Negative keywords are essential to running an effective Google Ads campaign. They enable more effective audience targeting and can save you money to invest in more relevant searches on Google, and so drive your profit up. Here’s what we’ll learn:
- What’s the difference between a search term and a keyword
- What is a negative keyword?
- An example of a negative keyword
- Why use negative keywords?
- What’s a keyword match type?
- How do I find negative keywords?
- Where can I add negative keywords?
What’s the difference between a keyword and a search term?
When you add normal “positive” keywords to your Google Ads account, Google will show ads for those keywords when someone searches on Google, and that search of a word or phrase on Google is known as a search term.
What is a negative keyword?
A negative keyword allows you to block your ads showing in Google for that word or phrase.
An example of a negative keyword
For example, if you have a keyword “tennis shoes” in your account and you sell every colour except for red, then by adding the negative keyword “red”, your ads will never show if someone searches “red tennis shoes”, but will show for “blue tennis shoes” and “tennis shoes”.
Why use negative keywords?
When you use keywords in your Google Ads account, often they may be triggered by irrelevant search terms unrelated to your business. Negative keywords are used so that you do not waste money on irrelevant search terms for products or services you do not offer.
So, negative keywords help control when your ads show and therefore boost profit, because the search terms align more with your offering and so convert to leads or sales at a better rate.
What’s a keyword match type?
As a Google Ads consultant, Espan Digital uses two keyword match types: phrase match and exact match.
“tennis shoes” is a phrase match keyword and will show ads when other words are added to it when someone searches Google, so your ads can show for the searches “tennis shoes”, “blue tennis shoes” and “tennis shoes white”.
[tennis shoes] is an exact match keyword and will have a narrower range of search terms that trigger the keyword. In times gone by, the only search term that could trigger the exact match keyword would be the exact term “tennis shoes” searched in Google. However, Google has loosened the matching in recent years and other words added to the search terms will also trigger your exact match keywords.
Some experts have suggested that Google will move away from exact and phrase match and more towards “broad” match, a much looser match type, which will make negative keywords even more important.
How do I find negative keywords?
So, we know we need to add negative keywords and there are several approaches to finding them, as described below.
The search terms report
The search terms report is central to finding irrelevant search terms that triggered your keywords in your Google Ads account. This approach is not as effective as it once was, as these days, Google hides a large percentage of the search terms that triggered your keywords. Therefore, it is impossible to block these and so there is the potential to waste more money than you should do and there is some despair about this in the PPC community. However, it’s vital to regularly review the search terms report and add negative keywords.
The search terms report can be found in the tree menu on the left of the Google Ads web interface as seen in the screenshot below. Campaigns > Insights and reports > Search terms. Find out more about the search terms report on Google.
Brainstorming negative keywords
When setting up a new Google Ads account, we always add a list of negative keywords we brainstormed over the years and found to be useful for most accounts. So don’t forget to brainstorm.
Finding negative keywords with the Google Keyword Planner
Another source of negative keyword ideas is the Google Keyword Planner. When researching normal positive keywords for an account we use the Google Keyword Planner to search for keywords related to the main keywords and this can often highlight negative keywords too.
Finding negative keywords with Answer the Public
You can input a main keyword into https://answerthepublic.com and it will show related keywords and is a goldmine of potential negatives. You need to register to export the keywords.
Finding negative keywords with paid keyword research tools
There are other very useful paid keyword research tools, like SEMRush, SE Ranking and Ahrefs.
Where can I add negative keywords?
Now you’ve found all those lovely negative keywords, where can you add them in your Google Ads account?
You can add negative keywords to a campaign or an ad group, (which contains a set of positive keywords). Campaign negative keywords will apply across the whole campaign, whereas ad group negative keywords will only apply to that ad group. This is useful when you have several ad groups in a campaign but you only want the negative keyword to apply to that ad group. You can apply negative keywords directly from the search term report.
Negative keywords can also be added to an exclusion list in the Shared Library – Tools > Shared library > Exclusion lists in the tree menu, see image below. This allows a list of negative keywords to be applied to multiple campaigns.
Finally, negative keywords can be added at the account level under Admin > Account settings > Negative keywords. See image below.
Negative match types
It’s worth mentioning as a final point that negative keywords can be added as exact, phrase or broad match.
Exact match [tennis shoes] will only prevent ads showing for the exact search term “tennis shoes”.
Phrase match will prevent ads showing for any search term that contains “tennis shoes” in that order.
Broad match will prevent ads showing for any search term that contains “tennis shoes” in any order.
Now we have found out all about negative keywords in Google Ads, all we need to do is add them!