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negative keywords

Negative Keyword Lists For Google Ads

Published on
by Lucy Greenaway

What are negative keywords? Why are negative keywords important in advertising? How do you use them when advertising your company? What are the risks and benefits when using negative keywords?

These are all common questions that come up when you begin your advertising campaign, whether this be through Google Ads or Microsoft Ads.

Profitability is key in business and poorly performing PPC advertising campaigns can eat up your marketing budget, waste your ad spend, and leave you with a below-average conversion rate.

This is a key problem with ad campaigns that fail to appropriately monitor the irrelevant search terms that their ads are associated with and add these negative keywords to their negative keyword lists on their Google Ads or Microsoft Ads account.

Using negative keywords results in optimised client targeting and therefore has great potential to increase your return on investment (ROI).

Read on to find out the answers in this definitive guide on negative keywords.

What are negative keywords?

What are Negative Keywords?

While positive keywords allow you to target the desired demographic for your business, negative keywords allow you to exclude unqualified audiences from viewing your ads.

This helps the campaign focus solely on the keywords that matter to your potential customers.

For example, if a shoe company had a search ad and they did not sell trainers, they could add 'trainers' to their negative keyword list so that their ad would not show for people looking for trainers which would eat away at their ad spend if they did not add the negative keyword 'trainers' to their negative keyword list.

The benefits of negative keywords

The benefits of negative keywords and how they help your ad conversion rate

When running your ad campaigns through sites like Google Ads and Microsoft ads, you are charged higher bids for visibility in the ad search results location.

Negative keywords are crucial to your ad campaign as they will help to keep your ads hidden from irrelevant search queries and search terms and this helps to prevent avoidable increases in CPC (cost per click).

While creating negative keyword lists and monitoring your campaign for irrelevant search terms that your ad is showing for is absolutely key for a successful ad campaign, overdoing this and using too many negative keywords can harm your campaign instead as it can severely limit what searches your ads show for.

For example, if we use the same example of the shoe company analogy, if the shoe company created an ad campaign for red high heels, but then added the keywords 'red', 'high heels', and 'red heels' to the negative keyword list, their entire campaign would be pointless as their ads will not show for the potential clients who are using the search queries that the shoe company wishes to align their ads with, yet their ads would likely show for irrelevant search engine queries.

The bottom line is that applying the correct negative keywords for your ads is extremely effective and can save money, but applying too many or incorrect negative keywords for your ads can be destructive and lead to a below-average conversion rate and wasted ad spend.

How do negative keywords work?

Negative Keywords and Online ads

The idea of advertising through Google ads and Microsoft ads is to generate conversions for your business and thus increase the number of potential paying customers and this is where negative keywords play a key role.

Negative keywords can increase your PPC (Pay Per Click) profits, filtering out unwanted traffic helps you reach your most appropriate and profitable prospects while keeping your ad spend at a low in comparison.

Adding negative keywords to your ad campaign basically prevents your ad from being triggered by an exact search query that is irrelevant to the ad group or the company itself.

What types of negative keywords are there?

Keywords in Ad campaigns

It is important that you have an understanding of negative keyword match types when adding negative keywords to your ad campaign.

There are different negative keyword match types and these are broad match, phrase match and exact match.

You can use broad match, phrase match, and exact match negative keywords in your ad campaigns, but you must keep in mind that negative keywords do work differently to their respective positive keyword match type equivalences.

Here is a breakdown of the different match types of negative keywords and how they work in your ad campaign.

Negative broad match keywords:

Broad match negative keywords are the default match type for negative keywords, but this does not mean that it is the best type of negative keywords to use.

For a negative broad match, an ad will not show if the search query contains all of the negative keyword terms, this is the case even if the terms are all in a different order.

However, the ad may still be displayed to searches that only contain some of the negative keyword terms.

In your Microsoft Ads or Google ads campaign, you will have less control over where your ad is shown if you choose to use the negative broad match keyword match type, which is not something that is ideal when running an ad campaign.

