What Are Negative Keywords and Why Are They Essential in Google Ads

Remember what kryptonite does to Superman? The green, glowing rock renders the otherwise unstoppable superhero a lump of weak muscles, barely able to move, let alone fly.

What if I told you that digital marketing comes with its own form of kryptonite? And it will deprive your ad campaigns of their superhero power. What is it?

The irrelevant keyword.

Not accounting for these terms through negative keywords represents a costly mistake in Google Ads (previously Google Adwords) that too many companies make.  This oversight transforms otherwise fantastic ad campaigns into ineffective ones that never get off the ground.

Fortunately, there's a simple way to avoid "marketing kryptonite" when creating pay-per-click ads (PPCs). Lex Luther aside, let's explore why you must add negative keywords to your campaigns.

What Are Negative Keywords in PPC?

Let's start with the elephant (or, rather, the Hulk) in the room. What are negative keywords?

They're keywords you don't want to run ads for in Google Ads.

Think of them as guiding terms and phrases that let the keyword tool in Google Ads know when to prevent your ad from being triggered by a particular phrase or keyword.

Without them, you'll pay for ads that run against irrelevant queries. This, in turn, exposes your account to fewer interested impressions. You create gaping holes in the relevance of your ad groups, and you waste a lot of money.

Remember that keywords are not search queries. The search query is what the user puts into Google. Google then uses some fancy algorithms to present the user with what they think they were looking for. It’s a science, but not an exact science as one keyword matches to hundreds if not thousands of search queries.

As if that's not enough misery, your campaigns will also experience lower conversion rates. Why? Because your ads will show for keywords that don't convert, like competitors' names and terms that lack commercial intent.

How does the process of using them work? When you add a negative keyword to your campaign, you let Google Ads know that you're not interested in any ads based on search terms containing these specific phrases or words. Kryptonite neutralized.

Of course, you can also make your exclusion rules broader, if you'd like. More about that in a bit.

Examples of Negative Keywords

Let's say, for example, that you're attempting to sell Credit Cards, and you'd like to run Google Ads to attract the right customers. One of your phrase match keywords will be "credit cards".

Along with the phrase "credit cards" come many other phrases and terms such as "free credit cards," "cancel credit cards", "credit cards are dead man. The millennials and Gen Z’s don’t like them as they all want to use AfterPay", etc. Since you're not in the business of giving away free credit cards (or you could be... we don’t judge) you want nothing to do with these terms.

If you don't deal with these negative keywords, however, you'll end up putting out ads to people wanting to cancel credit cards. Good luck trying to win new customers that way!

Before you know it, your ads budget will be exhausted, and without an understanding of negative keywords, you'll never understand why. You'll have wasted time and energy advertising to people who don't want your products. Yikes!

How do you stop these keywords from tripping up your campaigns? By adding the term "free," "cancel," and "millennials" to your campaign as negative keywords. Once you do this, Google will automatically prevent your ad for all search queries related to those search terms.

Fortunately, accounting for keywords you don't want to trigger ads isn't rocket science. A few simple steps can put you on the road to appealing to the right customers.

Negative Keywords vs. Other Keywords

As you're already starting to see, using negative keywords can save your company money by eliminating irrelevant keywords. That said, one keyword alone might not make a significant impact on your campaign results.

When you start building out a full list, however, you'll notice a reduction in ad spend, higher click-through rates, and increased conversion rates. These results show that negative keywords let you target customers better.

So, why not just avoid the whole negative keyword process by using exact match keywords in Google Ads? Because you'll miss out on countless vital keywords in the process, many that you likely won't think of on your own.

Although it may feel like you're adding steps to the process, accounting for negative keywords remains the better and more efficient option. What's more, you can adjust your list over time for optimal results.

How to Find and Add Negative Keywords at Campaign Launch

Now, you've got a better understanding of what negative keywords are and how the process of using them works. At this point, you're likely wondering where to start when it comes to developing a list of negative keywords.

First thing to do, is head over to our Essential Handbook on Google Search Ads to find out how to do Keyword Research. No point us covering old ground!

As you are going through the research, you will likely come across suggestions that you want to make sure you stay away from. Open up a spreadsheet and copy and paste these in.

We have a pretty big list of keywords that we implement right off the bat with our partners. Things like Free, Cheap, Training etc.

Look for terms and phrases that you want to exclude to save money. As you do this, keep in mind the intent of the query and what the user wants to find.

Although some keywords might seem related to your offering, in reality, they're being entered by users with a completely different search objective.

Once you’ve got your list of negative keywords, there’s a couple of ways to enter them. The first is along with the other keywords you have found but putting a minus symbol – in front of it. So it would look like:

-[free credit cards]



-[credit cards are dead man. The millennials and Gen Z’s don’t like them as they all want to use AfterPay]

Another way to add them is after the campaign has been posted, head on over to the Google Ads platform, and go to Negative Keywords option under keywords in the left-hand navigation. Then, hit that +.

Navigate down the menu to negative keywords and select the blue plus to add

Important Note: When adding negative keywords into the Negative Keywords section, you don’t need to put the minus symbol (-). You’re already in the section, so Google knows what you want.

Best Practices for Negative Keyword Mining

Once the campaign is up and live, you would be amazed at the randomness of the search terms triggering your ads. Google is starting to relax the rules are phrase match and exact match to allow more searches to be triggered (great business to be in when you can reverse peoples strategies to not waste money!).

Before we go any further, you absolutely must have Conversion Tracking   set up, as you need to be able to make data led decisions. Assuming you have that nailed, the next option in the Keywords sub-menu is Search Terms. This is where the randomness lives.

You need to use common sense here, but if you see a search term appearing that you weren’t expecting or didn’t want and it’s NOT converting, add it as a negative keyword. Simples.

Under search terms find desired negative keyword and select it by ticking the box, click button to add new

Effective Paid Search Management

Negative keywords prevent the wrong people from seeing your ads, especially when they're browsing for similar content. Of course, the most effective paid search management requires constantly expanding your keyword list.

At the same time, you must also continue to refine the keywords you're already bidding on to ramp up ROI and maximise relevance. This approach requires pausing poor performers as well as eliminating some terms and phrases.

By following this method, you'll ensure that your ads reach the best potential audience for conversions. If your Google Ads campaign results have been less-than-stellar up to this point, you won't believe your eyes once you start taking negative keywords seriously.

Remember, too, that negative keywords can be assigned at multiple levels, from campaign to ad group. What's more, they come in a variety of types, including exact, phrase, and brand. You must understand how these match types work to maximize the potential of your ads.

Gain more insight into how Google Search Ads works with our essential handbook.

The Benefits of Negative Keywords in Google Ads

Paying attention to negative keywords in Google Ads will improve your click-through rate (CTR), and they'll make sure that only the most qualified individuals see your ads. How? By permitting you to weed out keywords that aren't related to your business.

When you take the time to refine your message and which searches trigger it, you'll avoid paying for useless clicks. In the process, you'll save money by removing searchers from the picture who aren't interested in your products.

Before you know it, your ad campaigns will pack plenty of muscle. They'll also soar like the blue-and-red caped crusader we mentioned at the beginning of this article.

Looking for more ways to increase conversions? Check out our Full Funnel Growth podcast to learn how to hack Facebook for a 300 per cent increase in conversions.