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How to Optimize With Negative Keywords [Advanced Guide 2019]


The key to succeeding in paid search is having a great keyword strategy. It’s crucial to find those golden terms that are relevant to your business and have significant search volume. And then you have to create relevant campaigns, ad groups, ads, and landing pages based around those keywords. Equally important in your keyword strategy is negative keyword optimization. By knowing how to optimize negative keyword lists, you will, in turn, eliminate wasted ad spend, increase the relevancy of your ads, and improve your conversions per dollar and click-through-rate.

What Is Negative Keyword Optimization?

Negative keywords are a way of preventing your ads from showing up for search queries that don’t relate to your business or ad or deviate from your original keyword strategy. By optimizing with negative keywords, you are helping your ads reach only the most relevant searchers.

Say you own a flower shop and are running paid search ads for flower arrangements. Some negative keyword examples you could use are: “fruit flower arrangements” or “edible flower arrangement.”  Even though these phrases include the term “flower arrangement,” they are not relevant for your business. By excluding these keywords, you are ensuring that your ads will not show up for these queries.

Search results paid ads showing how to optimize for negative keywords for flower arrangement

So, why wouldn’t you want your ads to show up for these queries? Isn’t all traffic good traffic? Not necessarily.

If you are successfully displaying ads to users who search for something you don’t offer, both you and the user will be disappointed when they click on your ad. They will think that you offer the service that they searched for and will most likely leave your site quickly when they figure out you don’t offer edible arrangements. When this happens, it contributes to a higher bounce rate. Paying for someone to come to your website only to have them turn around and leave without interacting with your page is obviously a waste of resources. Additionally, repetitive bounces from your landing page negatively affects your quality score which can decrease the number of impressions you receive across your entire Google Ads account.

Optimizing for negative keywords can help ensure that only the right customers are seeing your ads and reaching your site. In order to do this effectively, you need to make sure you use the right negative keyword match type.

Negative Keyword Match Types

Just like the keywords you choose to target, negative keywords have different match types. This will help distinguish the intent behind the search. By understanding the intention behind the keyword, you can make your ads as relevant as possible to the searcher. A thorough understanding of the various match types is critical in keyword selection, even for negative keywords.

Negative Phrase

A negative phrase match keyword allows you to exclude your ad from showing up for a certain phrase. The query can include additional words and the ad still won’t show up as long as the phrase is in the exact same order as the keywords. One negative keyword example is “blue shoes.” With this negative phrase match keyword, a query for “light blue shoes” will not show your ad. But, if the query is “blue tennis shoes,” your ad might still appear. Here’s whether the negative phrase match keyword “blue shoes,” would allow the following search terms to be shown or not:

  • Blue shoes for women – NO
  • Blue women’s shoes – YES
  • Navy blue shoes – NO
  • Navy shoes – YES
  • Royal blue heels – NO
  • Blue shoes – NO

Negative Exact

An exact match keyword is the most flexible match type, excluding your ad for searches only of the exact keyword phrase. If a query includes additional words or variants of the keyword, your ad can still be triggered. With this match type, you are eliminating very little traffic as it is only excluding your ad from showing for queries matching the keyword phrase exactly. Here’s how the negative keyword example of “blue shoes” selected as “negative exact” match type affects whether the search terms are possibly shown or not:

  • Blue shoes for women – YES
  • Blue women’s shoes – NO
  • Navy blue shoes – YES
  • Navy shoes – YES
  • Royal blue heels – YES
  • Blue shoes – NO

Negative Broad

A negative broad match keyword will exclude your ad from showing anytime the entire phrase is used in a query, even if it is out of order or includes additional words. This type of match type will eliminate the highest amount of traffic and can filter out a lot of variations of queries. If you are using negative broad match types and there is a specific word you must ensure your ads don’t show for, you can use a “+” modifier. Using the negative keyword example of “blue shoes” this modifier will guarantee that your ads don’t show for a query that contains “blue” at all. But, using a general “broad match type,” for “blue shoes,” your ads would appear for the following queries:

  • Blue shoes for women – NO
  • Blue women’s shoes – NO
  • Navy blue shoes – NO
  • Navy shoes – YES
  • Royal blue heels – YES
  • Blue shoes – NO

The 4 Benefits of Using Negative Keywords

Using negative keywords will help you refine your search ads, allowing you to spend more money where it counts and less where it doesn’t. Here are four of the main benefits of using negative keywords effectively.

