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Negative Keywords and How To Use Them In Google Ads

As part of a well-researched and balanced digital marketing plan, paid advertising can offer brilliant solution to increasing brand awareness, generating leads and ultimately producing more revenue for your company. While paid advertising is not limited to Google these days, developing strategic campaigns that deliver a significant ROI can broaden your reach to a range of tailored audience types. In order to deliver a successful paid campaign, it’s vital to include keywords that are going to generate more conversions and a higher Click Through Rate (CTR) to trigger those actively searching for the specific keywords.

However, not all keywords are made equal. In every case there’ll be keywords that you won’t want to be shown for. Let’s take a donut shop for example, you can be fairly confident they won’t want to appear in the search results of a user looking to buy new running shoes, right? Which conveniently leads us on to negative keywords, what they are, the benefits of using them and how they can be utilised to maximise the success of your paid campaigns.

If you’re looking to understand what paid campaigns are to start with, read our page on everything you need to know about paid advertising.

What are negative keywords?

Negative keywords are used to prevent your ads from showing to people who are actively searching queries unrelated to the services or products you provide. In turn, giving your business the opportunity to reach the best potential audience whilst efficiently spending your campaign budget and avoiding wasting money on clicks that just won’t convert.

The key to success with paid campaigns is knowing exactly who you’re targeting to ultimately maximise CTR and conversions. Your goal should be to target relevant keywords as well as refining the keywords you’re bidding on to increase relevance and ROI.

Benefits of using negative keywords

It’s probably fair to assume that every business’s objective is to generate conversions and actively build the number of paying customers. Negative keywords help tremendously in this instance by not only tightening the relevance of your ad groups, so that one ad speaks to an entire set of keywords, but also increasing the chances of people clicking on your ad and actually converting. It’s all very well throwing budget at your paid campaigns but, ultimately, it’s the conversions that count and that pave the way to a successful ROI.

Negative keywords can help to improve CTR which ensures your ads only run against relevant queries, exposing your account to more interested impressions, reducing the number of wasted clicks, in turn increasing the proportion of high-quality, relevant users that click on your ad. Not only does this save your business money but also improves your ROAS (Return On Ad Spend), ensuring that advertising expenditure is focused in the right place and on the right people.

Why you should be using negative keywords:

  • Improve relevance of your ad groups
  • Increase conversion rate
  • Improve Click Through Rate (CTR)
  • Attract more relevant users to your site
  • Save your business money
  • Improve ROAS (Return On Ad Spend)

Match Types for Negative Keywords

Negative keywords can either be assigned at the campaign or ad group level using either broad, phrase or exact match types depending on what you think is best fit for the specific keyword. It’s vital to gain an understanding on how each match type works to maximise the value of your negative keywords and maintain relevance.

Here are definitions of each match type with clear examples to make it easier to understand.

Negative Keyword Match Types Table

Broad Match

Broad match negative keywords allow you to prevent your ads showing for searches that include every word, in any order, of your keyword phrase. Your ad could still potentially show for some of the words within the phrase, for example if your negative broad match keyword is ‘running shoes’ you may appear for searches including ‘blue tennis shoes’ or ‘running gear’ however your ad won’t appear for searches similar to ‘blue running shoes’, ‘shoes running’ or the actual phrase, ‘running shoes’.

Be careful when using negative broad match keywords as they can limit your reach, even more so than exact and phrase match negative keywords. When assigning these particular keywords firstly ensure all variants have been researched and you’re certain you don’t want to be shown for any related topic or subject around the negative keyword.

Phrase Match

Negative phrase match keywords exclude your ad from people searching for the exact keyword phrase with additional words that may be included before or after the phrase. For example, if the negative phrase match keyword was ‘full body massage’, your ad won’t be shown for searches such as ‘full body massages near me’ or ‘deep tissue full body massage’ however they could still show for searches like ‘facial and back massage’ or ‘shoulder massage’.

Phrase match is probably the safest option to go for as the search query has to explicitly quote the keyword within the search phrase. This limits the risk of hiding your ads from too many searches but also narrows down the audience you want your ad to be shown to.

Exact Match

Negative exact match keywords avoid displaying your ad in searches that include the keyword phrase as it is, with no variation. So, for example, if your negative exact match keyword is ‘winter holidays’ your ads would only be excluded from search results pages of users search ‘winter holidays’. If any other variation of the phrase ‘winter holidays’ is searched, your ads may still be shown.

