Negative Keyword Lists
Match Types in Google
- Broad Match – This match type is very open-ended. Your ad may show if a user searches for your keyword, a related keyword or a variation of your keyword.
- Broad Match Modifier (BMM) – More strict than broad, if you’re using this match type, your ad may show if a user’s search contains all of your BMM keywords anywhere in their search term – or close variations of your keywords with the same meaning.
- Phrase Match – Your ad may trigger when a user’s search contains your exact keyword phrase or a close variation of your keyword phrase with the same meaning.
- Exact Match – Exact matches of your keyword or close variations with the same meaning.
Over the years, these match types have changed significantly.
Google now has much, much more leeway in which situations it will show your ads. Words like “related”, “same meaning” and “close variations” which are bolded above, give Google a lot of latitude in when it will show your ads.
For example, it used to be that if you had an exact match keyword, your ads would only be triggered if someone’s search phrase exactly matched your keyword.
Not anymore. Now your ads are much more likely to show for searches that are irrelevant to your keywords and their associated match types.
Google’s reasoning beyond this is that it will help advertisers. From the official Google Ads blog on 4/17/2012 – “Based on our research and testing, we believe these changes will be broadly beneficial for users and advertisers”.
In any case, the advertiser no longer has the same tight control over their keywords and, as a result, has much less ability to determine where their ads will appear.
One of the best ways to prevent unqualified people from seeing your ad, clicking on your ad, and destroying your budget is to deploy negative keywords.
What is a Negative Keyword?
According to Google, a negative keyword is “a type of keyword that prevents your ad from being triggered by a certain word or phrase”.
Negative keywords are essential for your ad campaigns in Google and Microsoft because you will inevitably come across searches that trigger your ads that aren’t relevant to your business goals.
How Negative Keywords Work
Most people who are advertising online will want to use the word “free” as a negative keyword.
For example, if you’re a dentist, you don’t want your ad for dental cleanings to show up if someone searches for “dental cleanings free” or “free teeth cleanings”. People that are looking for things for free are not a good investment for your business. So you should make “free” a negative keyword.
Negative Keywords Structure
Your negative keywords can be one or more words, and there are different match types, each of which is provided below with examples.
Negative Broad Match
Negative Phrase Match
Your ad won’t show if the user’s search contains all your negative keyword terms in the same order. There can be other terms surrounding your search phrase.
Negative Exact Match
The searches below should provide a better understanding of how negative keywords work.
Negative Keyword Searches
|User's Search||Negative Broad Match|
|Negative Phrase Match|
|Negative Exact Match|
|Independent Contractor Near Me||NO*||NO (a)||YES (f)|
|House Contractor Independent||NO*||YES (b)||YES (f)|
|Independent Contractor||NO*||NO (c)||NO (g)|
|Independent Contractors||YES**||YES (d)||YES (f)|
|General Contractors Near Me||YES***||YES (e)||YES (f)|
Negative Broad Match Results
Negative Phrase Match Results
Negative Exact Match Results
(g) The ad will not show because the user’s search exactly matches the negative exact match keyword ‘independent contractor’
How Do You Find Negative Keywords?
Before Running Your Campaigns:
Start with Negative Keyword Lists
You’ll want to have a series of negative keywords ready before running your campaigns. Organize your keyword lists around specific themes.
After Your Campaigns Have Started:
Review Search Term Reports
Once you’re already running ad campaigns in Google or Microsoft, be sure to examine your search terms periodically. “Search terms” is a tab or submenu item in both Microsoft Ads and Google Ads.
Within this search terms report, you’ll find the actual searches that people have used to trigger your ads. You’re almost guaranteed to find some tremendous negative keyword ideas when you comb through the search terms. Even if you have extensive negative keywords lists before starting your ad campaigns, the searches of the public will surprise you and come up with crazy, irrelevant searches that you hadn’t even considered.
A Tip to Find Negative KeywordsFor many of my campaigns, I find that Microsoft Ads gives much more detailed and extensive search queries. Generally speaking, Google Ads only provides search terms where someone clicked on your ad. Microsoft sometimes provides search terms where your ad showed for a search, but the advertisement was never clicked. The Microsoft Ads Search Term Report can be a hidden gem for finding negative keywords, and checking out the search term reports in Microsoft Ads is often overlooked by many marketers.
Where Do I Add Negative Keywords?
MCC Level Negative Keyword List
If you’re managing a lot of accounts, you can share negative keywords across multiple accounts with an MCC Level negative keyword list.
Account Level Negative Keyword List
Campaign and Ad Group Level Negative Keywords
Within the Google Ads interface, you can access Negative Keywords under the Keywords tab of a given campaign. Here, you’ll see to an interface where you can enter negative keywords, and apply those keywords at the campaign level or ad group level.
Negative Keyword Sculpting
Keyword sculpting is an advanced topic and involves using negative keywords at the ad group level to correctly associate search terms with the ad that would be most relevant to the user’s search.
Ad Group 1:
Ad Content: Get Your Appliances Fixed Fast….
Ad Group 1:
Ad Content: Frigidaire Appliance Repair Specialists…
In this case, you would want the negative keyword ‘frigidaire’ to be applied to Ad Group 1. The reasoning is that based on bids and other factors that Google could send searches to Ad Group 1 and show a generic appliance repair ad. The ad in ad group 2 is more relevant and is the ad that we would like to show for the query.
Negative Keywords FAQs
Can Use of Negative Keywords Improve Your Quality Score?
What are Negative Keyword Conflicts?
Don’t blindly add negative keyword lists to your campaigns or ad groups without reviewing them first. You’ll likely find that some of your negative keywords will “conflict” with keywords you’re bidding on and prevent your ads from showing.
Will Negative Keywords Prevent My Ads From Showing for Relevant Searches?
Negative keywords can be restrictive, and if you’re not careful, they can prevent your ads from showing for desirable searches. Before adding negative keywords to your campaigns or ad groups, make sure that you can’t think of any possible circumstance where that negative keyword could be beneficial to your campaign.
Can I Use Wildcards in Negative Keywords?
Unfortunately, while Google would seemingly be able to provide this as an option, it isn’t currently available for negative keywords. Google has advanced search operators when conducting searches on the front end and keyword insertion for ads – but when it comes to negative keywords, Google has a very strict implementation. Google won’t take a liberal view of negative keywords as it does with regular keywords – and it won’t match close variants.
Does Capitalization Matter for Negative Keywords?
No, capitalization has no effect on negative keywords. Whether your negative keyword is lowercase, uppercase, or mixed case, it is interpreted as the same negative keyword by Google Ads.
Is There a Difference Between Singular and Plural Negative Keywords?
Yes, Google will interpret the singular and plural versions of negative keywords as separate negative keywords. In fact, you must enter both as negative keywords in order for your ad not to show. As an example, if you are the owner of a diner and you don’t offer donuts, you should enter both “donut” and “donuts” as negative keywords.