PPC Management: Keyword List Expansion + Negative Keywords

By jameszol
Published on September 16, 2008

The semvironment PPC Management series will cover a variety of regular management activities in depth. This series will be posted every month or two. We chose Keyword List Expansion and Negative keywords as our first topic because of the recent quality score changes in Google. Refining and managing your keyword lists is going to be even more vital to your success than it has been previously.

We hope you like it, comment on it, link to it, point fingers at it, poke it, and help us grow this guide – it will be dynamic. We will strive to keep it updated with the best comments and input while giving credit where credit is due!


Table Of Contents

1. How To Use This Guide [top]

semvironment PPC Management guides are designed to be simple, easy to understand and easy to implement. We don’t think any of this information is overly complicated – it is just time consuming and tedious…and your competitors are too lazy to do it so it can give you an instant competitive advantage over them!

This guide is simple. There are no real rules to using it. :) Just take the step by step guides one at a time so they’re easy to digest or you can take 1 or 2 hours and implement the entire thing so you can feel warm and fuzzy inside.

2. Definitions [top]

Keyword list expansion consists of taking the keywords that are ranking well organically and that are generating conversions and efficiently adding them to your campaigns and ad groups. This should be a regular activity for any PPC Manager.

Negative keywords are those search queries you don’t want your ad to be displayed on. These are words that may appear fraudulent, unrelated to your landing page, unrelated to your product or service, etc. Many times words have multiple meanings, and adding negative keywords allows you to filter out those searches that shouldn’t apply to your intended keyword meaning.

3. Theory [top]

Negative Keywords and Your Quality Score [top]

Negative keywords are meant to improve your quality score – even more so now than a few months ago. With the recent changeover to dynamic quality scores, every query now has a quality score attached to it. If your clicks are irrelevant to the ad and landing page, you are going to be paying more for that click because the quality level is poor!

The following are the theories behind each major element of the Quality Score as it relates to negative keywords and your key performance indicators as a company:

CTR – Your click through rate is probably not going to be high for a keyword that’s irrelevant to your advertisement or landing page. This will make the query’s quality score poor and your costs high for that certain phrase. Adding that phrase or a portion of that phrase as a negative will improve your click through rate and your quality score.

Relevancy – Relevancy drives clicks drives action drives quality. :) The user experience is a big focus at any of the search engines, so if you can make your campaign more relevant, then you will lower your overall costs. One way to make your campaign more relevant is to make sure all queries that are triggering clicks are relevant. You can do this by aggressively using negative keywords.

Advertisement – Negative keywords not only apply to your keyword list, but also apply to your advertisement. Are you using dynamic keyword insertion? If yes, then you are making your ad more relevant to search, but if you aren’t using negative keywords in your strategy you are making your ad less relevant to your key performance indicators. Everyone’s seen the ads that say “Looking for Garbage Man? Find it at Amazon…” Not only does the grammar work out wrong, but it’s just silly.

Landing Page – Dynamic landing pages follow a similar pattern to advertisements. If you’re not aggressive with negative keywords, then don’t use dynamic keyword insertion in your landing pages. It makes your company look funny and is not relevant to the user if the keyword should be negative and your overall objective is not being met.

Keyword List Expansion [top]

Expanding your keyword list with keywords that are meeting your company objectives is one of the best ways to consistently lower your cost per acquisition on the web. You are simply taking an acquisition that occurred through a keyword you are not advertising with – but incurred a click through broad match technology – and adding it to a specific ad group (with the potential for a separate ad group and advertisement). This puts the odds in your favor for a lower cost for those types of acquisitions in the future.

Keyword List Expansion and your Quality Score [top]

Keyword expansion can be tricky when it comes to the Quality Score. The search engines are increasing minimum bids on long tail terms and giving you errors when there is not enough search volume in that space. But, for at least 80% of the keywords you expand into, you will be increasing your account quality and decreasing your click costs in general.

The following are theories behind each major element of the Quality Score as it relates to keyword expansion and your key performance indicators as a company:

CTR – Your click through rate should increase because the search engines favor those with better ad positions and lower click costs if they are targeting the exact query.