1. Increase the relevancy of your ad groups

A successful PPC campaign is dependent on relevant ad groups, and negative keywords can help you make your ads more relevant for searchers. By filtering out keywords that aren’t related to your business, you can then more easily create a single, uniform message for all of your targeted keywords. This allows you to adjust or maintain your ad groups with a higher level of accuracy by eliminating potential errant inclusions.

2. Improve your Click-Through Rate (CTR)

How to optimize for negative keywords to increase click-though-rate concept

Give the people what they want, and don’t spend money showing them what you know they don’t. People who aren’t interested in your ad because it doesn’t relate to their search won’t click on your ad. And by preventing your ads from showing up for searchers that you know will not be interested in your business, you will reduce the number of uninterested impressions for your ad. When a higher number of your leads are qualified, you narrow the focus of your ads, and an increase in your click-through rate should naturally follow.

3. Increase your Conversions per Dollar

Eliminating wasteful spending is critical for any successful business. Fortunately, optimizing your campaigns with negative keywords is an easy way to cut spending and eliminate wasted ad dollars. The less money you spent on ads aimed at uninterested searchers, the higher you can expect your cost-per-conversion.

4. Lower Ad-costs by Eliminating Waste

Additionally, by cutting out the keywords you were wasting spending on, you lower your overall ad spend. This frees up budget for other keywords, ads, or some other project. The less you spend on ads for queries that have no interest, the more you can spend in other places of your marketing budget, whether that be your PPC budget or reallocating it somewhere else.

So, how do you optimize for negative keywords?

How to Optimize Negative Keywords

Optimizing your paid ads for negative keywords can take a lot of time and effort and isn’t always the most fun. But it is necessary.

Creating Negative Keyword Lists

One of the first steps to optimizing for negative keywords is creating negative keyword lists that you know you don’t want to target. You can brainstorm negative keywords on your own, use collected data like search query reports in Google Ads, or use negative keyword tools to help you discover negative keywords and phrases. Once you start creating your lists, you can add more negative keywords to them as they are searched.

Blank list to help optimize for negative keyword lists

You also want to make sure you are creating lists across your campaign levels. For instance, if you are a flower shop, you may want to use “edible flower arrangement” as a negative keyword across your entire account. But, you can also have negative keywords at every level of your ad campaign meaning a negative keyword list can be maintained for individual ad groups, for campaigns as a whole, or your entire Google Ads account.

If you have one ad group targeted towards bouquets of roses,  you probably don’t want this ad showing up for a query about a bouquet of peonies. So, you can choose negative keywords surrounding the term “peonies” specifically for this ad group, but not other ad groups, where a query involving peonies may be perfectly relevant.

By adding a negative keyword in one campaign or ad group and not another, you also can better track keyword performance and appropriate budgets accordingly. If the same search term comes up in multiple ad groups, it’s difficult to discern the ad copy that works best with that keyword. By creating negative keyword lists across ad groups, you can more quickly and efficiently track and optimize your ad copy.

Curating your negative keywords

You never want to create your negative keyword lists and then walk away. As time goes on, you can gather more information towards what terms you may want to prevent your ads from showing up for. It’s always important to go back and continue optimizing your negative keyword lists. The list may grow, shrink, or change entirely as your strategy and business offerings change.

When it comes to a campaign that isn’t performing, it also can be helpful to check your negative keyword lists and remove individual negative keywords to make it less restrictive. This way you will increase your overall impressions and you can take note on trends to further develop and optimize your negative keyword strategy.

Final Thoughts

So, it’s time to start optimizing for negative keywords. By doing this you will be reducing wasted ad spend and making your ads more relevant for potential leads and customers. If you need any help with your PPC campaigns, contact us today. Our paid marketing experts will develop a campaign strategy for your business, including negative keywords, that will have customers flocking to your site.