Over the course of her work, Zoe O’Neil spots lots of PPC ads that show up in strange places. It can raise a few laughs, but these irrelevant ads can be a drain on PPC budgets. Read on to see four of her latest discoveries, along with her quick-fix recommendations.

Building a list of keywords is like putting together party invitations.

You want loads of cool people to turn up to your dinosaur-themed fancy dress party, so you spread the net far and wide to make sure your ‘invitations’ (ads) show up in as many ‘letterboxes’ (search results) as possible.

You’ve got your T-Rex costume ready to go. But what if, when party night comes, swathes of revellers turn up in pirate outfits?

Awkward? Too right. And they’re not going to have too much fun when they find out they’re at the wrong party, sharing cocktails with velociraptors and diplodocuses.

Negative keywords help you refine your ‘guest list’, to ensure that the people who walk through your door are decked out in dinosaur garb and ready to party.

In the real world, this means getting the right people to your website – people who are looking for your products and are ready to buy.

And it means saving money – because every one of these unwanted visitors costs a click.

But as any experienced paid search professional knows, negative keywords aren’t always easy. It takes time to refine and optimise your keyword list.

If you’ve fallen foul of missed negatives, it might make you feel better to know you’re far from alone. Even big companies slip up with their synonyms from time to time…

1. I’ve got a headache. Why are you trying to sell me a portable computer?

It’s the morning after the dinosaur party. Your head’s pounding. You can’t even make it to your local pharmacy because the pain’s so bad. So you bring up Google and type ‘ibuprofen tablets’, in the desperate hope someone will offer courier delivery.

Instead, you find…

Ibuprofen-edited

“Great Tablets Have Intel Inside®”

All well and good. But that’s not going to help my headache.

It’s easy to make blunders with unusual synonyms. But Intel doesn’t show up for ‘paracetamol tablets’, so they’ve obviously considered the fact that medicine-related search queries might trigger their ads. Looks like they didn’t dig deep enough into their medical dictionary.

The Fix:

This one’s easy. Get hold of a list of popular medicines and add them to the campaign’s negative list on broad match. This should stop the ads appearing for any medicine-related queries (but it’s worth double checking before posting the changes).

2. I wanted to go for a stroll. Are you saying I’m unclean?

So you’ve taken a short holiday in the picturesque city of Bath, Somerset. You’re keen to take in the sights of the city on foot, so you lace up your walking shoes and type ‘walks in bath’, ready to get some exercise.

Instead, you find…

walks-in-bath-edited

Three separate companies offering an easier way to bathe. That’s a lot of Google real estate to take up with something entirely wrong.

It could be argued that some people might accidently type ‘walks in bath’ when they mean ‘walk-in bath’. But the organic results are all about walking routes and related subjects, so it doesn’t look like any SEOs are making the same assumption.

Oh, and there are dodgy ads appearing for ‘bath walks’ too…

bath-walks-edited

The Fix:

This one’s a bit more tricky. If they put ‘walks in bath’ as a negative on broad match, they risk cutting out all their essential campaign keywords in the process.

Instead, they should opt for ‘walks in bath’ as a negative on phrase match. This will also tackle queries like ‘long walks in bath’, and ‘walks in bath somerset’.

3. Well I guess I should be thinking about my appearance when I’m doing the garden…

When you search for practical, no-frills ‘gardening bags’, it’s unlikely that the latest fashions will be high on your list of priorities.

Unless you’re Light in the Box, that is…

gardening-bags-edited

The retailer promises ‘8,000+ Bags, Tote, Crossbody & More Fashions’.

This sounds very appealing, but not very practical when you’re clipping topiary and turning soil.

I joke. This is another easy trap to fall in to, but this ad needs weeding out – the URL even points to ‘/HandBags’.

The Fix:

This is the fault of Dynamic Keyword Insertion, which we’ll be talking about in more detail later.

At first appearance, this is an easy fix – simply put ‘gardening’ as a broad match negative to stop fashion-related ads appearing for gardening-related queries.

However, Light in the Box sells gardening products, as well as fashion items. So it’s important that they’re selective about the campaigns they apply these negative keywords to.

4. Own your own historic midlands town

Near to our offices in Lichfield, Staffordshire, there’s quite a nice town called Tamworth. You should look it up.

In fact, if you really like the look of the place, you could even buy it…

tamworth-edited

“Feed your passion on eBay!”, it says. Feed your passion for buying Staffordshire’s second largest settlement! Go crazy!

Of course, eBay has a bit of a reputation for this sort of thing. It makes heavy use of Dynamic Keyword Insertion, which allows you to generate ads on the fly for all manner of useful and relevant keywords.

The trouble is, as eBay shows, it can easily get out of hand.

The auction giant released a study a while back stating that (to paraphrase) paid search ads have no measurable benefit. But for those of us who had been monitoring its ‘target everything’ approach to PPC for years, the ‘no measurable benefit’ was of little surprise.

By releasing the report, eBay unwittingly became something of a case study for misuse (or underuse) of negative keywords. Put simply, paid search won’t work unless you’re willing to spend time optimising your account and identifying negatives.

eBay seems to have tightened its ship since, and doesn’t bid on such a wide range of keywords anymore. But once in a while, ads like this slip through.

The Fix

Now, it’s easy to be hard on eBay. But you can see why they took this approach – after all, with such a wide product selection, they’ve got arguably the most difficult job in the world when it comes to implementing negative keywords.

And you could argue that incongruous ads like this do a good job of grabbing the attention and getting people to click through to eBay’s site, where the urge to browse will inevitably overcome them…

They’re unlikely to get healthy conversion rates on ads like this, though. So eBay’s best approach can be summed up in three words… diligence, diligence, diligence.

They need to be on the lookout for situations like these and, little-by-little, implement negative keywords on their campaigns.

It’s a neverending process of optimisation. But to revive the metaphor, it all adds up to a better ‘guest list’, and a cheaper, more enjoyable party. Rock on.

Have you spotted any PPC ads in unusual places? Share your discoveries in the comments section below!

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About the author:

Zoe Bates oversees the operation of client services and ensures we deliver outstanding work for clients through creativity, quality control and process improvement. Zoe’s vast background in search marketing includes managing paid search campaigns for First Choice and product manager and shareholder at Europe’s leading search marketing technology company, working with brands across global markets and tailoring search strategies across multiple countries.