Today we’re going to be discussing one of the most commonly overlooked features in all of Amazon PPC: negative keywords.
Let’s start off with this: What the heck are negative keywords?
For Amazon, negative keywords are a feature in that give you the option to exclude specific search terms shoppers type into Amazon’s search bar from making your ads appear.
Let’s say you’re selling chef knives on Amazon and you’re bidding for the phrase keyword “chef knife”. As the keyword is in the ‘phrase match’ type, and as long as it’s included somewhere in the shoppers search query, your ad can be entered into the auction and shown to that shopper.
Your German chef knife could appear even if a customer searches for something like “Japanese chef knife”. Since your keyword phrase is included in their search.
In this example, it may be a good idea to add “Japanese” as a negative phrase keyword so that any customer who includes the word “Japanese” in their search, won’t be matched with your German chef knives.
We do this because shoppers specifically looking for Japanese knives may be unlikely to buy our German-made ones, and in many cases we’ll have data to support this assertion before adding the negatives.
This is a very common issue businesses on Amazon run into, but many just end up ignoring this problem and continue to waste their ad spend.
Negative keywords are a great way to exclude the irrelevant shoppers from seeing your ads. Remember, the idea is to pay for clicks from shoppers who are the most likely to buy your products.
Before we dive any deeper into the details of Amazon negative keywords, it’s important to have a solid understanding of the 3 different keyword match types on Amazon.
PPC 101: Keyword Match Types
On the Amazon Sponsored Ads platform we have broad, phrase, and exact match types. Keyword match types are extremely important to understand in PPC because they determine how you’re targeting the search queries entered by shoppers and the type of audience your ads will be delivered to.
If you don’t know how best to structure your campaigns to guide Amazon’s algorithm towards showing your ads to the right shoppers, how do you expect it to match your product to your ideal customer?
Let’s quickly get a better understanding of the different match types to make more sense out of this.
To explain how match types function, the example we’re going to use here is the keyword “nose trimmer”. We’re going to discuss the different keyword types possible: exact, phrase, and broad. So if we add the keyword “nose trimmer” as exact match, we’re only going to be appearing for things like:
- Nose trimmer
- Nose trimmers (plurals are included)
- Nos trimmers (misspelling and plural)
- Nose trimers (which is a common misspelling)
- Noses trimmer
Now check out what happens when we move from exact match into phrase match. In phrase match, as long as the keyword phrase in the same order is a part of the shopper search query, then your ad can match with that shopper. So now we can appear for searches like:
- Nose trimmers for men
- Philips Norelco nose trimmers
- Nose trimmers for travel
- Ear and nose trimmers
- Rechargeable nose trimmers
- Professional nose trimmers
See how we’ve increased the variety of what we appear for in the ad auction? Our ads can show up against searches that contain men or women as qualifiers. We can show up based on competitor brand searches.
Or we can even show up for different use cases. Our product may not be very relevant for shoppers searching for general hair removal or for a unique purpose like travel or use at a barber shop.
We can start to run into some relevance issues whenever we move from exact match into more open match types, because we’re targeting a much broader audience. Speaking of broad, let’s look at how it functions.
For broad match keywords, your ads can match against any query that contains all elements of your keyword but in any order. Just as in Exact or Phrase things like capitalization, spelling errors, plural and connecting words don’t influence what matches.
- Small trimmers for nose hair
- Hair trimmers not for nose
- Trimmers for nose hair: An illustrated guide
- A trimmer for nose that looks like hedge trimmers
- Nose Trimmers II: The Revenge
With broad match, we can appear for hundreds of thousands of customer searches which can potentially match our product. But depending on the relevance of the initial keyword, these shoppers are in many cases less likely to be as relevant.
Overall, choosing keywords and match types should be done with an understanding that as you cast a wider net and reach a larger audience with more open match types, you sacrifice ad targeting precision and the likelihood of reaching the perfect customer with every ad impression drops. It is best understood as a spectrum:
The art of PPC management is understanding that there is no one “best” match type and using the various match types with different objectives and weaving them together in a single account is the required skill to strike a balance between exposure, relevance and ROI.
Make sense? So now that we have a good understanding of match types let’s get back to negative keywords and how they tie into things.
Negative Phrase and Exact Keywords
Negative keywords are matched to queries in the same manner, but in reverse. These block shopper search queries from matching with your ad.
Negative exact will prevent the ad from being shown to shoppers who search for the exact keyword itself, close misspellings and importantly, plurals.
