If you use Google Ads, then you will be familiar with the concept of keywords, and how you need to target and refine your keywords to draw users to your site. However, standard keywords are not the only type of keyword you need to become familiar with if you’re hoping to get as much as possible from your marketing efforts; you will also need to learn how to use negative keywords.
What are negative keywords?
To understand negative keywords, it is perhaps best to term standard keywords as “positive keywords”. As you would expect, negative keywords are the exact opposite to the usual keywords you will use when marketing your products or services. Where positive keywords are designed to allow you to target relevant searches and draw leads to your website, negative keywords can be used to exclude search terms that are not useful for your purposes.
Why use negative keywords?
- Save money by preventing your ad from showing on irrelevant searches.
- Negative keywords improve CTR- which improves quality score
- Reduce cost per click and get a higher ad position.
- Improve quality score by only showing you ads to relevant search terms
Negative keywords can help you to target the most interested customers, reduce costs and increase your return on investment (ROI).
Negative keywords are opposite to positive keywords. Positive keywords are used for targeting relevant searches and help qualified prospects find you, whilst negative keywords are used for filtering/ excluding searches.
What are the key benefits of using negative keywords?
- Reduce your costs per click
- Achieve a higher ad position for relevant terms
- Improve your Quality Score by only showing your ads on relevant searches
- Improved conversion rate thanks to ads only being displayed on relevant searches
How do negative keywords work?
As an example, let’s say that you are promoting a brick-and-mortar based university course. If a user were to search “university course online study”, then your ads may show in the search results. If a user were to click through to your site, you’d incur a cost for this, even though you are only promoting offline university courses – so the chances of converting a customer who has searched explicitly for online study are slim to none. As a result, the costs incurred for that click cannot be recouped.
However, if you were to set “online” or “online study” as negative keywords, your ads would not appear in results containing these words – so there’s no expenditure on clicks that are highly unlikely to benefit your business.
If you are using negative keywords for the first time, it is usually best to start with broad match and exact match types.
Negative Keyword Match Type
There are three different types of negative keyword matches that you can use, which we will demonstrate using the example negative keyword phrase “organic dog food”:
Negative broad match
Negative broad match means your adverts will not be displayed on searches that contain all of the phrases in your chosen negative keyword phrase. If someone were to search “organic cat food”, your ad would not show. However, if they were to search simply for “dog food”, then your ad may still be displayed. You can also modify your broad matches to allow certain inclusions; for example, “organic doggy food” – this is known as a modified broad match.
Negative phrase match
- A negative phrase match means your adverts will not be displayed on searches that contain the exact order of words in your negative keyword phrase. If someone were to search “cheap organic dog food”, then your ad would not display. However, if a search were to insert a word between your keyword phrase – “organic cat and dog food” – then your ad would still show.
Negative exact match
- A negative exact match means that your adverts will not be shown on searches for your exact negative keyword phrase. For anything else – “cheap dog food”, for example – would mean that your ad displays; only if a user searched specifically for “organic dog food” would your ad not be shown.
How to spot negative keywords.
There are a number of different ways to identify negative keywords:
Use established Lists
There are many generic negative keyword lists online – for example, here – so it always worth starting with these and looking for a single-word broad negative match, ideally where the word is considered to be 100% irrelevant for your industry, products, or services.
Google Ads Search Terms Report
Adwords Search Terms Report. This report will show the searches users make before eventually clicking on your advert. Searches with a low CTR, low conversion rate, and low average session can usually be considered to be negative keywords.
Adwords Search Terms Report: Running this report shows the searches people make in Google while they are clicking on your adverts. Sort these searches- by the highest cost to lowest cost- and identify searches with Low CTR, low conversion rate, and low average session duration compared to the account average- or low conversion rate or no conversions at all.
Google Keyword Tool: When doing research for keywords to be used, identify those that should be negative at the same time. Otherwise, use the keyword tool to identify irrelevant searches that can be blocked as negative keywords.
