Our top 3 techniques for uncovering hidden negative keyword opportunities
In their regular account optimization checks, most account managers include a scan of their search term report to find and block non-performing or irrelevant search terms. While this is a high value exercise, you could still be missing a critical opportunity to find hidden layers of negative keywords that are quietly burning through your client budgets.
Take your analysis to a deeper level with these three (advanced) techniques; so let’s get search term mining, PPC Samurai style!
Don’t miss the skyscrapers
Don’t miss the skyscrapers
#2: Top Down
We have assessed our Search Terms from the bottom up, but now it’s time to flip that and look from the top down.
At PPC Samurai we’ve helped thousands of agencies design and build their standard operating procedures, so we know that a vastly underutilised strategy across agencies is a search term strategy we call the “top-down aggregated scan”.
The goal of this strategy is to aggregate the performance of each search term across campaigns with similar CPA goals, and then test its aggregated performance against a reasonable performance benchmark. It follows that this strategy works best for lead-gen clients where your desired CPA is relatively constant.
You’ll rarely need to run this scan across brand campaigns because branded keywords generally tend to match closely with the searches they trigger. So, filter out display and brand campaigns to define an accurate and reasonable CPA and Conv Rate benchmark for non-brand search campaigns.
Get yourself set up with the right reports and data sets
- In the Google Ads interface, go to the search term view (for the full account) and set the time period to 90 days.
- Filter out brand & display campaigns.
- Take note of the CPA & ROAS for the “Total: Filtered search terms”.
- Calculate how many clicks you would expect to see before an average search term produces a conversion
- Change the time period to All Time, and ensure that your visible columns include Cost, Conversions & Clicks. Download the search term report.
Prepare your spreadsheet
- In the spreadsheet, remove the rows above the metric column headers and the total rows at the bottom of the sheet.
- Click on Insert > Pivot Table and select the options radio buttons below, then click OK.
- This should open a new tab in your spreadsheet, and that tab should contain a blank pivot table.
- Next, click and drag “Search Term” to the “Row” box, and “Clicks”, “Cost”, and “Conversions” to the “Values” box.
- Ensure all three items in “Values” are all set to “Sum of”.
- Your pivot table should look something like this now:
- Now sort the table by clicks, largest to smallest
Now it’s time to look at the conversion column, checking for any terms that have zero conversions but more than double the number of expected “clicks to conversion” you worked out before.
In this client example, the “clicks to conversion” worked out to 6.8%, meaning the average non-brand search term should convert after 15 clicks (as worked out above in the ‘Get yourself set-up section’). If we double that to a threshold of 30 clicks, you can see 3 terms that have had more than 30 clicks but no conversions. Time to add some negatives!
Next, move on to a test that looks for “zero conversions but spent >2x average CPA”.
To do this:
- Sort by the cost column (large-small)
- Find any terms with zero conversions but a cost that is greater than 2x my average CPA.
For this example, the average CPA for the non-branded cohort is $65. Given that, three search terms surface as good candidates for adding as negatives; they have spent more than $130 (being 2x the CPA) but have no conversions. In this case they happen to be the same three culprits as the first Top Down test, but they can be different, so run both tests.
Why is it important to do a top down analysis?
Consider the following scenario:
If you only ran a bottom up analysis, none of these “guitar lessons” searches would have triggered for review as, individually, each row was below the campaign level #clicks to conversion and 2xCPA tests.
By aggregating the data, we see a very different story. “Guitar Lessons” has triggered in multiple different campaigns and adgroups, effectively spending $333 with no conversions; yep, time for a review!
#3: Don’t miss the skyscrapers
In this new brave world where Google is promoting automated bid strategies combined with loose matching between keyword and search terms (aka intent matching), it’s becoming more common to see the occasional VERY expensive search term triggering in your account.
One of our PPC Samurai users recently started running the skyscraper workflow just to see what it would do, and they were shocked to find one search term that was costing them $793 per click (vs an average CPC of $80)!
Um…Why hadn’t they spotted that? The search term was hiding underneath a modified broad match keyword that had high click volume, so the effects of this huge account anomaly were masked by the overall cost of the keyword.
So how do you find these anomalies easily?
- Navigate to your search term report.
- Set the time period to 7 days and create a filter to display only those terms with clicks >=2.
- Sort by Avg. CPC
- Now click on each campaign, one after another, and check if the average CPC for your searches exceeds 10x the Total: Campaign average CPC.
- Once you have checked all campaigns for 7 day anomalies, move the time period out to 14 days and repeat the process through all campaigns individually.
- When the 14 day checks have been done, move to 30 days and repeat.
We like to do this campaign by campaign to ensure the search term CPC’s are being compared to a relative cohort and are being treated under the same set of parameters (bid strategies, audiences etc).
Hopefully you don’t have any searches that pop out, but if you do, it’s an opportunity to either add them as a negative keyword OR potentially add them as a single keyword adgroup (exact match) and add sculpting negatives to push traffic on that term to the exact keyword. This allows you to control the bids on that search term much more rigidly.
Performing these scans regularly will undoubtedly uncover hidden opportunities for you to save your clients money, or at the very least, flag search terms that are silently undermining your CPA or ROAS performance so you can take action on them.
We’re big advocates of the awesome BMM/Exact campaign strategy, as you can easily incorporate these checks into your daily routine; adding further value to your accounts and moving you one step closer to being indispensable to your clients. Ultimately, isn’t that what we want for them and for us?