Home PPC Advertising Optimizing Your Google Ads Account with Negative Keywords

Optimizing Your Google Ads Account with Negative Keywords

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What are Negative Keywords?

Negative keywords are filtering words and phrases that protect your ad from being displayed on irrelevant search results. This will in turn increase relevance and quality score and ultimately, your ROI by increasing your conversion rates and lowering your cost per conversion. If your conversion rate is poor, the first thing you should do is to analyze your search query report. If you find phrase and broad matched keywords that have no relevance to the products or services you actually offer, turn them into negative keywords to prevent your ad from showing on searches for those keywords that are adversely affecting your quality score.

Negative keywords are the most effective way to protect your account from irrelevant clicks. They are just as important, if not more important than positive keywords. They should be given just as much attention and just as much time as your positive keywords when developing your account. In fact, a well-managed AdWords account will usually have double the amount of negative keywords than positive keywords.

Positive keywords bring you traffic, whereas negative keywords filters it for you so that only the searchers who are truly looking for what you are selling ever get to see your ad. A comprehensive list of negative keywords increases the quality of your traffic and improves your CTR and conversion rate significantly. This makes negative keyword the most important match type of all, because they help to filter out irrelevant traffic that you don’t want your ads to show up for. The negative match type is signified by the – sign; e.g. -keyword.

Consider the following scenario: let’s assume you sell greeting cards online and want to use the broad matched search term greeting cards as one of your keywords in your ad groups. Using exact or phrase match may be too restrictive in this case, and you may want to use broad match to discover as many relevant keywords as possible. However, the problem is, this is a highly competitive search term, and occurs in many different contexts. To avoid your ad showing up for all sorts of irrelevant searches, it is imperative that you protect your ad with negative keywords.

If you don’t use negative keywords to protect your campaign, your ads could show for irrelevant searches for anything related to “greeting” and “cards”, including phone cards, playing cards, deck of cards, tarot cards, calling cards, poker etc. This will adversely affect your CTR and ultimately your quality score because your ad would be showing for searches from people who are not looking for products you are advertising.

Negative keywords can be placed at the ad group level or the campaign level, and they will be applied to all keywords within the campaign or ad group they are applied to. You can even use negative keyword lists which can be placed at the account level and applied across multiple campaigns.

To solve the “greeting card” problem, you can create a negative keyword list across at the campaign level to exclude our ad from showing up for things like calling cards, phone cards, tarot cards, card deck, playing cards and anything not specifically related to greeting cards. Since you have now chosen to prevent your ad from showing up for irrelevant search queries, the searches your ad is shown for should be more relevant and thus your ads gain a higher click-through rate. Your clicks should be of higher quality and ultimately, lower your overall cost per conversion.

If you are not getting a better click-through rate after adding negative keywords, re-check your negative keyword list to see if you added negative keywords that stopped your ads from showing on keyword searches that were previously driving sales.

For example, it is obvious for someone using negative keywords to automatically add the word “free” to the list. However, note that a search for “desktop pc with free shipping” would not trigger your ad if you used the negative broad match keyword: -free. The problem here is you are using the broad match keyword free, as a negative keyword.

In this situation, you should be using the actual exact match search term you are trying to exclude as a negative keyword, rather than making the broad matched term free, a negative keyword. Negative exact match keywords look like this: -[free computer], -[free software] and -[free desktop computer]. This will exclude those search term only. So your ad will still show for other keywords that contain the term free.

Brainstorming Negative Keywords

A comprehensive list of negative keywords increases the quality of your traffic and improves your CTR and conversion rate significantly. To find negative keywords for your niche, you need to understand how people talk to search engines. A lot of people ask questions and those questions represent their intent. It represents people who are more likely to be looking for information in the form of an answer to a question, rather than to buy something.

Note however, that some questions may be geared towards a product or service, so the actual negative keywords will depend on the questions being asked. The word “how” will give you a lot of good keyword ideas. You need to look for industry-related  questions that are completely irrelevant to what you’re selling.

Use those insights to build up your negative keyword list. This will give you a clear understanding of their intent when they search for those keywords.

For example, informational queries that are specifically geared towards people looking for answers from an article would be good candidates for negative keywords. An example of where to find this type of keywords is the questions people ask which you could find in the questions column in SEMRush. These question keywords can give you an idea of the intent of the searcher.

Who isn’t your customer?

Consider other searches that may be triggered by your broad-match keywords. E.g. if you sell computer accessories but do not sell computers, it is obvious that you’ll want to add words like desktops, computers, pc, tablets or laptops to your negative keyword list to prevent searches from people looking for those items.

The Search Query Report

Run the search query report to build your negative keyword list: The search query report shows you the exact keyword phrases that got searchers to your website. This is the same report that you get from the “matched search query dimensions” in Google Analytics. If you’re bidding on “computer accessories” as broad match, and this report shows you that one of the visitors to your site triggered that keyword match by typing “buy cheap computer”, you will want to mark “buy cheap computer” as a negative exact match keyword so that your ad doesn’t keep showing up for such irrelevant queries. You cannot add a negative keyword like “computer” because that would affect searches for words like computer accessories.

