AdWords Negative Keywords

What is a Negative Keyword?

A negative keyword is a keyword which signals to Google that they are not to trigger one of your ads when someone searches on that keyword.

Why use Negative Keywords?

Let’s use a metaphor to describe this.  Using keywords that attract highly qualified visitors to your website is the life blood of your account and negative keywords are the coagulant that stops you spilling that life blood. If the metaphor is extreme, it’s because we routinely take over accounts where around 30% of all clicks should have been stopped with the effective use of negative keywords. There can’t be too many businesses that would be happy with wasting 30% of their ad spend.

There is another, perhaps more insidious reason to actively manage negative keywords. The terms you see in your search term report are when someone actually clicked your ad. Let’s assume for a moment that you sell books but not book cases. Depending on how well structured your account is, it’s entirely possible that search terms that contain book case will trigger a keyword and consequently an ad. But because you only sell books and not book cases, your ad will not mention book cases and is unlikely to be clicked. The result? Your click-through rate on the triggered keywords falls, which lowers your quality score and increases your costs. But that’s a post for another day.

There are three types of negative keywords

  1. Negative Broad. This is the easiest to understand and the most powerful. Simply put, if someone’s search term includes your negative keyword, your ad won’t show. For example, if your negative keyword is cases, you ads won’t be triggered for search terms such as book cases. A negative broad is denoted with the character -, for example -cases.
  2. Negative phrase. This negative keyword option will stop your ads rendering when the search term contains your negative phrase. For example, if you sell books but not accessories such as book ends, you could add the negative phrase keyword book ends. So if someone searched on where can I buy book ends, your ads would not show. A negative phrase is denoted with the characters “”, for example “book ends”.
  3. Negative Exact. This negative keyword will stop ads showing when the search term exactly matches your negative exact keyword. For example, if your negative exact keyword is book review, then your ads won’t show when someone’s search terms is exactly book review. The negative exact keyword is denoted by the characters [], for example [book review].

Where to find negative keywords

The easiest place to look for negative keywords is in your search term report

Once you find a keyword that you want to add as a negative, the next decision you need to make is whether to add it at a campaign level or at an ad group level. Most negative keywords will be entered at a campaign level. For example, if you never want your ads to be triggered by a search term that includes book case, you would add book case as a negative phrase keyword into all your campaigns.

It gets more interesting when we consider negative keywords at an ad group level. Let’s assume that you sell cook books and you have your ad groups structured by category, for example one ad group is for meat recipes and a second ad group is for vegetarian cook books. You could then add the negative keyword vegetarian to your meat recipe ad group. That would stop Google from trigging any of your meat recipe books when someone’s search term contained vegetarian.

Where to add your negative keywords

You can add them directly from search term report. Another AdWords interface  option is through the keywords tab as illustrated below. 

Adding negative keywords into Google AdWords

And for a starter for 75, you could use this negative keyword list from TechWyse – most of these negative keywords on this list would be useful additions to most AdWords accounts.

Pro tip - We can’t stress how important negative keyword management is. We do recommend that you review your search terms report on a very regular basis.