Negative Keywords for Amazon PPC: The Complete Guide (2019 Update)

Targeting popular keywords is an efficient PPC strategy to get relevant customers exposed to your product, but it’s just as important to remove keywords that are actually hurting your campaign through negative keywords.

Negative Keywords are the words or phrases that prevent your ad from appearing on an Amazon SERP (Search Engine Results Page) when those terms are in a customer’s search query.  In other words, you would use a Negative Keyword to tell Amazon when you don’t want your ad to show.

Let’s say you were selling plastic spoons on Amazon, and you were bidding for the phrase keyword “spoons”. With no negative keywords, your ad for plastic spoons could appear if someone searched for “wooden spoons” because Amazon thinks these keywords are more similar than they really are.

They might even click your ad, realize it wasn’t what they wanted, and immediately leave. Amazon will still charge you for all those clicks, but you have no sales to show for it.

Plastic spoons ad on a wooden spoon search query on Amazon
A real example I found on Amazon. This could be you if you're not careful!

It’s possible you’re appearing for hundreds if not thousands of searches that are:

  • Irrelevant
  • Unprofitable
  • Have low click-through-rates (CTR)
  • Have low conversion rates
So how do you make sure this isn’t unknowingly happening to you?

Don’t worry, the Badger’s here to help. We created this guide so that anyone, no matter their PPC skill level, can learn to wield the power of negative keywords.

Even better, we’ve developed a negative keyword tool that will automate the whole negative keyword process for your PPC campaign.

Here’s what you can look forward to learning in the Badger Den today:

  1. How are negative keywords different from other keywords on Amazon?
  2. The dangers of not using negative keywords
  3. How to find Negative Keywords
  4. How to add Negative Keywords in Amazon Seller Central
  5. Using Ad Badger’s suite of Negative Keyword tools
  6. Common questions

How Are Negative Keywords Different From Other Keywords On Amazon?

Simply put, negative keywords are the opposite of normal keywords (this is why you’ll sometimes hear us refer to normal keywords as “positive keywords”).

Positive keywords trigger our ads to show on a search page, while negative keywords keep our finger off the trigger for that page. It allows us to narrow down our target audience based on their search queries.

Additionally, regular keywords have three different match types: broad, phrase, and exact. Negative keywords only have two: phrase and exact. You can learn more about how to choose a keyword match type here. 

Negative Phrase Match

A negative phrase match prevents your ad from appearing in any search queries that contain your set of words in their exact sequence (with allowance for plurals and slight misspellings).

For example, if we had “junior tennis rackets” as a negative phrase, here are some queries that would show your ad and others that would block it.

Examples of negative phrase match
Note: Amazon only allows a max of 4 words for your negative phrase

The first two show the ad because they don’t contain the exact phrase, just parts of it. The last two contain the whole negative phrase and thus are blocked.

Negative Exact Match

With negative exact the search term must match your keyword exactly (with allowance for plurals and slight misspellings).

So what would happen if we had “junior tennis rackets” as a negative exact?

Results of negative exact match
You can only have a max of 10 words for negative exact

While it has the whole match in it, your ad will still show because it also includes extra words outside of the negative exact match. The last two contain only the whole negative phrase or a misspelling, so they’re blocked.

The Dangers of Not using Negative Keywords

You risk the following consequences if you choose to neglect negative keywords in your Amazon PPC campaign:

  • Unnecessary, wasteful spend
  • Opportunity cost of wasted spend
  • Lower product ranking
  • Keyword cannibalization

Unnecessary, Wasteful Spend

When running auto campaigns (or manual campaigns with broad/phrase match keywords), we are aiming to increase our visibility at the risk of appearing in searches that may be irrelevant or unprofitable.

This is a risk we’re willing to take until we have enough data to download our search term report and actually see which search terms are eating up your budget with no sales in return.

Use your search term report to find what keywords you should block
Spending $36 on a keyword that doesn't generate any sales is a one-way ticket to PPC demise.

At this point, to keep bidding on these terms would be like Charlie Brown falling for the ol’ football prank. 

