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The Ins and Outs of Negative Keywords in Google Ads

The Ins and Outs of Negative Keywords in Google Ads

Have you ever searched for something on Google only to be bombarded by irrelevant ads? Serving ads to the right searches can save your budget as an advertiser. That's where negative keywords come in handy.

What Exactly Are Negative Keywords?

Negative keywords are search terms and phrases you want to exclude from your ad campaigns. Adding negative keywords prevents your ads from showing for unrelated searches or are less likely to convert.

Here's a simple example. Say you sell basketball shoes online. You may add “football,” “baseball,” and “hockey” as negative keywords so your ads only show for basketball-related searches.

In other words, negative keywords help narrow down your reach to the searches most aligned with your business.

Why Are Negative Keywords Important for PPC Campaigns?

Universal Negative Keyword List

There are a few key reasons why every PPC advertiser should be using negative keywords:

Increased Relevance

Negative keywords improve the relevance of your ads by preventing them from showing for searches that don't apply to your products or services. Higher relevance leads to higher click-through rates (CTR) and conversion rates.

Lower Costs

Since negative keywords reduce irrelevant traffic, you save money on clicks that are less likely to drive conversions. Over time, negative keywords significantly cut costs.

Enhanced Quality Scores

Google's quality score metric is primarily based on expected CTR. By blocking irrelevant searches, negative keywords raise your expected CTR and, in turn, improve quality scores. Better quality scores let you pay less per click.

Not using negative keywords leaves money on the table. But to reap the benefits, you need to choose negative keywords wisely.

How to Select Good Negative Keywords

Picking the right negative keywords involves both art and science. Follow these best practices when expanding your negative keyword list:

Analyse Search Query Reports

Search query reports reveal the actual searches triggering your ads. Sort search queries by volume and conversion rate to uncover irrelevant queries ripe for negative keywords.

Check “Other Searches Triggered”

Another handy tool is the “other searches triggered” report under keywords. Here, you’ll see additional searches not already covered that could be added as negatives.

Brainstorm Broad Matches

Think about broad match searches that could pick up unwanted variations—adding these as negative overall matches prevents wasting spending.

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For example, a shoe seller may add:

  • [shoes for cats]
  • [shoe glue]

Mine Competitor Accounts

Use tools like Semrush to find keywords competitors are excluding as negatives. These likely won't convert for them, so they probably won't for you.

Ask Customers

Survey customers about searches they tried before finding your site. Their responses give insight into which queries you should negate.

Negative Keyword Match Types

Negative Keywords List

Like regular keywords, negative keywords have match types that dictate how closely a search query needs to match the negative keyword to trigger it.

Broad Match

The broadest match type. It tells Google Ads to block close variations of negative keywords like plurals, synonyms, related searches, etc.

For example, adding [carnival games] as a negative exact match may still show your ad for “carnival game ideas.” Using broad match [carnival games] prevents that.

Phrase Match

Phrase match omits your ad for searches containing the exact negative keyword phrase. It allows for words before or after the phrase.

So if [buy pet fish] is a negative phrase match, “Where can I buy pet fish” won't trigger your ad. But “buy pet fish online” still could.

Exact Match Keywords

The strictest match type. Your ad only gets disapproved if the search query matches the negative keyword verbatim.

For instance, [mountain bikes] as a negative won't block “mountain biking gear.” You’d need that as a separate negative keyword.

Now, let's discuss how to add negative keywords based on these match types.

How to Add Negative Keywords in Google Ads

Adding negative keywords is simple, though the steps vary slightly by campaign type:

Search Campaigns

You can add negatives for search campaigns under “Keywords” or the “Negative keywords” section. Check the appropriate match types.

Here's an example for our basketball shoe seller:

Tip: Use negative keyword lists to apply duplicate negatives to multiple campaigns easily.

Shopping Campaigns

In shopping campaigns, navigate to “Negative product targeting” and choose “Product exclusion.” Enter the negatives and match types you want to block.

