February 10, 2023

Google Ads - You Cannot Negative a Search Query with an Apostrophe

Written by: 
Mark Subel

As PPC marketers, we are constantly reviewing our client's campaign performance to help them achieve their goals - typically more leads or more sales - at the lowest costs to achieve those goals. Among the many tasks and optimizations we conduct for our clients each month, reviewing search query reports is one of the most consistent. When we are bidding on keywords that we believe will perform well for our clients to bring them the most business value, we want to ensure that those keywords are delivering the right traffic for their goals.

Quick side note for non-PPC marketers, when you bid on keywords, you are telling Google the keyword phrases you would like your ads to show up for on Google search results when someone is searching. For example, if you are a home remodeling company and are bidding on the keyword "home remodeling", Google may also serve your ad for related queries that are closely related like:

  • house remodeling company
  • home remodeling company near me,
  • home remodeling Columbus Ohio,
    and other variations.

You can see how it helps you as the advertiser show up for terms that you may not have considered, but are still very targeted for your business. However, many times Google does NOT serve your ads for the right searches and you end up showing up for searches that are NOT great fits for your business. For example, on that same search for "home remodeling", Google may serve your ad for queries like

  • "top home remodeling trends"
  • "home remodeling architects"
  • "home remodeling pictures"
  • "home remodeling phoenix az" (when the business is located in Columbus, Ohio.

These searches aren't necessarily bad in general, but if you are working with a client who is looking for home remodeling leads, they want people who are using terms in the first set of searches compared to the last set. Someone looking for "trends" is probably not ready to call a home remodeler right now, and likely the same thing with someone searching for "pictures".

So when we review "Search Query Reports" to see the ACTUAL keywords people are using who then click on our client's ads, we want to ensure that we "negative out" any searches that are not good fits for our clients, so that we can save money on likely non-converting visitors. When we negative out a keyword, we tell Google - hey, don't serve an ad for a query that contains this keyword.

One thing we noticed with one client of ours who owns a regional painting company, were the number of times we would see competing painting companies show up in their search query reports - when we weren't bidding on the competitor's brand names. This is not uncommon for a business targeting a local audience, but we saw people clicking on our client's ads after they had originally searched for a competing painting company. Through our call tracking solution, we were able to listen to the calls that came in from people who were originally searching for competitors and we found that the majority of them were low quality leads or not good fits, because the searchers were clicking on the ads for our client mistaking it for the competitor who they originally wanted to call for a quote or to follow-up with something. So we made the decision to "negative out" a number of these competitors so that we could save our client money and focus on the searches that would bring them in legitimate leads.

Over the course of several months, we noticed many of these competitors searches would still show up in the search query reports, even after we "negatived" them out (telling Google we didn't want them to show for those searches). Interestingly, they were all competitors with apostrophes in their brand name. In the painting industry, there are A LOT of local painting companies with the name of the person or their last name and "painting company". i.e. - Hector's painting, Ben's Pro Painting, etc.

What we tried to negative:

In the examples above, take the company "Hector's Painting", we tried adding these as negatives:

  • Hector
  • Hectors
  • Hector s
  • Note: You cannot add "Hector's" as a negative keyword as you get this error: