We’re often told to avoid negativity, but when it comes to pay-per-click (PPC) keywords, a little strategic negativity can do a lot of good. Using negative keywords allows you to exclude certain searches from bringing up your ads and wasting your ad spend. 

While positivity may be the goal in life, in PPC campaigns, negative keywords help your content and ads stand out rather than fade into the background. Implementing them appropriately allows you to target your ads more precisely to searches that align with what you offer. In this article, we’ll explore what negative keywords are and how strategically using them can significantly improve the performance of your PPC campaigns.

What Are Negative Keywords?

Negative keywords are special words used in PPC advertising that stop your ads from showing up in irrelevant search results. Clicking on your ad costs money, so you want to make each click count. The purpose is to ensure your ads only show up in relevant searches by filtering out unrelated terms. This not only saves your pay-per-click budget, but also increases the chances of getting clicks and sales from people who are genuinely interested.

negative keywords | marketing agency in olympiaHow Search Engines Treat Negative Keywords

In Google Ads Search campaigns, you can add negative keywords with broad, phrase and exact match types which gives you control over how closely the query needs to match your keyword. For example, if you add “shoes” as an exact match keyword, your ad will not show for searches exactly for “shoes,” but it may still show for “buy shoes online” or other variations.

For Microsoft Advertising, you can only use phrase match and exact match. Phrase match negative keywords work the same way as Google Ads, but exact matches are stricter. They will exclude only the exact search term that matches the keyword without any close variants.

In Display and Video campaigns, on the other hand, negative keywords work differently. They exclude your ads from showing on entire placements, websites, apps, videos, etc. that are relevant or related to those terms. There are no match types in Display/Video. So, adding “shoes” would prevent your ads from showing anywhere that is about shoes, not just on searches for that exact term.

Similarly, in Shopping campaigns, negative keywords prevent your products from appearing in ads for any search queries related to those terms. If you sell shoes but add “shoes” as a negative keyword, your shoe products would not show in ads for any shoe-related queries. No match types are used here either.

In other words, only in Search campaigns can you use match types like broad and exact to control how closely the query needs to match.

Difference Between Broad Match, Phrase Match, Exact Match

As mentioned earlier, negative keywords can be broadly classified into three match types: phrase match, exact match and broad match. 

Type of Negative Keyword Description
Negative Broad Match This type excludes your ad from searches that include all the terms in your keyword, regardless of the order they’re in. It even excludes synonyms or searches related to your keyword.
Negative Phrase Match It excludes your ad from searches that include the exact keyword terms, in the same order, but might include additional words. The search term must include all of your keyword terms in the exact order.
Negative Exact Match This type excludes your ad from searches that are an exact match to the keyword. The search term must match your keyword exactly, and no additional words can be present.


Types Of Negative Keywords

There are different types of negative keywords that you can use depending on your goals and strategies.

  • Generic Broad Terms: These are terms that are too vague or general to match your specific offer or product. For example, if you sell luxury watches, you might want to add “cheap”, “free”, or “discount” to avoid attracting low-quality clicks.
  • Competitor Brand Names: These are terms that include the names of your competitors or their products. For example, if you sell Nike shoes, you might want to add “Adidas”, “Reebok” or “Puma” as negative keywords to avoid wasting your budget on people who are looking for other brands.
  • Misspellings And Variations: These are words that are incorrect or different versions of your keywords. For example, if you sell coffee machines, you might want to add “cofee”, “coffie” or “cafe” as negative keywords to avoid showing your ads to people who misspelled their search query.
  • Industry Jargon Irrelevant To Target Audience: These are key terms that are specific to your industry or niche, but not relevant to your target audience. For example, if you sell accounting software, you might want to add “GAAP”, “IFRS”, or “FIFO” to avoid showing your ads to people who are looking for technical information rather than a solution.

Identifying Effective Negative Keywords

To identify potential negative keyword opportunities, first, you need to differentiate between the keywords and search queries of your campaign. 

Keywords and search queries may seem similar, but they have a slight difference that is important to understand for better PPC campaigns. Keywords are the words or phrases that advertisers choose to target in their ads, while search queries are what users actually type into the search engine.

For example, if you sell running shoes and your keyword is “best running shoes,” a related search query might be “top-rated sneakers for jogging.” By differentiating between keywords and search queries, you can analyze actual user queries to identify potential negative keyword opportunities and improve ad relevancy. This helps you exclude your ads from irrelevant searches and target the right audience effectively.

1. Tools For Finding Negative Keyword Opportunities

When it comes to finding negative keywords for your search campaigns, SERP (Search Engine Results Page) tools aresocial media company in seattle highly effective. SERP tools provide insights into which terms might generate unwanted traffic. 

    • Google Keyword Planner: This free tool within Google Ads helps you discover new keywords and identify those that may not be relevant to your business.
    • Search Terms Report: This report in Google Ads provides insights into the actual search terms that triggered your ads. By reviewing this report, you can identify irrelevant search terms that should be added to your list.
    • Keyword Planner Tool: You can use this tool for Microsoft Ads. This tool helps you discover new keywords and provides metrics like search volume and competition levels.
    • Keyword Researcher Tool By SearchAtlas: This will assist you in finding related search terms that might not apply to your business. It helps ensure that you’re targeting the right audience by excluding irrelevant keywords.

2. Review Low-Converting Keywords

Take a close look at your analytics to identify those that are generating clicks but not conversions. These terms might be relevant on the surface but fail to engage the audience effectively. Eliminating or reducing such low-performing keywords can improve your ROI and focus your budget on what truly works.