SEMRush Competitor Research

When performing competitor research, you need to find out:

  • What search terms related to your keywords is your competitor bidding on?
  • What percentage of their overall marketing traffic is coming from those keywords?
  • How aggressively are they targeting the keyword?
  • How valuable is the keyword to them?

If the company is spending a good percentage of their cost on the keyword, then it must be a valuable keyword. If they are spending a lot of money bidding on the keyword, it is a valuable keyword.

Google Suggest

Do a Google search on your target keywords. For example, the keyword “blue suede shoes” will bring up a wide range of concepts, and you can find those that are unrelated to your target market from Google Suggest. You can also see other businesses that use your keywords in very different ways that are completely irrelevant to you or your business.

The Keyword Planner Tool

With Keyword Planner you can also weed out all irrelevant keywords. Here is how to:

  • Use the Include/Exclude widget on the left-hand side.
  • Keep only keywords that meet your requirements; – Filter out the keywords that are a poor match for your biz; – Exclude negative keywords from your list.
  • After you exclude all irrelevant keywords, you can export the list in a CSV file.

Implementing Negative Keywords

Note that when you add a negative keyword within an ad group, it only affects the keywords within that ad group. For example, assume you sell sports merchandise selling football balls. If you use football balls as a broad keywords in your ad group, your ads could show for searches on basketball balls or baseball balls. To protect your ad from displaying on such searches you don’t want to, you don’t want to include -[balls] as a negative keyword as that would be too restrictive. What you want to do is to add those exact match terms: -[baseball balls] and -[basketball balls] as negative keywords.

If you do sell both basketball balls and football balls, you could have one ad group selling football balls with the negative exact match keyword -[basketball balls], and another ad group selling basketball balls with the negative exact match keyword -[football balls]. You’ll also want to make sure that you’ve opted into showing close variants of keywords so that mispellings, singular forms and other words are included. In this instance, you could now use some broad matched words and ensure that the correct ad was displayed.

At The Campaign Level 

In this instance, these negative keywords will affect every ad group within that specific campaign. Be careful when using this method, as you may have negative keywords in specific campaigns that you do not wish to have affecting every single ad group.

Thus if you are troubleshooting why an ad is not displaying for some of your keywords, you might want to re-check your campaign negative keyword list to see if that is the cause. This is why adding negative keywords at a more granular level is the better option.

Negative Broad Match Types

When you navigate to your ad group and just type in a minus (-) sign and a keyword, you’ve created a negative broad match. Negative broad keywords stop your ad from showing if that word is anywhere within the search query. However, it is significant to note that if you add broad-matched negative keywords such as -computer, you’ll need to add their plural version: e.g. -computers and the misspelt versions e.g. compter. This is because positive broad match keywords and negative broad match keywords don’t behave the same.

For example, if you include -basketball as a negative keyword, any search that includes the word basketball will not trigger your ad to show, but the word basketballs (plural) or basketbll (mispelling) will trigger your ad. Negative broad matched keywords do not expand to synonyms, singular or plural, and other variations as in the case of expanded broad match. You’d have to exclude each words separately.

So, if you had the negative keyword -balls a search for “footballs” or “basketballs” would display your ad, even though the search query contains the word “balls.” In addition, a search for “footbll” (misspelled) would display your ad. This is the opposite of what happens with positive broad match keywords which focuses on user intent.

You can also use multiple words in a negative broad keyword. In this instance, the order of the words does not matter, as long as all of the negative words are in the query. Once again, these do not match to plurals or misspellings, and there is no option to change this setting as there is with positive keywords.

1. -fast blue (Negative broad match)

Possible searches:

Ads will not show for fast blue car, or blue fast car. But your ad will show for fast car and blue bike. This is because the negative keyword is fast blue. If you don’t want your ad to show for either of those terms you would have to add them individually as negative keywords.

For example:



With the above negatives, your ad will not show for any query that contains either of those words.

2) -“fast blue” (Negative Phrase)

Possible searches:

  • blue mercedes car – WOULD SHOW
  • blue fast mercedes car – WOULD SHOW
  • mercedes fast car – WOULD SHOW
  • car blue mercedes fast – WOULD SHOW
  • blue fast – WOULD SHOW because phrase match looks at the order of the words.
  • fast blue – WOULD NOT SHOW
  • fast blue mercedes car – WOULD NOT SHOW
  • mercedes car fast blue – WOULD NOT SHOW

3) -[fast blue] (Negative Exact)

Possible searches:

  • blue mercedes car – WOULD SHOW
  • blue fast mercedes car – WOULD SHOW
  • mercedes fast car – WOULD SHOW
  • car blue mercedes fast – WOULD SHOW
  • blue fast – WOULD SHOW
  • fast blue mercedes car – WOULD SHOW
  • fast blue – WOULD NOT SHOW

Negative Phrase Match
Negative phrase match keywords must be contained within the user query in the exact order you entered them for your ad to not be displayed. Additional words can be contained before or after the search query; however, if the search query contains your negative phrase in the same order, your ad will not be displayed.

