not accepted. Was the caller asking about Worker’s Compensation when your firm does not handle those cases? If so, add “Worker’s Compensation” to your negative keyword list. Was the caller asking about how to get his fender repaired after a car accident? Add “Fender” to your negative keyword list. Fine tune your keywords by listening to your intake team’s recorded calls.

How to Enter Your Negative Keywords

Google’s AdWords user interface makes it pretty easy to set up negative keywords. You can assign individual keywords or create a keyword list. First, we’ll go through the steps of adding individual keywords. 

  • Click on the “keywords” tab within the interface. You can do this at the account, campaign or ad group level.
  • Click the “search terms” at the top of the interface to get more information about the match type and the query searchers are entering for that keyword. 
  • Check the box titled “adword extensions” for the keyword you want to exclude. 
  • A blue bar will appear with the option to select “add as negative keyword.” Click it. 
  • Google will prompt you to choose the level at which to add the negative key word and the match type you want to use. 
  • Click save!

Create a negative keyword list by following these steps:

  • Click the tool icon at the top of the AdWords user interface.
  • Choose “negative keyword lists” in the “shared library” column.
  • Click the blue plus sign to create a name for your keyword list. 
  • Add your negative keywords to that named list. 

Once you have created your list(s), you can use it across your entire account or for just certain campaigns. To use it for just a specific campaign, go to that campaign and click the keywords tab. Then, choose the negative keywords interface and select “use negative keyword list.” You’ll be prompted with available lists. Choose the one want and save. 

Use Negative Keywords to Direct Users to the Right Place

We’ve focused a lot on using negative keywords to exclude users that aren’t relevant to what you do. However, this isn’t their only purpose. Create campaign level negative keywords to direct users to the right place on your website. For example, if your firm handles several different types of law, use negatives to ensure clients get to the right landing page. If you are targeting people looking for a personal injury attorney, use “family attorney” as a negative to weed out irrelevant clicks on that particular campaign, and vice versa. Don’t think of negative keywords as only a way to eliminate irrelevant traffic. They are an extremely effective way to ensure users get to the most relevant page on your website. Remember, a successful PPC campaign is all about relevancy. 

Don’t be part of the companies mentioned in the intro that are wasting 61 percent of their ad budget. Instead, have a PPC strategy that runs like a well-oiled machined. Exclude irrelevant traffic. Reduce your average CPC. Improve your CTR. These are all benefits that result from an ongoing negative keyword strategy. Additionally, these are all metrics that contribute to a higher Quality Score, which Google uses as a key factor in determining your Cost Per Click, yet another factor that will greatly influence your ROI. Read more about quality score and other key metrics by which to measure your campaign in this recent blog