Negative keywords are one of those digital marketing tactics that lots of marketers know about, but few are confident enough to use them in a way that improves their PPC results.
Here’s the thing: when used correctly, negative keywords can save you money on your PPC campaigns.
They can actually stop wasted clicks on keywords that are irrelevant to your products and services.
So you don’t have to pay for visitors who will never buy from you. Therefore, the ROI is surprisingly good.
The reality is many marketers are wary of using negative keywords. For some, this simply comes down to a fear of getting it wrong. What if you miss out on a conversion or lead because you’ve added the wrong negative keyword to a list?
You want to be 100% confident that adding negative keywords will not only improve your cost per acquisition but will also bring down unqualified rates on leads.
That’s what we’re going to cover here: how negative keywords work, how to build a negative keyword list, and when to use them in your campaigns.
To learn everything you need to know about negative keywords for your next Google Adwords campaign, read on.
What are Google Adwords negative keywords?
Here’s how Google Ads defines them:
“Negative keywords let you exclude search terms from your campaigns and help you focus on only the keywords that matter to your customers.”
Let’s break it down.
When you create a Google Ads campaign, you choose keywords to bid on. You’ve done your research, you know your ad rank, and you know these are the keywords your searchers will use to find your website.
You can also tell Google the negative keyword you do not want your ad to be shown for.
-minus symbol before a keyword = a negative keyword
Negative keywords tell Google what search queries are NOT relevant to your business, so you don’t get ad impressions for searches that won’t lead to sales.
Common examples of negative keywords
Let’s say you’re a coffee machine seller setting up your first Google Ads campaign. You’d like to show up on Google searches for “coffee machines”.
But you make the common mistake of advertising for broad search queries. You bid on “coffee machine”, and along comes the searcher who types in “coffee near me,” looking for their nearest coffee shop.
Your ad showing coffee machines shows up alongside their local café.
Now, here’s the worst bit.
The searcher accidentally clicks your ad, which means you pay for their visit even though they have no intention of buying a coffee machine.
This might sound extreme, but it illustrates what can happen when you use generic keywords without using negatives.
One of the most common negative keywords used by advertisers is very obvious: “Free”
The search intent of this term focuses on getting only free information. These searchers are not looking to buy, so most advertisers don’t want their ad to show to them.
For example, a searcher might use the query “free CRM.” But if your CRM software is not free, you don’t want your ad to show for this query. So, you add this phrase to your negative keyword list. `
Types of negative keywords
There are three kinds of negative keywords. It’s worth noting these types work differently than their positive counterparts:
Negative broad match: This is the default on Google Ads. Your ad won't show if the search contains ALL your negative keyword terms, even if the terms are in a different order. If SOME of your words are there, the ad may still show.
Negative phrase match: Your ad won't show if the search contains the EXACT keyword terms in the same order. The search may include additional words, but the ad still won't show if all the keyword terms are included in the same order.
Negative exact match: Your ad won't show if the search contains the EXACT keyword terms, in the same order, without extra words.
An important thing to note is that negative keywords don’t recognize close variants. That means misspellings, singular or plural, acronyms, stemmings, or abbreviations.
To ensure none of these variants appear, you must add them as a separate negative keyword to your list.
Common ways to use negative keywords
1. To stop your ad from being shown for irrelevant search terms.
Add your negative keywords list at the campaign level to tell Google to never show any of your ads for these keywords.
For example, if you sell dresses, but there are no long dresses in your inventory and never will be, so you want to use “long dresses” as a negative keyword.
2. To make sure your negative keywords are only triggered from a specific campaign.
Add them at the ad group level to tell Google to never show your ads for negative keywords in this particular ad group.
This is when you want to protect certain ad groups. For example, you want to save your best “wedding dresses” ad for an ad group dedicated to that product, so you negative “wedding dresses” in your broad match ad groups.
This “protective” use ensures that Google doesn’t serve anything but the perfect ad for your user. This is important because you know this user knows exactly what they want, and by serving the perfect ad with the specific search terms, you can beat all the “broad match keyword” advertisers for the impressions and click.
Why you should use negative keyword lists
The number one reason to use negative keywords is to prevent your ad from showing when you know the audience isn’t interested and will never convert into sales.
Think of them as a tool to filter irrelevant (and expensive) clicks.
Why is this important?
Because it saves you valuable dollars.
Simple as that.
Without using negative keyword lists, your hard-earned bucks are being wasted on the wrong traffic.
