With negative keywords, you can exclude queries and keywords that are irrelevant to your business and your customers from your campaigns and ad groups. By adding negative keywords you focus all your advertising efforts on the right keywords and search terms. Using negative keywords correctly and frequently in your account can greatly improve the performance of your ads and help your business in many other ways as well.

Before diving deeper into the topic, it may be useful to revisit quickly the difference between a keyword and a search term.

Why Are Negative Keywords Important?

Correctly setting up the negative keywords and frequently updating them can bring many benefits to your campaigns’ performance and to your business overall. The purpose of the negative keywords in Google Ads and/or Microsoft Ads is to remove the queries that are irrelevant to your customers but also to your business. And to focus all the efforts on the keywords that are most relevant and best performing.

We can only guess how many searches are truly done on Google every single day. With 15% of all those searches being completely new, there will be relevant and already performing queries that may be worth adding as keywords and also irrelevant queries that would be important to exclude from the campaigns.

It’s important to focus on both continuously optimizing and growing performing keywords, and excluding irrelevant and underperforming keywords.

Advantages of Using Negative Keywords

There are many benefits that come from using negative keywords: 

  • Higher CTR (click-through rate): by excluding the search terms & keywords that are underperforming and irrelevant to the customers, you will leave room for the other more relevant keywords to perform. Since the effort will be put into keywords relevant to the customer and the business the CTR will naturally increase
  • Better CPA & ROI: this point also connects closely to the previous one, by excluding irrelevant and underperforming search terms, the keywords will be able to focus on queries that perform. By putting the efforts into quality keywords, the chances of conversions are that much higher. With the same budget you will be able to generate more conversions hence lowering the CPA and improving your ROI.
  • Stronger quality score: focusing on high-quality keywords will boost KPIs such as CTR & Ad relevance & page experience. Of course, these KPIs also depend on the ad copy and the landing page as well. Improving these KPIs will help with improving the quality score. This score also determines the price paid during the auctions, and a higher quality score can get overall a lower CPC for the same position. 
  • Improved customer experience: although it’s not a KPI that is measured in Google Ads, using metrics such as bounce rate & pages/session can indicate customer engagement with the page. A low bounce rate and a high page/session KPI can indicate a higher engagement and a possibility good customer experience. These metrics Google also takes into account, and excluding negative keywords & search terms can help with improving them.

In a short summary, negative keywords are a key component in a healthy and well-performing campaign. They help clean the campaigns and put all the efforts where it matters the most. 

How To Add Negative Keywords In Google Ads?

There are multiple ways to add negative keywords and/or search terms, and they can be added on different levels of the account as well. It’s also a bit different for each campaign type, they can be directly added from the negative keywords tab, the search terms tab, or even through the negative keywords lists page.

The most commonly used way to add negative keywords is directly from the Negative Keywords tab:

  1. Sign in to your Google Ads account
  2. Navigate to the “Negative keywords” tab under “Keywords”
  3. Clicks on the top round blue plus “+” button
  4. Select “Add negative keywords or create new list”
  5. Enter the keywords you wish to exclude and their match type
  6. Decide on where to apply them (Campaign level, Ad Group level or negative keywords list)
  7. Once added, click on “Save”
Navigating in Google Ads to the negative keywords tab
Method of adding negative keywords in Google Ads

From within the negative keywords tab we just mentioned, if you have created them beforehand, you can also apply already existing negative keywords lists to the campaign.

The other two methods of adding negative keywords are through the Search terms report tab, and through the negative keywords lists page in Google Ads. Negative keywords can be also added in Display campaigns, Video campaigns, as well as Shopping campaigns. Alongside keyword exclusions, there are also other types of exclusions in Google ads such as topics and placements which can be found under the “Content” tab.

We believe this video created by surfiseppc does an amazing job at visually explaining the steps for the other two methods as well.

Negative Keywords Match Types

The negative keywords work a bit differently for Search campaigns, Display, and Video campaigns. While in Search campaigns you have the option of adding different match types such as broad, phrase, and exact, in Display campaigns the set of negative keywords will be used to exclude whole topics which are related to the keywords. For a bit more details you can check the official documentation from Google.

The difference between the broad, phrase, and exact match negative keywords:

  • Broad match: the ads won’t show if the user’s search query contains all the words in the negative keyword you’ve added, even if the order is different sometimes.
  • Phrase match: your ads won’t show only when the user’s search query contains the negative keyword in the same order you have added it.
  • Exact match: ads won’t show only when the search query is exactly matching your negative keyword, without anything additional.

Note: The close variants don’t apply to negative keywords. They “…allow keywords to match to searches that are similar, but not identical to the targeted keyword…” explains Google.

Using Negative Keywords Lists

If you haven’t already, give it a shot, create and use the negative keyword lists. It may take a bit of time to prepare them, but in the long run, they can be much easier to manage instead of applying each individual negative keyword in each of the campaigns. Without a doubt, there will be negative keywords to be added that are specific to uniquely one campaign or even ad group. But especially common keywords such as competitor brand names or other generic keywords that are irrelevant to the business itself can be put in a negative keywords list that can be then applied across all other campaigns.

