How to Use Google Ads Negative Keywords for Relevant Ad Placements
We already know from our chapter on keyword match types that Google will look at the keywords in your ad group and determine which searches they should show up in— even if the user didn’t utilize the same keyword you’re targeting.
This can expand reach, but it can also mean that sometimes Google doesn’t quite put our ad exactly where we’d like it.
That’s where negative keywords come into play. Negative keywords give you more control over which searches you won’t appear in, improving your overall ad relevance.
In this Google Search Ads Chapter, we’re going to go over how to use negative keywords in Google Ads.
Standard keywords tell Google which searches you want to appear in; negative keywords tell Google which search terms you don’t want your ad to appear for.
Negative keywords give you more control over your placements, because they’re giving Google guidance to ensure you aren’t showing up in irrelevant placements where you’d have little to no chance of getting the end result that you want.
If you sell high-quality desks and ergonomic desk chairs, for example, you may want to target the keyword “desk for home office.”
You quickly realize, though, that you sell gorgeous wooden writing desks, and you’re seeming to show up in plenty of searches from users searching for “standing desk for home office.” You might get clicks… but you’re definitely not getting those sales.
This is a common scenario, and it’s why negative keywords are so valuable.
We just shared an example of how negative keywords can prevent you from appearing in wrong searches, but there are multiple significant benefits to that.
This includes the following:
- When you aren’t showing up in irrelevant search placements, you’re reducing the likelihood that you’ll get clicks without conversions (which is wasted ad spend)
- As you receive placements but end up with few clicks, it lowers your CTR; this is a metric used to assess your Quality Score, which tells Google how relevant your ad is and can directly impact future reach and CPCs
- When you show up in relevant searches, you’re more likely to get clicks (which means a higher Quality Score and lower CPCs), and to have those clicks convert (meaning that you aren’t paying for wasted ad spend and you’re netting a higher ROI)
- Negative keywords help focus your campaign and provide invaluable context that tells Google exactly what your ad is about by highlighting what it’s not about.
There are a few ways to add negative keywords to your campaigns.
The first is during keyword research using Google’s Keyword Planner. We’ve covered this briefly in our Hub chapter on keyword research, but it’s important enough we want to go over it again here.
As you are compiling keywords that you do want to add to your campaign, you’ll likely find some that you absolutely do not want to have an ad appear in a search for. To add these as negative keywords, highlight the undesired terms by clicking on the checkbox next to them. Then find “More” in the blue header above, and click “Add as negative keywords.” This will add them to your list.
You can add negative keywords both to a specific campaign or to an ad group. You can also create “lists” of negative keywords so that you can quickly apply a set list to multiple campaigns, which can be an exceptional time saver.
To do this, start in your Google Ads manager, and then find “Keywords” in the left side navigation bar. You can then click on “Negative” keywords from its drop down menu, and you’ll see existing negative keywords and their information.
To add new ones, click on the blue + sign at the top of this information. This will open up a screen where you can add multiple different negative keywords (and set their match types) to a campaign or select ad group.
You can edit your negative keyword list at any point, including changing their match type.
There are a few different ways you can find negative keywords for your campaigns, so we’re going to walk you through our favorites.
When you’re conducting keyword research off of seed keywords, you’re likely to start seeing keywords that you absolutely do not want to rank for. And if Google offers them as suggestions based on the seed keyword, they may also pop your ad on searches using those terms on a broad match setting.
If I’m a force-free dog trainer wanting to run ads, it makes sense to start with a keyword like “dog training.” Immediately there are plenty of keywords that are not a fit for my services, including “puppy crate,” “potty training puppy” and “k9 dog” (which is a training facility).
These are all good negative keywords to add to your campaign if you want to use a more broad term like “dog training.”
You can also use the “Refine keywords” feature on the right side of the dashboard to exclusively search for negative keywords. To do this, check the boxes of keyword categories that are not what you want to have your ad show in searches for. You’ll see them listed in the keyword dashboard, and you can add as many of them (or all of them!) to your negative keyword list.
Search intent is always going to play a part in the results you get from Google Ads.
A brand who wants to optimize for the term “in home nursing,” for example, may be promoting hospice services. A quick look at other searches show more results for private long-term nursing, memory care, and basic care. This is technically different from hospice.
Based on the ads and organic search results, it may indicate that this isn’t a keyword that’s a good fit because users searching for it may be looking for other services. It’s all about search intent, and many people may be more likely to search for “end of life care” or “hospital” keywords directly.
As a result, if you’re running a campaign for hospice services, you may want to take this into consideration, adding negative keywords like “in home senior care” to your list.
Keep in mind that Google does consider a user’s past searches to assess what they may be looking for, too, so this can help match you up correctly.
Sometimes we end up getting placements for keywords that we never could have imagined. This is particularly common with broad match keywords, but it can happen with phrase match keywords, too.
Look at your Search Query Report, which can be found under the “Reporting” section of Google Ads. This will show you which searches your ads fired for based on the keywords that you’re targeting, and it makes it easy to see which negative keywords you should add to your list as you see non-relevant terms start to pop up.
We actually run these reports as an ongoing task for our clients, combing through the report at least once per week. It’s an essential part of campaign health both in the short-term and long-term.
There aren’t many downsides or risks associated with using negative keywords; it’s, ironically, almost all positive.
As long as you’re using negative keywords that you definitely don’t want to appear in, your ad performance will only improve. It simply ensures that your ad isn’t being shown to users who you know won’t convert, meaning your CTR, conversion rates, and ROI are all more likely to go up.
One thing to note: Be cautious on the keywords you are adding as negatives. One wrong negative could block your ad from showing for searches you would want to show for!
Negative keywords can be a critical element in your campaign and keyword strategies, so make sure that you’re taking them into consideration right at the planning stages.
As your campaigns evolve, so will the list of keywords you need to add to the negative list, which is why it’s so important to check those reports at least once per week to make sure that nothing is derailing your campaigns.
Want to learn more about building a strong keyword strategy for Google Ads? Check out the Keywords Chapters in our Google Ads Hub for more.