When you're running an Adwords campaign for a small, local-focused business, every dollar counts. You typically don't have much to spend, so it's critical to focus your spend on the people most likely to become customers.

Using negative keywords helps you zero in on actual customers and stop wasting money on anyone who isn't a good prospect for your business. When you add a keyword to the negative keyword list, your ad won't show if that keyword is in a person's search query.

How to add negative keywords to your local Adwords campaign

Adding negative keywords to your Adwords campaign is easy. You can do it one of two ways:

1) Simply add the keywords under the Keywords tab in the same place you add your regular keywords. To designate a negative keyword, simply add a negative sign (-) in front of it.

2) If you want to get more advanced, scroll to the bottom of the Keywords page of your Adwords campaign and expand the Negative keywords option. From here you can manage negative keywords on the ad group level or campaign level, as well as build out negative keyword lists that you can apply across different campaigns.

So what negative keywords should local Adwords campaigns use?

Employment searches - Job seekers in your industry can and will waste a huge chunk of your Adwords budget if you're not careful. This is especially true for professional services like accountants and dentists. Assuming you're trying to attract clients and not job applicants, you should load up on negative keywords like:

-career
-careers
-job
-jobs
-work
-employment
-employer
-salary
-salaries
-pay
-hire
-hiring
-intern
-recruiter
-recruiters
-resume

General information searches - When people perform general information searches, they're usually at the beginning of the buying cycle.

By eliminating these searches, you are able to focus your spend on people further along in the cycle. That means they are far more likely to convert into leads or customers. To stop your ad from showing when people perform general information searches, use negative keywords like:

-what is
-articles
-what are
-how to
-pictures
-photos
-review
-reviews

Training and education searches - People looking to learn things about your industry aren't typically good targets, unless you specifically supply education or training. Stop your ads from running on education and training searches like:

-training
-class
-classes
-course
-courses
-book
-books
-textbook
-school
-schools
-college
-university

Searches for areas you don't serve - For locally-focused businesses, there is no point to show your ad to people outside your service area. There are a variety of ways people will search for local businesses that you should be aware of when picking negative match keywords related to areas.

  • Suburb - Searches by suburb are popular in mid and large-sized cities. Depending on your city and your industry, people may not be willing to travel far to do business with you. If that is the case, use suburbs outside your market as negative keywords.
  • City - Add the names of cities you don't serve that people in your area may be searching for. For example, an Edmonton-based dry cleaner would want to add Calgary and Red Deer as negative keywords to filter out people in Edmonton looking for dry cleaning services in those cities.
  • Zip code - Searches that include a zip code are common in local business searches in the USA - "lawyer in 90011" for example. As a local business, you may want to use zip codes of areas outside target market as negative keywords.
  • Abbreviations - Don't forget to add the common abbreviations of areas outside your target market. These include two letter state (GA, NY, NV, etc.) or city (LA, SF, TO, etc.) abbreviations.

The usual suspects - These are the negative keywords almost every Adwords campaign should have. These are the keywords that will be a waste of money for almost any type of campaign.

-free
-craigslist
-ebay
-kijiji
-lyrics
-youtube
-sex
-nude
-porn
-torrent

Find even more negative keywords

Once you've launched your Adwords campaign, be sure to continually add negative keywords to your Adwords campaign. To find irrelevant keywords that are triggering your ads, click the "see search terms" drop-down on the Keywords page.  

This will give you a list of the actual keywords that users are searching that triggered your ads. When you see an irrelevant keyword in this report, add it to your negative keyword list.

Negative keywords are a great way for small and local businesses to get a higher ROI from Adwords. Stop wasting your money on Adwords, start using negative keywords.

This is a guest post from Andrew Breen, who runs Outshine Online Marketing, a Halifax online marketing company with a global client base. You can follow him on Twitter @breenandrew.