Negative keyword list 101 (With Examples)

You are investing big time in your Google Ads campaigns, but the results you’re getting are below satisfying. By this time, you are probably starting to have second thoughts whether or not Google Ads is the right choice for you, since it seems you are only wasting time and money. While there are hundreds of small things that can hurt your ROI (many of which we have already talked about in our PPC blog series) before you develop any serious suspicions in your advertising skills, there is one most commonly overlooked issue that you should tend to – your negative keyword lists.

What are negative keywords?

Negative keywords (also known as negative match) are specific words or phrases that prevent your ad from being shown to anyone that is searching for that keyword or phrase. These keyword phrases can be added at the group level or the campaign level in your Google Ads account. To identify these, professional PPC marketers need to carefully analyze their campaigns to see which keywords are generating clicks, leads, or revenue.

To bring this term closer to you, we will start with a simple example:

It is summer and it is hot, so most people will look for air-conditioning servicing. If your company doesn’t offer this service for free then you should exclude that phrase and prevent your ad from showing by putting it in your negative keywords list. This way you will save yourself from wasting ad budget on clicks that won’t bring you any customers.

As you can see, the main difference between negative and “regular” keywords lies in whether your ads appear in search results or not. By assigning negative keywords you are focusing on those search queries that produce positive results for your campaigns. By choosing what not to target, you are making your campaigns more targeted.

Negative keyword match types

There are three negative match type options:

  • Broad match
  • Phrase match
  • Exact match

To maximize the impact of your Google Ads negative keywords list, it is vital to understand how these negative keyword match types differ from one another.

Broad match

The Broad match type is Google’s default match type in PPC search campaigns, unless otherwise specified. A negative broad match allows you to exclude your ad from search queries where every word of your keyword phrase appears in the search in any order. This means your ad will not show if the entire phrase is used, but still may show if the search query contains some of the words.

For example, you can use the broad match negative keyword “free” to prevent your ads from showing to users who are looking for a specific product for free.  Using this match type especially comes in handy when you are working with a tight budget and don’t want to risk paying for clicks that are unlikely to lead to conversions.

Phrase match

A negative phrase match keyword allows you to exclude your ad from searches that contain the exact keyword phrase in the word order you specified. Your ad still won’t show if the search query contains additional words as long as all the words you specified are there in the order you specified. If someone searches for some but not all of the words from your negative phrase match, your ad will appear.

Use phrase match negative keywords when you want to avoid ranking for specific sequences. For example, if you are offering healthcare services but you are not selling healthcare equipment, include “healthcare equipment” in your negative keywords list and choose phrase match. This way, you will avoid visits from search engine users who are looking to buy equipment for their clinic.

Exact match

This match type will eliminate minimal traffic due to it being very specific. it will exclude your ad from searches that contain the exact keyword phrase in the specific order without any additional words. Your ad will not be excluded from search queries that contain additional words, or all of your keywords in a different order.

This match type is often used for terms that are irrelevant on their own but can generate quality leads when combined with other words. For example, if you are only selling white chairs, using “black chairs” in the exact match will help you better target the audience and get more quality traffic on your landing page. Exact match negative keywords are also the safest choice for businesses with big PPC advertising budgets that don’t want to risk narrowing down the audience too much.

About close variants

Negative keywords don’t recognize close variants (misspellings, singular or plural variants, acronyms, stemming, or abbreviations), so if you wish to exclude your ad from these kinds of search queries, you need to add them as separate negative keywords.

For example, if you want to include “search engine optimization” in your Google Ads negative keywords list, you should also consider adding its misspelled variation “search engine optimization.”

How to find negative keywords

Experts who know how to run a Google Ads campaign that gives desired results understand the importance of excluding irrelevant search terms. But creating negative keyword lists is not easy without a proper strategy.

To create negative keyword list, you first need is to identify search terms that are similar to your target keywords, but which people may use when searching for a completely different product or service. This process can be tricky and time-consuming, but there are plenty of tools that can help you.

Google’s search term report will show you the specific terms people have searched for that resulted in your ads being triggered. This tool brings many valuable insights to your PPC campaigns. You can use it to determine which keywords have been generating clicks and also to  identify which search terms people are using that are not related to your ads, but which are still showing. Once you identify these terms, you need to add them to your negative keyword list. You can do this directly from Google search terms report or manually, if you’d rather avoid running it.

How to add negative keywords from Google search terms report

  • Click the keywords tab
  • Select the checkbox next to the keyword you want to run the search report for
  • Click the Search Terms button
  • Select any irrelevant search terms and click “Add as negative keyword”

Once you do this you can choose whether you wish to apply your selections to the entire campaign or certain ad groups. Keep in mind that when using multiple levels the lowest-level negative keywords override the higher-level ones.

You should also note that your selections will be set to broad match negative keywords by default unless you chose another match type manually. Our digital marketing agency recommends adjusting the match type for each negative keyword, as it will help you prevent narrowing the audience too much. Once you choose the match type, click “save,” and you can move on to the next negative keyword.

How to add negative keywords without running the search terms report

  • Click “Keywords” from the menu on the left
  • Click “Negative keywords”
  • Click the blue plus button

Here you have the option to add new negative keywords on a campaign or ad group level, create a new negative keyword list, or use an existing keyword list.

