Ask Auctiva: The Negatives of SEO

Search marketing expert explains what to know about 'negative keywords,' and how to use them.

by Sarah Brown
- Oct 07, 2013

You hear a lot about search engine optimization, how to use the right keywords for better search engine results and such. But have you ever heard the term "negative keywords?"

I sure hadn't. To find out more about this trick in SEO strategy, I talked to SEO expert Adele Pfister.

Brown: What are SEO negative keywords?

Pfister: I believe you are referring to "negative keywords" in the paid campaign sense. Paid campaigns are those in which the retailer bids on specific keywords from a search engine (in most cases Google) and, depending on their bid and what competitors are bidding on for that same term or terms, your link will appear in the paid search results section a certain number of times on a search engine results page.

Brown: So how do negative keywords work?

When you add 'cheap' to your negative term list, you are telling the ad campaign to not show your webpage for any search terms with the word 'cheap' in them

Pfister: When creating "paid campaigns," as they are called, there may be instances where you do not want your paid link coming up as a result for specific keywords. These keywords are called negative keywords. For example, when you add the term "cheap" to your negative term list in a paid campaign, you are telling the ad campaign to not show your paid link (webpage) for any search terms with the word "cheap" in them.

Brown: Does a seller want to focus on using negative keywords?

Pfister: This simply depends on whether the seller is running a paid search campaign. If they are not, they don't have to worry about these negative terms, and they simply should be focusing on organic optimization practices such as URL structure, appropriate inbound links, on-page content, page authority, social presence, etc.

Brown: Any tips for sellers to use negative keywords to help improve conversion rates?

Pfister: If the seller is utilizing a paid campaign, then I would highly recommend they do their keyword research, define the goals of their store and define their target audience in order to maximize their campaign. Also, identify what keywords they do not wish to advertise for.

There is also the instance when a keyword seems like a perfect fit for your store or product, but when you begin to search the term you realize that it is completely irrelevant to your product. Whether you are only optimizing organically or paid, you are likely going to want to stay away from these terms.

It was clear that, according to Google, users searching for 'door handles' were looking for car-door handles, not front-door handles

For example, a few years back when I was still new to this game, I worked in the search marketing department for an online home-improvement retailer. One of the products I was optimizing for was door handles, in regard to our door hardware category and subsequent webpages. The search volume for this term was huge at the time and competition was low, so I thought I had found some seriously low-hanging fruit.

But when I did a Google search for the term "door handles," every single result was to someone trying to sell me a car-door handle. It turns out this was not a term I wanted to go after since it was not relevant to what my product actually was. It was clear that, according to Google, users searching for "door handles" were looking for car-door handles, not front-door handles.

Things can always change, so keep this in mind. But your SEO efforts should always be ready to change with the search engines. One day "door handles" just might be the perfect term for that home improvement retailer, but at the time it was not.

Brown: Are there any Web tools out there for sellers to use in regards to this strategy?

Pfister: Yes, I suggest checking out Google's free keyword tool. You will now need a Google account to use it. Google is slowly rolling out some major changes to its search tools and this is one of them. Soon the keyword tool will no longer exist, and you will have to use the new Keyword Planner, so you may just want to start with it instead.

In addition, I would recommend these free tools:

  • Firefox's MOZ plugin SEO Rank Checker for seeing where your top keywords are performing in the ranks

  • MOZ's Open Site Explorer for checking in on your own pages, but also your competitors' pages

Brown: Thank you for your advice, Adele.

About the Author

Sarah Brown is a freelance writer who writes about e-commerce and small businesses. She recently graduated from Chico State with a journalism degree and is also a budding online entrepreneur, having launched two Web businesses and her own line of handmade products.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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