Google Ads is one of the easiest advertising platforms out there. You target your location, write your ad, pick some keywords and fund your account. In minutes your ad can be reaching relevant prospects.

Negative keywords are crucial to a Google ads campaign
Negative keywords are critical to Google Ads campaigns

Negative keywords are crucial to a Google ads campaignNegative keywords are crucial to a Google ads campaign

Well maybe not minutes. And it’s a little more complex than that.

The problem is that pay per click can quickly drain your marketing budget, especially if you’re not running your campaign properly.

You might think you have selected the perfect keywords for your campaign, but they could be triggering some phrases that you didn’t expect. Phrases that eat up your budget and don’t result in any business.

One of the best ways to curb wasted spend and reach your targeted market is to think negatively when it comes to pay per click management.

Negative keywords are a feature of Google Ads and Bing Ads that many marketers don’t take proper advantage of. And because of this they are literally wasting their money.

To understand the need for negative keywords you first must understand how your ads are triggered. Say your keyword phrase is "baseball bats" and you're using phrase match. Your ad could appear for Rawlings baseball bats, wood baseball bats, and aluminum baseball bats.

Unfortunately, you don’t stock wood baseball bats (which I admit would be strange). Each time someone types in wood baseball bats it costs you money.

To stop losing money for this you simply add wood as a negative keyword. Then each time after this, your ad won’t appear for this type of bat and you won’t be wasting money as a result.

For almost any business there are words that aren't appropriate for the business. For example, words such as careers or jobs indicate people looking to get into your field and not legitimate prospects.

How to Find Negative Keywords in Google Ads Campaigns

One of the best ways to find negative keywords is to review your search terms report.

Keywords are the words you put in your campaign. Search terms are the actual words that people typed in that saw your ads.

To see these, go to keywords and click Search Terms. Here you’ll see the various phrases that people typed into Google. The first time reviewing it you might be in for a surprise. And not a good one.

The keyword match-type you use impacts the diversity of your search terms. If you’re using broad match, you’ll find a lot of phrases that don’t apply.

As mentioned earlier, however, even phrase match can result in some surprising results.

You might be a law firm in Atlanta targeting the phrase personal injury attorney and only targeting it in your city. Yet, in the search term report, you see that someone typed in personal injury attorney in Boston. Why? They could be sitting in the Atlanta airport on their way back to Boston or maybe they have family members there.

Go through the report and start compiling a list of the phrases that don’t apply.

Reading the search term should be required reading no matter how long your campaign has been running.

How people search constantly changes and even if you think you’ve added all the negative phrases you need to; you should still review the search term report regularly.

Depending on the size of your campaign, this could be every 2 weeks or once a month. As you start to see fewer and fewer inappropriate words you can start spacing out your reviews more.

How To Add Negative Keywords in Google Ads

You can add negative keywords in one of three places.

You can add them at the ad group level.

Typically, you do this if you want certain words to run in one ad group, but not another. Maybe you do stock wood bats, but there isn’t part of a sale you have going on. You could block them in that ad group and not in the other. This ensures that you control which ads show for which phrases.

The second place to add them is at the campaign level. This is ideal if the words being blocked don’t apply to any of the ad groups you have running.

Where to add negative keywords in Google AdWords and how to add them correctly
Adding Negative Keywords to Google Ads

Where to add negative keywords in Google AdWords and how to add them correctly

The third option is to add them to a negative keyword list. This is a list you create and that you name. The advantage to a negative keyword list is that it can be applied to whichever campaigns you'd like.

You can create the list when you go to add negative keywords or by clicking on the wrench at the top of the search and clicking negative keyword lists.

Just creating a negative keyword list, however, is not enough to block these phrases or words. You need to assign them to a campaign.  

Adding negative keywords at the account level for Google AdWords
Finding the Negative Keyword List in Google Ads

You do this by checking box of the list you just created. Then click on what campaigns you want to add them to. This helps if you want to add the keywords to multiple campaigns, but not all.

Adding negative keywords at the account level for Google AdWords.

Keyword Match Type and Negative Keywords

Just as there are different keyword match types when you add keywords to your campaign, these same options apply to negative keywords.

You have the option of adding negative keywords directly from the search term report. You simply check the box next to them and add them as a negative to whichever level you want. It’s not something I recommend, however.

The problem with this is that you add that exact phrase as a negative. In the below example from a town car service, the phrase involving buying a town car wouldn't be appropriate. Yet, if you add the phrase, it's being added as an exact match, meaning only that phrase, typed in that manner is blocked.

Adding keywords from the search term report is a mistake
Adding negative keywords from the search term report

Adding keywords from the search term report is a mistake

Other variations of phrases that included buying wouldn’t be blocked.

The better option is to simply add the word buying as a negative keyword. This ensures that any phrase that included buying would be blocked in the future.

You simply add it as broad match, meaning no punctuation around it.

The problem is that broad match in negative match is different than from when you target words. Plurals are not blocked or misspellings even though these are triggered in broad match keywords. If you add job as a negative, jobs can still appear in search queries.

If you add two words as a negative phrase, then any phrase that contains those two words, no matter their order will be blocked. It’s better to use phrase match when adding two words or more.

Yet, exact match does have its place in adding negative phrases.