To add new keywords or create a new list you need to:

  • Select “Add negative keywords or create a new list”
  • Choose a campaign or ad group, and then select the specific campaign or ad group
  • Add your keywords one per line

If you are adding negative keywords to a campaign, you can choose whether you want to save them to a new list and apply that list to the campaign, or to simply add them to a predicting list. To do so, check “Save to new or existing list”, enter a name for a new list or select an existing list and click “Save”.

To use an existing negative keyword list, you need to:

  • Select “Use negative keyword list”
  • Choose the campaign to apply the list to
  • Check the boxes of the lists you want to use
  • Click “Save”

How to find negative keywords ideas using Google Search

When you want to create a negative keyword list, try using Google Search to generate ideas. In the search console, type in the top 10 keywords you are currently bidding on, and observe the options Autocomplete is suggesting. If you notice any terms irrelevant to your ads, include them in your negative keywords list.

How to find negative keywords more effectively

Finding negative keywords can be a time-consuming task. To do it more effectively, analyze the search query and look for its:

  • Click-through rate – If the CTR of a search query is low, it means that people who see your ads are not clicking. If that search query is somehow related to your business, consider creating a new ad group where you can better target it. Otherwise, make sure to include it in your negative keywords list.
  • Conversion rate – If the conversion rate for a specific search query is below-average, you should find what needs to be improved. The problem might be in your landing pages, so consider redesigning them. However, you also need to think about search intent – if your ad doesn’t deliver on the promise, it is better to enrichen your negative keyword list than lose money on clicks that don’t convert. The key is to make a difference between irrelevant keywords and the ones that are just not converting.
  • Cost per conversion – If the cost per conversion for a specific keyword is higher than expected, again, your ad is failing to satisfy users’ search intents.

This should go without saying, but let’s say it anyway: The most important thing to remember is not to overlap your keywords. Your negative keywords mustn’t be the same as your targeted keywords, since this will prevent your ad from showing at all. As an example, let’s say you want to add the keyword “free” to your negative keywords list, but you are currently bidding on the keyword “free door repair.” Making changes go live will block your ad, so think twice before adding any negative keyword.

How to know where to use negative keywords

As we have already said, you can add negative keywords to each level of your ads, starting from campaign level all the way to ad level. With that in mind, it is important to have a sound strategy before starting to add negative keywords. It will allow you to enhance your Google Ads account structure and get one step closer to fulfilling your business goals.

First, you need to figure out what’s relevant and what is not. The most irrelevant keywords are likely to end up on your account-wide list, and those mid-range relevant keywords might make it to one campaign, but not the other.

For example, if you sell mattresses, your ad may show up in a search query for “sleep studies”. Those searches are not likely to convert, but searches like “memory foam” are.

You should start by finding the core keyword terms that fit your products explicitly, then do further research with Google Keyword Planner or a similar tool. In this case, you are looking for high-volume searches that don’t match user intent. Input a relevant search term into the search bar and look at the results.

Back to the mattresses – If you search “memory foam mattress” you will find some potential outliers that could lead to ineffective clicks for which you would still need to pay. And, even if they only lead to a click here and there, you shouldn’t just dismiss them since they add up over time.

Universal negative keywords

Universal negative keyword lists are permanent-block lists for your campaigns. These are lists with search queries that have a higher chance of being irrelevant for most campaigns, but you can still find many industry-related lists across the internet. While a regular negative keyword list is located in a single account, this list is located in your MCC account for you to use it in as many accounts as you like.

Benefits of adding negative keywords in Google Ads

Using a keyword block list can help you improve your Google Ads Quality Score by allowing you to better target the audience. The most popular search engine gives an advantage to ads that users are likely to find valuable. Negative keywords can help you:

Increase click-through rates – By eliminating irrelevant search queries, the percentage of people interested in your products or services will increase.

Craft relevant ad groups – Negative keyword lists allow you to create small ad groups for delivering just the right message to the right search engine users.

Improve conversion rates – You can use negative keywords to bypass search queries that lack commercial intent. Once you adjust your campaign to better target potential customers who are more likely to perform the desired action on your website, your conversion rates will start rising.

Save money – Since negative keywords prevent your ads from showing in irrelevant searches, it will help you eliminate clicks that are unlikely to lead to conversion, allowing you to maximize the Return on Ad Spend of your pay-per-click campaigns.

In conclusion

If you want to make your PPC campaigns more effective, make sure to add Google Ads negative keyword lists to your digital marketing arsenal. Setting them up is not as hard as it might first sound, especially once you get a good grasp on terminology. But remember, negative keywords can be a double-edged sword.  Depending on how you use them – they can either be a powerful weapon or harm your advertising campaigns. That’s why it is essential not to rush when creating keyword block lists. Analyze each negative keyword and its potential effect before launching changes. It is also advisable to review your negative keyword lists at least once per month – perhaps even weekly.

We will end this article with our Chicago PPC agency list of negative keywords that most businesses may find useful. Make sure to browse through this list and see if there are some keywords that you don’t want to include in your negative keywords list.

Please fill out the form below to download our Negative keyword list.


Brian Djordjevic
About The Author

Brian Dordevic

Brian is Marketing Strategic Planner with a passion for all things digital. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or schedule a consultation call with him.

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