Negative phrase match keywords:

Phrase match keywords are a type of negative keywords that will prohibit Google ads and Microsoft Ads from showing if the search query contains the same negative phrase match keyword terms in the exact same order.

A search query may contain additional words, but the ad won't show as long as all the keyword terms are included in the search query in the exact same order.

Additional characters in a word may also be included in the search query, even if the rest of the phrase match keyword terms are included in the search queries, the ad will still be displayed.

Exact match negative keywords:

When using a negative exact match keyword, the search queries must contain the exact negative keyword terms and they must be in the exact same order as shown in the keyword lists and they must not contain additional words or characters in order for the ad to not be displayed. Negative exact-match keywords can be beneficial when there is a specific search query that

Symbols in Negative Keyword Lists.

What can I put as negative keywords

There are only three text symbols that will be recognised in negative keywords.


An ampersand is recognised, but you would have to include & in one keyword and 'and' in another for both to be added to the negative keyword list. For example 'snakes & ladders' would be accepted but you would also need to add 'snakes and ladders' for both search terms to be excluded.

Accent Marks (Á).

While accent marks are recognised in negative keywords, they are seen as two separate keywords. So you would need to add both 'cafe' and café' to your negative keyword list in order for both search queries to be excluded.


Asterisks are acknowledged in negative keywords.

Symbols that are not acknowledged in negative keywords:

Ignored Symbols:

Full stops (.) can be added to your negative keywords, however the full stop will be ignored so you would not need to add the same keyword without a full stop at the end as it would be considered the same keyword.

If you add a plus sign (+) to your negative keywords, it will generally be ignored (e.g. red + hat). However, occasionally if a plus is at the end of a word (for example C++) it will be acknowledged.

Invalid Symbols:

Typically an error message will pop up if you add negative keywords that contain an invalid symbol.

Symbols that can't be used negative keywords are: , ! @ % ^ () = {} ; ~ ` <> ? \ |.

Site and search operators:

The site operator will be taken away from the negative keywords. That means that if you add the negative keywords [ yellow buses], the negative keywords will be treated the same as the same as [yellow buses].

Search operators will also be taken away from the negative keywords. If the search operator "OR" is added to the negative keywords.

For example “OR black shoes”, the "OR" shall be ignored and the keyword will remain "black shoes".

Other search operators:

Adding a minus (-) operator before negative keywords will result in this keyword being ignored. For example, if you have negative keywords like “black - trainers”, it will be seen the same as just “black”.

How negative keywords change based on the type of Google Ad campaign you are running.

search campaigns in google ads

Search campaigns:

Search campaigns must be approached differently regarding negative keywords.

It is ideal to look for search terms that are similar to your positive keywords, but that may result in targeting a different demographic to what your ad caters for.

Google Ads has used the example of an optician's search campaign and how they may add search terms like "wine glasses" and "drinking glasses" to prevent their ad from showing the wrong type of glasses they sell.

Similarly, if the optician were to do a specific ad group that targeted prescription glasses then they may also want to add the term "sunglasses" to that ad group's keyword list.

If the opticians did not sell a specific product like "Gucci Sunglasses" and found that their ad continued to be displayed for such search terms, then it would be beneficial to add the term 'Gucci' to their negative keyword list.

For search campaigns, you can use negative broad match keywords, negative phrase match keywords, and negative exact match keywords, but you'll need to remember to add any synonyms, different versions of the word (singular or plural), any misspellings, and any other variations if you want your ad groups to be excluded from these search queries.

These would not be profitable keywords to include, so while the task may seem extensive it is important to do and maintain throughout your ad campaign.

Display or video campaigns:

Display and Video campaigns in google ads

Unfortunately, negative keyword exclusions are not as accurate if you choose to use Display or Video campaigns.

They are still crucial to optimising your campaign as negative keywords can help you avoid targeting unrelated sites or videos, however, they do work differently from how they work for search campaign negative keywords.

