There’s nothing worse than having your ads appear in front of the totally wrong audience after spending loads of money on paid search. Annoyingly, this problem happens frequently, and it could be because of the keywords you’ve chosen. You see, when Google matches your keywords to variations of a phrase, that phrase might have nothing to do with the products you sell, resulting in customers you don’t want to target seeing your ad.
Negative keywords provide a solution. They ensure you get your ads in front of the right audience and reduce irrelevant search queries from impacting your business. You can implement negative keywords in Google Ads pretty easily and make your paid search campaigns more productive and profitable. Find out more below.
What are Negative Keywords? And How Do They Work?
Negative keywords on Google Ads are terms that prevent your ads from showing to people who search for those terms. That helps you reach potential customers interested in your products and services.
Say you own a furniture store that sells beds, sofas, and other items for a profit. You could use the negative keyword “free” to stop your ads from appearing in front of people looking for free furniture online. Because you don’t offer free stuff, it doesn’t matter if those people can’t see your ads. By removing the word “free” from your ads, Google will only advertise your store to those wanting to pay for your products.
With Google Ads, you can create a negative keyword list and add up to 5,000 negative keywords. You’ll find the “Negative Keywords” section of Google Ads under “Keywords” on the panel to the left of the main screen. Just click the blue add button to add unwanted words and phrases to a list. Don’t worry, you can always remove a negative keyword if you want to rank for it again in the future.
Why Are Negative Keywords Important?
Negative keywords get rid of irrelevant traffic and improve your clickthrough and conversion rates. Learn more about the benefits below.
Reduce non-essential traffic
It’s easy to see how ads can appear in front of the wrong people. A company that sells flights to European destinations might use the keyword “cheap flights.” However, because Google might match “cheap flights” with variations of that phrase, such as “cheap flights to New York City,” the company’s ads will show to people who don’t necessarily want to travel to Europe. That can result in the company receiving irrelevant traffic. A customer might hit the “back” button on their browser as soon as they realize they can’t find cheap flights to New York!
Negative keywords can reduce non-essential traffic. If the company above adds “New York City,” “Chicago,” and other non-European destinations to a negative keyword list, it can reduce the number of people visiting its website who aren’t interested in its services.
Because negative keywords on Google Ads help your ads rank for relevant search queries, you’re more likely to attract people actually interested in your offerings to your website. That will improve your click-through rate (CTR) from qualified leads.
Here’s an example. If you eliminate the term “cheap” from your ads because you only offer luxury products, you can avoid those ads appearing in front of budget-conscious customers and target those looking for high-end goods. Google will then understand the type of consumers you’re trying to reach, increasing the chances of your ads showing to those people. You’ll then receive more click-throughs from your preferred audience.
With more qualified leads on your pages, you have more chances to convert potential customers. For instance, you can use sales copy on your website to showcase your offerings and explain what makes your brand different from your competitors. That can encourage visitors to make a purchase or sign up for a service.
Negative keywords also ensure you don’t waste time on customers who won’t convert. By eliminating non-essential traffic, you can focus your conversion efforts on people interested in what you offer and who are likely to make a purchase. As a result, your marketing outcomes will be more lucrative.
How to Choose Negative Keywords for Google Ads
So which negative keywords should you use in your Google Ads campaigns? This can be the tricky part. Ultimately, the terms you choose to eliminate from your ads will depend on the products you sell, the type of business you have, your target audience, and other factors. Here are some tips:
Use a keyword research tool
You’ve probably already used a keyword research tool to determine the keywords you currently use in your Google Ads campaigns. But these platforms are also valuable for finding irrelevant keywords you don’t want to rank for. Some of the best tools include Semrush, Ahrefs, and Google Search Console.
Whatever tool you choose, enter a seed keyword that you can use as a starting point. For example, if you sell clothing, use the term “clothes.” Your research tool will populate a list of related keywords based on other information you enter, such as your target audience and location. You’ll then see hundreds of keyword variations of “clothes,” including lots of phrases that have nothing to do with your business.
Make a note of the keywords that are irrelevant and might attract the wrong audience. For instance, if you only sell men’s clothes, then phrases like “women’s pants” and “children’s tops” are obvious negative keywords. You can add those to your list on Google Ads.
Research your competitors
Sometimes, the easiest way to identify negative keywords is to check your competitors’ search listings on Google. For example, if you only sell brand new laptops in your business but a rival includes the term “refurbished laptops” in their listing, you can add that phrase to your negative keyword list. The same goes for “brand new tablets,” “brand new laptop accessories,” and anything else that doesn’t relate to your business.
