Discover top guides, trends, tips and expertise from AIO Writers

How Do Negative Keywords Work? Your Complete 2024 Guide

Julia McCoy
Monday, 17th Jun 2024
how do negative keywords work

In the ultra-competitive world of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, every click counts. To make the most out of your budget, it’s essential to ensure your ads reach the right audience. This is where negative keywords come into play.

How do negative keywords work?

Negative keywords prevent your ads from appearing in irrelevant search results, helping you save money, improve click-through rates, and increase conversion rates.

Acting as a filter, negative keywords tell Google Ads and other advertising platforms what you don’t want so you don’t waste money on clicks that are not going to convert.

With ad costs always on the rise, negative keywords are more critical than ever. This is why in today’s blog post we explore how negative keywords work and how they can improve your PPC campaigns’ performance.

Table Of Contents:

Why You Should Care About Negative Keywords

Think of your ad budget like a leaky faucet – drip, drip, drip – each wasted click draining your resources and leaving you with less to spend on attracting those ideal customers.

Negative keywords ensure that your ad budget is directed only to attracting visitors who are more likely to bring you conversions and help your business grow.

Here are four reasons why you should consider adding negative keywords to your PPC campaigns.

1. Laser-Focused Targeting

Every business wants to connect with the best possible audience. Your target market is looking for specific solutions, and they’re using precise language to find them.

You don’t want your beautiful sneaker ad showing up when a potential customer searches for “wedding shoes”, “clown shoes” or even “bowling shoes”, do you?

By adding negative phrases, you fine-tune your ad targeting and ensure that your ad appears only in front of people who actually want what you offer. This will boost your click-through rates and cut down on irrelevant clicks that just don’t make sense.

2. Bye Bye Wasted Ad Money

This one’s a biggie. Irrelevant clicks equal lost money, and those lost dollars add up over time.

A plumber in Chicago doesn’t want to pay every time someone clicks on their ad when searching for “best plumber in Los Angeles” when they don’t even offer services outside of the Midwest.

Imagine the pain of watching your ad budget dwindle because people looking for “DIY plumbing tips” keep clicking on your ads and bouncing.

It’s frustrating and wastes precious resources.

Negative keywords act as a shield, protecting you from such pointless spending and keeping more cash flowing where it should — attracting visitors who are actually looking for plumbing services in Chicago and ready to book a service.

3. Boost Those Conversions

In marketing, conversions are the name of the game. This could mean everything from a visitor submitting a form on your site, requesting a demo, or making an actual purchase.

Negative keywords help make your ads super relevant to user searches which increases the chances of your ads being seen and clicked by individuals who have a genuine interest in your offering.

By directing high-intent traffic to well-optimized landing pages, your campaigns will produce a far higher conversion rate.

You’re not just driving traffic — you’re directing the right traffic.

4. Improve Your Google Quality Score

Did you know Google has a secret rating system for every ad?

Well, not so secret — everyone calls it Quality Score. The QS plays a role in how often your ads are shown, how much you pay for clicks, and how well you are ultimately able to attract potential customers.

One major factor influencing quality score is the click-through rate (CTR) of your ad — meaning how often someone views your ad in the search results and actually clicks on it.

Irrelevant searches and accidental clicks can lower CTR over time, dragging down your score.

Using negative keywords prevents this and improves your ad quality.

So How Do Negative Keywords Work?

Think of how search works: someone goes to Google and types in something they are looking for. Then, the search engine scans billions of web pages to determine what results are most relevant.

With paid advertising, that search algorithm scans the accounts that contain relevant keywords, which all go into an automated bidding war to determine which one goes in the first position.

Negative keywords function as traffic directors for the keywords that you are bidding on by preventing Google from wasting your time and budget on attracting those searchers.

It all relies on “keyword match types” — a vital factor in understanding the specifics of what queries you want your ads to appear for, and even more crucially, the search terms you want them blocked from.

