Google Ads Negative Keywords List: The Must-Knows and Must-Dos

Negative keywords are used to prevent ads from showing to people online when they enter specific search queries. When it comes to paid ads and searches, it’s essential to use the right keywords that bring the most ROI.

It’s also vital to avoid search queries that perform poorly. Don’t waste ads and money by showing them on words that typically offer low ROI.

The concerning thing is that lots of marketers don’t add a single negative keyword. They are missing out on increasing their ROI and boosting conversions overall. This is why we are going to guide you on how to use negative keywords for the best results.

When You Should Start Doing Negative Keyword Research

If you are using Google Ads, you should be using negative keywords. This is a vital method that will improve the overall performance of your campaign. However, there are three typical situations when you should do your negative keyword research more efficiently.

1. Before Launching a PPC Campaign

Many people like to be proactive and create a negative keyword list before launching their PPC campaign. If you include these keywords since the start, you can instantly expect to get better results and save on clicks.

This is a good approach since you will be brainstorming your main keywords before setting the campaign. It’s quite simple. If you know which keywords and phrases will bring in the most revenue, you can use them to figure out those keywords that will have poor performance.

2. When Your Campaign is Live Already

If you don’t have any ideas about creating your negative keyword list from the very start, you can be reactive instead of proactive. Analyse your campaign and see which irrelevant searches are matching with your ads.

After just a single day, you can start noticing search queries with lots of impressions but only a small percentage of clicks. Look for those searches and add them to the list of your negative keywords. You are merely adjusting your campaign and reacting adequately to filter out low-performing searches.

3. Do it Constantly

Yes, some broader negative keywords can help you improve results, but they are rarely enough. You need to monitor your campaign closely and mine your search query results by looking at impressions, conversions, and Quality Score to recognise poor keywords.

Similarly to how you manage your keywords, you need to keep a close eye on the negative ones. This is how you will be able to spot new opportunities and remove those phrases that are hindering your results.

Overall, you should start doing negative research as soon as possible and consistently keep your keyword list “clean.”

Types of Negative Keywords

Negative keywords are the opposite of bidding or positive keywords. In other words, they are the phrases you don’t want to pursue with your ads.

When you add some negative keyword, all of the search queries containing it won’t be displayed with your ad. However, negative keywords can come in different forms.

Negative Broad Match

The negative broad match keyword setting lets you exclude ads for searches that include a phrase regardless of its order. For example, if your negative broad match keyword is “running shoes”, all of the searches that include these two terms will be excluded. However, your ad still has a chance of showing if the search contains only certain keyword terms.

This option lets you filter out many different variations and combinations. It’s an excellent way to quickly stop targeting a particular phrase if you notice that it’s performing poorly. Here are some examples of searches that will be excluded if your negative broad match keyword is “running shoes”:

  • Blue running shoes
  • Shoes running
  • Running shoes
Negative Word TypeExplanationExampleBlocked Search Allowed Search
Negative Broad Match If the query contains this term(s), the ad won’t show. Running shoesBlue running shoes, shoes running, running shoesBlue tennis shoes, running shoe

Negative Phrase Match

Negative phrase match keywords let advertisers exclude ads for those searches that include a particular keyword phrase. Simply put, ads will exclude searches that appear in the exact order as your negative keyword, even if the searches have additional words before and after your negative keyword.

You can create a negative phrase match by using quotations around a phase. Here are some examples of a negative phrase match keyword and when your ad won’t show. If the negative phrase match is “running shoes,” it won’t show in these searches:

  • Blue running shoes
  • Running shoes
  • Where to buy running shoes in Singapore
Negative Word TypeExplanationExampleBlocked Search Allowed Search
Negative Phrase Match The ad won’t show if it contains this term, even if there are other words before or after it. Running shoesBlue running shoes, running shoes, where to buy running shoes in SingaporeBlue tennis shoes, running shoe, shoes running, shoes good for running

Negative Exact Match

With the exact negative match, you will exclude all searches for your ads with the exact phrase you added. This means that there are no other scenarios in which the search will be excluded. In other words, it needs to be completely identical without any additional terms.

If the search has your phrase but comes with some additional keywords, your ad will be shown. To create a negative exact match keyword, simply put the word or phrase in [ ]. For example, if your negative keyword is [running shoes], your ad won’t appear only when the search is:

  • Running shoes

It will show in these situations:

  • Blue tennis shoes
  • Running shoe
  • Blue running shoes
  • Shoes running
Negative Word TypeExplanationExampleBlocked Search Allowed Search
Negative Exact Match If the search query is an exact match, the ad won’t show. Running shoesRunning shoesBlue tennis shoes, running shoe, blue running shoes, shoes running

Symbols in Negative Keywords

The symbols used in negative keywords are fundamental. Google hasn’t left anything to chance. It’s up to advertisers to be punctual and through with their negative keyword lists. First of all, to create negative keywords, you will have to use adequate symbols.