Relevancy - Obviously relevant? If you are advertising on the exact keyword, you are already ahead of the relevancy curve.

Advertisement - The ad will need customization to include as many words in the phrase as is practical. The ad needs to make sense. Use dynamic keyword insertion for these expanded ad groups and lists! If you know they convert, make the ad as ‘click sticky’ as possible… the more clicks you get, the more conversions you stand to receive.

Landing Page – While we’re working on expanding our keyword list with highly relevant, transactional keywords, let’s get cracking on the dynamic landing pages! Or, create custom landing pages that fit the mold of one or two ad groups or a small group of ad groups at a time! Your quality score will increase, thereby decreasing your overall costs even more.

4. Your First Keyword List [top]

When you initiate a campaign or ad group, you probably engage in some kind of keyword research. Here are a few ways to avoid clicks that will not convert before they happen:

1. Open a text editor so you can write down negative keywords while you are doing your research and building your campaign/ad group keyword list.

2. Find a big list of negative keywords and add all that are applicable to your campaign/ad group.

3. Don’t use broad match if the search results for your most general query are for something entirely unrelated – a good example is ‘apple’…especially if you’re selling the fruit. Don’t advertise on ‘apple’ but advertise with phrase and exact (or standard match in Yahoo!) on ‘red apple’ or ‘fresh apples’, etc.

Next, we discuss the filters and settings that will prepare you for the regular task of finding more negative keywords and expanding your keyword list.

5. Negative Keywords [top]

What makes a keyword ‘negative’? [top]

A negative keyword is a word or phrase that you do not want your advertisement to be displayed for. A few reasons that make it necessary to make a keyword negative are:

Zero conversions

Expensive conversions

Expensive clicks

Limited budget

Bad brand association

Not relevant for the user

Quality improvements

Lowering costs

And various other reasons…

How to Add Negative Keywords in Google

If you have negative keywords that apply to the whole campaign:

1. Go to your Campaign Summary page and click on a campaign.

  1. Your campaign details will show up in the upper left of the page. Simply click “Add” or “Edit” next to your negative keyword summary:If you don’t have any negative keywords:

Conversion soup…yum! :)

If you have a bunch of negative keywords:

If you have negative keywords that apply to an ad group:

1. Drill down to your ad group level: Campaign Management->Campaign Summary->Click any campaign and you see a list of ad groups in that campaign.

2. Click an ad group.

3. In the left middle part of your screen you should see a link that says “Quick Add”. Click on it to add negative keywords.

4. Add your list of negative keywords but make sure you add the minus sign in front of the word! Example: -negative keyword or phrase

5. Don’t forget to save!

There are other ways to add negative keywords, but the ones we just discussed are quick and easy. They take only a few seconds in the UI!

How to Add Negative Keywords in Yahoo! [top]

Yahoo! only gives us the ability to add 250 “excluded” keywords at the account and ad group levels.

To add negative keywords at the account level (great for bulk general negative keyword lists), do the following:

1. After you log in, click on the Administration tab.

2. Click on “Edit” in your Tactic Settings found in the lower right of the Admin Page.

3. On the right side of your Tactic Settings screen there is a text box for “Excluded Keywords” or Negative keywords. Add your list of negative keywords in that text box, then click “Save Changes” and you’re all set at the account level!

Yahoo! doesn’t let us add negatives at the campaign level, so we will proceed to ad groups!

To add negative keywords at the ad group level:

1. There are two different ways to get to your ad groups. You can click on the Campaign tab, then the Ad Groups link, or click a Campaign, then an ad group. You get to choose how you want to get to an ad group – just get there! :)

2. When you’re at an ad group summary page, click on “Ad Group Settings” found near the ad group name in the upper left corner.

3. Click on “Tactic Settings”.

4. Yahoo! Will sometimes automatically hides the ‘Excluded Keyword’ feature, so you might have to click ’show’. (You can find the Excluded Keyword area in the upper right area of the Tactics box)

5. Simply add your list of negative keywords in that text box, then click “Save Changes” and you’re all set at the ad group level!

Whew, all done in Yahoo! It takes a bit longer than Google, and we are limited to 250 “Excluded keywords” at the account level plus another 250 at the ad group level.