Google Search Autocomplete & SERPS
Use the autocomplete to identify popular negative keywords. Also, use the SERP (Search engine results page). Google Autocomplete. Google Autocomplete can demonstrate negative keywords that may appear when people search for your keyword phrase – start typing your keyword and note the irrelevant suggestions that appear, then record these as negative keywords.
Google Keyword Tool
While the Google Keyword Tool is most commonly used to find positive keywords, it can also help to identify negative keywords simultaneously, so keep this in mind when conducting keyword research. For keywords already in use, you can use the tool and scan the list of irrelevant searches that that keyword might trigger, then include these on your negative keyword list.
Keyword Frequency Finder
Various tools (including free ones) make it possible to input the search terms report and get a list of single word keywords- and the frequency occurrence of each. This is a useful free tool we use Frequent Keyword Utility. All you need to do is paste the Google Ads Search Terms report into the box, and it will give back a list of single words.
Running through this list of single words is so much faster than manually using the search terms report to identify terms that should negative 100% of the time. This report generated gives an idea of keyword density. Excel can also be used to compare search terms performance metrics for single words (e.g. conversion rate) to decide if the word should be negative. Just remove relevant keywords, and the remainder negative keywords remain in the list.
Tips for managing Negative Keywords lists at different levels across the account.
- Start by listing single words as negative broad match that will always be irrelevant no matter what string of keywords they are combined with. This varies by industry – (For example Free, Jobs, Guides, etc, etc are often negative keywords- but not always!)
- Use singular and Plural (E.g. job, jobs – career, careers).
- Identify less relevant keywords that have high impressions but poor performance as potential exact match negatives. (Increase CTR/Quality Score).
Other Free Negative Keyword Tools
Many free tools allow you to input a search terms report and receive a list of single-word keywords and how often they occur. You can then analyse the results and compare these to conversion rates and similar metrics, allowing you to determine if the keyword should be deemed negative. One of the free negative keyword tools we use is Negative Keyword Pro
which allows you to enter a seed keyword that you want to target, and from this suggest possible negative keywords.
Negative Keyword Hierarchy
Negative keywords can be applied at various levels of the Google Ads account hierarchy, namely ad group campaign or a shared list attached to multiple campaigns.
Ad Group Level
This is the lowest level of where a negative keyword can applied. It is best to use ad group negatives only when a search is not relevant to keywords within this specific ad group.
It is best to use ad group negatives only when a search is not relevant to keywords within this specific campaign
Account Level - Shared Lists (By all or some campaigns)
It is best to use ad group negatives only when a search is not relevant to keywords within all campaigns or a selection of campaigns. (e.g. all search campaigns)
Tips for making the most of negative keywords
- Create a single, base negative keyword list. This list should primarily be created using established lists, as discussed above.
- Include all versions of a negative keyword. If you identify a keyword as negative, then make sure you also identify both the singular and the plural of that keyword – for example, if you have determined “job” is a negative keyword, then “jobs” should also be deemed negative.
- Create separate negative keyword lists for each campaign. By creating individual lists for each individual campaign rather than a single list you use for every campaign, you can tailor the approach – this makes modifying lists for specific products or services far simpler.
- Start every negative keyword list with single words and negative broad matches that will always be irrelevant. So in our earlier example, “online” will always be irrelevant for a brick-and-mortar university; as a result, it should always be considered a negative keyword for every list you create.
- Use exact match negative keywords on Google Shopping. As Google Shopping Ads do not use positive keywords, exact match negative keywords can be extremely useful in eliminating irrelevant searches for Shopping campaigns.
- Also use exact match negatives when using Dynamic Search Ads (DSA). Exact match negatives are also crucial for DSA search ads to eliminate the high number of irrelevant searches you are likely to experience.
- Use fewer negative keywords with the Google Display Network. Smaller, more niche lists of negative keywords are preferable with the Google Display Network, particularly for remarketing purposes. A separate list especially designed for GDN is preferable wherever possible.