Video and Display Campaigns

For video and display networks, exclude placements, topics, demographics, interests, remarketing lists, etc., that aren't relevant under “Audiences.”

When Do Negative Keywords Go Into Effect?

Negative keywords aren't instant. In some cases, new negatives will take effect within a few hours, up to 24 hours.

Google needs time to crawl and update its index after you make changes. Be patient and wait for the exclusions to be fully processed before judging performance.

Now, let’s run through some real-life examples demonstrating the power of proper negative keyword management.

Negative Keyword Case Study #1: Pet Supply Retailer

Petco Logo Redesign

Petco.com is an online pet store selling dog and cat leashes, toys, beds, and more. Despite carefully honing its Google Ads keywords, it kept getting clicks from searches unrelated to its products and customers.

Searches like:

  • Find nearby dog walkers
  • Adopt a puppy
  • Get help with veterinary bills

Not only were these clicks eating up the budget, but they also had abysmal conversion rates. Petco's team embarked on a negative keyword overhaul by:

  • Analysing search query reports
  • Gathering negative keywords from Semrush
  • Surveying customers
  • Brainstorming broad matches
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In total, they compiled a list of over 5,000 additional negatives! Once implemented, the campaigns saw:

  • 12% increase in CTR thanks to reduced irrelevant traffic
  • $8,000 monthly savings from eliminating bad clicks
  • 5X higher conversion rate from improved relevance

The additional negatives paid off big time through laser-targeted ads.

Negative Keyword Case Study #2: Furniture Manufacturer

An American furniture maker was advertising across the US and Canada. However, it found searches from Quebec eating up the budget without converting due to the language barrier.

The team wanted to exclude Quebec searches without impacting potential English-speaking customers there. They implemented an intelligent combination of negative keywords, including:

  • City names in Quebec like Montreal, Quebec City and more
  • French terminology for furniture styles
  • French-accented matches of English negatives using [montréal] or [canapés]

The finessed negative keywords scaled back Quebec spending without affecting English searches. Clicks dropped by 22% overall, but conversions rose by 15% from a more targeted audience.

Negative Keyword Case Study #3: Dog Trainer

SarahFee.com offers online dog training courses for obedience, anxiety, aggression and more. Sarah was advertising in Germany using German keywords to expand her customer base.

Soon, she spotted lots of clicks from searches for:

  • Dog trainer job openings
  • Dog training techniques for police, military, etc.
  • Assistance dog training

These searches had no intent to purchase Sarah’s courses. She added translated negatives for:

  • Dog trainer jobs
  • Assistance dogs
  • Police dogs
  • Army dogs

The negatives limited spending on irrelevant traffic, lowering her cost-per-acquisition by 30% and boosting conversions.

What's the Optimal Number of Negative Keywords?

List Of Negative Keywords For Google Ads

How many negatives are too many? That depends on factors like your product, location targeting and more. As a baseline guide:

  • Most accounts need at least 100-200 negatives
  • Retailers may need 500+ negatives
  • Geo-targeted campaigns can benefit from 1,000+ negatives

With that said, there's no universal “right” number. The best practice is to add negatives continually over time to match the evolving nature of searches.

You can check metrics like search impression share and top IS lost to negatives to gauge if you’ve gone overboard. If you still have room to gain impressions, keep expanding your negative list.

Negative Keyword Strategies to Adopt

Along with the basics we’ve covered, here are a few pro-negative keyword tactics to consider:

Monthly Negative Audits

Set a time monthly to review your search terms and add any new negatives. Don't just “set and forget” your negatives. Search patterns change, so you must continually maintain your negative keyword list.

Align Negatives Across Accounts

If managing multiple accounts, align your negatives across them. Chances are the same irrelevant queries will show up in different accounts, so apply the same exclusions to save time.