You can even visit your rivals’ websites and check the headers they use for page menus and submenus. Here, you can find irrelevant terms like “renewed laptops” and “pre-owned laptops” that might attract the wrong audience to your own site. While this process might take some time, you’ll likely discover loads of unrelated terms you don’t want to rank for.
Use Google’s search term report
Google’s search term report lists terms people search for before they see your ad on results pages. Some of these words and phrases might surprise you as they probably don’t relate to your business at all. However, for one reason or another, Google has decided to display your ad based on those terms.
Here’s a negative keyword example. Say you sell accessories for Apple products like iPhone covers. Your search term report might contain obvious search terms that people use before seeing your ad, such as “Apple accessories,” but it might show phrases like “Samsung accessories,” which you don’t sell. Add any irrelevant terms you find to your negative keyword list.
Think of terms you never want to rank for
You don’t need fancy tools or reports to come up with a list of negative keywords that might cause harm if they are associated with your business. Consult with your team and think up words and phrases that will never belong in any of your campaigns. For instance, terms like “sex,” “naked,” and “drugs.”
While it’s unlikely keywords like these will affect your campaigns, you never know how Google’s algorithms will behave, especially if you use terms that can be misinterpreted or change meaning over time.
Best Practices for Negative Keywords
Integrating negative keywords into your Google Ads campaigns is pretty easy. However, follow these tips for the best outcomes.
Use negative keywords for both campaigns and ad groups
You can add negative keywords at the campaign level, meaning you won’t rank for the terms you specify across your entire campaigns. That can be effective if you don’t want to be associated with a negative keyword because it has absolutely no relevance to your business. For example, “cheap shoes” if you only sell luxury shoes.
However, there might be times when you want to use negative keywords on Google Ads for particular ad groups, which are a collection of ads that target the same audience. Eliminating words and phrases at the ad-group level is beneficial if you have more than one target audience or are running a campaign with a specific purpose.
Say you sell both cheap and luxury shoes in your store, but you’re creating an ad campaign that targets potential customers on a budget. For this campaign, you don’t want to rank for phrases like “luxury shoes,” so you can add those terms to your negative keyword list.
Use negative keyword match types
Negative keywords have three main match types: Broad match, exact match, and phase match. You’ll learn more about them in the next section. However, for now, know that using the right match type can drive the right type of traffic to your website. That can result in more conversions and, ultimately, sales.
Review user search data
It’s important to regularly check search query data from users to see if your negative keywords on Google Ads are having the right impact on click-throughs. As you continue to add negative keywords to your campaigns, you can review Google’s search term report every month to see whether the right queries trigger your ads for search users.
Types of Negative Keyword Matches
Negative keyword match types determine how close a user’s query has to be to one of your keywords for them to see your ad. You can use a match type to ensure your ad appears in front of the right audience.
Exact match is the most highly targeted match type on Google Ads. It guarantees your ad only shows to individuals searching for your keyword or a slight variation of it. For example, if your keyword is “lawn mowing service,” your ad might show for someone searching for the phrase “grass cutting service” because both of these phrases mean the same thing. By using exact match, you can target a more specific audience.
Phrase match still lets you target a distinct audience but offers a little more flexibility. It means someone will see your ad when searching for a term that includes your keyword or its meaning. Using the “lawn mowing service” example, a phrase match might be “cheap lawn mowing service” or “grass cutting service near me.”
Broad match is Google’s default match type. Using this match type means more people will see your ad. However, your ad might appear for search queries that have little to do with your business. A broad match for “lawn mowing service” might be “rent lawn mowing equipment.”
You can always use different match types for different campaigns or perform an A/B test to see which type generates the best results. For instance, you could run a broad match campaign alongside an exact match campaign and see which one leads to the most sales for your business.
Why You Should Add Negative Keywords to Google Ads
Negative keywords can reduce essential traffic to your website and improve click-throughs and conversions from qualified leads. That’s because they let you remove search terms from your campaigns that might attract the wrong audience. You can add negative keywords to Google Ads on the campaign and ad group level in a few simple steps. However, you need to find words and phrases you want to eliminate from your ads.
Removing unwanted words and phrases from your ads is just one step to successful PPC management. Working with SEO experts like Symphonic Digital can help you maximize your campaigns and ensure your marketing messages reach the right people at the right time on Google. Start with a free PPC audit to learn how your current ads perform on search.