A business analytics company targeting enterprise companies bids on keywords around data science and business intelligence, yet its PPC campaign includes people looking for jobs in data science and BI. An optometrist running a search campaign focuses on the keyword “glasses” but finds her ads are being shown to people searching for wine glasses or drinking glasses. A cybersecurity firm is advertising a B2B webinar on its on-demand training course for security professionals and its ads are being shown to college students looking for classes.

What a waste.

Why does this happen? Because Google is going to include anyone looking for the keywords you’ve chosen.

With organizations expected to spend more than $95 billion on search ads in 2022, competition for high-value keywords is fierce. You can’t afford to waste money on keywords that aren’t relevant to your ideal customers.

Negative keywords help eliminate wasteful spending by preventing your ads from being shown in searches that are not relevant to your business.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What are negative keywords?
  • Why should you use negative keywords?
  • How to identify negative keywords
  • How to add negative keywords to your Google ad account

Let’s start with the definition of negative keywords.

What are Negative Keywords

What Are Negative Keywords?

Negative keywords are the opposite of keywords. With a negative keyword, you tell Google which keywords you don’t want your ads to show up for. So, our optometrist would choose “wine glasses” and “dinner glasses” as negative keywords to exclude their ad from showing up for people using those search terms. Our data scientists would use negative keywords such as “jobs” or “careers” so their ads don’t show up for job seekers.

This helps ensure your ads are seen by the best potential audience to increase your conversions.

Match Types for Negative Keywords

There are different match types for your negative keywords:

  • Broad Match: A broad match will exclude every word in your keyword or phrase, regardless of the order in which they are used.
  • Phrase Match: A phrase match excludes an exact phrase in the search, in the same order, even if there are additional words before or after the keywords.
  • Exact Match: An exact match excludes an exact phrase in exact order.

Why Should You Use Negative Keywords?

Negative keywords ensure your ads are displayed to the organizations or people you’re really targeting and not someone using a similar phrase. This provides multiple benefits, including improving your clickthrough rate (CTR).

When ad impressions are seen by the right target audience, you’ll get more clicks and more conversions. Without negative keywords, your ads may be shown to a lot of disinterested people, which also could skew your analysis. You might see a CTR that’s very low and conclude the campaign is not delivering the ROI you need when, in reality, your ads are being shown to people less likely to click.

If those seeing your ads do click and find the information is not relevant to them, you’re also paying for the privilege.

When you restrict your ads from being shown for certain keywords, you can eliminate searchers that aren’t a fit for your business and might tightly craft your messaging.

How to Identify Negative Keywords

During your initial keyword research, you can simultaneously look for keywords that have the most opportunity for you and the ones that are irrelevant to your site. If you’re selling running shoes, omit dress shoes!

You can run a Google search for the top keywords in your category and look for possible negative keywords that come up. You can also use the Google Search Term Report which can help you more closely match your keyword list to searcher intent. This report also allows you to track specific performance, conversions, and attributes. You need to review your performance regularly to see what keywords are triggering impressions and eliminate those that are not relevant.

How to Add Negative Keywords to Your Google Ad Accounts

After you’ve identified the negative keywords that you want to add to your Google Ads account, you need to add them to your ad group or campaigns.

To add negative keywords to your campaigns, click on the appropriate campaign and look for the Summary section. If you’re using the view with the menu showing on the left side of the screen, expand Keywords and click on Negative keywords.

Either way, click on the blue + button next to NEGATIVE KEYWORDS.

You can add your list and hit save.

To add negative keywords to specific ad groups, click on the appropriate ad group and look for the keyword section. Click on negative keywords, then the same blue + button add, add your list, and save. You can also choose existing lists you’ve already created and add them here.

Depending on your ad groups, you may want to have global negative keywords at the campaign level and specific negative keywords for individual ad groups.

Campaign Level vs Ad Group Level Negative Keywords

Use the campaign level when you want to add a keyword to an entire campaign, including any ad groups, to avoid searches containing any of your negative keywords.

Set negative keywords at the ad group level, when you want negative keywords to apply only to certain ad groups. Your campaign-level negative keywords will still apply but you can add additional ones.

Improving Paid Search Ad Performance

When you’re spending money on paid search, you want your dollars working for you! Negative keywords help avoid unnecessary spending.

It’s important to review your ad performance regularly to look for negative keywords that need to be added to the list. Some negative keywords will be obvious. Others may not be so easy to spot. Check for the terms used by searchers and also look for these specific scenarios.

Searches with poor CTRs

When you find keywords or phrases that generated impressions but have an extremely low clickthrough rate, check to make sure the keyword is relevant. You may want to exclude it from search results or craft a more targeted ad message to take advantage of the search volume.

Searches with poor conversion rates

If you get people to click but they fail to convert, it may mean you have a poor landing page strategy or a less-than-compelling offer. It may also mean you aren’t meeting the expectations of users when they click on your ad. If certain keywords trigger clickthroughs but fail to convert, you need to either fix your messaging or add to your negative keywords to avoid wasteful spending.

Searches with high cost-per-conversion

One of the keys to any profitable business is managing your cost per acquisition (CPA). When you find certain keywords that are converting but come at a high price, you should consider whether you want to continue using them. Often, you can find keywords that provide more cost-effective conversions and eliminate expensive ones.

The Bottom Line

Here’s what we learned.

  • Negative keywords are the best way to prevent your ads from showing up for people who are searching for content closely related to yours, but not likely to be relevant.
  • Using negative keywords has multiple benefits, including improving CTR, delivering more relevant ads, and increasing the conversion rate and ROI.
  • You can identify negative keywords when conducting your keyword research, or using Google Search Term Report
  • Make sure you add your negative keywords at the campaign level or ad group level as is appropriate.

Playing the search game effectively is part art and part science. Fortunately, using negative keywords and continually optimizing your campaigns can produce better results over time. Unfortunately, using negative keywords effectively can be time-consuming. If this sounds confusing or complex, you don’t need to go it alone. Main Street ROI can help. We’re a digital marketing agency focused on helping your business grow.

Want to learn more strategies to improve your paid search results or need help with any aspect of your digital marketing? Contact the experts at Main Street ROI today.