Importance of negative keywords

Negative keywords can be just as important to include as the keywords you want to target. Here's why...

Published by 

Alexis Pratsides


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Utilising negative keywords within your advertisement campaigns is crucial in PPC optimisation and paid search management.

It can enable an advertiser more control over their campaign by displaying ads only to users who are most likely to result in a sale or conversion. Increasing CTR from the most relevant customers while reducing the overall cost of your campaign.

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What are negative keywords?

Negative keywords are search terms within paid search advertising campaigns in which you do NOT want your advertisement to be displayed. 

For example, if you were advertising a “desktop computers”, you would not want to advertise to someone looking to purchase a “laptop”. You would include “laptop” within your negative keywords list.

Important uses for negative keywords

1 – Targeting a relevant audience

The first, and potentially obvious, use for negative keywords is to remove searchers who aren’t looking for the product you are marketing. 

For example, I searched “ppc agency jobs” into Google. The first paid advertisement result is from a digital marketing agency. The advertisement is for PPC services directed towards businesses looking for a quote. This result wouldn’t be relevant to an individual on a job search (looks like agencies even get negative keywords wrong!). 

This search has led to the advertiser losing advertising budget needlessly and the search user reaching a useless result.

By including terms such as “career”, “job” and “jobs” in a negative keyword list this problem is easily prevented. The ad will never appear for individuals searching with those terms in the query, in turn, increasing click through rates (CTR) and reducing marketing costs.

Here are some job-related negative keyword examples:

  • job
  • jobs
  • hiring
  • internship
  • intern
  • recruting
  • recruitment
  • salaries
  • salary
  • hire
  • career
  • careers
  • openings
  • occupation

2 – Targeting the most valuable audiences

Negative keywords can be used to direct the highest converting audience to your particular product or service. It could be that a user is searching for a product but includes a specific term which makes your product less relevant.

The most common case are keywords which highlight price (e.g. “free”, “cheap” or “low cost). If you have an expensive product or service, it might not be effective to advertise to users searching for cheaper alternatives.

In the example below, we can see a £170 pot plant being advertised for the query “low cost plants”. Clearly, the user is not likely to be looking for a product that expensive and so is unlikely to click through this ad and convert. This ad loses even more value as it’s being displayed against cheaper alternatives.

Again, negative keywords come to the rescue! Simply add keywords such as “cheap”, “free” and “low cost” to your negative keyword list so ads don’t display for users searching for these terms.

Here are some cost-related negative keyword examples:

  • free
  • low cost
  • low price
  • bargain
  • cheap
  • cheapest
  • inexpensive
  • discount

3 – Directing ad copy to specific audiences

Imagine you are managing a search advertising campaign for an educational institution like a university. 

You may have two different campaigns: “PhD degree courses” and “master’s degree courses”. You wouldn’t want your PhD course ads displaying for users specifically searching for master’s or bachelor’s degree courses. This wouldn’t be relevant to those users and would lead to a low CTR and wasted budget.

 In your PhD Degree courses campaign, you could include negative keywords such as “undergraduate”, “bachelors” and “master’s” to prevent your ad showing for users searching for those terms.

You might also be interested in this: Our top ten higher education digital campaigns

4 – Avoiding PR problems

Some keywords are simply not good to be associated alongside your brand. Adding potentially sensitive or adult keywords to your negative keyword list could prevent any PR mishaps by displaying your ad against any problematic search queries.

How to find negative keywords with Google AdWords

The easiest way to find potential keywords to add to your negative keywords list in Google AdWords is:

  1. Under campaigns, select keywords in the left-hand column.
  2. Select the search terms tab which is displayed above the graph.
  3. You can view what search phrases have displayed your ads. If you see a search term which isn’t relevant to your campaign, note it down. 
  4. Alternatively, you can select the exact search term and add it as a negative keyword either to the campaing, adgroup or to an existing keyword list.

If you are starting a new campaign, feel free to use the examples we provide previously in this article for as general negative keywords. However, don’t paste a huge list of negative keywords into your list – make sure they are all relevant to your campaign.

How to add negative keywords to Google AdWords

Once you have your negative keywords list you will need to add them to your campaigns. On Google AdWords there are a few different ways to do this.

Here’s Lee to show you how:

1 – Add negative keywords to a universal list

Curating your own negative keyword list and adding it to the universal negative keyword list in Google Ads may save you time down the line. These lists should include words which you know won’t be used in most scenarios. Once the list has been made, you can easily add them to a current campaign or ad group.

a – Firstly, click tools and settings in the top right and navigate to “Negative keyword lists” under the “shared library” section.

b – Press the “+” button and start adding your negative keywords to the list. You can then add the list to campaigns of your choosing.

2 – Add negative keywords to individual campaigns or ad groups

You might just want to add individual negative keywords to an individual campaign or ad group.

a – Select a campaign or ad group and make your way over to the left side of the screen and select “keywords” once again.

b – Along to the top, select “Negative Keywords” and hit the “+” button. A list will display where you can add negative keywords individually or select one of the universal lists you created previously.

Make sure you include keyword matching options in your negative keywords to help you gain more control over you search ads. Keyword matching options are added to the keyword to let the search engine understand how to treat your keyword. 

These options can be used in both normal keywords and negative keywords. For example, if you include the keyword shoes in your negative keyword list, Google might omit your ad from search queries that include synonyms such as boots or trainers. Adding the term to the negative keyword list like this: [shoes] would mean your ads would be omitted from search queries which specifically include shoes.

Google has a good guide which explains the four options in detail and how to use them in Google Ads.

Final thoughts

As you can see, using negative keywords in your search advertising campaigns is a crucial stage for a successful campaign. They can be used as a powerful tool in gathering quality leads and increasing CTRs on your ads. Advertising campaigns could end up overspending needlessly, driving low value traffic or in a PR disaster. Make sure you spend time carefully curating your list for each of your campaigns to make the most out of your advertising budget. 

However, don’t go too crazy with negative keywords. Including relevant keywords in your negative keyword list could end up significantly reducing reach for your ads.

Created by

Alexis Pratsides

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