- Use traffic sculpting. When a user searches Google, Google will naturally seek a keyword with the closest match – which could trigger your advert. However, in some instances, specific keywords may compete against one another due to variations in Quality Score or history. In order to prevent this, individual positive keywords can be added as negative keywords to ad groups and campaigns, which is well worth doing.
The default broad match positive keywords require more negative keywords than a modified broad match or phrase match, with exact match requiring no negative keywords. For new Adwords accounts, it is easier to start with the modified broad match and exact match type.
Keywords are often applied at the ad group level or/and campaign level. This approach becomes harder to manage as the account grows- and more campaigns are developed that need to share the same negative keywords. Instead, try using shared negative keywords. available within the Adwords shared library.
Manage all negatives in a central location- instead of updating all the campaigns one by one as separate lists.
If certain negatives are only applicable to one service or product- they can be included explicitly within that individual campaign. A single shared negative keyword list that is attached to all search campaigns will often cover well over 80%+ of the negative keywords.
See our blog posting on how to build a Negative Keywords List Tips
Having separate negative keyword lists for different campaigns makes future updates easier. The base negative keywords can be single words that will block any irrelevant search query that contains this. This requires both singular and plural negative keywords for each word.
Types of Negative Keyword Lists
Negative Keywords for Google Search Text Ads
Start by creating one generic keyword negative keyword list to attach this list to all of the search campaigns.
Use single word broad negative match whenever a word is irrelevant 100% of the time for the particular industry, theme, products or services offered. (for example words like free, used). Using single word negatives helps to streamline negative keyword lists significantly. Look at the current negative keyword list of words that get repeated over and over, delete these and add the single word as a broad match negative. This will prevent the ad showing for any instance of the search query that includes the word within the keyword string.
Google Shopping Negative Keyword Tips
Google Shopping Ads do not use positive keywords. Instead, product titles along with other attributes taken from your product catalogue are used- via Google Merchant Centre. Therefore exact match negative keywords can be very useful for Google Shopping
DSA (Dynamic Search Ads) Negatives Keyword Tips
DSA does not use match types- and therefore the equivalent to standard broad match. Using DSA without RLSA can get some very wide and sometimes totally irrelevant searches. As with using the default broad match, more exact match negatives are required when using DSA. Sometimes both single word broad match negatives and multiple word exact match negative keywords are required. Check out the search terms report and make sure that budget is not being wasted without exact match negatives.
Google Display Network Negatives.
The Display network requires less negative keywords than the search network, therefore do not use the same negative keyword list used for Google Search- especially for remarketing.
Brand Negative Keyword list.
If you have a brand campaign to bid on your brand terms keywords like company name or website, make sure this list is attached to the non-brand campaigns. This helps with attribution so that non-brand campaigns do not take credit for brand traffic. It is also possible to set the attribution level settings to give credit to the first click.
Traffic sculpting (also known as funnelling)
A more advanced technique of using negative keywords is called traffic sculpting, or funnelling to help Google choose the keyword in your account to match the search term used. When a search is made, Google will look for the closest match keyword and this will trigger the advert. Sometimes, however, certain keywords can compete against each other due to variations in quality score, bid and overall history. This situation is referred to as an ad serving issue. To prevent this from being a problem, individual positive keywords can be added as negative keywords to the ad groups that you do not want to show for a search term, or sometimes even campaigns. For example if you sold wooden widgets in various colours. The ad group with the generic keyword wooden widgets could contain red, blue, green, orange to ensure that when some enters. The search terms report of each ad group will show if an ad serving problem exists or not.
- Using a base negative keyword list that has single word negatives- and attach this to all non-brand search campaigns,
- Use exact match negatives for Google Shopping, DSA or when using the default broad match
- Start with a popular negative keyword list before instead of waiting for obvious negatives in the search terms report
- Use traffic sculpting to make sure ad groups are not competing with each other, due to their respective keywords showing for the same search terms
- Hopefully, the guide above will allow you to start using negative keywords across your ad campaigns.