Negative Keywords In Branded Ad Campaign Increase CTR By 1600%


CTR On Ads




Cost Per Conversion

The Background

Overland Discovery is a veteran- and woman-owned, Colorado-based outdoor travel company that specializes in providing travelers with fully-equipped campervans, Jeep campers, and compact RVs for rent.

We began working with Overland Discovery in early 2020 to fully revamp their online presence with a new website, a robust content and email strategy, and a fresh look at their approach to search engine advertising.


The Problem

We launched a branded search campaign for Overland Discovery in April 2020. We usually expect branded search campaigns to perform strongly, as these are people specifically searching for a company they are already familiar with.

But over the first few weeks, our average click-through rate was as low as 2.46%! That means that only 24 out of every 1,000 people who saw our ad clicked on it — not so good for people who are already familiar with the brand.

The average click-through rate for search ads in Google Ads across all industries is 3.17%. That means our branded campaign was under the average for all search.

We had some analyzing to do. The knee-jerk reaction to an underperforming campaign can often be to rewrite ads or pause lower-performing ads and keywords. While this can sometimes be the right path, this solution can also be limiting.

If you’re trying to sell shoes, you might start by targeting the keyword “shoes.” But in addition to the people who are looking for shoes, your ads might also be shown to people who are looking for horseshoes (since “shoes” is in there).

As a result, you’ll likely see a pretty lackluster performance when it comes to CTR, since a portion of the people who see your ads aren’t going to click on an ad for shoes when they’re looking for horseshoes.

But that’s not to say that the current ads you have, or the current keywords you’re targeting, are all bad. Say 40% of the impressions were from people looking for horseshoes. If you just pause your “shoes” keyword, you’re also losing the 60% of people who were searching for the right thing.

And if you pause your poorly performing ads and rewrite them, you’ll still see a poor performance since you aren’t on topic for a large portion of your audience. No matter how good the copy might be, it just doesn’t apply.

So, pausing poor performing keywords too soon can be limiting because you might be losing out on legitimate traffic. Pausing ads in this example won’t make much of a difference.

No matter how good your ads are, you’re not going to drive clicks from people who are searching for something completely different — nor would you want to.

In the case of our client Overland Discovery, the “horseshoe” problem is exactly what we were up against. Our low CTR told us that something was wrong with how we’d set up our ads initially.

We dug into the exact searches that resulted in our ads being served to people (in the Search Terms report in Google Ads), and it’s there that we discovered the root of our problem.

It wasn’t the content of our ads causing the low CTR, it was the keywords we were targeting — or more specifically, the keywords we weren’t targeting.

Or, to be even more specific, it was the keywords that we weren’t weren’t targeting.

What does that mean? We’re talking about the misunderstood creature known as the negative keyword.

What exactly are negative keywords? Think of them as the yang to the normal keyword’s yin.

Just like we use keywords to tell Google Ads what queries we want our ad to appear in the results for, negative keywords can be used to specify what queries we don’t want our ad to show up for.

Our Objective:

  • To use negative keywords to exclude non-branded searches from our ad campaign in order to increase CTR
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The Solution

Rather than rework ads or pause any of our keywords, we added negative keywords to further limit when our ads would appear.

With name like Overland Discovery, the brand was popping up for all sorts of searches that weren’t actually related to people looking for the company. As it turns out, there are a lot of search queries out there that include the words “overland” and “discovery”:

  • “discovery ii overland”
  • “discovery overland”
  • “1990 overland discovery 30 class a rv”,
  • “land rover discovery for sale”

The list goes on. It was clear was these searches that were driving our CTR down so low. So we needed to use a negative keyword list to refine our ad delivery.

We wanted to target the same core keywords that we had, but we needed to clean things up to make sure that our ads only showed up for people looking for our brand, not searches that had nothing to do with our client Overland Discovery.

The Result

As a result of optimizing our negative keywords, our average CTR for the first 10 days after making the changes was 1,645% higher than we’d previously seen before the changes were begun (improving from an average of 2.46% to 42.99%), with some days achieving a CTR as high as 58.6%.

This allowed us to drive clicks much more efficiently. With more targeted ad delivery, we saw an overall decrease in spend but an increase in clicks, as well as more conversions on site.

We didn’t waste time and energy reworking ads, and we didn’t sacrifice the long-term success of the campaign by pausing keywords too soon.

The Takeaway

Sometimes, the solution in low branded ads is to rework the copy or pause certain keywords. But inexperienced advertisers may default to making these changes when performance is low without considering other options first.

By doing a bit of keyword research and focusing first on negative keywords, you can dial in the performance of your campaigns and get a better idea for the true baseline.

Once you’re confident that you’re showing up for the right searches, then looking at things like specific ad performance makes more sense.

Or if your ads are consistently showing up to the wrong people, ad copy doesn’t make a difference. They’re not going to click your ad because it’s not relevant, no matter what it says.

These detailed strategies are the kind of things we’re thinking about every day here at BKMedia Group, and it’s our expertise that allows us to create the digital marketing solutions that help our clients reach their goals.

If you could use a hand in growing your business with the power of search engine marketing, we’d love to help you out.

Learn about our search engine marketing services >

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