Whereas a negative phrase keyword will block any shoppers whose searches include the negative keywords in order as long as they are a part of the search. Negative broad keywords do not exist.
For example, if “small” is a negative phrase keyword, no shopper who has “small” anywhere in their search query will be matched with your ad. This is an effective way to prevent your ads from spending against a wide swath of queries.
Now I know at this point, you’re probably thinking: why the heck would I use negative keywords? Don’t I want to show my ads, not prevent them from appearing?
Let’s explore some scenarios in which you would use Amazon negative keywords.
The first and primary reason for using negative keywords is to minimize your advertising costs against irrelevant searches that would otherwise result in wasted ad spend that could otherwise be spent against relevant keyword or ASIN targets.
This is where things can get confusing though.
How do you know which negative keywords to add based on their historical performance? What’s good? What’s bad?
Well, some examples like the one we just walked through may make negative keyword optimization seem fairly straight forward. But determining whether a certain keyword will bring the right kind of customer to your listing or not can definitely be tricky.
That is why we typically recommend letting the data decide which keywords are bringing relevant traffic versus which keywords are bringing irrelevant traffic.
The data that we’re referring to is available inside of your Advertising Console account in the form of a Search Term Report. This shows what shopper queries are triggering against the keyword targets you’re actively spending against.
You can access the Search Term report by going to reports > create new report > then set your parameters for Time Unit and Report Period and download it directly or have it sent to your email.
Search Term reports are available for both Sponsored Products and Sponsored Brand campaigns and its a best practice to use negatives in both.
Using filters in Excel or any other spreadsheet application allows you to analyze which search terms are not meeting your performance targets or helping the account towards its overall KPIs.
These terms with poor metrics are your first candidates for addition as negative keywords.
If you’re using advertising management software such as Prestozon to help you with negative keyword addition, you can simply set metric-based rules to suggest the addition of negative keywords which the software can automatically implement or put them in front of you for manual review.
We prefer to use the manual approach while also maintaining a list of set negative keywords that in the past have proven to be good additions to any new campaigns.
Scenario two, let’s use the knives again as our example, and let’s assume we expanded from our chef knives to now selling butcher knives as a new product and we have two manual keyword-targeted campaigns setup. One of them contains exact match keywords and the other broad match keywords.
The issue we run into here is that both of these campaigns contain keywords that could match our knife ads to customers who enter the search “German carbon steel butcher knives”.
We could earn impressions through the exact match keyword campaign since we’re bidding for that precise keyword, but we can also appear in the broad campaign, since we’re bidding against “butcher knives”.
This presents an issue: how do we keep things controlled and direct the flow of certain search queries into specific campaigns?
In this scenario, it would be a good idea to add “German carbon steel butcher knives” as an exact match negative keyword in the broad campaign. This will act as a keyword “traffic cop” effectively directing ad impressions for this keyword to our exact match campaign where we have better visibility into its performance and can more effectively bid manage it.
The goal is to maintain a greater level of control over which campaigns are earning ad impressions for which customer searches in order to best search term isolate your account. This gives us greater control over the performance of an account.
A cohesive negative keyword strategy is essential if your goal is to maintain a well-structured and well-performing advertising account.
Ad Group level or Campaign level?
Amazon negative keywords can be added at both the Campaign and Ad Group level. Whichever level they are added at determines the scope of their impact.
Adding a negative keyword at the ad group level blocks the negative keyword from appearing in only that specific ad group, while adding a negative keyword at the campaign level blocks the keyword from appearing anywhere in the entire campaign, meaning every single ad group in that campaign.
Adding a negative phrase keyword at the campaign level can have a massive impact on the spend and exposure for that campaign, and even the entire account. Proceed with caution when using this combination.
The majority of negative keywords that we add to client accounts are exact match set at the ad group level. This ensures they have a limited and specific scope in what they are blocking. We of course use phrase match negatives and add negatives at the campaign level, but as these have a far greater impact they are done less frequently.
The Amazon Negative Keyword Feature Wishlist
There are two features we would love to see Amazon include in future updates to their platform:
- The ability to add negative keywords at the account level. This would be one more level up from the Campaign level negatives, allowing us to block a keyword from appearing anywhere in the entire account.
- Shared negative keyword lists. This feature would allow us to store different “blacklist” sets of negative exact or phrase keywords to be added during the construction of a campaign or ad group by simply selecting it during the workflow or through a bulk upload identifier of some sort. We do this manually for some accounts but having a built-in feature would be preferable.
If identifying Amazon negative keywords is a challenging task for you or your team, consider if our Amazon PPC audit service is right for you.