How to Add Negative Keywords in MSN

To bulk replace the campaign negative keyword lists:

1. Click the campaigns tab.

2. Click “Bulk Edit”.

3. Add your keywords. Do not include the minus sign and separate keywords/phrases with a comma instead of one per line.

**Warning: This will replace all your existing campaign negative keywords if you have some already set. You may need to edit each campaign individually!

  1. Click Apply if you want these negative keywords to replace all campaign negative keywords.

To edit the negative keywords at the campaign level invidually:

1. Click the Campaigns tab.

2. Click on a campaign.

3. Click “Edit Campaign Settings”.

4. Add your negative keywords, separated with commas, into the lower right corner of the Campaign Settings page.

5. Save!

Follow these same instructions for adCenter Ad Group bulk or individual Ad Group negative keyword editing. If you use ad group negative keywords, campaign negative keywords will not apply to that ad group.

One thing that is very unique to adCenter is the ability to add negative keywords on a single keyword! Be careful though, whatever negative you add to a single keyword will over-ride all ad group and campaign negative keywords.

To edit the negative keywords at the keyword level:

1. Drill down to your keywords. Campaign tab -> Campaign -> Ad Group -> Keywords.

2. Click “Edit Keywords”.

3. Scroll down until you see your keyword list and start listing your negative keywords associated with specific keywords!

4. Don’t forget to separate negative keywords/phrases by a comma.

5. Press continue…

Notes about adCenter: You are limited in adCenter to 100 characters for a negative phrase and 1024 characters, including commas, for an entire negative keyword list. This is quite restrictive so be very strategic with your negative keywords in adCenter!

6. Keyword List Expansion

What keywords should you add to your campaigns/ad groups? [top]

I like to add keywords that convert or engage a user. If I find a keyword I like, I will expand on it through research and discovery, especially if it has converted. For example, if the word “basket weaving class” converts for me, then I will go to a keyword research tool to develop permutations and variations of that keyword. Then I will add that new list of keywords to the appropriate ad group/campaign.

How do you find the right keywords? [top]

Review your Analytics and Query Reports regularly (See Section’s 7 and

Survey your users/customers

Survey your sales reps

And, of course, there are a lot more things you can try!

7. Filters and Settings

How these filters/settings apply to negative keywords and keyword expansion [top]

The following filters are a preliminary or preparatory step to getting the data you need to adequately and efficiently manage your keyword lists.

All of the filters/settings we’ll be talking about boil down to the level of detail you want to see in your reports when scouting for keywords to add to your ad groups or keywords to add to your negative keyword list. When you are persistent about checking for negatives/keyword expansion opportunities, you gain a competitive advantage that most advertisers don’t have. Your costs will come down, so you can outbid and out-qualify your competition.

Google Analytics Filters [top]

1. Click on Analytics from your AdWords account or sign into your Google Analytics account:

2. You can choose to skip this step if you want to edit your current website Analytics profile – we recommend you create a separate profile. Click on Add Website Profile >>:

4. Choose to add a profile to an existing domain:

5. Pick your domain, label the profile, make sure you have a check mark in the Apply Cost Data section and click finish:

6. You should see your new profile listed with any other profiles you already have:

7. Now you need to edit the settings of your new profile – Click on Edit next to your new profile:

Analytics Filter 1

8. Find the Filters Applied to Profile section and click Add Filter:

9. Choose to Add new Filter for Profile:

10. Give your filter a good name, drop down to the Custom Filter type and choose the Advanced option:

11. In Field A -> Extract A choose the Referral drop down and copy and paste this code into the available field -


12. In Field B -> Extract B choose the Campaign Medium drop down and copy and paste this code into the available field -


13. In Output To -> Constructor choose the Custom Field 1 drop down and copy and paste this code into the available field -


14. Make sure all fields are required and they do not need to be case sensitive, then click Finish:

15. You should be back on the profile settings page where you can see this first filter has been applied to your detailed analytics profile.

