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When it comes to paid search optimization,  it can be difficult to know where to begin. Additionally, devoting the time and resources required to make high impact optimizations can feel like an impossible task. Luckily, one of the simplest and quickest optimizations you can do also has one of the highest returns: managing negative keywords.

A negative keyword (also known as also known as a negative match) is a keyword that prevents an ad from being triggered by a certain word or phrase. This means your ads won’t be shown to anyone who is searching for those phrases.

Lowering Your Overall Costs

Managing negative keywords can significantly lower your overall paid search costs. Because negative keyword targeting allows you to filter out low qualify traffic by blocking “bad” keywords, your ads will naturally see higher click-through-rates. Additionally, both your ad copy & your landing page can be expected to resonate better with higher quality traffic, increasing the page’s relevancy & overall experience. With these elements improved, your quality score will increase, lowering your CPC while increasing your ad rank.

For example, if you’re in the business of selling “commercial solar panels”, you might want to add “residential solar panels” to your negative keyword list. Without this negative keyword, someone who is in the market for residential solar panels who is searching for simply “solar panels” might trigger your ad, click on it, and then bounce on your page, driving up your CPC, lowering your landing page relevancy, hurting your quality score, and taking more of your budget. With the appropriate negative keyword, this entire exchange can be avoided, saving your dollars for a better-qualified candidate.

Depending on how you define a lead, negative keywords can also help lower your cost-per-acquisition (CPA). For example, say you’re spending $1000/month and receiving 10 leads at $100/lead. However, only one of those leads ever becomes a customer, effectively giving you a CPA of $1000. With a well-curated negative keyword list, you may find yourself spending the same amount of money for only 5 leads. But because you’re filtering poor-quality traffic, now 3 of leads these leads become customers, decreasing your CPA to $333 from $1000. As a result, your ROI, or return on investment, also increases.

Getting Started Building Your List

One of the easiest ways to get started building a negative keyword list is to look at your Search Term Report, which can be found in the Keywords tab of your Google Adwords console.

The Search Term Report contains all of the keywords and phrases that are triggering your ads. In this view, you can see each terms metrics, including impressions, number of clicks, cost-per-click, and conversions. Find the search terms that have a high volume of impressions, low clicks, and low conversions. Chances are, these are the keywords that are costing you the most money and providing the lowest return.

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From the Search Term Report, you can add negative keywords by checking the appropriate box and then clicking “Add Keywords”. This will give you the option to either add the selected keyword to an existing ad group or to a negative keyword list. This can be done at both the account AND campaign level, so be careful not to have any overlap that could potentially prevent your other keywords from showing.

Different Types of Negative Keywords

When choosing your negative keywords, you have three options: broad, exact, or phrase match keywords. Keep in mind that the work different than their positve counterparts.

Negative Broad Match

Negative broad match is the defualt type for your negative kywords. For this type, your ad will not show if the query contains all of your negative keyword terms, even if they are in a different order. For example, if your negative keyword is “wind turbine”, your ad could still show for “wind energy” or “wind power”, but it will not show for “turbine for wind” or for “new wind turbine”.

Negative Phrase Match

For negative phrase match, your ad won’t be served if the query contains the exact keywords in the same order. So, using the keyword “wind turbine” from the example above, your ad would serve for the search “wind energy”, but it wouldn’t serve for “wind turbine for sale”.

Negative Exact Match

The final type of negative match  is negative exact match. Your ad will show for every query except for the keyword phrase you entered. For example, a negative exact match of “wind turbine” will display ads for the queries “wind turbines for sale, “wind turbine maintenance”, and “wind turbine technician”. The only search query it will not show for is “wind turbine”.

Now that we understand the different type of negative keyword matches, we can begin creating our list. In case you’ve never had experience working with the Search Term Report, I’ve included the following step-by-step guide to adding negative keywords, straight from Google.

How To Add Negative Keywords

  1. Sign in to your AdWords account.
  2. Navigate the Keywords tab.
  3. Click Negative keywords.
  4. You’ll see two tables: “Ad group level” and “Campaign level.”
  5. Add negative keywords at the ad group or campaign level by clicking the +Keywords button above either table.
  6. Use the drop-down to select the ad group or campaign that you’d like to add negative keywords to.
  7. Add one negative keyword per line in the text field. If you’re adding negative keywords to a search campaign, you can also choose a match type. For Display and Video campaigns, all negative keywords are automatically considered broad match. To add broad match negative keywords, you’ll need to add the synonyms, singular version, plural version, and other variations such as cupglass and glasses
  8. To add a negative phrase match keyword, surround the term with quotation marks—for example, “wine bottle”
  9. To add a negative exact match keyword, surround the term with brackets—for example, [bottle opener]
  10. Click Save.

Just like that, you’re now on your way to cost savings. If you’re adding negative keywords for small volume campaigns, chances are you won’t see an immediate decrease in your average costs, rather the savings will become evident over time. However, if you’re creating the first negative keyword list for a campaign that sees a lot of consistent traffic, you will most likely recognize an ROI increase within a few short days.

Creating a well-tailored negative keyword list is just one of many ways to optimize your paid search campaigns. If you’re interested in other optimizations you can perform, check out this guide from Google. Or, if you have questions about negative keywords, paid search strategies, or just digital marketing in general, leave a reply in the comments below or email me at