Brainstorm Seasonal Negatives

Think about seasonal search trends that don't align with your business. For example, a landscaping agency may add “snow removal” as a negative for winter months when that isn't a service they provide.

Analyse Branded Search Traffic

Even with branded campaigns focused on your brand names, there may still be odd variations you want to negate, like typos. Adding [brandid mispellings] can help reduce irrelevant branded traffic, too.

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Test Pausing Negatives

If you’re unsure about a negative, pause it and monitor performance rather than deleting it outright. This lets you easily re-enable it if you find it's still necessary.

Negative Keywords: Beginner Mistakes to Avoid

Increase Online Sales Google Ads

While super beneficial when appropriately used, advertisers also commonly make these negative keyword blunders:

Relying Only on Exact Match

Failing to use phrases and broad matches leads to limited value from negatives. Be sure to mix and match types appropriately for maximum coverage.

Over-Generalising Negatives

Getting too broad with negatives can restrict your reach more than intended. Strike a balance between precision and range.

Assuming All Low Search Volume = Bad

Don’t assume low volume or conversion rate searches should automatically be excluded. They may signify a customer exploration phase with delayed conversions.

Deleting Down Performing Ads Prematurely

Give underperforming elements time before excluding them. Monitor for trends first, as initial data can be misleading.

Neglecting Misspelled Variations

Remember standard misspelt versions like “men’s athletic shoes.” Consider adding phonetic matches, too.

By sidestepping these pitfalls, your negative keyword process will go much smoother.

Tips for Organising & Documenting Your Negative Keywords

With so many negatives to juggle:

  • Group by theme like branding, competitor, location, etc., to keep them organised
  • Document match types so you know what’s covered
  • Note sources so you can refer back to why you added it
  • Track changes using version history to monitor updates

Proper documentation also helps train new team members on your negative keyword strategy.

Now, let's recap the key points around maximising negative keywords.

Outlining Best Practices for Negative Keywords

To recap, be sure to:

  • Continually expand your negative keyword list over time
  • Use match types appropriately – not just exact match
  • Analyse reports to uncover irrelevant searches
  • Align negatives across accounts
  • Get input from customers, tools, and competitors
  • Brainstorm seasonal or current event searches that may not convert
  • Review monthly and pause negatives before removing

Proper negative keyword management takes work but pays off tremendously. By focusing your ad spend only on relevant searches, you get far higher returns from your PPC investment.

Hopefully, this guide gave you ideas on advancing negative targeting to reduce wasted spending and boost conversions!

FAQs Around Managing Negative Keywords

Here are answers to some common questions advertisers have about negative keywords:

Will broad match negatives block relevant searches?

There is a small risk of that. Start by testing broad terms with low search volume first. Also, use negative lists and campaigns to limit the reach in case you need to remove any overreaching negatives.

How often should I review and add negatives?

Do weekly spot checks and a full negative audit each month. Negatives also warrant more frequent attention after changes like new product launches that introduce fresh bad search terms.

Can I copy a competitor’s negative keywords?

Generally, no, as their negatives are tuned for their unique offerings. But their ads and landing pages can provide ideas for searches that clearly show no intent to buy your type of product.

How do I prioritise which negatives to add first?

Is there a negative keyword tool in Google Ads?

Yes, Google Ads offers a “Recommendations” section under search terms in Google Ads, including negative suggestions based on low-performing searches. Review these along with other keyword research to expand negatives.

Wrapping Up

And there you have it – a comprehensive guide to dominating negative keywords in Google Ads!

As you saw from the case studies and tips, taking the time to exclude irrelevant searches strategically pays significant dividends. Your budget stretches further, and conversions rise when ads match searcher intent perfectly.

Hopefully, you now feel empowered to tackle improving negative keywords for your accounts. Don’t be afraid to take it slow, testing new broad match keywords and iterating monthly. With a thoughtful, persistent approach, you’ll be surprised how far quality negatives take your PPC performance.

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Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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