A greater budget means greater flexibility with exact match terms as they are far more specific however if you’re working on a lower budget it would be best to utilise the more restrictive negative match types (broad and phrase match) as these can both help to avoid your ads showing to the wrong audience and maximise your Return On Ad Spend (ROAS).

How to Identify Negative Keywords

Negative keywords can be identified in a number of different ways. From the process of keyword research through to manual google searches to search term report analysis. You want to avoid your ads showing for search queries unrelated to your product or service therefore identifying the keywords to avoid is vital to saving time, money and optimising your PPC marketing efforts.

Identifying Negative Keywords During Initial Keyword Research Stages

From the very beginning, it’s important you conduct keyword research so that you can understand the language of your target audience when searching for your product, services and content. This involves analysing, comparing and prioritising the best keywords opportunities for your site. 

During the process of analysing the search terms you want to target; you can simultaneously begin picking out terms to add to your negative keyword list. For example, if you’re selling ‘running shoes’ you’d probably want to avoid being shown to searchers looking for ‘high heeled shoes’ or ‘dancing shoes’. Therefore, those specific terms can be noted to ensure they’re added to your negative keyword lists when creating your ad campaigns.

Manual Searches

It also makes sense to run a quick Google search of the top 10 keywords that you are advertising, on/considering. This will help you to spot any terms that you want to avoid. If you see search results that aren’t related or terms you want to dodge, then add them to your list.

Here’s an example:

Screenshot of Search Terms Examples

Searching the term ‘online tutor’ stimulates a range of results. You may be an online tutor looking for pupils and if that is the case it would be best to discard search terms which include job vacancies or free online tutoring for example. The terms ‘jobs’ and ‘free’ would be negative keyword terms you’d want to add to a generic negative keyword list that’s been applied to all campaigns.

Google Ads Search Terms Report

Search term reports on Google Ads help to identify negative keywords which don't have the right search intent. Locate the Search Terms Report in your Google Ads account, select a date range and download the results. You can customise column sets to track specific performance, conversion or attributes metrics. Once analysed, negative keyword terms can be added to your account.

Your campaigns’ search terms should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure your ads aren’t showing for irrelevant searches, wasting budget and attracting the wrong audience. Search term reports, if left for long periods of time, may become increasingly difficult to review and manage.

Adding Negative Keywords to your Google Ads Account

Once you’ve determined the negative keywords that you want to be added to your account you can group them depending on whether they’re competitors perhaps, generic negative keywords, wrong business fit, etc. You decide what groups you want to create in order to organise and determine your negative keywords.

To add negative keywords to your Google Ads account, locate the ‘Negative Keywords’ section under ‘Keywords’ on the left-hand panel, then click the blue ‘+’ button where you’ll be able to add the negative keywords to a list and choose to add them at either a campaign or ad group level. You will then be able to view all the negative keywords added in the negative keywords table displayed.


NB - When adding in your chosen negative keywords ensure you are writing the keywords in the correct format depending on the keyword match, for example [exact match], “phrase match” or broad match.

Types of Negative Keywords Lists

In the example below you’ll notice a range of negative keywords lists with different terms assigned to specific campaigns. It’s best practice to start by creating a negative keyword list that includes the most generic negative keywords used in various industries which can be attached to all your search campaigns. Double check to ensure all the terms mentioned aren’t relevant to your business.


It’s also beneficial to create generic brand negative keyword lists that include industry leading corporate giants you want to avoid showing for. For example, in most cases you’d want to avoid your ads listing for brands such as ‘nike’, ‘amazon’ or ‘starbucks'.

Equally people searching your own brand most likely have the intent of finding your specific product or service therefore It’s best practice to add your brand name searches into a negative keyword list to avoid wasting ad spend on users who already have the right search intent.

Campaign Level Vs Ad Group Level Negative Keywords

Negative keywords can be added either at a campaign level or ad group level. Campaign level means you want to avoid any searches containing this specific keyword across your campaigns whereas ad group level means you want to avoid your ads being shown for negative keywords in a specific ad group.

However, there may be terms you want to specifically list for in one ad group and not for another. For example, in one ad group you may be promoting your “red running shoes” thus creating a negative keyword list for other clothing items; “jumpers” or “skirts” would be negative terms.

Want more helpful content like this?

If you’ve found this page insightful and still on the hunt for a range of useful tips and tricks to optimise your PPC and SEO strategies, discover a range of related content featured in the sidebar of this page. Alternatively, discover our page on everything there is to know about Effective Google Advertising and learn how we can help you create and manage successful Google Ads advertising campaigns. As ever we are here to help so if you'd like to talk to a member of our experienced team then please do get in touch