Brackets are used for the exact negative match:

  • [Running shoes] = Running shoes;

Quotations are used for negative phrase match:

  • “Running shoes” = Running shoes;

Negative broad match keywords don’t require any additional symbols:

  • Running shoes;

It’s important to mention that these added symbols aren’t counted in searches but as just plain words.

On the other hand, you can also add symbols like “*, á, and &” for your keywords. They aren’t considered to be the same as phrases without those symbols. For example:

  • Bags & shoes” aren’t the same as “bags and shoes.”

This rule applies to all of these three symbols.

Google also doesn’t accept certain symbols and will display an error message if used. Here are some of them:

  • @
  • ()
  • =
  • %
  • ,.
  • ?
  • ;

What is the Difference Between The Campaign-Level & Ad Group-Level Negatives

Google ads are a useful tool that lets you do all kinds of things. When it comes to negative keywords, you will have to add a lot of terms to your list. Sometimes managing them can be difficult.

This is why Google ads have added the campaign level and ad group level negatives for better management. They make your job a lot easier and help you use the relevant negatives you’ve used in the past. Here’s how.

Campaign Level

The campaign level list is where you add negative keywords specific to a particular ad campaign. These keywords are used specifically for a campaign. For example, if you are selling handbags, but you don’t have options for men, you can create negative keywords that exclude searches relevant to men.

You can exclude words like “men,” “man,” or “men’s” from your ads. On the other hand, you can add a negative phrase match like “men’s handbags” to be excluded from that campaign.

Ad Group Level

In certain situations, you will want to exclude keywords negative in some ad groups but not for the whole campaign. In these situations, you can add cross negatives on the ad group level. This gives you better control of an account while boosting your results.

Sometimes the campaign level negatives can cause you to bleed traffic and money. In these situations, you can tailor groups in a better way and ensure positive results.

What are the Common Ways of Using Negative Keywords

The Traditional Use

With searches, there is a lot of room for misunderstandings and mistakes. After all, people’s habits, speech, and internet use evolve. It’s essential to make sure that your ads are shown to those looking for what you are offering.

For example, many potential searches can catch your ad without any relevance if you are offering plumber training. If someone is looking for plumbing services, they don’t need a course.

One of the most straightforward solutions would be to add the “plumbing services” as an exact match negative to get rid of those searches.

The Protective Use

If you are creating different ads with different ad copy and targeting people in various stages of their buyer’s journey, you might need other negatives. This is where you can use different ads and focus on different searches to maximise results.

For example, if you make an ad that showcases a category like running shoes, you might want to exclude searches that include model names of specific shoes. On the other hand, another ad can have a more narrow approach focusing on your prime sellers and quickly convert searches into sales.

How to Find Negative Keywords

Negative keyword research planner

Using a Keyword Planner

There are various tools used for keyword research. AdWords has the Keyword Planner that can be used by everyone. On the other hand, another popular tool is SEMrush. The goal is simple.

Discover keywords that aren’t related to your campaign, see their relevance, and create a list of negative keywords before they cost you any money. All of these tools have their features, but in essence, they do the same thing.

First of all, choose your keyword to discover other keyword suggestions to see essential metrics and competition. Based on the volume and competition, you can see which keywords are performing well and which ones aren’t.

At the same time, you can find keywords that don’t have a lot of competition. Based on these factors, you can create a campaign while considering the negative keywords. All of this can help you maximise your results and show your ads to the right people.

For example, if there is a lot of competition for the phrase “running shoes” and there are a lot of monthly searches, you might want to consider excluding that keyword from your search. Instead, look for a relevant keyword that has less competition and a solid number of monthly searches. It will yield better results.

Keyword planner

Using the Search Terms Report

The search terms report displays you the terms searched by users to display your ad. This report will reveal three important things:

  1. Added/excluded – the list of queries that you are using as negative or positive keywords.
  2. Match type: if the search query is matching to exact keywords, phrases, or broad keywords.
  3. Search term: search queries that are activating ads.

Simply look for queries that have no relevance or bring poor results. By looking at them, you can notice keywords that you can use to exclude those searches. When going through your report, filter the results by:

  • Cost per action
  • Conversion rate
  • Click-through rate

These metrics can help you recognise poorly performing searches and exclude them with the right negative keywords. But at the same time, make sure to look at the positive queries as well.

