Negative Keywords: Understanding and Implementing Them Effectively

What Are Negative Keywords?

Negative keywords are essential tools in PPC campaigns, allowing advertisers to exclude specific keywords or phrases to ensure their ads are not displayed for irrelevant searches. For example, a company selling high-end watches might add "cheap" as a negative keyword to avoid appearing in searches for cheap watches.

Implementing negative keywords can help save money by avoiding clicks from users unlikely to convert, improve ad relevance and Quality Score, increase conversions, and protect the brand image by avoiding association with undesirable terms or topics.

What Are the Negative Keyword Match Types?

When adding negative keywords to a campaign, you can choose from several match types to specify the scope of queries you want to exclude.

These match types are similar to those used for regular keywords and include:

Broad Match Negative Keywords

Broad match is the default setting for negative keywords in Google Ads.

When using broad match, if a search query contains all of your negative keyword terms in any order, your ad won’t be triggered. For instance, if your negative keyword is “mountain bikes,” your ad won’t show for a search like “bikes mountain” because it includes all of your negative keyword terms.

However, your ad might still display if the search includes only some of your negative keyword terms, or if the search terms are very close to your negative keyword.

For example, if someone searches for “mountain bike,” your ad could show because your negative keyword included the term “bikes.”

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Phrase Match Negative Keywords

Negative phrase match prevents your ad from showing if the search query includes the specific keyword terms in the specified order.

While additional words in the search query are allowed, your ad won’t display as long as it contains all of your keyword terms in the same sequence.

For instance, if your negative keyword is “mountain bikes,” and someone searches for “trek mountain bikes,” your ad won’t show.

However, your ad can still appear if the order of the keyword terms is different or if there are additional characters. For example, your ad might show for a search like “bikes mountain.”

Exact Match Negative Keywords

Negative exact match keywords ensure that your ad won’t show if the search query precisely matches the keyword terms in the exact same order—without additional words or characters.

For example, if your negative keyword is “mountain bikes,” and someone searches for “mountain bikes,” your ad won’t show.

However, your ad could still appear if someone searches for “bikes mountain” or “mountain bike.”

Account-Level vs. Campaign-Level vs. Ad Group-Level Negative Keywords

Google Ads accounts are structured into three levels: account, campaigns, and ad groups.

At the account level, negative keywords apply to all campaigns within your account. Instead of adding the same negative keywords to each campaign, managing them at the account level saves time and reduces the chances of errors.

For instance, you can create a list of terms harmful to your brand and apply them to all campaigns instantly at the account level.

Campaign-level negative keywords apply to all ads within a specific campaign. If you add “free” as a campaign-level negative keyword, none of your ads in that campaign will appear for searches containing the word “free.”

Ad group-level negative keywords apply to specific ad groups within a campaign, offering more control over which ads show up for different searches. For example, in a holiday shoe campaign, you might add “formal” as a negative keyword for the “running shoes” ad group and “casual” as a negative keyword for the “dress shoes” ad group.

Use campaign-level negative keywords for broad terms irrelevant to your entire campaign and ad group-level negative keywords for specific terms relevant to some ad groups but not others.

How to Identify Negative Keywords

 Discovering negative keywords for your PPC campaigns can be achieved through various methods:

Conduct Keyword Research Commence with basic keyword research using a reliable tool. This process provides insights into popular search queries in your industry, offering numerous keyword ideas.

Enter your main keyword into the Keyword Magic Tool, specifying your location, and initiate the search.

The tool will generate a list of keyword ideas associated with your seed keyword, accompanied by essential metrics such as average monthly search volume, search intent, and cost per click (CPC).

Review the list of keywords and identify those that are irrelevant to your campaign. For example, if you operate a high-end shoe store, terms like “cheap shoes,” “outlet shoes,” or “second-hand shoes” would be considered irrelevant and potential candidates for negative keywords.

Examine Competitor Bids

Competitors, including indirect ones, might bid on keywords similar to yours but not entirely relevant to your brand. Their keyword selections can serve as a source of inspiration for negative keywords.

You can investigate a competitor’s PPC keywords using Semco’s Advertising Research tool. Simply input their domain, select your country, and click “Search.”

Scroll down to the “Paid Search Positions” table for insights.

For instance, if you’re a luxury shoe retailer analyzing a discount shoe retailer, you might consider negative keywords like “discount boots” and “kids Nikes on sale” based on the results.

Manually Search on Google

If you prefer not to use a negative keyword tool, you can manually search on Google. Enter a term related to your ad and review the results for irrelevant terms.

For instance, if you sell professional mountain bikes, search for “mountain bikes.” You might find irrelevant keywords like “emountain” or “recreational bikes.”

Use Google’s autocomplete feature by typing your main keyword to see related search terms.

For example, typing “mountain bikes” may suggest “mountain bikes Decathlon” and “mountain bikes Walmart,” which may not be relevant to professional mountain bikers.

Utilize Google Keyword Planner

Google Keyword Planner is a valuable free tool for PPC keyword research, including finding negative keywords.

Access the tool and select “Discover new keywords” from the main menu.

Enter your main keyword and click “Get results.”

Review the list of keyword ideas for any irrelevant terms.

 Add these to your negative keyword list to refine your campaign targeting.