Types of Keyword Match Types

Three keyword match types determine how your negative keywords are applied: broad match, phrase match, and exact match.

Broad Match Negative Keywords

Broad match negative keywords act as your safety net – ensuring that none of the words you have added as negative keywords are present in searches that match any of your targeted keywords.

To set a broad match negative keyword, enter the word or phrase without adding anything. It’s generally advisable to use these terms strategically — specifically for searches where a match to your product would be wildly out of place.

For instance, let’s say you are promoting courses to help someone improve their baking skills. If your negative keyword lists contain “bread, dough, recipe, tutorial, tips”, none of these words would trigger your ads when used in a search that matches your keywords.

how do negative keywords work broad match

Phrase Match Negative Keywords

If a broad match is the wide end of the funnel, a phrase match is closer to the center.

This approach lets you use multiple-word phrases to restrict a specific topic from appearing in a search query that your ads would normally be shown for.

For example, you own a travel company offering group tours to various destinations and you’re planning a paid search campaign that bids on various locations. But, you only do guided tours and don’t do budget, solo travel, business trips, or anything with airlines.

By setting negative keywords that block phrases like “flights to”, “travel deals”, or “solo trips”, you can attract a far greater percentage of ideal visitors for your offerings and avoid spending on searches that do not meet your client type.

how do negative keywords work phrase match

Exact Match Negative Keywords

Exact match negative keywords offer the utmost precision when excluding certain searches from triggering your ads, which should decrease wasteful click spend.

Exact match keywords are written inside a set of square brackets. By using this match type, you can eliminate exact word variations without blocking closely related terms that are relevant to your business and goals.

Say you want to exclude “free running shoes” as it signifies an intent that won’t convert to a sale, but you still want traffic to match terms like “discount running shoes” or “sale running shoes”.

You would add “[free running shoes]” as a negative keyword and any other variation you would not want your ads appearing for to attract only those higher intent keywords.

how do negative keywords work exact match

How to Add Negative Keywords to Google Ads

Adding negative keywords to your Google Ads campaigns is a crucial step to refine your audience targeting and ensure your ads are shown to the most relevant searchers.

Here’s a quick guide to help you through the process:

Step 1: Log into Your Google Ads Account

Open your web browser and go to Google Ads.

Click the “Sign in” button at the top right corner and enter your account credentials.

Step 2: Access Your Campaigns

Once you are logged in, click on the “Campaigns” tab in the left-hand menu to view all your active campaigns.

Click on the specific campaign you want to add negative keywords to.

In addition to adding negative keywords at the campaign level, you can also do this at the ad group level or account level, depending on your needs.

Step 3: Open the Keywords Tab

Inside your selected campaign, click on the “Keywords” tab located on the left-hand menu.

Click on “Negative Keywords” to access the section where you can manage your negative keywords list.

Step 4: Add Negative Keywords

Decide whether you want to add negative keywords to the entire campaign or a specific ad group. This can be selected from the dropdown menu.

Click on the plus button (+) to add new negative keywords.

In the box that appears, you can enter one negative keyword per line. You can also copy and paste a list of keywords if you have one prepared.

Specify the match type (broad, phrase, or exact) for each keyword if necessary. By default, all negative keywords are a broad match unless specified otherwise.

Step 5: Save Your Changes

After entering your negative keywords, click the “Save” button to apply them to your campaign or ad group.

Review the negative keywords you added to ensure they are correctly listed and applied to the right level (campaign or ad group).

For more tips on how to use negative keywords in Google Ads, visit the Google Ads Help Center.

Best Practices for Adding Negative Keywords to PPC Ads

Adding negative keyword matches to your PPC ads ensures that your advertisements are reaching the right audience.

Here are some best practices to follow:

1. Conduct Thorough Keyword Research

Before adding negative keywords, conduct comprehensive keyword research.

Use tools like Google Keyword Planner to identify search terms related to your products or services.

Analyze these terms to pinpoint irrelevant or low-intent keywords that should be excluded.

