How Do Negative Keywords Work, and How Should You Use Them?

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Use negative keywords to ensure your paid campaigns are as targeted as possible.

When it comes to your paid advertising campaigns, you want to know your money is well-spent. Negative keyword targeting ensures you’re not wasting your resources on the keywords you don’t want to target, so you have a better chance of using the search terms you do want to target.

From the paid media experts at Oneupweb, here’s what you should know about how to exclude ad keywords from serving your message.

What Are Negative Keywords?

Negative keywords are search queries that you exclude from your paid advertising campaign targeting so you can focus on the keywords that matter to your audience. When you add negative keywords, you prevent your ad from showing up for irrelevant queries and wasting your money.

A negative keyword example for a luxury hotel chain, for instance, would be a query containing “cheap.” People looking for cheap rooms for the night won’t see the ads for the pricier chain they’re less likely to book with.

What Is a Negative Keyword List?

A negative keyword list is a collection of all the terms you don’t want a campaign to target. Since you’ll need to implement this list in each platform you use for a paid media campaign, it’s a good idea to keep a copy of this list handy so you can add the same negative keywords in Google Ads as in Microsoft Advertising, and other channels.

How to Choose Negative Keywords

Here’s a quick explanation of how to find negative keywords:

  • Use Google’s search term report to see which keywords have triggered your ad. Note the keywords that are not relevant at all; this is your first batch of Google search negative keywords.
  • From the same search term report, list the keywords that did not yield quality traffic engagement or leads throughout a significant time period. Consider adding these to your negative keyword list too.
  • Use the Keyword Planner within Google Ads to see terms related to your top keywords. Any irrelevant terms may be added to your negative keyword list.
    • Double-check your work using the automated keyword suggestions as you type the beginning of your keyword into a search engine.
  • Review Google or Bing “related searches” for your target list of keywords, and look for further negative terms to add.

Note that Google will automatically label your selection as a broad match keyword. You can adjust these settings manually if you want a different keyword type. Additionally, if you choose campaign-wide negative keyword settings that contradict what you set at a lower level (e.g., for an individual ad or ad group), the lower level will take precedent.

How to Add Negative Keywords in Google Ads

Time to add PPC negative keywords to your campaigns. Though we’re just using Google negative search terms for our example, you’ll need to do this in each paid media platform you use.

Here’s how to add negative keywords in Google Ads:

  1. Find “Keywords, Negative” under the Keywords section of the secondary navigation.
  2. Select “Add negative keyword,” and toggle the settings for campaign or ad group negative keywords.
    1. Alternately, choose “Make multiple changes” to add negative keywords in bulk for campaigns or ad groups (but not both at the same time).
  3. Follow prompts, type or paste in your negative keyword(s), and approve changes if asked.

Extra tip: To save time, you can use negative keyword lists, and apply them from one ad group or campaign to another.

If you want to add negative keywords directly from the search terms report, follow these steps:

  1. In Google’s Keyword tab, click Search Terms.
  2. Select the campaign you want to run the report for.  
  3. Select any irrelevant keywords on this list, and click “Add as negative keywords.”
  4. Apply the negative keyword selection to specific ad groups or to your campaign as a whole.

“One key to a highly targeted campaign is choosing what not to target.”

Google

Remember: Google will automatically label your selection as a broad match keyword. You can adjust these settings manually if you want a different keyword type. Additionally, if you choose campaign-wide negative keyword settings that contradict what you set at a lower level (e.g., for an individual ad or ad group), the campaign settings will take precedent.

Monitor Campaigns to Add Negative Keywords Later Too

PPC is its own world with its own guidelines and jargon. Campaign management is complicated, and you may find negative keywords to add as you are analyzing performance.

If you need an experienced partner to support your strategy or manage it all, consider Oneupweb’s paid media experts. Take the guesswork out of dazzling your audience by getting in touch or calling (231) 922-9977.

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Taylor Holloran, Account Manager I joined Oneupweb after spending five years as an editor and project manager for an electronic publishing company in Traverse City. Before moving to northern Michigan, I worked on the ground for several international aid organizations, supporting development and conservation projects in Argentina, the Philippines and Cambodia. My experience working with...

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