Sometimes, the positive ones that give excellent results can have the same keywords like the ones that are performing poorly. You need to find effective negative keywords that will only cancel out your ad queries that are performing poorly.

Common Negative Keyword Mistakes to Avoid

Positive keyword research is challenging. Adding negative keywords to your campaign makes things even more complicated. This is especially true when you consider the fact that these two affect each other. Simply put, your negative keywords can often block your well-performing search queries and diminish your returns.

There is a lot of room for error. Lots of advertisers don’t build negative keyword lists because they make these mistakes and ruin their campaigns. This is why we’ve decided to show you the most common mistakes and how to overcome them.

Using the Same Negative Keywords as The Positive Ones

Yes, this one might seem like a no-brainer, but it happens all the time. When you start building your negative keyword list, there will be a lot of manual tasks involved. It’s easy to lose track of your base positive keywords and use the same ones that are your critical assets.

This can happen in so many ways, like mixing up the negative keyword types, confusing your positive keywords with negative ones, etc. Luckily, Google has provided the Negative Keyword Conflict Report through which you can efficiently deal with this issue.

Solution

1. Set up Your Negative Keyword Conflict Report

Google offers a free Keywords Conflict spreadsheet you can simply copy to your drive or wherever it suits you.

2. Populate Your List

Common Negative Keyword Mistakes to Avoid

Populate the sheet with the desired information. This includes your account, keywords, level, campaign, and blocked keywords.

3. Run The Script Editor

script editor

Once you’ve added all your keywords and desired information, click on “tools” and then “script editor.” Once you’ve done that, copy the script provided by Google and paste it into the editor. Add your email address and the URL of your spreadsheet before running the script.

4. You’re Done

Once you’ve activated the script, you will receive the report in your email inbox. Make sure to deal with all of the conflicting keywords ASAP.

Placing Negative Keywords at the Wrong Place

As we talked about earlier, negative keywords can be added in different places. This means that they will apply for different things.

Brands and advertisers often lose track of these levels and misplace negative keywords, creating problems. For example, instead of putting keywords in the ad group, they put them for the whole campaign.

Solution

One solution for this is to have a systematic approach. Always start from the top and go down to the bottom. First, add keywords for the whole account, then for the campaigns, and lastly, for your ad groups. Analyze all of the keywords and how they interact from top to bottom when adding them.

Not Understanding How Negative Keywords Matches Work

Google Ads and keywords are tricky business. When you start getting into detail, it’s easy to get lost. People type in all kinds of different things in their search queries.

They are often partial searches that will display similar results as your negative keywords. But this doesn’t mean that your ad won’t be displayed. People don’t pay attention to these things, and their ads still get shown with low results.

Negative keywords

Solution

The trick here is to learn all of the negative keyword types and understand what they do. Simultaneously, combine multiple types of the same phrases in appropriate ways to ensure there is less clutter coming through.

You will have to be through and create a chart through which you can track why you are using certain types of keywords and in what way. Update your list and always stay on top of your keywords. This takes time and practice but will help you perfect your ad campaigns.

Poor Negative Keyword List Management

As you might have noticed already, negative keyword lists can get extensive, and they should. However, this creates another issue. When using keywords and lists, you might lose track of which keywords are relevant for your current account, campaign, or ad group.

At the same time, some lists can often have a dozen negatives while others have hundreds. Of course, not all lists will be the same, but higher dispersions will create issues.

Solution

The solution is to be methodical and thorough with your keyword research and build lists instantly on different account levels. With more positive keywords and thorough research, you will create a list of negative keywords right off the bat.

Navigate to the “Shared Library” page in Google Ads and click on the “Negative Keyword List.” Name the list with a systematic approach and then add all of the keywords. After doing this, you can instantly get the list when setting up keywords for ad groups or specific campaigns.

Conclusion

Building a list of negative keywords is a long process, and it requires a lot of effort. Over time, professional PPC managers create large databases of niche negatives that they can always use in the future.

The goal of negative keywords is to minimise meaningless clicks. This means that you won’t waste money on your ads. At the same time, your ads will be displayed only to relevant consumers. All of this leads to increased ROI for your advertising campaigns.

As an experienced PPC agency, Heroes of Digital can direct advertisers in different niche negative keywords and help create a list of keywords that will ensure optimal performance for various campaigns. Book a risk-free consultation with us today!

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Xavier Tan
Co-Founder
Xavier is the Co-Founder of Heroes of Digital. He started social media marketing and SEM long before it became popular in Singapore. His passion is in helping businesses grow through effective lead generation. He has overseen campaigns for Amara Hotel, NTU, Marina Bay, L'Oreal, and 100+ SMEs.

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