7 Steps To Turning Negative Keywords into Positives

Search engine marketers know how important it is to think about the words that they don’t want their company or brands to be associated with. But few people apply the same keyword rigour when posting to social networks. In this post, I’ll explain why this is important and how you can turn negative keywords into big positives for your business.

First up, what is a negative keyword? A negative keyword is any word or phrase that you do not want to associate with your business. Let’s imagine we’re running a hotel, Frost Mansion, that offers luxury spa retreats for adults. Your guests pay handsomely to stay at your hotel because they enjoy the calm, child-free environment, together with likeminded grown-ups. It’s pretty clear that you don’t want your hotel to attract groups of children. In fact the last thing you want is a family with kids turning up with a reservation ready to destroy the peace and tranquillity.

Here are two examples of how you might describe your hotel, the first is a fairly safe bet, while the second presents an awkward ‘negative keyword’ challenge:

Spa Retreats Negative Keyword Example

Unwittingly, the inclusion of the word ‘child’ in the second example could, in some circumstances, lead to your hotel becoming discovered by someone searching for luxury spa retreats with children. And while the major search engines are getting better at understanding the semantic meaning of phrases like “child-free”, until they perfect this there’s a risk that even a mention of a negative keyword could have the opposite to the intended effect.

This exact same discipline is needed with updates to social networks. There’s no point optimising your website and display ads if you don’t apply the same rigour to your social media updates. Consider the difference that the following tweets might have on the type of business your hotel could attract:

Tweet Example Negative Keyword Misuse

Tweet Example Positive Keyword Use

The first tweet will show up in searches for ‘weekend hotel offer children’, potentially attracting the wrong type of clientele. And don;t think that including the phrase “sorry no children” will work all the time; people scan online content and routinely gloss over important details like this.

In contrast, the second tweet avoids this risk completely by excluding negative keywords relating to children.

To turn the negatives into positives is easy. Here’s my 7 step process for making sure your social updates avoid the pitfalls:

  1. Define all the positive things you want your brand to be famously associated with. If your brand is well-established you should have this list already in your defined brand essence or value propositions. (e.g. words like premium, quality and luxury may feature in our Frost Mansion example)
  2. Prune back the positives lists to the most important aspects that differentiate your brand within its sector, grouping into categories where it helps. Make sure every word really deserves its place on the positives list
  3. Now define the things you don’t want to become famous for; these are your negatives. To prevent this from becoming an extremely long list stick to topics and themes that could reasonably apply to your industry sector but which you don’t want to become associated to your brand (e.g. Frost mansion would want to avoid words like cheap, bargain, discount and, of course, children)
  4. Refine your negatives list, removing duplicates and making sure you’ve covered all the major bases. Be creative with your thinking; it’s better to agree on the negatives now than to leave any ambiguity that might create uncertainty later.
  5. You may spot some groups or categories of negatives. If so, group together synonyms into clusters, each representing a major theme area that you wish to avoid becoming associated with.
  6. Now share your positive and negative lists with all customer-facing staff, explaining the importance of repeatedly using the positive words and the danger of using the negatives
  7. Update your social media biographies, avatars and content plan to eradicate all negative keywords and maximise the use of positive keywords. Editing recent posts may be advisable if you’ve used lots of negatives previously. Be sure to use the same negatives across your entire online marketing plan including SEO

To help instil adoption of the new keyword list, it may help to run a fun competition amongst staff to find the most creative ways of using positive keywords. I’ve even seen a tongue-in-cheek Wall of Shame with mugshots of community managers who have accidentally dropped a negative into one of their updates or comments!

But most importantly, make using the lists an enjoyable challenge; you’ll be amazed how much fun you can have trying to find ways to dodge the negatives and accentuate the positives.