Google Ads explains that negative keywords for Display and Video campaigns depend on the other keywords in your ad group and that some places where your ad will appear can sometimes contain excluded terms that are on your negative keyword list.

With Display campaigns, a list of negative keywords (regardless of their negative keyword match type) will be excluded as an exact topic.

Ads will not be displayed on a page even if the exact keywords or phrases aren't on the page explicitly, but the topic of the content is highly connected or alludes to the excluded set of negative keywords.

For display and Video ad campaigns, all negative keywords in your list will be considered as broad match negative keywords.

Shopping campaigns

Shopping campaigns can be pretty time-consuming when it comes to negative keywords.

It is important that you exclude any terms for products you do not offer from all your campaigns as this could result in some serious wasted ad spend by people clicking on your ad and arriving at your landing page just to find you don't sell that specific product.

For example, if you sell printers and someone is searching for a copier, your ad could potentially show if you don't exclude the term 'copier'.

Continue to monitor your negative keywords.

Monitoring my Google Ads campaign

It is crucial that you continue to monitor and make changes to your negative keyword lists throughout your campaign.

With search campaigns, it is important to consider search intent when assessing the recent searches that your ad has had impressions for.

For example, if you offer granite cutting services and someone enters the search term 'granite cutter', this could suggest that it is a specific search query for a tool that can cut granite, not someone to cut granite for them.

This also does not mean that you would need to automatically add a search term that you are unsure about to your negative keyword list.

It would be beneficial to monitor it over a period of time and see if the term is a profitable keyword or if it is costing you in clicks but is not resulting in conversions.

People often do a quick Google search to find an answer to something, so this is also something to be wary of when it comes to adding search terms to your negative keyword lists.

It is also worth considering if you want to add your competitors to your negative keywords. This is down to your own opinion and the type of business you have.

For example, a real estate agency or a locksmith would want to keep their competitors and may even wish to add them to their positive keyword lists as when a potential customer searches 'locksmith near me' they tend to click on the first result as the majority of locksmiths offer the same service.

Blocking out a potentially profitable keyword could cost you conversions.

On the other hand, if you sell home furniture, it would be wise to add companies like 'Ikea' and 'Wayfair' as negative keywords, as people are searching for those specific companies and it wouldn't be beneficial for your ads to show here.

Here it is key to judge how search terms, search intent, and search queries are going to affect your ads. Sometimes you will need to wait and see how a search term/potential negative keyword is going to play out before striking it off straight away as this could negatively affect the campaign.

For expert guidance and account management, check out our services page. We offer a free review if you already have a Google Ads account!

Negative Keyword Tips:

Google ads campaign tips

For additional tips on how to use Google Ads, check out our blog post.

You must choose your negative keywords carefully.

If you use too many negative keywords, it could result in your ads reaching fewer potential customers that are IN you target demographic.

Negative keywords don't match to close variants, unlike positive keywords so your ad could still show on search queries or pages that contain close variations of your negative keyword terms.

With Google Ads, your ad could still show when someone enters a search query that is longer than 16 words, and your negative keyword is after that 16th word.

For example, if your negative keyword is 'offer,' your ad could potentially be displayed when someone searches for, 'Clean fancy hotel or bed and breakfast stays in London area UK close to city centre discount' seeing as the negative keyword "offer" is the 17th word in the phrase.

However, the ad will not be shown when someone searches for 'Clean fancy hotel or bed and breakfast in London area UK close to city centre offer' because the negative keyword "offer" is the 16th word in the search query.

Google Ads has a really useful tool called a search terms report. This report shows the search terms potential customers use before they click on your ad. Using this report can be extremely beneficial to identifying potential negative keywords to add to your negative keyword list to your Google Ads campaigns.

Sample Negative Keyword Lists for Google Ads

Below you can find examples categorised by popular subjects. However, it's important to understand that whilst you can copy and paste these into your Google Ads negative keywords, that some of these negative keyword samples could be relevant and as such should be taken as examples only!

Need a more comprehensive list - Download Negative Keyword List here!

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