What are Negative Keywords and how to use them?

Keywords on Google Ads campaigns help serve ads to users searching for relevant information, products or services. But on many occasions, there are certain search terms that you do not want to spend your ad budget on. If your campaign was about high-end designer clothes, you do not want to target users looking for counterfeit goods, fake goods, cheap designer clothes and such. This is where negative keywords help. If you add the appropriate search terms as negative keywords, you can avoid targeting the audience searching for it.

There are a few more benefits that come with negative keywords.

Negative keywords help with keyword sculpting

If you were selling HVAC services, you could send traffic related to installation and maintenance to different landing pages. This can be done by adding keywords for installation and maintenance to different ad groups. Given that these keywords are going to be similar, you would want to ensure that search terms for one ad group are not served ads meant for another. When you find this happening, you can add negative keywords for the ad group to prevent this.

Google Ads allows you to manage negative keywords at account-level, campaign-level or ad-group level depending on the campaign type you are running. Negative keywords can also be used at a campaign-level, to prevent two or more of your campaigns from competing for impressions on the same search terms.

Checkout our guide: https://getreportkit.com/posts/what-is-a-search-terms-report-on-google-ads-and-how-do-you-use-it/ to know how Search Terms Report can help monitor such scenarios.

Negative keywords help channel your campaign’s ad spend better

Apart from irrelevance, there are other factors why some search terms could be added as negative keywords. Search terms with high CPC or bad conversion rates could also be very valid reasons for adding them as negative keywords.

For example,

  • If you were selling blog themes, anyone searching for “free blog themes”, could be bad audience, unless you really do offer some of your blog themes for free.
  • If you were advertising to sell new sneakers, anyone searching “preowned sneakers” are most likely not your target audience.

In these cases, adding free blog theme and preowned sneakers as a negative keywords can help.

Using negative keywords to manage ad spend is especially important for small and medium-sized businesses that do not have an ad budget as deep as an oil well. We recommend monitoring your search term metrics regularly to ensure the ROAS doesn’t drop for search terms or at a keyword-level.

Finding negative keywords

There are quite a few ways to identify negative keywords for your campaign. But we recommend you don’t spend much time on this until you have a campaign running.

You can burn the midnight oil trying to find negative keywords before the start of your campaign, but that is going to be premature optimization. With a running campaign you have metrics to help determine search terms that can be added as negative keywords.

Considering the above recommendation, the best source to find negative keywords is the Search Terms Report on the Google Ads dashboard.

Managing negative keywords

Search terms you deem as not useful to your campaign, can be added at an account level, campaign level, or ad group level. This depends on the campaign type.

  • Search Campaigns, Shopping Campaigns and Display Campaigns allow managing negative keywords at account, campaign and ad-group level.
  • For Performance Max campaigns, negative keywords can only be added at an account-level.

Just like campaign keywords, negative keywords also support match types. The match types supported differ across campaigns.

Match types for Negative Keywords

Match types for negative keywords have the same names as match types for keywords in your campaign. But the way they function are different.

Negative keywords with Broad Match

Adding a negative keyword with broad match type would prevent your ad from showing for terms that contain the keyword (or phrase) in any order. Your ad may still show if the search contains only some of your keyword phrases.

If the negative keyword on your campaign was “cheap sports shoes” with broad match, then the following image shows when your ads which search terms your ads could be served with.

Negative keywords with Phrase Match

Adding negative keywords with phrase match prevents ads from being shown for search terms that contain the keyword (or phrase) in the same order.

If the negative keyword on your campaign was “cheap sports shoes” with phrase match, then the following image shows which search terms your ads could show for.

Negative keywords with Exact Match

Adding negative keywords with exact match, will prevent ads from being shown when the search term is the same as the keyword (or phrase) that is added. But ads could still be served when the search terms contain other words.

If the negative keyword on your campaign was “cheap sports shoes” with exact match, then the following image shows which search terms your ads could show for.

Do symbols affect matching in negative keywords?

With the exception of certain symbols, Google Ads does not allow symbols in negative keywords (or discards them like in the case of dots/periods).

  • Accents & diacritical marks are allowed. Negative keywords with and without these are considered different.
  • Negative keywords with and without ampersands (&) or apostrophes (‘) are considered different keywords. For example, “healthy food and drink” is does not match “healthy food & drink”.

Is managing negative keywords productive or micro-management?

It depends. That should be the answer to life, universe and everything.

For an account with very large ad budget, time is better spent identifying new keywords to target, and letting Google Ads make decisions about search terms based on conversion metrics.

For a campaign run by a small business, maintaining a negative keyword list helps maintain control over ad spend. This also means choosing a campaign type that supports easily managing negative keywords and placements (stay away from Performance Max).