For example, a dentist sees the phrase dental insurance in their search terms and assumes that's a person looking for insurance. They add dental insurance as a negative.

Unfortunately, this also blocks phrases like dental offices that take delta insurance.

In this case you’d want to add dental insurance as exact match to block the phrase when it's used by itself.

Phrase match is also good if you want to block a phrase where the meaning of the phrase changes with a different word. How to repair your faucet won’t be beneficial to a plumber. But how much is a plumber would be. So instead of using how as a negative use the phrase “how to.”

Be Proactive with Your Negative Keywords

You don’t have to rely on just your search terms report to find negative keywords to add. If you’re just about to start a campaign or have had one going for a while, you can most likely think of words that don’t apply.

One way to begin to think negatively is thinking who isn't in your market. If you sell upscale products than if people are typing in cheap widgets or inexpensive widgets, then use cheap or inexpensive as negative words. Other words to consider are free, or trial or any other phrase that a tire kicker might be using.

You want someone clicking on your ad who is actively interested in what you sell and can afford it. And who is in your market.

Also, think about people who might be interested in pursuing a career in the service you offer. Are you a plumber? Then you don’t want people looking for plumbing jobs or a career in plumbing or a plumbing school. These are phrases that should be added to several services.

If you're doing keyword research for your campaigns take notice of some of the suggestions that you provided. Likely you'll see a number of phrases that don't apply. Jot these down and add them to the campaign.

Seeing the most common searches related to a keyword provides ideas for negatives
Use Google's autofill approach to find negatives

Another good source is Google itself. When you use Google, you might notice how it starts to fill in your phrase as you type. I do this with the main keywords I'm targeting. For example, perhaps you're a home contractor. When you start to type in home contractor, you'll see phrases such as home contractor salary and home contractor license. These are more negative words to add.

For businesses that target specific communities or states I also add the states they don't serve to this list. If you’re a Realtor in Chicago you don’t want someone in the area who is relocating to California. Yet, because they’re in your location they would see your ad and might accidentally click it.

The way to get around this is to add all the other 49 states you don’t serve as negative keywords. I also add the state abbreviations for many of these states. Just be careful some might also represent phrases that do benefit you. The abbreviation for Indiana is In. You don’t want to block this or your ad won’t appear for Realtor in Chicago.

Finally, a competitor's names might also trigger your ad.

Your targeting dentists Denver, but someone might type in your competitor's name, such as Acme Dentist Denver. Targeting a competitor's name can be part of your strategy, but if your budget is limited, I'd block your competitor's names. Most often these people are looking for a phone number to call regarding their appointment or when checking out the address of the place.

Remember words that don't apply to your business still cost you money if they’re not in your negative keyword list. Money that is wasted.

You might think that because your ad says you serve one area and the person searching is looking for help in another area, they won’t click on your ad. They will. Many simply click the first results without paying attention to everything it says.

How to find negative keywords in search term reportHow to find negative keywords in search term report

Keyword Conflicts

Sometimes you can get carried away in adding negative keywords. You might inadvertently block one of the phrases you're targeting. When this happens, you'll see a notice in the upper right corner of the screen saying there is a keyword conflict. It will show the negative word you added and the phrase that it's now blocking.

You have the option of removing the negative word or pausing the impacted phrase. This could also be one of those situations where you want the negative keyword to be used at the ad group level. Thus, you can use it in all the ad groups except the one you have the impacted phrases in.

How to Use Negative Keywords in Google Shopping Campaigns

One place a business forgets to add negative keywords is in Google shopping ads, or what some people still call product listing ads. After all, you don’t have keywords. Yet, Google uses keywords in its algorithm to show products and the system isn’t infallible.

In reviewing the search term that resulted in your products being displayed you’ll see several terms that don’t really apply to your products.

When you click on keywords in a Google shopping campaign, you'll see only two tabs - search terms and negative keywords.

Adding negative keywords is one of the few ways you can control how your products show up on Google.

Review the search term report thoroughly. Consider adding general phrases as this often means the person searching is early in the buying process. They are more apt to buy when they’ve decided on a product and this is when you want your products to display. Words like review or comparison might be phrases to block, especially if your budget is limited.

Another Cost Benefit To Using Negative Keywords

Utilizing negative keywords doesn’t just help you eliminate wasted spend. It can also help with your Quality Score, as well. Quality Score is one of the elements that determine where your ads show and a significant part of this is click-through rate. Simply eliminating the impressions that the negative phrases would have triggered immediately helps improve your click-through rate.

Blocking keywords that don’t apply to your benefits often means lowering the number of impressions the words receive. Even if your number of clicks don’t improve, your click through rate will.

By improving your Quality Score you'll likely lower your cost per click.

The elimination of words that wouldn't have led to a sale or lead for your business means that your campaigns have a better chance of succeeding with the words that you're still targeting.

Pay per click management isn't just about getting people to click on your ad. It's also about getting the right people to click on your ad. If you can eliminate those people who have no real chance of becoming your customer, you'll stretch your budget our further and get more relevant leads.

If you're running a campaign yourself or working with an agency that you've lost faith in, then consider using a Google AdWords consultant. Either through monthly management or short-term assistance such as an in-depth audit or hourly coaching/training.