Marketing for the modern age: Negative Keywords – the quick…


For four weeks, Hotel Designs has been working with author and CEO of DHM, Adam Hamadache, in order to explore the minefield of marketing. In his fourth and final article in the series, Hamadache explores how identifying your brand’s negative keywords could help you to unlock a new audience…

Pay-per-click advertising is something that just about every hotel has tried at some point, usually with underwhelming results.

Typically, Google search ads gets the nod, with a carefully selected array of search terms (keywords) chosen, a daily budget set, and the campaign is set live.

Whether this is set up by a marketing consultant, an agency, or even someone within the hotel itself, little regard is often given to ‘negative keywords’, if at all. These are the type of words and phrases that you don’t want to bid on, deeming them unsuitable or irrelevant to your product.

Perhaps the most simplistic and obvious example being the omission of ‘cheap’ or ‘budget’ if you happen to be a luxury hotel bidding on a phrase-match or broad-match of the keyword ‘hotels in [your location]’. Put simply – your ad will appear when ‘hotels in [your location] is googled, but not when ‘cheap hotels in [your location]’ is googled.

What you’re doing here is classing ‘cheap’ and ‘budget’ as negative keywords, in the hope that the users who click on your ads are (to a certain extent) pre-qualified, and hence, reducing the chance of wasted clicks and money.

Fascinatingly, negative keywords are widely underused in hotel PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns, even if an external “expert” has set up the campaign and is managing it. All too often, my team and I will research which companies are advertising on certain keywords and find that the ad for a hotel in Devon has appeared for the keyword ‘wedding venues Lancashire’. Whilst the more observant of browsers might spot this and choose not to click, the majority of Googlers are trigger-happy and care-free with their clicks, serving to burn through the hotel’s (often modest) budget in a wasteful fashion.

“Sometimes the words and phrases you might wish to omit as negative keywords are less obvious.”

Whilst this location-based ad is an example of an incorrect campaign setup, sometimes the words and phrases you might wish to omit as negative keywords are less obvious. For instance, a spa hotel may bid on a broad-match of the keyword ‘spa hotels near Bristol’ and ensure that price-led words (cheap, budget, etc) and incorrect locations are saved as negative keywords during the setup but find that further words and phrases need to be omitted weeks after the campaign launches. ‘Spa hotels near Bristol with an outdoor pool’, for example could have been the actual search term typed into Google that achieved a click but omitting ‘outdoor pool’ wouldn’t necessarily be an immediately obvious choice as a negative keyword if the hotel in question doesn’t have this facility.

This is where continuous management of your negative keywords is essential to keep wastage at a minimum. To do this, it’s a simple case of regularly (we recommend weekly) reviewing the actual phrases that people Googled before clicking on your ad, which you can access easily – this is referred to as your ‘search terms report’.

Reading through this list, you’ll be able to see the weird and wonderful list of things people Googled that were deemed a broad-match or phrase-match to your selected keyword. So when you thought you were innocently targeting people searching for ‘hotels in Manchester’ you might find that you paid £2.47 for a single click when someone searched for ‘why are hotels in Manchester so expensive?’ or ‘what are the best hotels in Manchester to photograph.’ Clearly the intent to book in these two examples is somewhere between low and non-existent.

Worse still, it is not uncommon to find a poorly managed campaign regularly spending 60-80 per cent of the budget on clicks where the Googled terms are similar to the above examples, serving to burn through the budget with an enormous amount of wastage and few (if any) conversions.

The solution however is simple, if time-consuming at first. A weekly review of the search term report will show you where your budget is being spent and what you will to need omit thereafter. In this example, ‘photo’ or ‘photograph’ is unlikely to crop up regularly but worth adding to the negative keyword list. ‘Expensive’ featuring in the browser’s search might suggest a low-price requirement and should be added if the hotel in question is at the higher end of the market, and similarly a search term that features ‘why’ is likely to come from a browser with little or no intent to book and would also be a good term to add to the negative keyword list.

If a PPC campaign is well-managed, the list of negative keywords should continue to grow, serving to refine the clicks to only the most suitable, high-intent browsers. Hotels can be forgiven for not having the time or knowledge to implement this continuously and effectively, but marketing professionals cannot. If in doubt about the effectiveness of your PPC campaign, it’s advisable to ask the person or agency managing it for the list of negative keywords associated to the campaign. Based on the high volume of poorly managed campaigns we see regularly from hotels, there’s a good chance that list won’t be long.

About the author

Adam Hamadache is the author of Amazon No.1 best-selling hotel book The Direct Method and the CEO of hotel marketing agency DHM. Having worked with hotels (including his own) for more than 10 years, Hamadache has created a proven marketing strategy to reduce over-reliance on expensive third party bookings. 

The first article in this series by Hamadache explored why hotels should be ‘remarketing’ themselves.
The second article in this series by Hamadache explored why hotels should learn all about the new SEO.
The third article in this series by Hamadache explored the significance of algorithm changes 

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