Charlie Brown kicking the football GIF
Some things never get old

Even though your CPC or Total Spend on a certain search term may seem small, carry this across dozens of campaigns, hundreds of ad groups, and literally thousands of search terms and you’ll see that it all adds up really fast.

Total spend of non-converting search terms in 2 months
Total spend of non-converting search terms in 2 months.

This screenshot is from an account that didn’t optimize their negative keywords, resulting in $10,625 of wasted spend over a 60-day period, which was 40% of their total ad spend!

Opportunity Cost of Wasted Ad Spend

If you have a strict daily budget, and you spend 40% of it on irrelevant search terms, the opportunity cost of an actual conversion is much greater! You’ve cut your advertising campaigns short by blowing your budget on searches that are meaningless to your product.

Negative keywords allow you to reallocate wasted spend so that every cent of your advertising budget is targeting conversions.

Lower Product Ranking

Not only do bad search terms earn unqualified leads, but they also lead to a low CTR.

When you and a competitor vie for the same search page, Amazon decides who gets the best positioning based on each product’s history. We made a whole post about how Amazon ranking works, but for now suffice it to say that CTR is critical.

If you’ve been showing up for hundreds of irrelevant search queries, your CTR has likely plummeted (a negative mark in Amazon’s eyes). That means when it comes time to bid for a search that’s actually relevant, Amazon will deem your low-performing product as less-worthy than your competitor for the top spot because he optimized his CTR with negative keywords.

This also impacts your organic ranking and could push your product from the first page to the second. And nobody likes to be second.

Truer words have ne'er been spoken, Kanye. GIF courtesy of GIPHY.

Keyword Cannibalization

Another major consequence of neglecting negative keywords is what we call “keyword cannibalization.” That’s what happens when two of your campaigns or ad groups compete against each other for the same keyword. In the end, both ad groups will get less clicks than if you had just one showing for that keyword.

Here’s an example:

You have two products in two separate ad groups. In the first ad group, you’re selling traditional vacuums, so you bid on the phrase-match keyword “vacuum.” In the second ad group, you’re selling those little droid-type vacuums, and you bid on the same phrase-match keyword.

If a customer typed “vacuum robot” into their Amazon search, both of your ad groups would qualify to show up on the page.

Why’s that a problem?

Because you can’t control the order in which your ads will appear. There’s a chance your traditional vacuum will outrank your vacuum robot, pushing it to the bottom of the page. This makes it less likely that that product will be seen, even though it’s more relevant to those search terms!

That is keyword cannibalism, much like actual cannibal Shia Labeouf

The problem is exasperated if that product has a higher profit margin or conversion rate.

This is what your less-relevant ad just did to your breadwinner.

Adding the term “vacuum robot” as a negative keyword to your traditional vacuum’s ad group would prevent this from happening.

How to Find Negative Keywords

Thanks to the measurability of Amazon Advertising, it’s pretty easy to identify which search terms are causing your campaigns grief. Using this data, we found ways to build a safety net around your campaigns to prevent these terms from wreaking further havoc.

The following metrics are guidelines (not laws) which can be adjusted to fit different niches. Here are three metrics you should use to identify low-performing terms that should be turned into negative keywords:

  • Low CTR non-converters
  • High spend non-converters
  • High click non-converters

Low CTR Non-Converters

Search terms that get your ad over 2500 impressions with less than 0.18% CTR and no conversions aren’t worth your time. They’re hurting your product’s rank. Stop them.

High Spend Non-Converters

This might vary based on your budget and your product’s profit margins, but it’s safe to say any search terms creating more than $35 in ad spend with no conversions should be eliminated.

High Click Non-Converters

Given that the average conversion rate for Amazon sellers is 9.8%, anything with over 34 clicks that hasn’t converted yet is already suffering miserably. Kill it.

Exceptions to the Rule

Sometimes a seller will target a competitor’s brand name as a positive keyword.

As an example, Pepsi-Cola runs Sponsored Product Ads on the keyword “coke” in attempt to steal customers from their rival. Search queries containing the word “coke” obviously won’t convert as well as those with the word “pepsi,” or even “cola.” But Pepsi still wants the paid traffic in case there’s a chance they can snatch away a wavering consumer.

