Finding the proper keywords is the cornerstone of any successful SEM campaign. I imagine every PPC manager out there begins a campaign with keyword research in order to find what keywords are going to generate the desired traffic to a website. This will typically include picking basic, generic keywords and finding similar search queries which will provide the basis for an extended, or long tail, keyword universe.

While gathering these initial nuts and bolts of a campaign negative keywords will also be identified, ensuring ads will not show if certain keywords are added to the query. Some of these negative keywords will be obvious, while others can be surprising as there are now so many unique industries and websites catering to niche markets. This type of research is invaluable since it is impossible to know a priori every possible query that could trigger an ad that, if clicked, will cost money resulting in no ROI. (Of course negative keywords are only valuable in a campaign if broad or phrase match terms are used - though that discussion will have to wait for a future post.)

The true value of a keyword lies in its ability to put relevant information in front of the searcher. Sometimes this goal breaks down, such as when there are conflicting search queries. For example, if someone searches for "green paint", this can have a couple of different meanings: Green as a color or Green as in eco-friendly. If you are bidding on this keyword, it is important to identify not only the semantic value of the keyword; user intention can determine whether a certain keyword is profitable to use in a PPC campaign, and certain keywords may become more competitive due to semantics. In addition to semantic issues there are also long tail keywords which can easily trigger an ad if broad match or phrase match is used. There are literally millions of examples using Google Adwords Broad Match option - The keyword "Al Green" could show ads for "Al Green CD", "Al Green Tshirt", "Al Green MP3", etc, depending on the market. It is always important to recognize the goals of the campaign and to truly know what is being sold and why... sure. But how is this kind of research best done when every keyword research tool out there starts to fail and an account is already live?

This is where Google's Search Query Report can come in handy. This report can fill in the gaps for your PPC campaigns by providing the PPC manager with actual user generated search queries used in the live market. Unfortunately, Google Analytics does not show this even if you have a linked PPC and Google Analytics account. The terms that show in Analytics will merely show results on the keywords as they are entered into AdWords. If you had bid on the keyword "widget" as a broad match term, Analytics will show metrics for the keyword "widget". But this is regardless of how many searchers not only saw the ad for that broad or phrased match keyword and then clicked even though they may have searched for a term like "green widget".

Now what if the company doesn't sell green widgets? Worse yet... what if the company or PPC manager had never even heard of a "green widget"? There is no way to stay ahead of every industry curve, and since many advertisers find themselves in a live market it is best to get the real data while it's still out there and available. Now, pull that report and see what you've been missing.

Just don't blame me when keyword popularity changes and we need to do a reverse keyword audit on your PPC campaign.

Negative Keywords-blog-CTA

Nathan Pabich is the Director of Paid Search at Digital Third Coast, a PPC management company based in Chicago. You can find Nathan Google+.