Analytics Filter 2

16. Repeat steps 9 through 11 to create a second filter. Remember to give the second filter a different name and give this filter the attributes outlined in steps 18 through 21. ***You NEED both filters for detailed keyword data to work!***

17. In Field A -> Extract A choose the Custom Field 1 drop down and copy and paste this code into the available field -


18. In Field B -> Extract B choose the Campaign Term drop down and copy and paste this code into the available field -


19. In Output To -> Constructor choose the Campaign Term drop down and copy and paste this code into the available field -

$B1, ($A1)

20. Make sure all fields are required and they do not need to be case sensitive, then click Finish:

21. You should be back on the profile settings page where you can see this second filter has been applied to your detailed analytics profile. Make sure they are in the order we described: Filter 1 should be listed BEFORE Filter 2 under the Filters Applied to Profile section.

Now you need to wait a few hours for the data to be captured and reported. When you revisit Analytics, you simply need to look at these reports and note the added data next to your AdWords keywords:

Traffic Sources -> Keywords

- or -

Traffic Sources -> AdWords -> Keyword Positions

Or a number of other reports…

The data in your old Analytics profile should look like this:

And the data in your new profile should look like this:

The keywords shown in parentheses (key+word) is the exact term the user searched when they found and clicked on your advertisement.

We cover the credits and sources here at this blog post – lot’s of high value comments there too if you want more information about these filters.

AdWords Data in Google Analytics [top]

1. Log into AdWords and click on My Account -> Account Preferences:

2. Find the Tracking section in Account Preferences and make sure Auto-tagging is set to “yes”:

Conversion Data in Analytics

1. Go to your Analytics tab from AdWords or sign into Google Analytics.

2. Click ‘edit’ in the Settings column of the profile you want to edit.

3. Click ‘edit’ under the settings column for your Goals G1-G4, whichever you want to set.

4. Fill in your Goal Information and Define your goal’s funnel.

Goal Information

Turn the goal ‘on’. :)

Choose your Goal’s match type.

Exact Match – From Google Help:

“This option requires that the URLs entered as your funnel and goal URLs exactly match the URLs shown in the reports. For example, there can be no dynamic session identifiers, query parameters. Exact matches can also be regular expressions.

When setting your goals, it’s ideal to remove the hostname from your goal URL. For example, if your goal is www.domain.com/1/thanks.html, enter ^/1/thanks\.html as your goal.

If you are using an exact match for a goal (i.e. http://domain.com/page.html), any trailing spaces will cause the goal to be invalid. If you are using partial matching (i.e. ^/page.html), trailing spaces are not an issue.”

Head Match – From Google Help:

“If your website has dynamically generated content, use the Head Match filter and leave out the unique values.

For example, if the URL for a particular user is http://www.example.com/checkout.cgi?page=1&id=9982251615 but the ‘id’ varies for every other user, enter http://www.example.com/checkout.cgi?page=1 and select Head Match as your Match Type.”

Regular Expression Match – This match type is quite advanced, but very useful. We use it quite a bit for large sites. From Google Help:

“This option uses regular expressions to match your URLs. This is useful when the stem, trailing parameters, or both, can vary between users.
For example, if a user could be coming from one of many subdomains, and your URLs use session identifiers, use regular expressions to define the constant element of your URL. For example, page=1 will match http://sports.example.com/checkout.cgi?page=1&id=002 as well as http://fishing.example.com/checkout.cgi?page=1&language=fr&id=119.”

Learn more about regular expressions that Google Analytics supports here.

Type in your Goal URL – make sure you format it correctly so it corresponds with your Goal Match Type!

Give your goal a name.

We regularly give our goals very simple names that define the action. A lead is a ‘lead’, a sale is a ’sale’, a partial lead is a ‘partial lead’. Keep it simple. :)

Is your goal URL case sensitive? If so, mark the box.

Always, always, always add some sort of monetary value to your goals.

Tying a value to a goal helps you monetize or visualize the value of your site; even if the ‘mini’ goals do not make actual revenue, you can normally assume that there is value to a visitor reaching the ‘mini’ conversion. It takes time to learn and adjust to the right values, but getting into the practice of it will help your focus and increase your drive to create action on your website!

Define Funnel (Optional)

From the Define Funnel section -

“A funnel is a series of pages leading up to to the Goal URL. For example, the funnel may include steps in your checkout process that lead to the thank you page (goal).

