Negative keywords—used correctly—give you precise control over who Google serves your ads to.

And if you don’t show your ad to people who don’t care about it… your ROAS will blossom.

In this guide, we’ll go over what negative keywords are and how using negative keywords correctly can exponentially magnify your results from Google ads.

What Are Negative Keywords?

In the context of ads, negative keywords are words or phrases that prevent ad placement for queries that use them. 

For example, if you only sell electric guitars and you want to prevent ads from displaying when people search for acoustic guitars, then “acoustic” is a negative keyword you might use.

stylized image of a list of negative keywords on a page with a large red X

When you do, you make your ads ineligible for any search that contains the word acoustic.

Negative keywords are so impactful because they allow you to control your search results and prevent displaying ads for unrelated searches. Consequently, you can use them to improve your PPC campaign or ad group on just about every metric.

READ MORE>> Negative keywords play an indispensable role in ad targeting, which you’re well-advised to to master as a digital marketer.

But wait…

Can’t Google figure out which ads to serve for a search query on its own?

Excellent question (that we asked ourselves)! Yes, Google will eventually stop serving your ads in searches where they don’t belong, but not before spending a bunch of your money learning what those queries are. 

So, adding negative keywords saves you money, and gets you in front of the right searchers faster.

Types of Negative Keyword Match Types

Let’s take a tiny step back and talk about the types of keywords that Google Ads uses.

If you’re already familiar with keyword match types, skip to the next section.

Negative Broad Match Keywords

Broad match keywords are the most commonly used in PPC ad campaigns. 

They’re the default match type when you use keywords in your ad targeting. 

A negative broad match keyword will exclude your ad from searches that use that exact keyword and searches that include any combination of your keyword. 

For example:

If you sell shoes, and use running shoes as a broad match negative keyword, you exclude your ad from searches that contain the terms:

  • Running shoes
  • Shoes for running

💡 Tip: Negative broad match keywords don’t act like regular broad match words in that they won’t target close variations. Instead, they will only look for those exact keywords in the search query to exclude your ad from results.

Negative Phrase Match Keywords

You can use this keyword setting to exclude your ad from searches that contain a precise keyword phrase. Even if a search includes additional words, your ads won’t show if the negative phrase match keyword is included. 

negative match type cheat sheet

So, you’re excluding any Google search that includes the same keywords in the same order as your negative phrase.

For example:

If you use the negative phrase “carbon fiber fishing rod” my ads will still show for these queries:

  • Carbon fishing rod
  • Fishing rod for trout
  • Best fishing rod with carbon fiber reinforcement

But, it will not show when someone searches for:

  • Carbon fiber fishing rod for trout
  • Best deep-sea carbon fiber fishing rod

💡 Tip: If you’re using a single negative keyword, phrase match and broad match produce identical results because their conditions overlap in that case.

Negative Exact Match Keywords

As you may imagine, these keywords exclude your ad from searches containing them exactly. Your ad could still show for searches that include the negative exact match keyword along with additional words.

For example:

If you use the negative exact match keyword [fishing rod] you only exclude the search query fishing rod.

Your ad will still show for these search queries:

  • Carbon fiber fishing rod
  • Fishing rod for trout
  • Fishing rods

💡 Tip: Exact match is the most focused type of negative keyword. Consequently, you probably won’t use it as much when launching an ad campaign, but it can be beneficial when optimizing ad groups.

How Do I Find Negative Keywords?

In a very real sense, you don’t find them. They find you. 

Negative keywords are guesses about the type of search queries that you don’t want to serve your ads for. 

And, one way to build a negative keyword list is to think about every instance in which someone searches performs a search that’s close enough to serve an ad but not close enough that you can satisfy it. 

If you choose to do that, you’ll:

  1. spend way too much time building a list of negative keywords; and
  2. never be able to catch up and fully optimize your ads.

Instead, you can let them come to you.

By that, we mean you don’t need to be obsessive about negative keywords when launching ads. Set up a broad campaign and let Google’s machine learning robots produce data for you. 

