Negative keywords – a short guideReading Time: 5 minutes
Negative keywords are used in advertising to improve targeting and ROI. They tell ad hosts not to show an ad based on the keywords entered. For instance, if you add ‘discounted,’ as a negative keyword, search engines won’t show your ad if ‘discounted’ is in someone’s search query.
Also known as a negative match, negative keywords make sure that certain words or phrases don’t trigger an ad being shown on a SERP or website.
This improves targeting: When you prevent keywords from being associated with an ad, you can be more certain that it will be shown to the right audiences.
For instance, let’s say you’re running an ad for a webinar series about becoming an entrepreneur. Your target audience is the working professional wanting to start his or her own company.
However, you find your webinar series, “How to Succeed in Business: A 6-Week Course,” is being viewed by prospective university students looking for preliminary courses before applying to become a business major.
To make sure your ad gets seen by the right people, you’ll want to add “university,” and “business class,” as negative keywords. That way, prospective students hoping to major in business are less likely to come across your ad, ensuring your ad spend is targeting the right persona: aspiring entrepreneurs.
The improved targeting of your ad keeps the focus on keywords that are the most important. For the business course, that’s most likely, “entrepreneur courses,” “business webinars,” and “how to open a business.”
Bottom-line? An ad with exceptional targeting, being seen by the right people, improves ROI.
How are Negative Keywords different from other Keywords?
Using negative keywords helps ensure you don’t waste ad spend. Enhancing the power of keywords by adding conflicting ones gives you more control over who will see your ads, and heightens the focus on the most valuable keywords.
Negative keywords make sure the unintended audience won’t see your ads. Both are an effort to increase the ROI (return-on-investment) and targeting of ads.
Let’s say you’re advertising social media analytics software for agencies. It’s a PPC ad, and you’re bidding on the phrases “social media analytics,” and “social media software,” without negative keywords.
However, as your campaign is running, people might search “social media software” in an attempt to find social media scheduling tools. They’ll see your ad, but they won’t engage with it, because they aren’t interested in social media analytics for agencies.
This results in a loss of ROI and CTR. If you add negative keywords, however, like “social media scheduler,” “beginner social media software,” and “social media software for influencers,” you can avoid those losses.
Essentially, negative keywords are different from other keywords because they allow for your ad to be more focused and helps control who interacts with each ad. Choosing the words you want to avoid heightens ROI.
How to find Negative Keywords
For starters, when you’re conducting keyword research for an upcoming campaign, make a negative keywords list at the same time. If you come across search queries that could possibly be in conflict with your persona’s intent, add them to your list.
Think about words that fit under the umbrella of keywords and fill in the gaps. Negative keywords can be specific if the keywords are broad.
For instance, let’s say you work for a cough syrup distributor and your keywords are “syrup brands.” That’s a pretty broad category when you take in to account cooking syrups, desserts syrups etc – so to fill in the gaps, your negative keywords should zero in on what isn’t relevant to your product, like, in this case, the many syrup variations.
If your target audience is large, you can still have amplified reach when you cut out the portion of an audience who won’t find value from your product or service. For example, if you’re promoting a launch of online products, you’ll want a negative keywords list to include things that suggest physical purchasing, like “in-person,” or “bricks and mortar.”
Identifying keywords sounds like a mind-reading process, but with keyword software, you can eliminate some of those stresses. Additionally, if you have a Google Ads account and are running ads, you can open the search term report to see which terms triggered your ad being shown.
If you come across a phrase that brought in a lot of impressions but limited conversions, consider eliminating the search term by adding the phrase as a negative keyword.
How to Use Negative Keywords
When you make a negative keyword list, don’t go overboard. You don’t want to drastically reduce the reach of your ads because of a huge list of restricted words. Search terms should be similar to your keywords, but make distinctions your keywords don’t.
For example, if you’re selling sunglasses and your keyword is “glasses,” think about the subcategories that are attached, like water glasses and eye glasses. Those are negative keywords to add to your list, but “bifocals” and “cute glasses” probably don’t need to be excluded — they can still fit under the “sunglasses” category.
There are three types of negative keywords: broad match, phrase match, and exact match.
When to use each
Negative broad match — Negative broad match keywords prevent your ad from being shown if the query contains all negative search words. However, if only a few of those words are in the query, your ad still may be shown. If your negative keywords fit in no other category, they’ll be considered negative broad match.
To add broad match keywords in Google Ads, enter keywords with no formatting, such as plus marks or quotations.
Negative phrase match — If you want the query to use your negative keywords in the order you listed them, you’d be using negative phrase match. While your ad won’t show if the terms are in the same order, the search doesn’t exclude extra words. Additionally, if the search adds characters, like an exclamation point or question mark, your ad won’t be excluded.
This is because the first search queries include the negative keywords in a different phrase, while the latter use the phrase in that order. Use negative phrase match if you want to appear to a large audience, but recognise tiny words that could change the meaning of a query.
To add negative phrase match keywords in Google Ads, enter keywords with a quotation around them, such as “surfboard wax.”
Negative exact match — Your ad won’t be shown for the queries that have the exact keyword(s) in the exact order if you categorise them as negative exact match. The only stipulation here is that your ad has a chance to be seen if the query adds additional words.
If your negative keyword phrase is very broad, and can be interpreted in multiple different ways, use negative exact match. This is also a good keyword category if you’re focusing on a very targeted, specific audience.
To add negative exact match keywords in Google Ads, put a bracket around your keywords, like so: [surfboard wax]
Remember, the idea of negative keywords is to eliminate wasted ad spend and maximise ROI with targeting. You’ll want to use them as an additional tool for making ads show up in the right places.
As consumers, we want to find valuable answers to search queries, and so does Google. Negative keywords only help that process, especially for advertisers who want to maximise reach, and ensure ads are seen by the right people.
Ultimately, using negative keywords is an additionally strategy that can drive a lot of positive return. At Advocate we can help with all your paid media development, management and ongoing optimisation needs. To find out more, contact the team today.