Keyword blocklists: What they do and whether you should use them

5 minute read
Keyword blocklists: What they do and whether you should use them

What are keyword block lists

Key word blocklists contains specific words you are trying to avoid being associated with.

  • PPC ads running next to or associated with;
  • Words and phrases to avoid in content marketing
  • Words and phrases to avoid in social media
  • Words and phrases to avoid in email marketing to prevent getting flagged as SPAM
  • Words and phrases to avoid in SMS marketing to prevent getting flagged as a carrier violation

There are also unique cases that apply to current events and news content too.

What are junk email trigger words?

Junk mail trigger words, also known as spam trigger words, are keywords or phrases that email providers consider problematic. And, more often than not, including these words will land your email in the junk folder.

Read more tips about how to avoid the junk email folder.

What are carrier violation trigger words?

Carrier violations occur when a mobile phone carrier, such as AT&T and T-Mobile, blocks your SMS message.

Carrier violations - what happens when you send a message

The block lists for SMS marketing is more restrictive than email due to SHAFT laws, which are more strictly adhered to by the phone carriers.

For SMS marketing DailyStory has a built-in deliverability tool to help predict the likelihood of your text message being delivered.

List of 800+ Email and SMS Spam Trigger Words

Get the full list as a Google Sheet or fork it from GitHub. We update it regularly, but recommend following the guidance in this article for selecting which words to use for your business.

Examples of keywords to block

Some examples of keywords to block include:

  • Cannabis, CBD, GummiesSHAFT carrier violation for SMS marketing
  • Dead, Explosion, Rape – words that have a negative connotation
  • Loan, Investment, Viagra – words that have shady associations

Examples of phrases to block

Some examples of phrases to block include:

  • Guaranteed income – implied guarantee that may be misleading
  • No strings attached – phrases that have a shady association
  • Cancer prevention – misleading statements

In the all the above examples, there are cases where the words or phrases are valid.

Words and phrases are context-sensitive

For example, you could have the keyword “shoot” on your blocklist, but that keyword is very context-dependent. A photoshoot and a school shooting are two very different things.

Examples related to COVID

Vice recently called on marketers to reconsider their blocklists as it pertains to racism. In fact, even the use of “coronavirus” on many blocklists has not worked how intended, where 76 percent of coronavirus content is actually considered to be safe. This means that when three out of four news stories at one point were related to the coronavirus (aka COVID-19), many advertisers missed out on potential campaign reach.

Simply put, it’s the potential of missed opportunities that makes some question the use of keyword blocklists.

Don’t use a one-size-fits-all approach

First of all, there is no recommended one-size-fits-all approach to keyword blocklists.

In fact, a one-size-fits-all approach, such as using our list of 800+ keywords to avoid, won’t work. For any block list you need to narrow your words and phrases down by eliminating ones that are valid for your business.

Yes, some obvious keywords (like “terrorist”) make sense, but if you tend to get excessive with your list, you will find that your digital advertising is overly restricted with an ad spend that won’t lead to the results that you’re looking for.

Think context before expanding your blocklist with keywords that (at a first glance) might make sense but ultimately could have perfectly fine uses in the content you actually want to appear next to.

Keyword blocklists need to be updated regularly

It’s all too common for keyword blocklists to be added to but not fully revised.

Why is this important?

Outdated keywords often stay on blocklists long after they are related to a breaking news story.

Example of an outdated keyword

One example is the term “Las Vegas,” which was commonly listed on blocklists after the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. To this day, there are blocklists that continue to contain “Las Vegas,” which is possibly a huge missed opportunity depending on the brand that’s advertising.

Again, be mindful of context

This also speaks to the need to ensure that you’re choosing the right keywords. Yes, there was a mass shooting in Las Vegas, but would a travel agency want to miss out on content talking about visiting Las Vegas during that same time period? Again, context is king.

Review your block list often

So, not only do you want to maintain a blocklist that is relevant, but you also want to frequently update it so that you don’t end up missing out on reach and conversion opportunities. Consider whether you have the time and resources to keep up with your blocklist relevance.

Would blocked-content categories suffice?

One key point that can be missed in conversations about keyword blocklists is the effectiveness of content blocking at the category level, such as illegal drug content and adult content.

Looking at the categories you set in that manner, is that enough? It very well could be, and in that sense, any additional keyword blocklists could overly restrict where your advertising appears. Again, missed opportunities and limited campaign reach are common with excessive keyword blocklists.

In conclusion

The most important consideration to keep in mind is your brand and the context of content your digital advertising could appear alongside.

Where are the risks? Where are the opportunities?

From there, you can decide if content-category blocking is enough or whether keyword blocklists are right for your advertising to ensure brand safety. If you decide to use a blocklist, remember that you should keep the list to a bare minimum. When adding to it, keep in mind how long a new keyword should be listed.

Keyword blocklists are a tool that will only be as powerful as the consideration and attention that you give it.

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