Review the Google Ads Search Terms Report

Access the “Search terms” report in your Google Ads account under “Campaigns” > “Insights & reports” > “Search terms.”

This report displays the queries that triggered your ads. Look for irrelevant terms such as “winter dog shoes” or “do dogs need shoes.”

These can be added as negative keywords to refine your targeting and avoid showing your ads for unrelated searches.

How to Use Negative Keywords in Google Ads

After identifying the negative keywords for your campaigns, it’s time to add them to your Google Ads account. 

 Start by identifying negative keywords from your search terms report that are irrelevant to your campaign.

Go to your Google Ads account and navigate to the “Negative keywords” section.

Select whether you want to add negative keywords at the account, campaign, or ad group level.

Click on the “Add negative keyword” button and enter the negative keyword you want to add.

Choose the match type for your negative keyword (broad, phrase, or exact match).

Click “Save” to add the negative keyword to your account, campaign, or ad group.

Add Negative Keywords from the Dashboard

Here’s how to add negative keywords from the dashboard in your Google Ads account:

In your Google Ads account, click on “Campaigns.”

Select the “Audiences, keywords, and content” drop-down menu and choose “Negative search keywords.”

Click on the blue plus button to create a new negative keyword list.

Choose the campaign you want to add the negative keywords to.

Enter your negative keywords, one per line. Use special symbols to indicate match types (e.g., nothing for broad match, quotations for phrase match, square brackets for exact match).

Check “Save to new or existing list” and name your new list or select an existing one. Click “Save” to add the negative keywords to your selected campaign.

Apply Your Negative Keyword List to a Campaign or Ad Group

To apply your negative keyword list to a campaign or ad group, follow these steps:

In your Google Ads account dashboard, click on “Campaigns.”

Choose the campaign you want to add the negative keywords to.

Click the “Audiences, keywords, and content” drop-down menu, then click “Search keywords.”

Click on “Negative Keywords” at the top.

Click the blue plus button and select “Use negative keyword list.”

Check the box next to the negative keyword list you want to apply to the campaign.

Click “Save” to apply the negative keywords to your selected campaign or ad group.

Best Practices for Negative Keywords

To enhance your negative keyword strategy, keep these best practices in mind:

Include Plurals and Singulars:

 Enhance the precision of your negative keyword strategy by considering both singular and plural forms of keywords.

This approach prevents your ads from appearing in searches containing either version, ensuring more relevant ad placements.

For instance, if you wish to exclude “shoes” from your ads, also add “shoe” to your negative keyword list.

By implementing this tactic, you can potentially increase your click-through rate (CTR) and filter out irrelevant traffic stemming from both singular and plural search queries.

Use Symbols with Caution

When using symbols in negative keywords for Google Ads, it’s important to understand how they are interpreted. Google Ads recognizes only three types of symbols for negative keyword matching:

  1. Ampersands: Google differentiates between “&” and “and.” For example, if you want to exclude searches for “Dolce & Gabbana,” you should also include “Dolce and Gabbana” in your negative keyword list.
  2. Accent Marks: Google treats letters with and without accent marks differently. For instance, “René Caovilla” and “Rene Caovilla” are considered distinct. Therefore, you may need to include both versions in your negative keywords if relevant.
  3. Asterisks: While Google doesn’t support using “” as a wildcard character to exclude all variations of a word (e.g., “zucc” to cover both “zucchini” and “zuccini”), it can be used sparingly in specific cases where it’s necessary.

Other symbols are either ignored or considered invalid, so it’s best to avoid using them.

 Additionally, Google doesn’t distinguish between uppercase and lowercase letters in negative keywords, so “childrens shoes” will also exclude “children’s shoes,” and “k swiss” will exclude “K-swiss.”

Experiment with Various Match Types

Explore different match types for your negative keywords to fine-tune your targeting. Broad match negatives block out any search query that includes your negative keyword in any order, giving you a broad filter. Exact match negatives, on the other hand, allow you to block out the exact term, offering more precise control over which queries trigger your ads.

Identify and Exclude Underperforming Keywords

Regularly review your “Search terms” reports to identify keywords that receive a high number of impressions but have low performance metrics such as CTR or Quality Score. These keywords can be added as exact match negative keywords to improve your campaign’s efficiency and budget allocation.

Monitor and Update Regularly

Continuously monitor your negative keyword lists, conversion data, and customer feedback to identify new negative keyword opportunities or assess the performance of existing ones. Regular updates ensure that your negative keywords remain relevant and aligned with your campaign objectives.

Continuously Improve Your Keyword Strategy

While adding negative keywords is a crucial step, your optimization efforts shouldn’t end there.

PPC is a dynamic field where rankings, competitors, and algorithms are constantly changing.

To stay ahead, regularly monitor your campaign data and refine your keyword lists.

Utilize Tools for Efficient Optimization Tools like the PPC Keyword Tool can streamline this process.

It enables you to compare keywords across different ad groups, identify new negative keywords, and seamlessly integrate changes into Google Ads.

Simply import your keywords, and the tool will provide suggestions for improvement.

Establish a Regular Optimization Routine Set a schedule for reviewing and updating your negative keyword lists.

Depending on the complexity of your campaigns, aim to do this monthly or bi-weekly to ensure your campaigns remain effective and cost-efficient.