Please note that the funnels and ‘Required step’ that you’ve defined here only apply to the Funnel Visualization Report.

Note: URL should not contain the domain (e.g. For a step page “http://www.mysite.com/step1.html” enter “/step1.html”).”

Example Goal Funnel -

Step 1 = /product-page.php
Step 2 = /shopping-cart.php
Step 3 = /checkout.php
Step 4 = /checkout-confirmation.php
Goal = already defined

Implemented like so:

Save your changes.

You should start to see conversion data within a few hours! :)

Tagging URLS

You can tag all of your URLs for Google Analytics tracking via this nifty URL tagging tool. The tool isn’t very scalable, so using dynamic tags will help you scale quickly and efficiently.

Tagging your URLs will give you detailed keyword data from other search engines/PPC platforms – not just from Google.


If you turned on auto-tagging in AdWords, then Google’s clicks are automatically being dynamically tagged. If you haven’t turned on auto-tagging… do it! :)

You can find a ton of data about AdWords auto-tagging here.


Yahoo! tracking variables and additional information can be found here. What follows is a brief summary.

Some of Yahoo!’s dynamic variables are:

Paid Keyword = {YSMKEY)

Actual Search Query = {YSMRAW}

Yahoo! Ad ID = {YSMADID}

Yahoo! Campaign ID = {YSMCAMPGID}

How you should tag your destination URLs in Yahoo! -


If you use other dynamic variables, like a dynamic landing page, then you will simply add the tag like this -


You can manually use Yahoo!’s UI to copy the tag onto the end of every destination URL for every advertisement or simply download your campaigns from Yahoo! into an Excel document, concantenate the dynamic tag with your existing destination URL, then reupload your document into Yahoo!.

Don’t forget to turn on Tracking URLS in Yahoo!, or these tags won’t work as designed:

Log into Yahoo! -> click the Administration tab -> click Tracking URLS -> turn on Tracking URLS -> Save Changes

A great post on alternative tags for Yahoo! can be found here.


Our source for this came from the only result for a search for “query string” in adCenter’s help section.

MSN’s dynamic variables are:

Term = {QueryString}

Ad ID = {AdID}

Campaign ID = {OrderItemID}

How you should tag your destination URLs in MSN:


If you use other dynamic variables, like a dynamic landing page, then you will simply add the tag like this -


MSN Auto tags your URLs if the dynamic variables are there. You can use adCenter’s UI to add the tags to your destination URLs, or you can follow a similar pattern from Yahoo!. Download the campaign or account, concantenate the tag to the existing URL, save and reupload to MSN.

PPC Hero also posted about this here.

8. Automating Reports

Automating Google Analytics Reports[top]

On almost every report page you will see a little menu above the main title of your report that contains buttons to ‘export,’ ‘email,’ or ‘add to dashboard.’ I recommend adding some critical reports to your dashboard, but for a consistent, persistent reminder I recommend that you review and add negative keywords or expand your keyword lists. We’ll use the ‘email’ function.

After clicking the ‘email’ button, click on the ’schedule’ tab to schedule the email report.

Fill out the information in that form, set your schedule and hit ’schedule’. I recommend getting the information sent in CSV form for easy keyword copying/pasting, although the PDF is a lot prettier. :)

Analytics Keyword Reports (Paid/Organic)

Google Analytics keyword reports can be accumulated in a variety of ways, but we’re going to show you one of the easier ways to arrive at your paid and organic keyword reports.

When viewing your site’s Google Analytics, Click on ‘Traffic Sources’ in the menu located to the left of your Dashboard stats. Then click ‘Keywords,’ and you will arrive at a ‘total’ keyword report that includes paid and non-paid (usually organic) keywords.

Click on the dates in the upper right corner to specify a relevant date range:


What keywords are you paying for? Click on ‘paid’ (this link is found under the data graph on the left side towards the main Analytics menu).

In the lower right corner of the page, choose the number of keywords you want to view at a time:

Now automate this report!


To review your organic keyword based traffic, click on ‘non-paid’ (this link is found under the data graph, on the left side towards the main Analytics menu).

In the lower right corner of the page, choose the number of keywords you want to view at a time:

Now automate this report!

