How to Stop Advertising to Consumers who Don't Have Purchase Intent


Let’s clarify something, first off. It’s not the keyword that shows intent. The keyword is in your advertising account. You define it. If it matches up with a search query (according to your settings), your ad shows. It’s the search query (entered into Google or Bing ) that can indicate intent. So the question is “How do you determine which search queries have buyer intent?”

The Bad News: You Never Know for Sure

The search engine user might have intent to buy something but typos, voice recognition issues, improper characterization of "close variants" (on Google’s side) and other problems can lead him/her to the wrong search results. There’s no way to filter out all queries with low/zero intent.

The Good News: Negative Keywords and Match Types Help You Avoid Advertising to Low-Intent Consumers

I think the best way to think about it is on a keyword by keyword basis. You want to align your ad text and landing page content with the intent as best you can. For example, let’s say you’re selling recycled printer paper.

Words like “buy” and “purchase” in the search query are good indicators that someone wants to buy something. A search query like “buy printer paper” comes close to showing intent to buy paper every time. Usually, the buyer won’t mind (will probably be pleased by) the fact that yours is recycled. They’ll buy it if the price is right, reviews are satisfactory, etc.

The problem is that people don’t include words like “buy” and “purchase” in their search queries much. You have to put yourself in their shoes to figure out if they’re ready to purchase. Let’s take a look at some scenarios.

Scenario A

Let’s say someone enters recycled printer paper prices and searches it in Google. This doesn’t indicate a lot of intent, usually. This person is looking for prices and may not even be ready to buy anything yet. The searcher could be a buyer in a big company and might be looking for a new source from which to buy large quantities of paper at very low prices per unit. Maybe that’s not the kind of consumer you’re looking for or maybe it is.

If you see the word “prices” in a lot of queries in your search terms report and they’re getting lots of clicks but not converting much (or at all), you might want to enter “prices” as a negative keyword so you’ll avoid the cost. Note that negative keywords have match types just as keywords do. You could also change the match type of your keyword so that your ads don’t show for queries that include “prices”.

Scenario B

What if someone searches 8.5x11 printer paper? In my opinion, this probably shows more intent (for more individual searches) than scenario A. People who enter this query probably want to buy some paper pretty soon. However, sometimes they won’t be ready to buy yet or are not planning to buy at all. They could be looking for information about this kind of paper. Maybe they want to know what it’s used for. Or maybe there’s a song that has the title “8.5x11 printer paper” and they want to have a listen (unlikely but possible).

Although I rate 8.5x11 printer paper a medium-high intent query, there are many reasons a particular searcher might not have intent when they search it. You’ll have to look out for potential negative keywords to add, as explained under scenario A.

Scenario C

What if people are searching for recycled glossy printer paper at OfficeMax (as a query in Google). In many cases, if someone includes a store’s name in a query, they want to buy something. They might know that it’s there and they want to purchase it. On the other hand, they might also want to compare one store’s price with another store’s price. That would indicate intent but also reduces your chances of making the sale, since the person is actively comparing prices and increasing his/her choices.

This scenario can be favorable for you, as the advertiser. You just have to make sure you can offer something OfficeMax and other vendors can’t offer. Maybe it’s the lowest price. Maybe it’s fair-trade products. Maybe your business gives 1% of profit to charity. Google gives you a chance to make these things stand out with its callout extensions. You can also show off these selling points in your ad text or on your landing page, which I recommend.

Best Practices

As you may have noticed, it's basically all about your keyword match types and your negative keywords (and their match types). Take your time when you're changing match types and adding negatives. Always back up your decisions with as much data as you can gather. Don't make changes without significant data unless you have to.

Pay attention to your relevance as well. That means make sure everything is aligned, from search query to keyword to ads to landing page to checkout page to confirmation page. It all matters. You don't want someone who searches brand new Lexus sedan to click your ads if you're selling auto insurance, do you? You want more intent than that, so take your time and think it through. Happy advertising!

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