After all, that’s what you’re paying them for. 

Once you have some data (at least a week’s worth), go to your Search Terms interface within your Google Ads account.

image of google ads dashboard with magnifying glass on the menu

There, you’ll see all the search terms for which Google served your ads, along with a lot of crucial information about them. 

Specifically, you’ll want to focus on three key metrics: the click-through rate (CTR), conversion rate, and the cost per acquisition (CPA). 

To visualize those metrics, click on the Filters button and set your parameters.

image of google ads dashboard with magnifying glass on filters

Set up filters to look for keywords with a CTR lower than 1%, CPA that far exceeds your target, and conversion rate lower than 3%. 

These are what we call underperforming keywords, and they’re an excellent place to start building your negative keywords list. 

💡 Tip: Just because a keyword is underperforming doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be in your ads. You can use negative keywords to “quarantine” these search terms for the time being but it’s always a good idea to see if you can make them profitable by modifying your landing page, or other tactics.

Why These Keywords Metrics Matter

As for why we chose these metrics to filter for, in particular, they’re the basic signals of whether you’re matching search intent or not. 

A low click-through rate is an excellent indicator that your ad doesn’t show people what they’re expecting when they search. 

Poor copy or missing ad extensions can lead to a weaker CTR, but nothing torpedoes your clicks like search terms that don’t match the intent you’re trying to satisfy.

Moving along, your cost per acquisition sets the tone for the entire campaign and if you’re not meeting it, you’ll want to act immediately. Negative keywords can help you surgically extract searches that aren’t helping you meet your CPA.

And, an ads conversion rate is one of the most direct diagnostic tools you have to measure its performance.

It’s worth noting, though, that even if you have a high conversion rate, the ad may still not be meeting your CPA. That’s another chance to add negative keywords and see their impact on performance.

Recap — The Benefits of Using Negative Keywords

So, let’s review. 

Building a negative keyword list can impact your campaign or ad group in the following ways:

1. Negative Keywords Improve Click-through Rate

The most obvious benefit. If Google is serving your ads for queries that don’t match the intent you’re targeting, give it some direction with a negative keyword list. 

2. Negative Keywords Increase Conversions

A better click-through rate means you’re serving ads to the right people. The right people are probably more interested in what you’re selling, and consequently, convert more easily. 

3. Negative Keywords Improve Cost Per Acquisition

A negative keyword list helps conversions by sending better-quality traffic to your landing page. Better-quality traffic converts more readily, and ipso facto reduces your cost per acquisition. 

4. Negative Keywords Make Optimization Easier

You can use negative keyword lists at the ad group level to prevent them from spilling over into each other. Using them this way ensures you’re reaching the people you want to with that specific group and contrasts it from other ad groups so you can track performance more accurately.

Conclusion

Negative keywords are a way to help Google figure out who should not be seeing your ads. They’re a fundamental part of any Google Ads campaign and the time you invest into learning how to use them will easily pay for itself. 

If you need any help figuring out the right negative keywords for your campaign, leave us a comment and we’ll give you a personalized answer.

*Top Growth Marketing was recently recognized as one of the top California agencies by Design Rush.

FAQ

What are good negative keywords?

It’s impossible to give a broad list of negative keywords that will apply to all ads, since it entirely depends on who you’re trying to reach. 

However, some general negative keywords that you might consider are:

  • youtube
  • torrent
  • definition
  • synonym

What is meant by negative keywords?

They are words you can exclude your Google ads from showing up for searches similar to your intent that are, nevertheless, unrelated. Searchers using that phrase will not see your ads. 

You can also refer to this as a negative match.

How do I find negative keywords?

The best place to get started is in your Google Ads search terms report. 

In the search terms report, you can search terms by their performance and start weeding out the ones that aren’t delivering satisfactory results. Some key indicators that you’re dealing with lagging keywords are a high CPA, low CTR, and poor conversions.

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