You can use negative phrase matched words at either the ad group or campaign level. To filter out these words, negative phrase matched keywords must be contained within the user query in the exact order you entered them.

When adding negative phrase matched words, the formatting is straightforward. Add a minus (-) sign and then the keyword in quotes:-“coffee cups”.

As with broad match negative keywords and regular phrase match keywords, this match type does not match to singular or misspellings. For example, if you had the negative phrase match -“coffee cups”, your ad would not be shown for queries such as:

  • Coffee cups
  • Blue coffee cups
  • Coffee cups and mugs

This is because every one of those examples contains the keyword coffee cups in the same order. However, if you have the negative phrase match word -“coffee cups” your ad would be displayed for queries such as:

  • Cups coffee (different order)
  • Coffee cup (singular)
  • Blue coffee cup (singular).
  • Coffe cups (misspelling)
  • Coffe cups and tea (misspelling)

Negative Exact Match
In the negative exact match, your ad is not displayed when the search query matches your negative keyword exactly.

For instance, if you had the negative exact match keyword -[ coffee cups], your ad would only not be displayed if someone typed coffee cups into the search box.

However, if the search query was coffee cup (singular), cup coffee (different order), or coffe cup (misspelling), the negative exact match keyword would not stop your ad from displaying. As with the regular exact match, the negative exact match does not match to plurals and misspellings. The formatting is also the same as the exact match keyword, except you add a negative sign in front of the formatting brackets . The formatting is -[keyword].

Consider the following scenario:
A fictional company sells Michael Jackson videos. After running their ads for a while, they realize that when a searcher just types in “Michael Jackson” their conversion rates are low and they are not profitable on those keywords. However, upon further investigation, the company realizes that if the searcher types in anything with the keyword “Michael Jackson video,” they convert quite well.

Therefore, they would not want their ad to show on the actual search “Michael Jackson,” however, they do want it to show for variations such as “Michael Jackson video,” “Michael Jackson video for sale,” and “newest Michael Jackson video.”

To accomplish this, the company would have an ad group with the negative exact match keyword -[Michael Jackson] and the positive phrase match keyword “Michael Jackson”:

“Michael Jackson”
-[Michael Jackson]

In this instance, the ad would only be displayed if someone searched for “Michael Jackson” and any accompanying word. However, if someone just searched for “Michael Jackson,” the ad would not be triggered.

Keep in Mind

  1. You cannot have enough negative keywords. For every positive match type in your account, you should have 2 to 3 negative keywords.
  2. Don’t allow your data to be spread too thin across too many keywords. You need to have fewer keywords if you have a smaller budget. So if you’re spending up to $50 per day, then you should not have more than 10 keywords in your ad groups so that you can get a lot of data on those keywords that you can use to analyse your search terms faster.
  3. Don’t pay attention to search terms that have too few clicks. If a search term that looks like it has potential has under 30 clicks, it has too few clicks to assess whether the search term is going to be valuable for you. You need to have statistically relevant data to make effective decisions about your account. This means the keyword should get at least 100 clicks. Note that this only applies to keywords that is not directly irrelevant to your account. For example, if you find that desk chairs don’t convert because it is too broad even though you carry desk chairs, you can add it as a negative keyword.
  4. Don’t be trigger happy. If a keyword is not profitable because it has a slightly high cost per conversion, try working on the keyword to reduce the cost per conversion. Try reducing the bid first before knocking it out of your account unless the keyword is irrelevant to what you sell. You can also try improving your Quality Score to reduce the cost per conversion. Rewrite ad copy.
  5. You should be looking at each individual search term in the context of profit. You should know what your ROAS needs to be in order to remain profitable. If you’re not tracking the value of a conversion, you can also track value based on knowing what the cost per conversion needs to be to remain profitable. If a keyword is costing more than what it needs to be to remain profitable, you need to add the keyword as a negative keyword.
  6. Negative Keyword Lists: Create lists of multiple keywords that you can use from campaign to campaign so that you don’t have to keep adding negative keywords from campaign to campaign. These are keywords that will never be relevant to your account. You have to think about all the terms that might trigger searches for similar named products.
  7. Try not to add keywords at the campaign level. Add negative keywords at the ad group level for the sake of sculpting, and add negative keywords to lists and apply those lists to campaigns.

Traffic Sculpting

This involves adding negative keywords to specific ad groups. These are not necessarily bad keywords. You’re sculpting search terms to go into the right ad group because sometimes they might be triggering keywords in the wrong ad group.

Benefits of Traffic Sculpting

  1. You ensure that the right bid is being applied to the right search terms. If you have certain search terms, keywords or ad groups that have a default bid of $5, but you know that a bid of $2 is the right bid for those search terms, that’s going to be a massive benefit of sculpting.
  2. You get the most relevant ad copy for the search term. This increases your QS, decreases conversion rate and CPC and increases ROI and ROAS.