Negative Keywords in Google Ads

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Negative Keywords in Google Adsd-tags
27 January 2023
In Google Ads, negative keywords are almost as important as positive keywords. They prevent an ad from being triggered by a certain phrase or word. Find out the role they play in managing effective Google Ads campaigns and understand their impact on essential metrics such as CTR or conversion.

9min.

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Table of contents: Running advertising campaigns in Search Networks or Display Ads in Google Ads, you need to make every effort to ensure that your advertisements are shown only to the prospects that are potentially interested in buying the promoted product or service. There are a few reasons why that is crucial, among which the most important one, at least business-wise, is the budget. Running a campaign that doesn’t reach the target audience quickly leads to a high budget burn rate. It means that most of the money devoted to a campaign is spent on the ads displayed to the people who aren’t interested in the offer. To prevent this from happening, you may consider using negative keywords.

What are Negative Keywords in Google Ads?

Negative keywords are single words or phrases defined by us as the elements that block either a group of ads or the entire campaign from being displayed. Take the cycling industry for example. If you or your client sells new bicycles, you don’t want the advertisement to be displayed to those people who are looking for used two-wheelers. In this case, one of the negative keywords is “used” in all configurations, even including typos. I’m going to explain this issue later.
Examples of keywords we want to show up for Examples of negative keywords set in the panel Examples of keywords which we do not show up for
“men's cross trans bicycle” used “used men's cross trans bike”
“ladies' bike trans” used “used women's trans bike”
“city bike” [used city bike] [used men's mountain bike]
[men's mountain bike] [used men's mountain bike] “used women's cross bike up to $1,000”
“cross bike” used cross bike “used city bike”
Doing so, you eliminate the possibility of getting your ad called out by an inadequate phrase. When it comes to Display and Video Networks, defining negative keywords reduces the likelihood of the ads appearing on the website whose content is related thematically to the very keywords.

What are Negative Keywords Used for?

Using negative keywords in your campaigns is a great way to customize the ads more effectively, thus improving the chance of showing them only to the people interested in the offer. This, in turn, has a positive effect on CTR and increases return on investment. It’s worth mentioning that in Display Ads and Video Networks, negative keywords work differently than in Search Networks. Their maximal defined number for the former equals 5 thousand. You can also exclude places where the ad shouldn’t be displayed. These can be apps or websites that cover certain topics you want to avoid.
Read also: First Steps in Google Ads Campaign

Keyword Match Types in Google Ads

There are various types of keyword matches used in Google Ads campaigns. The same applies to negative keyword matches. It’s crucial, however, to adopt a bit different approach to defining the negative keywords than when doing so with positive keywords. To help you understand this better, see the examples below.

Search Network Ads Campaigns

If you have already had a chance to add positive keywords to Search Network campaigns, then you probably remember that Google Ads offers 3 mach types:
  • exact match
  • phrase match
  • broad match
This system is effective enough to find conjugations, synonyms, and even incorrect forms of the keywords you decided to use in the campaign. In the case of negative keywords, this process is carried out differently. It’s you who need to provide all derived forms of the keywords, along with the synonyms - Google isn’t able to do this on its own. Take a rain umbrella store for example. Since their range of products includes only umbrellas that protect from rain, you may not want Google to display your products when a searcher types “sun umbrellas” or “garden umbrellas”. Those two phrases need to be defined as negative keywords. While doing so, you need to remember to include all possible variations of the negative keywords. That’s why apart from “garden umbrellas” you may also consider adding phrases like “sun umbrella for terrace”.
Example of broad match Example of phrase match Example of exact match
garden umbrellas “garden umbrella” [garden umbrella]
patio umbrellas “umbrella for terrace” [sun umbrella for terrace]
restaurant umbrellas “umbrella for the garden” [large umbrella for the garden]

Display Network Campaigns

When it comes to Display Network campaigns, you need to remember that each negative keyword you define equals the rejection of a particular content topic, so that the ad won’t be displayed on websites related to this topic. To make this clearer, let’s analyze “men’s shoes”. The campaign rejects each website that is more or less closely related to the negative keyword. In this case, your ad won’t appear on websites with “men’s shoes”, but it also won’t be displayed on websites that don’t have this phrase, yet are connected with it. This means that the ad won’t be shown on websites having phrases like “men’s footwear”, “men’s sneakers”, “men's derby shoes”. Thus, it’s not about the phrase itself but also about the strong connection between the web content and the defined negative keyword. However, it’s worth noting that the mentioned phrase won’t interfere with other keywords connected with men’s fashion or women’s shoes. automated bidding in google ads

