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How to Create an Effective Negative Keyword List for AdWords

If you’re managing an AdWords PPC campaign, you need to be familiar with negative keywords and the benefit they provide.

So what exactly are they?

An Introduction to Negative Keywords

Negative keywords are keywords you add to a campaign in order to exclude those words from the campaign.

Here’s how it works.

First, you find a term that isn’t converting well and that you’d like to make sure your ad doesn’t show up for anymore.

Let’s say you’re bidding on women’s hats as a broad match keyword and find out that your ad is being shown for girl’s hats in addition to women’s hats, but your products are intended only for women, not girls, which means you’re paying for clicks that will never convert, something nobody wants to do.

This is an instance when you’d want to add “girls” and “girl” as negative keywords so your ads will no longer show for those results.

Let’s talk about how to do that now.

How to Add Negative Keywords to Your AdWords Campaigns

To add a negative keyword, first log in to Google AdWords. Next, click on “Keywords” and scroll down to the bottom of the keyword list and click on “Negative Keywords.”

Negative Keywords

After you’ve done so, you’ll have the option to add negative keywords at both the campaign and ad group levels.

Negative Keywords - Ad Group Level

Here’s how to decide which one is right for you:

  1. If the keyword should be excluded from just that particular ad group, then you want to exclude it at the ad group level. Example: If you have an ad group for women’s hats but have other ad groups for girl’s products and you want to exclude the word “girl” from the women’s hats ad group only, then it should be added at the ad group level.
  2. If the keyword shouldn’t be used in any ad groups, then it needs to be added at the campaign level. Example: Suppose, as we’ve mentioned before, your store doesn’t carry any girl’s products at all. In this case, you want to add “girl” or “girls” as negative keywords at the campaign level so your ads will no longer show up for it.

This is essentially all you need to know in order to add negative keywords to your campaigns. First, you find a term that you don’t want to advertise for, and then you add that term as a negative keyword so you won’t show up for it anymore.

But how do you figure out which words should be added as negative keywords?

How to Find Negative Keywords

First, consider on your own which terms you definitely don’t want to show up for. If you give away free Bibles, for example, but can’t ship to prisons, then you’d want to add “prisoner” and “prisons” as negative keywords.

Next, take a look at this list of 75 Negative Keywords Every AdWords Campaign Should Include. It’s a bit of a hyperbole that every campaign should use all of these terms, but there are quite a few general keywords and categories you can consider to kick off your negative keyword list.

Last but not least, take a look at the search terms report in AdWords to see what actual searches people are conducting to find your site so you can optimize accordingly (you can learn how to do that by reading this post: How to Use the AdWords Search Terms Report to Lower Cost Per Acquisition). When you find search terms that aren’t converting, be sure to add them as negative keywords. (Examples of this include searches for “app” when your product isn’t an app, etc.).

The search terms report is probably the best way to find negative keywords that should be added at both the campaign and ad group levels. You can also use a negative keyword tool like Wordstream to automate finding negative keywords since this is something that’s built into the software and that they’ll help you to identify.

Should You Add Negative Keywords as Broad, Exact, or Phrase Match Types?

The last question you need to ask is whether or not to add negative keywords as broad, phrase, or exact match types. The answer is that it depends.

In most cases, you’ll add a keyword as a phrase or exact match. This is so you don’t accidentally rule out phrases that you actually want to rank for. When in doubt, add a negative as a phrase or exact match.

In some cases, however, you’ll want to add a term as a broad match. This may be in specific instances where you don’t want to show up for any terms related to that word. However, you do want to make sure this match is right before adding it because you can possibly lose out on valuable impressions and clicks.

Here’s a chart that shows the difference between adding a negative keyword as a broad, phrase, or exact match and the impact of each to give you an idea about how your campaign might be impacted.

Negative Keyword Match Types

The main thing to keep in mind is that adding negative keywords is one of the most important ways to optimize PPC campaigns in order to get better results. If your ads are showing for searches that aren’t converting then you’re paying for clicks that you don’t need to be paying for. The click-through rate also will be lower for these types of terms which means your Quality Score is going to suffer.

If you’re looking to optimize your AdWords campaign, creating a negative keyword list is one of the best places to start. Use the techniques listed above to identify negative keyword opportunities for your campaign, and go ahead and add a few today so you can become familiar with how the process works.

p. s. Be sure to check out this pre-created list of negative keywords for AdWords by Ross Kaplan to get a jump start on adding negative keywords to your PPC campaigns.


Joe Putnam Headshot
Joe Putnam is the blog editor at iSpionage. You can get his latest PPC and CRO advice on Twitter at @josephputnam.