How Well Do You Know Your Negative Keywords?

How Well Do You Know Your Negative Keywords?


Google has made great strides developing tools that help advertisers find their target market. Using some of those tools is important. But make sure you don’t forget some of the fundamental best practices to ensure campaign success. A good example is the use of negative keywords in your paid search campaigns – a tried-and-true tactic that can improve your ability to target your paid media considerably.

To refresh you: Google defines a negative keyword as a type of keyword that prevents certain words or phrases from triggering your ad. When you identify negative keywords in your campaign, you lessen the likelihood that your ad will appear for irrelevant searches. When I audit paid search campaigns, one of the most common mistakes I find is the failure to add a robust list of negative keywords.

Finding Ideas for Negative Keywords

Reviewing search query reports will almost always result in negative keyword ideas. In the higher education space, I often see searches around student log-in information, campus living options, and school sports teams. All those searches are fodder for negative keywords. In the retail space, I often see searches including “How to,” “How do I,” or “Can I use.” In many cases, these types of searches result in ad clicks, but not conversions. So such searches are potential sources for negative keywords to add to your campaign.

Some searches are easy to identify as irrelevant. But other negative keywords may not be as obvious to discern.  If you are questioning whether you should add a new negative keyword, I recommend reviewing 12 months of AdWords data if available. Using a Search Term Report, you can filter for searches containing the search term or phrase in question. If you are tracking conversions, you can see how many times those types of searches resulted in conversions, how much spend was accrued, and the cost/per conversion

That data should make it easier to decide to add a negative keyword to block specific searches from triggering your ads. While you are reviewing the Search Term Report and looking for potential negative keywords, take some time to review the search queries for new keyword ideas as well.

Uncovering New Terms

Of course, it’s important to form your negative keyword strategy in context of a general keyword strategy. The Search Term Report is a great tool for doing so. I like using the Search Term Report to do complementary analyses for keywords and negative keywords. I might use the report to find general keywords as follows: often, I uncover new terms that searchers are using to find my product. For example, they might use my modified keyword along with some other descriptive words that might be good keyword additions to my campaign. For example:

  • I might have “+product +x” as my keyword, but I see a repeated pattern of people searching for “lowest cost product x,” “best product x,” “product x for women,” etc.
  • Or, perhaps your product is being used for a purpose not previously known. For example, “Using product x in a garage,” “product x for boats.”

It may be beneficial to add some additional keywords based on your search query results and test performance.

Finally, with the increased popularity of voice searches, you will most likely be seeing longer search queries in your reports, which could offer you valuable insight into ways to better tailor your current set of keywords.  By eliminating spend on irrelevant traffic with a robust negative keyword list, you should see an improvement in paid search performance. And that’s how you turn a negative into a positive!

Image source: Wilfred Iven,