Why Your SEM Campaign Needs Negative Keywords

By: Emily Williams


When running a Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaign for your healthcare facility, a list of keywords is used to determine which search terms will cause your ads to show. These lists often include hundreds of terms with various match types that are structured around your campaign’s objectives. But did you know that your campaign needs negative keywords as well?

What are negative keywords?

Negative keywords are a list of terms that you do not want to trigger your paid search ads, even if your desired keywords are included in the search.

Why does my SEM campaign need negative keywords?

Negative keywords help to protect your brand and prevent unwanted, irrelevant ad exposure.

For example, one of your keywords for an ER campaign in California may be “ER in San Jose”.


If someone were to type in a close variation of “ER in San Jose”, your ad would appear. This is great news if someone searches a phrase like “best ER in San Jose” or “ER in San Jose with shortest wait times”.


However, what if someone searched “worst ER in San Jose” or “ER in San Jose lawsuit”? Unfortunately, your ad could appear for these searches because you are bidding on “ER in San Jose” which was part of the searched phrase!


This is where negative keywords come into play!

In the example above, “worst ER in San Jose” could cause your ad to show because you bid on “ER in San Jose”. However, adding the term “worst” to your negative keywords list means that you would still show up for variations of “ER in San Jose”, but not if the term “worst” is included.

How can I determine which negative keywords to add?

Before your campaign begins, try typing some of your keywords into Google’s search bar to see the suggested searches that appear along with your keywords.


In this case, you will see that technician and nurse are commonly searched, but are most likely not relevant to your campaign and should be added as negatives.

During your campaign, work with your vendor to review your campaign’s Search Terms report at least monthly. This report shows the actual searches that users typed into Google that matched up with your ads. This is where you will find numerous keywords to add to your negative terms.

This report is beneficial for determining if the keywords searched:

  • Apply to the services offered by the facility
  • Match the funnel decision of the campaign
  • Capture any branded terms
  • Include any irrelevant searches

For example, in a recent ER campaign we discovered that two people were searching for “Local ER for Birds”! Even though we had negated numerous pet, vet and animal terms, “bird” was not on the list.  Reviewing search terms while the campaign is running will help you discover additional negative terms.

What are examples of negative keywords I should add to my healthcare facility’s SEM campaign?

As a healthcare facility, there are several types of negative terms that you should add to your campaign. In addition to using the methods detailed above, your vendor can help determine these terms. Here are some examples of terms to include:

  1. Brand Safety Terms

These are terms that you do not want to have associated with your ads in order to protect your brand.

Brand safety terms include: death, dying, lawsuit, worst, felony, criminal, crime, etc.

  1. Irrelevant Terms

Irrelevant terms are words that could accompany searches similar to what you bid on, but that do not apply to your facility. For example “local emergency room” could match to “local animal emergency room”.

Irrelevant terms likely include: dental, dentist, teeth, vet, pet, cat, dog, fitness, gym, responders, police, etc.

  1. Career / Education Terms

Unless your campaign is specifically promoting job openings in your facility, you should negate career and education terms. For example, if you bid on “obgyn near me”, that search could be matched up with searches like “Obgyn jobs near me”.

Career/ Education terms include: career, jobs, salary, internships, residency, book, hiring, board, class, school, exam, etc.

  1. Branded terms

Unless you are running a brand awareness campaign, branded terms should be added as negative keywords to your campaign in most cases. For example, if Good Samaritan hospital were running a low-funnel ER campaign, the term “Samaritan” should be added as a negative. Users searching for “Good Samaritan ER in San Jose” will most likely click on Good Samaritan’s organic listing since they are specifically searching for that hospital. In cases of branded searches, we typically rely on our website’s SEO to rank high organically and obtain the click.

Two cautions when negating branded terms:

  • Never negate part of your brand that is included in numerous relevant searches. For example, Good Samaritan hospital should never negate the word “good”, or they would miss searches like “good ER in San Jose”. Also, Augusta OBGYN should not negate either word of their name or they would miss searches like “obstetrician in Augusta” or “local OBGYN”.
  • If your website is not ranking well organically, you may choose to not negate branded terms so that your ads will appear for a branded search even though your website may not.

Have questions on how or why to add negative keywords to your campaign? Contact our SEM team for assistance!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s