Consider reviewing your competitors’ ads and dive into industry-specific forums to discover commonly used terms that may not align with your business objectives. The goal is to gather a robust list of negative keywords that will help prevent wasted ad spend on irrelevant traffic.

Learn more in this detailed guide on how to identify negative keywords.

2. Review the Search Terms Report

Regularly review the search terms report in your Google Ads account. This report provides insights into the actual search queries that triggered your ads.

By analyzing this data, you can identify irrelevant search terms that your ads appeared for and add them to your negative keyword list.

This ongoing process helps you fine-tune your targeting and ensure that your ads are shown to a more relevant audience. The search terms report is a powerful tool for continually refining your negative keyword strategy based on real user behavior.

3. Categorize Negative Keywords

Organize your negative keywords into themed lists, such as irrelevant products, services, or locations. This practice simplifies management and ensures that each list can be applied to relevant campaigns or ad groups.

For instance, if you sell high-end products, you might create a list of negative keywords for budget-related terms like “cheap” or “discount.”

By categorizing negative keywords, you can quickly apply the right set to each campaign, maintaining a high level of precision in your targeting.

4. Mix Up Your Match Types

Use different match types when adding negative keywords to your PPC campaigns.

Broad match negative keywords prevent your ads from showing for any search that includes the negative keyword term, regardless of order.

Phrase match negative keywords prevent your ads from showing for searches that include that exact phrase.

Exact match negative keywords restrict your ads from showing for searches with the exact term in the same order.

Using a combination of these match types helps you control the specificity of your exclusions, allowing for more nuanced and effective campaign management.

5. Use Negative Keyword Lists

Take advantage of Google Ads’ negative keyword lists feature.

Create reusable lists of negative keywords that can be applied to multiple campaigns. This practice saves time and ensures consistency across your campaigns.

For example, if you manage several campaigns for different products within the same category, a shared negative keyword list can help maintain uniform exclusions and simplify management.

Regularly update these lists based on performance data and new insights.

6. Implement at Different Levels

Apply negative keywords at both the campaign and ad group levels.

Campaign-level negative keywords help you filter out broad, irrelevant traffic across all ad groups within a campaign.

Ad group-level negative keywords allow for more granular control, excluding specific terms that may not be relevant to particular ad groups.

This layered approach provides greater flexibility and precision in managing your negative keywords, ensuring optimal ad performance.

7. Avoid Over-Negation

Be cautious not to add too many negative keywords or overly broad terms that could inadvertently block valuable traffic.

Over-negation can significantly reduce your ad reach and limit potential customer interactions.

Regularly review your negative keyword list to ensure you’re not excluding terms that could lead to conversions.

Test and monitor the impact of your negative keywords to strike a balance between filtering out irrelevant traffic and maintaining sufficient reach to capture valuable leads.

8. Monitor and Adjust Regularly

The effectiveness of negative keywords can change over time as market trends and consumer behavior evolve. Regularly updating your negative keywords ensures that your ads remain relevant and cost-effective.

Continuously monitor your campaign performance and make adjustments to your negative keyword lists as needed.

Set a schedule to review and adjust your negative keywords, and stay informed about changes in search behavior and industry trends that might affect your campaigns.

By following these best practices, you can effectively manage negative keywords in your PPC campaigns, optimize your ad spend, improve relevancy, and drive higher-quality traffic to your website.


By understanding how negative keywords work, you can reduce your ad cost and attract high-intent traffic.

The principles are the same across various platforms like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, but, you need to do the heavy lifting – analyzing, monitoring, and refining.

There’s no magic formula for instantly hitting those CTRs or boosting your campaign performance.

Be proactive. Do that work. Be deliberate in your use of those search term reports, because your budget should not be like a leaky faucet.

Written by Julia McCoy

See more from Julia McCoy

Long Headline that highlights Value Proposition of Lead Magnet

Grab a front row seat to our video masterclasses, interviews, case studies, tutorials, and guides.

Experience the power of RankWell®