When setting up an AdWords campaign negative keywords can be almost as important as the keywords that you are bidding on, especially if you are using keywords on broad or broad modifier match types and even phrase match.

Negative keywords are used to stop an advertiser’s ads appearing for unrelated phrases. This helps to stop them receiving impressions and, even worse, clicks for searches that are unrelated to the service/products that they are offering and therefore are unlikely to convert.

By reducing the number of unwanted impressions that your ads receive you are likely to improve the CTR (click-through-rate) of your ads and ultimately improve your quality score which will help lower the price you pay per click.

In order to describe how negative keywords work Google uses the following example:

neg example

This means that if an advertiser sells hats and caps and they are bidding on the terms “hats” and “caps” but do not sell baseball hats or caps, then they can add ‘-baseball’ as a negative keyword and then their ads will not show to people searching for ‘baseball hats’ or ‘baseball caps’.

How to add negatives

There are two main ways to add negative keywords, either use AdWords itself or if you would like to add the same list of keywords to many campaigns/ad groups then it can be quicker to use AdWords Editor.

When logged in to AdWords online go to the Keywords tab and then under the list of keywords you are bidding on there is a drop down for Negative keywords and the option to add ad group level or campaign level negative keywords:


Simply select ‘Add’ for either ad group or campaign level, select the ad group(s)/campaign(s) that you wish to add them to and type a list of the keywords that you wish to add, one per line.

If you choose to use AdWords Editor, go to the Keywords section and change from Positives to Negatives:

editor img

Then you can add individual ad group/campaign level negative keywords or ‘Make multiple changes’ and add lists of keywords.

How to identify negative keywords

In order to find which keywords you should as negatives there are a few ways to find them:

1. Keyword research

When you are conducting your initial keyword research you will see suggested phrases come up that are related to the terms that you wish to bid on as well as terms that are related but unlikely to convert for you. You can then add those terms as negatives, or the part of the term that makes the phrase irrelevant, so the ads will not appear if someone searches for that phrase.

For instance if you are selling designer handbags and you see that people are searching for ‘fake designer handbags’ or ‘cheap designer handbags’ then you can add ‘fake’ and ‘cheap’ as negative terms.

2. Search query reports

Once your ads have been running for a little while and have received impressions and clicks you can run a search query report to see the actual phrases a user typed in when they saw your ad. If you then see that any of those terms are not suitable you can add those, or the bit of the phrase that is unrelated, as a negative term to stop your ads showing for those phrases again.

When in the search query report there is the option to add as a negative, so you can select the box next to the phrase in question and add it, or part of it, as a negative from within the search query report section.

3. Make them up/think of them yourself

When putting a campaign together you may be able to think of some terms that you know are not relevant. Common ones are ‘free’, ‘cheap’, ‘discount’ etc if you are selling a high-end product.

Think about other products in the same space and terms that someone might type in related to your product/service that are not likely to convert into business for you.