Google Ads: What Are Negative Keywords?

Google Ads Tutorial

In this article, we'll cover the basics of negative keywords in paid search and when they are beneficial to use. 

Let’s start with the basics of Search Engine Marketing or SEM. Essentially you are paying to show your ad for a set of keywords.

Example: Watches

If you are in the watch business, you’ll probably have terms like “wristwatches,” “watches,” “best watches,” and more. Where things get a bit more complicated is in the match type of these keywords.

There are a couple of options for keywords but we’ll stick with the most basic two: exact match and broad match.

  • Exact match keywords are keywords where the search must match exactly the terms in the keyword in the same order. For example, if you had the exact term “watches for men” and someone searches “black watches for men” you will not show up.

  • Broad match terms are a bit more generalized and can reach many more variations of keywords. If you had “+watches +men” and the search is “black watches for men” then your ad would show up. The plus sign is what’s called a broad match modifier which says that the search must contain that word or something with the same meaning, but can also contain other words before or after. 

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The Problem with Broad Match

In our broad match example above, we were happy to see that we showed up for the term “black watches for men.” Say someone searched “watches not for men,” while this would be a funny search, it is not relevant to our keyword intent our ad would show up nonetheless.

This is just one silly example of where broad match terms can be dangerous and costly. We want to leverage broad match terms to capture the variety of searches people make, but we also want to make sure that we don’t show up for things we know are not relevant to us. 

The Solution: Negative Keywords

Now that we understand the difference between exact match and broad match keywords, we can better understand negative keywords. Negative keywords are lists of keywords that we upload to our ads account to let Google (or any search platform) know that if one of those negative keywords is present, we do not want our ad to show.

You may want to create multiple negative keyword lists for different purposes. One common list is a brand harm list where you want to keep any bad-mouthing words from triggering your ads. Another type of list is the not relevant list where you keep terms that are not relevant to your product or service. If we only sell watches for men and we want to have the broad match keyword “watches” then we’ll need to make “women” a negative keyword so we don’t show ads for searches where we don’t have the product. 

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