How to Add Negative Keywords to Search Network

Negative Broad Match

Let’s start with the broad match. In this case, you don’t assign any symbols to the keywords. It’s worth emphasizing that the broad match is set by default in Google Ads. Negative broad match depends on excluding each search that includes all words that make up the defined phrase, even if their order is changed. However, if a search contains only some of the words used in the defined phrase, the ad will be displayed. Here, as an example: calligraphy accessories Among the excluded phrases, there are “calligraphy accessories”, “professional calligraphy accessories” or “amateur calligraphy accessories”. However, there is a great chance that the ad will be triggered by phrases like “professional lettering accessories”, “amateur lettering accessories”, and “calligraphy pens”. Negative broad match: calligraphy accessories
Blocked searches The ad will show on
professional calligraphy accessories amateur lettering accessories
calligraphy accessories professional lettering accessories
amateur calligraphy accessories calligraphy pens

Negative Phrase Match

Another type of match type is phrase match. Such phrases need to be put in quotation marks. Those phrases won’t trigger ads when the search includes the words used in the phrase - no matter the order they are arranged in. Negative phrase match also works when the user types more words before or after the defined phrase. Negative Keywords phrase match Here’s an example - a negative phrase match: “calligraphy accessories” The ad won’t be triggered by phrases like “professional calligraphy accessories”, “amateur calligraphy accessories”, “cheap amateur calligraphy accessories” or simply by “calligraphy accessories”. At the same time, you have a chance to get your ad called out by phrases like “calligraphy accessories”, “lettering accessories” and “calligraphy pens”. Negative phrase match: “calligraphy accessories”
Blocked searches The ad will show on
professional calligraphy accessories calligraphy accessories
amateur calligraphy accessories lettering accessories
cheap amateur calligraphy accessories calligraphy pens
calligraphy accessories

Negative Exact Match

The last match type is the exact match. The defined phrases are put in square brackets. The phrases used in this match eliminate all types of searches that are identical to the negative keywords. Negative Keywords - calligraphy accessories This means that when a customer types your phrase but adds some extra words at the front or end of the phrase - your ad can be displayed. Let’s see an example of the following phrase: [calligraphy accessories] All identical-looking queries will be blocked, however, the ad will show on “professional calligraphy accessories”, “amateur calligraphy accessories”, “amateur lettering accessories”, “calligraphy kits”, and “calligraphy accessories”. Negative exact match: [calligraphy accessories]
Blocked searches The ad will show on
calligraphy accessories calligraphy accessory
lettering accessories
calligraphy pens

How and When Should You Add Negative Keywords in Google Ads Campaigns. How to Edit Negative Keywords

Due to the differences between using negative keywords in Search Network Ads and Display Ads, we’re going to divide this part into two sections. The first section is going to be devoted to Search Network Ads, whereas the other will be about Display Ads.

Search Network Ads

If you want to add negative keywords to Search Network Ad, you need to go through the following steps:
  1. Sign into your Google Ads account.
  2. Click on the chosen search campaign.
  3. Select the Keywords tab and click on Negative keywords.
Search Network Ads To add a phrase, you need to type it into the box. In this place, you can also choose whether a given phrase should be assigned to a campaign or an ad group. You are also given the option to add extra negative keywords to an already-existing list or to create a completely new list. It’s worth bearing in mind that the lists affect the whole campaign. You can’t apply them to one ad group. However, you can do this with individual negative phrases. You can add them to the whole campaign or to chosen ad groups. Don’t forget to mark the keywords appropriately. You need to decide if the match type is broad (no definition), phrase (quotation marks) or exact (square brackets). When you finish, hit the Save button. Mark the negative keywords We need to point out that the negative keywords can't be identical to the positive keywords. By doing so, you risk having your ads not displayed. Another issue to mention - keyword lists. If you create a negative keyword list and match it with one campaign, you can make the very list available for another campaign. To do so, open the Keywords tab. In the Negative keywords tab, click on Use negative keywords list (1). Next, select the campaign you want to include the keyword list to (2) and hit Save. Use negative keywords list Naturally, you can edit negative keywords. Just click on the pen icon that will appear next to a highlighted phrase. Here is an exemplary view: Edit negative keywords However, if you wish to delete a phrase, you need to check the box located right next to the phrase and click Delete. Additionally, if for some reason you need to download all negative keywords you created for a certain campaign or ad group, you can also do it. Download all negative keywords

Display Ads

As we already mentioned, negative keywords play a different role in Display Ad than they do it in Search Network Ads. They also work differently. The key issue is that each negative keyword you add is not only assigned to the broad match type, but it’s also the only match type that is available. This means that an ad won’t be displayed on websites that are topic-related to the negative phrase. At the same time, it’s worth noting that this system isn’t flawless, meaning your ad may be displayed on such websites from time to time. Another important issue is that in the case of Display Ads, you can add no more than 5,000 negative keywords.