Note: Negative keyword lists can only be applied to the campaign level, not to the ad group level. 

If possible, we would recommend having one negative keyword per campaign. The reason being is that if at some point you may wish to remove a keyword from a specific campaign, but if that list is also applied across other campaigns, by removing that keyword from the list, it will also be removed from all the other campaigns where that list was applied. This can have a much bigger impact on the account’s performance, so for precaution, we recommend having separate negative keyword lists for each of the campaigns if possible. This way you can test changes on a smaller scale with better-controlled results.   

Note: There can only be 20 negative keyword lists in a single Google Ads account.

Choosing The Right Negative Keywords

Okay, we saw why negative keywords are important, the benefits of using them and how to add negative keywords with different match types. Now, undoubtedly the most important question: how do you pick which keywords to add as negative?

Choosing the right search terms & keywords to add as negative will require some analysis and patience with the data. There are multiple things to take into account when analyzing and choosing the keywords to exclude.

Tip: We recommend first starting to add negative keywords from the search terms. Only if the keyword is really showing unsatisfactory performance for a sufficient period of time should you then add it as a negative.

There are 6 key points when choosing the right negative keywords:

  1. Exclude beforehand keywords not related to the business and customers: This step is done beforehand. It’s a great starting point when it comes to negative keywords. Understanding what your business is and who the customers are can already separate what good from bad keywords would look like. The goal is to exclude all irrelevant keywords from the start that are simply outside of the business activity. During the campaign setup, spend time crafting a negative keywords list that is somewhat generic and applicable to the entire account as a whole.
  2. Define the core KPIs and metrics to benchmark against: Once the campaigns have been running for a while you will start getting more reliable data. If you can define your KPIs and goals beforehand, even better, but there’s nothing better than real data showing the performance of your campaigns. Define what is your conversion rates, CPA, CTR, ROAS etc. Then use these metrics to compare the performance of your keywords. For this, your best friend will be the search terms report. In simple terms, consider excluding search terms that are not meeting your KPIs and underperforming, and also potentially add well-performing search terms as keywords in the ad group. Try to also benchmark the performance of your PPC campaigns with the other marketing channels, to see where you stand and if there are any potential synergies to be made to improve the overall performance of all marketing channels.
  3. Compare the performance during different time periods: Unless you are getting incredible volumes of data on daily bases, comparing the performance from day to day is not recommended. If your campaigns have been running for a longer period of time, try comparing the performance of your suspecting search terms to their performance in previous periods. Week over week, month over month, and year over year. This can be done for specific days, specific weeks, or even months. There are many ways to do it, but it’s important not to get caught up on the microanalysis and broaden up the spectrum to more macro overview as well.
  4. Taking the decisions and strategically implementing them: Once you have defined the search terms to be excluded, try to measure their impact on the campaigns and how you will proceed with excluding them. Will you add it to the ad group level only? Campaign level? A negative keywords list? Across all of the campaigns at once or one by one? What match type will you add it as? Adding negative keywords can greatly limit the reach of your campaigns, it’s important to do it carefully and in a calculated manner. Minimize the potential negative impact, and maximize the positive benefits of adding negative keywords.
  5. Document the actions taken and review: After making the changes in the account make sure to document it somewhere. It’s up to your preference whether you will use Google sheets, Excel, or Notes in Google Ads. You will thank yourself for documenting the change because looking for the change in the “Change history” can sometimes be very time-consuming and frustrating. Depending on the size of the campaigns, the impact of the change can be observed within a day or a few days in general. Especially if you are running campaigns with automated strategies, try to let the campaign adjust for a few days before reviewing it again. Then conduct an analysis on whether or not excluding the search term helped improve the performance of the keyword, ad group, and even campaign.
  6. Balance exclusions with adding and testing new keywords: As we mentioned, excluding keywords can help remove all the noise and focus your efforts on what really matters, but this also limits the reach of your campaigns. By adding more negative keywords your campaigns have less potential reach to catch new qualified traffic. Hence, it’s important to also search for new potential keywords to add and test out. Try to maintain a healthy balance between adding negative keywords and testing new keywords in your campaigns.

Key Takeaways on Negative Keywords

  • Adding regularly negative keywords plays a crucial part in optimizing your Google Ads campaigns.
  • This can help you better focus your marketing efforts, save unnecessary spending, improve campaign performance and increase customer satisfaction.
  • There are many different ways to add negative keywords. They can be applied on different levels in the account. This also can vary based on the campaign type.
  • Use the negative keyword lists. They help keep the account cleaner and easier to manage.
  • Pay attention to the different match types for negative keywords. This is also a bit different depending on the campaign type.
  • Take caution. Start first by excluding search terms before adding entire keywords as negative.
  • Define your KPIs, compare them, challenge them, and check the performance during different time periods before making the final decision.
  • Document and review all the changes, it will help you down the road.
  • Keep a healthy balance between excluding and adding keywords.

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