The 4 Best Negative Keyword PPC Strategies in the Education Space

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For you all PPC marketers out there, this is the go-to guide for negative keyword strategies. These strategies are based on years of experience with some of the largest paid search marketing campaigns in the education space. We have formulated strategies that extend above and beyond the typical functions of negative keyword lists, and used cold hard data to back up our decisions. First, we will start with the definition of negative keywords and negative keyword lists.

Negative keywords are keywords that intentionally prevent your ad from being triggered when someone searches this term on Google. For example, if you are offering online courses that aren’t free and your ad is triggering for “free online courses,” you can make the term “free” negative and your ad will no longer show up for this search. Some of your keywords can also trigger very irrelevant search terms. Thankfully, negative keywords can prevent your ad from showing for this traffic. These negative keywords can be applied within campaigns or ad-groups, but we suggest adding all negative keywords to the “Negative Keyword Lists” section within Google Ads Shared Library. Negative Keyword lists allow you to have a centralized location for all of your negative keywords where you can apply them to either all campaigns or specific campaigns only. Give your list a name and then add the negative keyword below. Remember to follow your match type guidelines. For example, if you use brackets, it will be an Exact match negative. Parentheses will be Phrase match negative, and just the keyword alone will be Broad match negative.

We suggest having the following negative keyword lists in your account:

  1. Master Negatives – Exact
  2. Master Negatives – Phrase & Broad
  3. Poor Back-End Performers
  4. Cross Match Negatives

Master Negatives – Exact

This negative keyword list will include all search terms that are irrelevant and have 0 conversions. You want to base this data on at least 7, 14, or 30 days of performance. If your account is brand new, this is something that you may want to check after day 1 to prevent any high spending irrelevant queries. But, a seasoned account can master negatives on a 14 or 30-day basis. These negatives will prevent the full query from showing up again, such as “[free online courses].” This will only make that exact search negative.

Master Negatives – Phrase and Broad

This negative keyword list will include all search terms that are also irrelevant and have 0 conversions. The same date range as the list above applies to this one. These negatives will have more of an impact on what is negated, so be extra careful when applying them. Phrase match will negate an entire search term if the negative phrase is found within it. For example, “free online” would negate the following search term – “campus programs with free online access.”

Broad negatives will have the biggest impact, so this match type should be used with as much certainty as possible. Broad match negatives will negate any search term that contains this word. For example, if you make “free” a Broad match negative, it will negate the following term – “online bachelors degree with free laptop.” Phrase and Broad match negatives should only be used in the following two scenarios

  1. There is no way the Phrase or Broad term could ever trigger a relevant search term
  2. Data shows that the Phrase or Broad term never converts on the front end of the back end.

Poor Back End Performers

This negative keyword list will include all search terms that are relevant and can either have 0 or 1+ conversions. You are going to want to look at a longer date range than the previous lists, since these are search terms that are relevant and most likely have achieved conversions. This will increase efficiencies in your account by not wasting ad spend on search terms that seem to be relevant but are actually driving 0 enrollments.

Cross Match Negatives

This is where we go outside the box with negative keyword lists. Cross Match Negatives is a strategy that not all agency or PPC managers are currently using, but it can be incredibly beneficial to your account. This involves the creation of a “negative” keyword list with all of your active keywords in Exact match and negating them in Phrase and Broad match.

Now, why would you do this? This strategy prevents what we like to call “cross contamination.” If you do not implement cross match negatives, you run into the possibility of Exact match keywords being triggered in the Phrase and Broad campaigns. You want to ensure that all the data for your exact keyword is living only in your Exact campaign, as opposed to your Phrase and Broad campaigns as well.

This is also true for your Branded campaigns. You want to apply your Exact match branded keywords to all Non-Branded campaigns and competitor campaigns. After all, you don’t want to see Branded search terms popping up in Non-Branded campaigns or your competitor campaigns. This will skew your Non-Branded and competitor campaigns with lower CPLs and not give your Branded campaigns as much credit as they deserve. Your institution’s name is very important so we must ensure we are measuring data correctly!

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