How to Select Negative Keywords for Campaigns

In most cases, selecting negative keywords is more important than choosing positive keywords. This makes more sense when your budget is tight. Why is that? Simply because selecting negative keywords saves you from losing a big part of the campaign budget that would otherwise go to non-relevant website impressions. Resigning from utilizing negative keywords, your ad will be shown to people uninterested in your order, eating your budget up. Before making a list of negative keywords, you need to analyze your niche. You need to think through what people look for when they visit your website by accident - when they click on a phrase that isn’t connected with your business. For example, if you run a health clinic offering a whole range of medical treatments, you may consider excluding phrases typical of aesthetic medicine clinics. Another example, is if you’re a seller of kids’ dresses, you should think about blocking keywords for teenagers' and women’s dresses. There are other ways to select negative keywords for your business. You can analyze your competition, or check Google statistics. When your campaign is active, Google collects information about the phrases used by the searchers. This is the simplest way to find out what your prospects are looking for. This is also the best way to check whether your ads are triggered by irrelevant keywords. You can find the list in the Keywords tab, by clicking on Search terms. Find the list in the Keywords tab You can use this list to add words that don’t match your business profile. To do so, click on Add as a negative keyword. Naturally, you can add a word to a specific ad group or campaign. You can also just include it in the already-existing list or create a new list. Do this wisely, though. The more negative words you add, the less coverage your ads will get.

Add as negative keywords

It’s also advisable to exclude the phrases that are negatively connected with your brand - think of words like “the worst”, “bad”, “cheap”, “ugly” or even “complaint”. You probably don’t want your ad to be called out by “the worst smartphone” or “ugly crib”. Exclude the phrases that are negatively connected with your brand Another issue you need to think through is the phrases that begin with question words such as “which”, “how”, “what”, “where”, and “how much”. In most cases, it’s better to exclude these interrogative questions in ecommerce. On the other hand, such words are worth adding in the case of promoting blog posts, running a service company, or when launching an ad campaign. You may also consider adding names of locations that aren’t connected with your business, or names of local shops. Keep in mind that there is a simple way to streamline the process of adding negative keywords - creating a list of negative keywords. If you’re planning to conduct extensive marketing campaigns, it’s way easier and faster to upload a list of already defined negative keywords than adding them separately for each of your campaigns.
Read also: How to improve Google Ads Quality Score?

Final Remarks on Using Negative Keywords

Finally, we’d like to sum up the most important information on negative keywords. We’d also like to help you realize the crucial aspects of using negative keywords in Google Ads:
  1. First and foremost, while creating new campaigns and ad groups, always include negative keywords. This way you will steer clear of the high burn rate.
  2. Secondly, do this wisely. Exclude the unrelated keywords, yet bear in mind that with each negative keyword added, the ad reach is getting narrower.
  3. Thirdly, each negative keyword should go with its synonyms, conjugations, and singular/plural forms. Mind the match types, too.
  4. Fourthly, remember that there are some differences between using negative keywords in Search Network and Display Ads.
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Author
Wojciech Urban SEO R&D Specialist
Author
Wojciech Urban

SEO R&D Specialist

R&D specialist in SEO and web analytics. He feels most comfortable in the area of technical SEO, and his main task is to ensure that websites are optimized for search engines and achieve high rankings in search results.

Author
Wojciech Urban SEO R&D Specialist
Author
Wojciech Urban

SEO R&D Specialist

R&D specialist in SEO and web analytics. He feels most comfortable in the area of technical SEO, and his main task is to ensure that websites are optimized for search engines and achieve high rankings in search results.

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Award - Deloitte 2021 Award - European eCommerce Awards 2022 Award - European Search Awards 2022 Award - Global Agency Awards 2022 Award - IPMA Award - US Search Awards 2021