When targeting a competitor’s brand, you will need to forgive your keywords’ bad performance because they have a more difficult target. If you have a tool that automates the negative keyword process for you, be sure to whitelist any competitor’s keywords that you’re bidding on.

How to Add Negative Keywords in Amazon Seller Central

Step 1: Navigate to your desired campaign/ad group. Negative keywords will do different things at the different levels.

Campaign Level

When you add a negative keyword at the campaign level, it’s automatically added to all the ad groups in that campaign.

Ad Group Level

Adding a negative keyword to an ad group will keep you from appearing in all searches that would have otherwise triggered your ad because of the positive keywords in that ad group.

 Step 2: Click the “Negative Keywords” tab

Step 3: Select which match type you want (negative phrase or negative exact)

Step 4: Add your negative keywords (make sure each keyword goes on a separate line)

Step 5: Click “Add keywords” and then “Save”

And you’re done! You can remove a negative keyword at anytime by navigating back to the negative keyword page, selecting the negative keyword, and clicking “Archive.”

Note for beginners: The safest & easiest method is to add your negative keywords as exact match at the ad group level.

Using Ad Badger’s Suite of Negative Keyword Tools

Does all this seem like a lot of work?

We think so too, that’s why we built a tool that automagically does the whole negative keyword process for you.

Negative Keyword Predator Tool

Did you already forgot all the rules on how to find your negative keywords? No worries. With the Negative Keyword Predator Tool, we’ve baked these rules right in for you.

Negative Keyword Predator rules
Hit plus, plus, plus on these rules, and you're done!

The Predator Tool will scan every single keyword in your ad campaign over the past six months and find all of your inefficient keywords. Then it’ll auto-add them all as negative keywords. You can even add custom rules for full control.

Predator will auto-run daily, and you can reap all the benefits of using Amazon negative keywords without any effort.

For big sellers this is extremely helpful because when you have 10,000+ keywords, manually choosing and adding them all through Seller Central would take ages. 

Total Amazon PPC Automation

If you thought the Predator Tool was great, wait until you hear that we have 3 more negative keyword tools! 

You can read more about the other tools here or watch this great video we made. Either one works.

Want to take these tools for a test run right now? Sign up for a free trial of Ad Badger to gain total automation of all your Amazon PPC campaigns.

Common Questions

Why Not Just Make a 100% “Exact Match” Account?

While that would solve the issue of showing up in unwanted searches, this strategy creates another problem: discoverability.

One of the greatest things about running phrase match, broad match and auto campaigns is that they give us the opportunity to be found by searches we weren’t targeting. This acts as a form of market research by helping us discover new converting search terms we otherwise couldn’t have predicted.

It’s impossible to guess what people are searching for, which is why you should always be running both auto and manual campaigns for each product. Auto campaigns let you take advantage of machine-learning algorithms to uncover the hidden gems of new converting search terms.

How much time should I spend on negative keywords?

Depending on your account size, it could take several hours at first to run through your data and manually add your negative keywords. Once you’ve done the initial setup, you should check up on each account at least once a week, combing through the data and seeing if any new search terms appeared that should be turned into negative keywords.

What do I do with search terms that are relevant but unprofitable?

You have two choices:

  1. Add the search term as a negative exact match to avoid further spend.
  2. Add the search term as a positive exact match keyword and significantly lower the bid for that keyword (don’t forget to block the same keyword out as negative exact for your broad match/auto campaigns).

The second option is the stronger choice because you will still get some visibility for that search term, but at a low ACoS.

Key Takeaways

Negative keywords are an essential element of any good Amazon PPC campaign because they reduce unnecessary spend, raise product rankings, and fight keyword cannibalization.

The quicker you start using them, the quicker you’ll start to realize all of your Amazon seller dreams.

Discover Us on our PPC Den Podcast

If you prefer learning via audio, we cover this same info in the podcast episode below. You can also find us on your favorite streaming platforms like Apple, Google, Spotify, and more!

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