Free Negative Keyword Lists

Negative Keyword Lists

Match Types in Google

Before we get too deep into negative keywords, let’s discuss match types.
Google has 4 official match types:
  • 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”.

The more cynical observer may think that Google is trying to get more ads competing for Google searches. More competing advertisers can undoubtedly result in a direct increase in the click cost for search ads.
I’ll let you decide.

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.

Negative Keyword Jumpstart Guide

Negative Keywords

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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

The most straightforward to explain and most cited example of a negative keyword is the word “free”.

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.

Note that unlike Google’s match types, negative keywords don’t take into account close variants.
Keeping with the dental example, if you make “cheap” a negative keyword (always a good idea), your ads will still show if someone searches for “cheapest dental cleanings”.

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
Your ad won’t show if the user’s search contains all of your negative keyword terms. The negative keyword terms can appear in any order in the user’s search.
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
Your ad won’t show if the user’s search exactly matches your negative keyword (with no other words in their search phrase).

Example Searches

The searches below should provide a better understanding of how negative keywords work.

Negative Keyword Searches

Can Your Ad Be Shown for the Search with the Match Type Below?
User's SearchNegative Broad Match
Independent Contractor
Negative Phrase Match
"Independent Contractor"
Negative Exact Match
[Independent Contractor]
Independent Contractor Near MeNO* NO (a)YES (f)
House Contractor IndependentNO*YES (b)YES (f)
Independent ContractorNO*NO (c)NO (g)
Independent ContractorsYES**YES (d)YES (f)
General Contractors Near MeYES***YES (e)YES (f)
Negative Broad Match Results
* These searches all contain contractor AND independent where are keyword terms contained within our broad match negative keyword. Remember, the order in which the keyword terms appear isn’t important ** This search contains the search term ‘contractors’ which is a plural of ‘contractor’. Plurals of negative keyword terms won’t prevent the ad from showing – likewise, singular versions of negative broad match plural keyword terms also won’t prevent ads from showing. *** This search doesn’t contain ‘independent’ or ‘contractor’ – therefore the negative broad match keyword ‘independent contractor’ won’t prevent ads from showing.
Negative Phrase Match Results
(a) This search contains ‘independent contractor’ – which perfectly matches the negative phrase match keyword. The fact that there are other words in the user’s search doesn’t matter (b) This search contains ‘contractor’ and ‘independent’, however, while the words are next to each other, they aren’t in the proper order to meet negative phrase match criteria, and the ad will still show (c) Exactly matches the negative phrase match keyword (d) Plural form of the negative phrase match – variations of the phrase match keyword (like plurals) don’t prevent the ad from showing (e) This search doesn’t contain ‘independent’ or ‘contractor’ – therefore, the negative phrase match keyword ‘independent contractor’ won’t prevent ads from showing.
Negative Exact Match Results
(f) The user’s search must be ‘independent contractor’ – only those two words in the order provided. This user’s search doesn’t meet the criteria.
(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.

Be sure to go through your negative keyword list and compare it against the keywords you plan on bidding on.
We’ve provided lists of negative keywords that you can use on this page.

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.

You’ll want to check the search terms report daily when you start running a new ad campaign. After you’ve identified some of the more popular negative keywords, you can reduce the frequency of going through the report to weekly or even monthly for very mature advertising campaigns.

A Tip to Find Negative Keywords

For 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.

To create a new list, go into your shared library (under Tools and Settings) and then select Negative Keyword lists.
From here, you can create a shareable negative keyword list to use across your client accounts.
You must go into your client accounts individually to add this shared negative keyword list.

Account Level Negative Keyword List

Similar to creating an MCC Level Negative Keyword List, you can go into your account under Tools and Settings – Shared Library – Negative Keyword Lists, and add a new negative keyword list by clicking on the add button.
Once you’ve created your negative keyword list, you can add it to individual campaigns within your account.

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

It is a fairly common practice for PPC practitioners to use 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.

For the appliance repair company example below, let’s say that you have two ad groups:
Ad Group 1:
Keywords: “Appliance Repair”, “We Fix Appliances”
Ad Content: Get Your Appliances Fixed Fast….
Ad Group 1:
Keywords: “Frigidaire Appliance Repair”, “Frigidaire Compressor Replacement”
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?

Nope. Not officially anyway. According to Google, negative keywords have no impact on your quality score in Google Ads.
Quality score is based in large part on the clickthrough rate for your ads. It stands to reason that if you use negative keywords to make sure your ads are shown to the most relevant possible queries, it will likely increase your clickthrough rates and your quality score – but this is not the case, according to Google.
Google only takes exact match versions of your keywords into account when calculating your quality score. Therefore – officially at least – negative keywords have no impact on 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.

How Aggressive Should I Be with Negative Keywords?

The purpose of negative keywords is to prevent unnecessary budget spend, but it can be a maintenance hassle without much value if you’re adding every single instance of a negative keyword to a list.
Focus on some of the more frequent irrelevant search terms (or parts of search terms) – and make those negative keywords. If you suspect a search that triggered your ad probably won’t appear ever again, it would probably be wasted effort to add that search as a negative keyword.


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