What Are Negative Keywords? (and How to Use Them in 2019)
Especially with Google Ads’ latest changes to match types and close variants, knowing how to use Negative Keywords has never been more important. Whether you’ve been using Negative Keywords since the early days of Google Ads, or if you’re new to the party, it’s going to be worth your while to make sure you are up to date with the latest and greatest in Negative Keywords.
What is a Negative Keyword on Google Ads?
Before we do anything, here’s a recap on the definition of a Negative Keyword: A Negative Keyword is a type of keyword that will make sure your pay-per-click ads will not be activated by a specific phrase or word, which you decide you don’t want your ad to appear for.
In a single Google Ads account you can add Negative Keywords to individual campaigns manually, or create up to 20 Negative Keyword lists (with a maximum of 5,000 Negative Keywords per list), and each list can be applied to multiple campaigns. When a Negative Keyword is added to a campaign, no ad will be shown to someone searching for that exact query.
Negative Keywords 101
Now that you know what they are, it’s worth your while hanging around to make sure you’re 100% up to date. You’ll come away from this article knowing:
- Why are Negative Keywords important?
- How to find Negative Keywords
- How to find Negative Keywords with the Keyword Planner
- Negative Keyword Match Types
- And more!
Why are Negative Keywords Important?
PPC advertising is all about driving new customers, users, or leads to your website, right? The answer is: yes and no. When you’re paying for every click, it can be painful to know that there are people who are not relevant to your business clicking on your ads. You want to make sure that the traffic you are achieving is worth the time, effort, and – most importantly – the spend that you are investing in this ad campaign. For that reason, your PPC campaigns need to be focussed not only on capturing your ideal customers, but also on not wasting spend on clicks that are almost certain not to convert (now or in the future).
The key? Just as you work to find long-tail, high value long tail keywords to extend your audience to include as close to 100% of your ideal audience as possible, you also need to refine that audience by excluding searches that you know (whether through experience, data, or just knowledge of your business) won’t provide value. Got that? Read on…
Be Your Own Negative Keyword Generator
There are several ways to find the Negative Keywords that will work best for each of your campaigns, here we’ve gathered three of the most tried and tested methods for you to get refining your audience.
1. Finding Negative Keywords with the Google Ads Keyword Planner
To risk stating the obvious, one of the best ways to find Negative Keywords is to use the specific Google Ads tool that was designed for Keyword Discovery. It’s true that Google is slightly more interested in helping you find keywords that will empower you to reach additional audiences rather than excluding searchers who might click on your ad, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the Keyword Planner tool for guidance of who not to include in your targeting process.
Here’s what you’ve got to do:
- Sign in to your Google Ads account.
- On the top right corner of your homepage, click on the Tools & Settings dropdown.
- From the Planning section, select the Keyword Planner.
If all is well, you should end up here:
First of all, you’re going to want to use the ‘Discover new keywords’ option to find relevant ideas, complete with data about the recent volume for that keyword, CPC, competition, and more information. Type in (as generically as you can) what you are offering.
From this point, by including basic information about your business’ main services, you can find a good selection of the most competitive and recurring search terms that could be relevant to you. From this wide base, you can add filters to find searches that have lots of competition, or are too expensive, or simply don’t apply to what you do, and add them directly to the list of Negative Keywords you are working on.
2. DIY Negative Keywords
There is nowhere you will get better insights about how your audience is searching on Google than… on Google. Again, you may have seen this recommended for finding ‘positive’ keywords – it also works for finding Negative Keywords! From the following dropdown, for example, if you are a high-end carpet installation business, perhaps ‘tips’, ‘how to’ or ‘cheap’ are good options to exclude from your campaigns. Repeat this with 5-10 keywords you are considering, and you’ll soon have a pretty comprehensive list to start with!
3. Add Negative Keywords You Know You Need
Of course, the most reliable source of keywords driving erroneous traffic is, unfortunately, going to be conversion history from your already running campaigns. While this means that you have to suffer the misfortune of wasting ad spend to find out exactly what is going wrong, by the same token, you will then have an exact knowledge of what you need to exclude.
Watch out! Use your conversion data to guide you – but be careful – there may be queries that, even if they do not appear to convert directly, still play an important role in early funnel customer acquisition. Think about search queries that include ‘Compare’ or ‘Do I need…?’ ‘Review…’. These keywords could easily be searchers looking for information who could still become customers, users, or leads later on. For more on this, check our guide to choosing the right attribution model for your campaigns!
Negative Keywords Match Types
For Search campaigns*, Negative Keywords are, by default, Exact Match. That means they work exactly the same as Exact Match Keywords (only inverse 😉) although, *CRUCIALLY*, Negative Keywords don’t match to close variants. You can, if you want, add Negative Keywords as Broad Match, Broad Match Modifier, etc.
This is not without its complexities, but the important thing is to know that negative keywords that you set as Broad Match and Phrase Match are less comprehensive than their positive counterparts. This is because, naturally, Google is more inclined to facilitate more clicks for your ads, rather than filtering out searches which might still be relevant. Either way, for a recap of what Match Types do what and what they are good for, check out the different Match Types, what they mean and how to use them here.
*NB There is a difference between how Negative Keywords work for Search and how they work for Display and Video campaigns – with Display and Video ads, it is not the searches that are excluded, but the sites on which those ads appear that are affected and excluded by your Negative Keyword list.
Conclusion? Use Negative Keywords
To close, I know that may sound like a lot of work – and done comprehensively it can be a time-consuming process – but the reality is that negative keyword management is an essential process to ensure that your audience is as maximally relevant and valuable as it can be!