How to use negative keywords in paid search campaigns


Paid searching is the art and science of knowing which questions are worth answering.

Negative keywords are how we make sure our marketing dollars go to our intended questions.

In this installment of Ask Me Anything About PPC, we will answer the question:

“How to use or implement negative keywords in Google Ads campaigns?”

Identifying and implementing negative keywords are constant tasks that PPC managers will need to complete as they work to earn their brand profit and victory.

Part 1: identify negative keywords

Choosing negative keywords begins with identifying ideas that will never make sense.

These may include:

  • Questions: “why”, “how”, “what”, “when”, “who”
  • Entertainment seekers: “news”, “deceased”, “happen”, “real”, “today”
  • Accidental industry “budget blitz”
  • Random search terms that never relate to your business

Some of these will be obvious from the start and make sense to apply on the first day of the campaign.

Others will reveal themselves as their campaign grows.

Be sure to review your search terms report to see the terms of the “root” problem.

Search terms report showing expensive and expensive queries

In this case, “arrested” and “black market” would be great negatives to add, because they imply dire intentions.

They are also increasing the average cost per click (CPC) without earning any conversion.

It is much more efficient to add a single problem word than each query. This will save you time as well as the frustration of a variant of the sliding search query being slipped.

Part 2: Apply your negatives

Once you’ve identified the negatives you’ll need to protect your account from wasted spending, you’ll need to apply them.

Negatives can be applied to one of three types of match:

  • Width: the word (or words) is anywhere in the search query.
  • Sentence: the word (or words) is anywhere in the search query in order.
  • Exact: the word (or words) is the search query (nothing added, nothing missing).



It is important to note that negative keywords do not account for close variants.

In addition, search networks limit negatives to 10,000 per campaign.

This means that applying “arrested” in the sentence and the negative negative match would protect the previous advertiser, but the negative negative match would not.

It would only protect against “arrested”:

search query stopped

As a rule, I prefer to use negative phrase matching for single words.

This allows my negatives to be imported into Microsoft Ads (which does not support wide match negatives).

Beyond match types, we also have to consider how we apply negatives.

Negatives can be applied at account, campaign and ad group level. Agencies can also create negatives at the shell level.

For greater efficiency, I recommend building negative keyword lists. These allow you to learn from previous campaigns to inform future ones.

add negative keywords to a list in Google Ads

Lists are particularly useful if you need to apply the same negatives across multiple ad groups (to drive traffic) and campaigns.



Negative keyword tactics

Beyond identifying and applying negatives, there are other innovative applications for negative keywords.

Using negatives to improve DSA campaigns

If you’re going to run a Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) campaign, you’ll want to add all the keywords you’re actively targeting as negatives in that campaign.

This will protect you from bidding against yourself and ensure that DSA can do your keyword research work.

Use of brand / competitor terms as negatives everywhere Save for brand campaigns

It is very important to protect your general service campaigns from cheaper / higher conversion brand queries.

These queries can cause many false positives:

  • Artificially Low Cost Per Click (CPC).
  • Inflated conversion rates and volume.
  • Inaccurate acquisition cost (CPA).

By adding your brand and competition terms as negatives to your general service campaigns, you will ensure:

  • Your budget does the work you planned.
  • Accuracy in performance and budget needs.



Food to go

Negative keywords are a crucial part of paid search campaigns.

Adding the right ones will ensure your budget goes where it is intended.

Have a question about PPC? Send through this form or tweet me @navahf with the hashtag #AskPPC. See you next month!

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Image credits

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
All screenshots taken by the author, May 2020