3. Look For Searches Indicating Wrong Audience

Keep an eye out for search queries that may reveal you are reaching an inappropriate audience. For instance, if you are selling professional-grade cameras and notice terms like “cheap cameras” or “beginner cameras,” it’s a sign you’re not targeting the right demographic. Add such terms to your negative keyword list to tighten your ad targeting.

4. Find Keyword Themes You Want To Avoid

Certain themes or topics may repeatedly show up but have little to do with your business goals. If you are marketing a weight loss program and see many search queries related to “weight gain,” it’s clear that this theme is not aligned with your campaign objectives. Identifying and excluding such overarching themes can refine your targeting substantially.

5. Brainstorm Variants Of Irrelevant Keywords

Once you’ve identified a set of negative keywords, think about possible variations or misspellings that might still trigger your ads. If “free” is a negative keyword, consider adding “fre,” “freed” or “frees” to capture any accidental or alternative searches.

6. Use Google Autocomplete For Related Keyword Ideas

Google’s Autocomplete function can be a useful tool for uncovering related but irrelevant terms. Start typing your keyword into the Google search bar and take note of the suggested terms you’d like to exclude. This is an effective way to find terms you might not have thought of that are commonly associated with your primary keywords.

7. Check Competitor Ads For Their Negative Keywords

While you can’t directly see a competitor’s list of negative keywords, you can get an idea by carefully examining their ads and seeing what kinds of terms they seem to be avoiding. Observing which keywords competitors are not bidding on can offer valuable insights into potential negative keywords for your own campaigns.

How To Manage Negative Keywords In Your Campaigns

Here’s how you can effectively manage your campaign:

1. Regularly Review Search Terms Report

Consistency is key in negative keyword management. A one-off review of the Search Terms Report in Google Ads is not enough. Revisit this report on a regular basis, either weekly or bi-weekly, to continually identify and remove irrelevant search terms. Consistent monitoring can lead to more targeted campaigns and better use of your advertising budget.

2. Identify New Irrelevant Queries

The digital marketing landscape is dynamic, and search behaviors change over time. Always be on the lookout for new search queries that don’t align with your business goals. Promptly add these to your campaign to avoid wasted spend and off-target ad placements.

3. Adjust Match Types When Needed

Negative keywords can have different match types like exact, phrase or broad. Depending on your campaign performance, you might need to switch the match type to make your exclusions more or less restrictive. For example, if you find that broad match is filtering out too many relevant queries, consider switching to phrase or exact match types.

4. Keep Abreast Of Trends Related To Your Industry

Staying informed about industry trends helps you anticipate new terms that you may need to add to your list. If you’re in the tech industry and a new, irrelevant gadget becomes popular, you might start seeing more queries around it. 

5. Update Keywords As Audience Interests Change

Consumer interests are not static. They evolve based on various factors such as seasonality, current events or new product releases. Adapt your keyword list to these shifts. Regularly survey consumer trends and search patterns to identify when previously relevant terms have become irrelevant or vice versa. 

digital marketing company in seattleWhere To Add Negative Keywords To Your PPC Campaigns

Now that you know how to properly search for terms to add to your negative keywords list, the next step is figuring out where to implement them in your ad campaigns. There are a few options for where you can add them:

1. Negative Keyword Interfaces In Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, Etc.

The main PPC platforms have interfaces that allow you to add negative keywords. In Google Ads, you can access the section under the Keywords tab. Here you can view, add, edit or delete. 

Microsoft Ads has a similar section under the Keywords tab. The interface allows you to input the negative keywords and match types. 

Other PPC platforms like Facebook Ads also give you options to add negative keywords in the ad set level or ad level.

2. Levels Of Negative Keywords: Campaign, Ad Group, Keyword

    • At the campaign level, these words will affect all ad groups within that campaign. If you set them at the ad group level, they will only apply to the specific ad group. Adding them at the campaign level will apply the negative keyword across the entire account. This is useful for global exclusions you want for your brand terms.
    • At the ad group level, the negative keyword will only apply to that particular ad group. This allows you to selectively exclude terms for different ad groups.
    • At the keyword level, the negative keyword will only apply to that specific keyword. This is for very targeted exclusions.

3. Set Negative Budgets To Control Spend

Some PPC platforms allow you to set a shared budget for spending on negative keywords. For example, in Google Ads you can set a campaign-level negative keyword budget. This prevents too much spend going towards queries you don’t want. When the negative budget is reached, those queries will no longer trigger your ads for the rest of the month. This gives you control over unwanted expenses.

4. Automation

To automate the process, you can upload lists of negative keywords rather than adding one by one. For example, Google Ads lets you bulk upload or import from a .csv file. You may maintain ongoing negative keyword lists in a spreadsheet, updating it periodically. Having a centralized list makes it easier to keep your negative keywords updated across campaigns. This saves significant time compared to manual entry.


By excluding irrelevant queries, you avoid wasted ad spend and refine the quality of your clicks. This results in higher conversion rates and a better return on investment. Remember, proper negative keyword management isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it task; it requires continuous expertise, oversight and data analysis. 

If you need professional guidance in setting up or managing effective ad campaigns, call Three Girls Media, Inc. Our team has years of experience driving tangible results for clients across various industries. We specialize in optimizing your PPC strategy and carefully selecting negative keywords that align with your unique business objectives. Don’t hesitate to reach out at info@threegirlsmedia.com

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