As if that’s not enough, here are a few more benefits to negative keywords:
Increase click-through rate (CTR): Show your ad for more relevant queries
Improve quality score: A better CTR leads to a higher Google Ads Quality Score which leads to a lower cost per click (CPC)
Boost conversion rate: Get higher quality visitors to your website for a higher conversion rate.
In other words, negative keyword lists help you drive a better ROI for your Google Ads search campaigns and increase profitability.
How to identify negative keywords
Now you know what negative keywords are and why you should use them, how do you find the right negative keywords for your Google Ad search campaigns?
One of the best ways to find negative keywords is by looking at user query data based on how people search.
There are two ways to do this using:
2. Search Terms Report
Using Google Ads Keyword Planner to find negative keywords
The Google Ads Keyword Planner is designed to help you find keywords to bid on. But you can also use it to find negative keywords for your list.
For example, when you search for keywords like “glasses”, you’ll see a list of related keyword searches along with data on search volume and competition.
When you see a term that’s not relevant to your business or that will bring the wrong kind of traffic for that particular campaign, you add it to your negative keyword list.
Using Search Terms Report to find negative keywords
First, what is the Search Terms Report?
It is a report function in Google Ads that shows you the search queries that people actually typed into Google to trigger your ads.
You see a full list of every search query which resulted in your ad being displayed and/or clicked on.
That’s very useful information!
Once you know the types of search queries people are using, you can compile lists of both positive and negative keywords.
That is, keywords you want to show your ad for and those you don’t.
Sort results according to the highest number of impressions, which will give you a list of the most popular search queries that trigger your ads.
Scroll through the list and look for poor performing keywords.
These will have a lot of impressions, a low click-through rate (CTR), or a high cost.
How to view your Search Terms Report
Finding your report is easy:
Sign into your Google Ads account.
Click All Campaigns in the left navigation pane
Click Keywords in the page menu
Click Search terms at the top of the page
You will see data showing you which search queries a significant number of people have used to trigger impressions and clicks.
The results will only show what's been used by people at least eight hours ago, and have either received clicks in the past 30 days or were searched for by a substantial number of people.
Other ways to find negative keywords
Another simple way to find negative keyword ideas is to do a Google search of your primary keywords.
If you see search results that aren’t relevant to your business, add those terms to your list.
There’s a multitude of paid tools you can use to find negative keywords too, including:
How to add negative keywords list to your Google Ads account
Now you have a great list of negative keywords.
But you actually need to add them to your account in order to save your ads budget.
First, we recommend sorting them into types of negative keywords.
You might have groups such as:
Products you don’t sell (yet)
Super generic terms
There are three ways to add your negative keyword list to your campaigns:
1. Using Search Terms Report
The easiest way is via the Search Terms Report.
Click the Keywords tab.
Select the box next to the keyword you want to run a search report for.
Click the Search Terms button.
Select any irrelevant search terms and click Add as negative keyword.
Now you have a choice to apply your selections to your whole ad campaign or at an ad group level.
Remember, by default, your selections will automatically be negative broad match keywords.
If you want them to be another match type, like negative exact match or negative phrase match you need to manually change them. Otherwise, it will always be a negative broad match.
2. Without running the Search Terms Report
To do this, follow these steps:
1. Click Keywords from the left side menu
2. Click Negative keywords
3. Click the blue + button
Now add new negative keywords to your campaigns or ad groups.
You can create a new negative keyword list or use an existing negative keyword list.
To create a new list or add new negative keywords:
Select Add negative keywords or create a new list.
Choose campaign or ad group
Select the specific campaign or ad group
Insert your keywords, one per line. Make sure your negative keywords don’t overlap with target keywords as otherwise your ad won’t show at all.
For campaigns, save the keywords to a new or existing list, and apply that list to the campaign by checking Save to new or existing list, enter a name for your new list OR select an existing list, then click Save.
To use an existing negative keyword list:
Select Use negative keyword list
Choose the campaign
Check the boxes of the negative keywords lists to use
Over to you
Bidding on the best target keywords in your niche is only half the battle for successful Adwords campaigns. If you want to get the best ROI, you need a set of negative keywords that are continuously evolving based on real search query data.
Create your negative keywords list to improve your ad’s relevancy ready for your next PPC campaign and cut your ad waste.
Want to find out how your Google Ads campaigns can work harder for your budget? Need to minimise ad waste? Get your free Google Ads Audit, valued at $2K.