Analytics Conversion Reports

Repeat the Analytics Keyword reports, but click on the Goal Conversion tab to get conversion data in the reports you are emailing yourself.

The Analytics reports outlined above are critical to understanding your other paid search platforms and their exact queries. AdWords gives us a little bit more to work with than Analytics: The AdWords Search Query Report.

AdWords Search Query Report

Click on your report tab in AdWords, then click create report.

Under ‘1. Report Type’ select the “Search Query Performance” report.

‘2. Settings’ can be anything you want them to be, but I would suggest this configuration: Level of Detail: Ad; Unit of Time: Summary; Date Range: Yesterday (if daily activity); Campaigns and Ad Groups: All.

‘3. Advanced Settings’ are optional. For this activity and this particular report, we are simply doing extensive keyword research and management, so we only need a few metrics to keep us focused on the activity. Place a check in the following: Campaign, Ad Group, Ad ID, Search Query, Search Query Match Type, Clicks and Conversions.

You can add filters if you want – they can be found under section 3 ‘Filter your Results’. For example, you might only be concerned with keywords that generated 5 clicks or more:

Please note that you can add more restrictions or remove any restrictions by simply clicking on the little blue links to the right of the filter or underneath the filter.
‘4. Templates, Scheduling, and Email’ is probably the most important part to the whole process because you can schedule the report, thereby automating the gathering process and making your job that much easier.

Simply check the box next to ‘Schedule this report to run automatically’ and choose your timing. You will probably want it to correspond with the custom date range you specified in the report. If you are looking at yesterday’s report, then schedule the report to run daily.

Next, check the Email box and insert your email address there with the attachment type you want to receive every time the report runs.

Finally, click ‘Create Report’.

You are finally at a point where you can reap the rewards by reviewing your automated reports regularly, adding negative keywords or expanding your keyword list appropriately, and thereby saving money and driving down your costs per acquisition!

9. Other Discovery Methods [top]

Search Suggest [top]

One activity that I do regularly is type in several keywords each day to see what the search engines suggest. I will normally find a few negative keywords that I need to add or I will see opportunities for list expansion.
For the following images:

Items in red are what I would look at as potential negatives if I did not offer loan solutions to college students, unemployed individuals, etc.

Items in blue could expand my keyword list by targeting “loans online” and “loans by web”. I would then go to a thesaurus to find other ways to say “web” or “online” and trace that route until I had several new keywords to add to my campaigns.

Google Search Suggest

Yahoo! Search Suggest

Ask Search Suggest

Review the Results

Simply search the terms that you are advertising with or plan on advertising with and review the results. Do you see any other keywords or phrases you should add? Are the results typical of what you are offering or is there a mismatch? If you find mismatches, make sure you add those terms as negative keywords or if you find opportunities, add those terms as part of your keyword list expansion process!

Keyword Research Tools

There are keyword research tools within each search platform,but the following are free, quick and easy to access.

When I see a word that I want to expand on or create a negative list for, I will simply visit these tools and look for variations, permutations, etc.

Google’s Keyword Suggestion Tool

Microsoft AdLabs – You can find mutations, groups, and more here…probably one of my favorites!

Keyword Discovery


Appendix A: Huge Lists Of Negative Keywords [top]

Big Lists of Negative Keywords or Expansion Opportunities

There are two lists combined in this file: One from Engine Ready Software and the other from KoMarketing Associates.

Download the .txt file here!

Bookmark or Share It Here:

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

One Response to “PPC Management: Keyword List Expansion + Negative Keywords”

  1. Best of The Web - Blog Posts and Articles Of Year 2008 says:

    [...] PPC Management: Keyword List Expansion + Negative Keywords on SEMvironment.com. Huge guide (30+ pages) to finding keyword list expansion opportunities and weeding out the negative keywords. The first half is mostly for beginners but the filters, settings and automation sections lean toward the intermediate ppc manager. [...]

Leave a Reply

About Semvironment

Learn more about Semvironment, one of the world’s top pay-per-click marketing management companies.

Press Center

Feature articles and noteworthy instances of Semvironment in the news.

Hall of Fame

Read our most talked about news stories and PPC management training guides.