negative keywords - google ads

Written by 4:19 pm Google Ads

How to Correctly Use Negative Keywords in Google Ads

If you’re using broad match keyword types, having a negative keyword strategy is essential to an efficient campaign.

December 30th 2019

Negative keywords are the bedrock of any Google Ads account and key to maintaining a highly efficient set of campaigns. Essentially, negative keywords that are implemented into your account, campaign or ad group are keywords that are added to ensure your ads to not fire for a keyword that is outside of an exact match variation.

Negative keywords are required to enable you to scale your account away from those keywords that you know are most important or most valuable. Most of the higher performing keywords will begin, or end up on an exact match strategy, enabling you to be ultra-relative on the search engine results page. It should go without saying that if you have an exact match only account, you’ll never need to implement negative keywords, you’ll just need to pause underperforming ads, however, this means you’ll never get the chance to see keywords that are closely related, or certain phrases your customers are using to get to your website. It’s dangerous to suggest that you know exactly what your users search for, especially when trends change over time, along with the use of language. Even for branded terms there’s a need to have negative keywords in place.

Why You Need Negatives

Let’s look at a couple of examples, suppose you have 2 ad groups in a campaign targeting the keyword ‘buy shoes online’, one ad group contains exact match variations and the other is a broad match modified variation. The exact match variation does not need any negative keywords attached, because only that term will trigger the ad. The second ad group (let’s suppose all of the keywords are modified) +buy +shoes +online, will almost certainly need negative keywords to ensure certain connotations are not used in order to see your brand, if you left this keyword in its current state, with no negatives attached, this could be the outcome of search queries if you checked under the ‘Search Terms’ when you are viewing your keywords:

‘buy shoes online for $5 or less’

‘buy black shoes online’

‘what shops can I buy shoes in my area’

Looking at these 3 search terms, there are reasons why you may want to negative them out as either the whole phrase or certain aspects of the phrase, at the same token, you may not want to depending on the nature of your brand.

  • The first one ‘buy shoes for $5 or less’, perhaps your brand is at the higher end of the market and you don’t want to be associated with a certain price range, also, you may have a certain section of your website (and subsequently your ads account), that is dedicated to products within that price
  • The second term in our example ‘buy black shoes online’, is a little ambiguous, yes of course you may have a selected of black shoes, but for best practice, you’ll probably want to remove this from the particular ad group and ensure the exact term triggers the ad which has the most relevant ad copy and landing page for black shoes
  • ‘What shops can I buy shoes in my area’ this search query assumes that you have a physical store, if you don’t and you only operate online, then it’s probably wise to remove this search query from showing your ads in the future. Again, every brand is different and your marketing strategy and budget may determine what your ads get shown for


Negative Lists:

The most efficient way to begin a Google Ads campaign structure is to implement negative keyword lists. This can be found by navigating to ‘Negative Keywords Lists’ under tools and settings. Lists enable you to quickly and easily add a bunch of keywords to your ad group or campaign, that you know for sure you don’t want to be seen for. Most commonly, people will create lists for their competitors to ensure that ‘short tail’ keywords like, in our example, ‘buy shoes online’ don’t trigger for queries like ‘buy [high volume brand name] shoes online’. Not doing this can easily eat up your budget (again, this could be a strategy to be seen alongside your competitor, but it’s probably a better idea to create a unique campaign for this).


Match Types:

Your negative keyword match types are the same as your positive keyword match types (check out this blog on keyword match types for Google Ads for a basic overview), and the way you enter them into a list or directly in the campaign is the same, you would add them using [brackets], “phrase style”, broad or +broad +modified. Usually if there is a keywords like a brand name, you would add this as a broad match negative variation to ensure nothing else around that brand name triggers your ad. It is quite common for advertisers to employ a ‘negative exact match’ strategy to certain ad groups, this is basically where the campaign manager adds the keyword in an exact match negative variation, of the keyword that is being targeted as broad or phrase match, it would look like this:\

Positive keyword: +buy +shoes +online

Negative keyword: -[buy shoes online]

This is to ensure the exact match ad group will almost certainly trigger the ad, as this should have the highest keyword quality score, and it should be the most seamless journey for the user.

So there you have it, negative keywords are pretty much essential for running a paid search campaign that you can scale and grow effectively, without destroying the annual budget in less than a month!