Google Ads is one of the easiest advertising platforms out there.

You set your location, write your ad, pick some keywords and fund your account. In minutes your ad can be reaching relevant prospects.

Well maybe not in minutes. But it can be pretty quick. 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 Google Ads campaign properly.

You think you have selected the perfect keywords for your campaign. Unfortunately they could be triggering phrases that you didn’t expect.

Negative keywords prevent ads from showing for terms that don't apply to their business.
None of thes plumbers would benefit from this search on Google.

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 Microsoft Ads that many marketers don’t take proper advantage of. 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.

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. After this your ads won't appear for any phrases that contain wood.

For almost any business there are words that aren't appropriate for the business.

How to Find Negative Keywords in Google Ads Campaigns

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

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

These are the search terms for a web design company

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.

You'll likely see searches related to competitors, locations you don't serve and potentially phrases that aren't in way related to your product or service.

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.

Even phrase match can result in some surprising results and thanks to changes in their targeting method, so can exact match.

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 words or 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 two 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

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 (tools and settings) at the top of the screen. Look for negative lists under Shared Library.

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

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

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.

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.

The problem with addiing them directly from the search terms report is that the default setting is exact match for your negative phrases.

In the example below from a town car service, the phrase involving buying a town car wouldn't be appropriate. If you add the phrase as exact match, your only block that exact phrase. Other variations of phrases that included buying wouldn’t be blocked.

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

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.

Whether you add a single word as broad match or phrase match, the effect will be the same.

If you add muliple words together as broad match, then any phrase that contains those words, no matter their order, will be blocked.

It’s better to use phrase match when adding two words or more. This allows you to control how they are blocked in a specific order.

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.”

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 insurance as a negative match.

Unfortunately, this also blocks phrases like dental offices that take delta insurance. Which you might in fact do take.

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

How Are Negative Keywords Different Than Other Keywords

The main thing to understand about negativekeywords is how Google treats them different than all other match types.

Keyword match types have undergone a dramatictransformation over the past few years. The best example is with exact match.

In the past if you targeted a phrase as exactmatch then the only time your ad would appear is if someone typed in thoseexact words. That is no longer the case.

Now your ads can appear when close variants ofyour words are used. This could be plurals, synonyms, or misspellings.

Negative keywords, however, haven't changed.If you add the word career as a negative keywords, your phrase will still showfor careers. It would also show for carers.

Why does Google treat negative keywordsdifferently than other keywords? One reason. Money. They want your ad to showup for as many searches as possible. And get as many clicks as possible.

When adding negative keywords make sure to addplurals. Unfortunately adding misspellings won't do any good unless you happenon a common misspelling.

Be Proactive with Your Negative Keywords

You don’t have to rely on just your search terms report to find negative keywords to add. Most likely you can come up with a list of words that don't apply to your business.

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.

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.

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 negative keywords that could apply to many service providers.

If you're doing keyword research for your campaigns take notice of some of the suggestions 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. This is Google Suggest and a great way to find both profitable keywords and potential negative words.

I do Google Suggests with the main keywords I'm targeting for a client.

For example, 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. Because they’re in your location they could see your ad and click it.

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.

The way to get around this is to add all the 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.

If your budget is limited consider adding phrases that demonstrate the searcher is early in the buying process. They are more apt to buy when they’ve decided on a product or service. Words like reviews or comparison.

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.

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.

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

Adding negative keywords to Google shopping campaigns helps lower wasted spend
Search Terms Are Also Present in Google Shopping Campaigns

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

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.

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.