Negative Keywords: What They Are and How to Use Them in Your Google Ads

In the ever-evolving digital advertising landscape, Google Ads reigns supreme as a powerful tool for businesses to reach their target audience and maximize their online presence. With its vast reach and targeting capabilities, Google Ads empowers marketers to craft compelling campaigns and connect with potential customers effectively. However, even the most meticulously crafted campaigns can fall short if not armed with a powerful secret weapon: negative keywords.

Negative keywords hold the key to unlocking the true potential of your Google Ads campaigns. These often-underutilized gems enable advertisers to fine-tune their targeting, reduce wasted ad spend, and drive higher-quality traffic to their websites. By strategically incorporating negative keywords into your campaigns, you can eliminate irrelevant clicks, improve ad relevance, and ultimately enhance your return on investment.

What are Negative Keywords and how do they work?

Negative keywords prevent your ads from appearing for Google searches that are irrelevant to your brand or unlikely to convert. They function exactly like regular keywords, but instead of choosing search terms you want your ads to show up for, you’re choosing the terms you don’t want your ads to show up for. For instance, many advertisers choose to exclude words like “free” and “cheap” so that their ads aren’t appearing for users looking to find the lowest price (unless that’s a part of your brand identity, of course!).

By excluding specific keywords or phrases, advertisers can ensure that their ads are displayed only to users who are genuinely interested in their products or services. When a user enters a search query that includes the specified negative keywords, Google's system recognizes those keywords and prevents the advertiser's ads from appearing in the search results. This level of control helps optimize ad spend, improve click-through rates (CTRs), and boost conversion rates.

Negative KWs


So, now you know what negative keywords are––but how do you actually use them? Below we’ll describe the different kinds of negative keywords available to you, and provide examples on how you can implement them.

(Note that negative keywords can be utilized in Microsoft Ads as well, not just Google Ads.)

Keyword Match Types

Just like regular search keywords, negative keywords have specific match types as well that allow you to tailor them to your preferences.

Broad Match Negative Keywords

Broad match negative keywords allow advertisers to exclude a broad range of related search queries that may contain the specified term. When a negative keyword is set as a broad match, it prevents your ads from appearing when a search query includes every word of your specified keyword phrase, regardless of the word order. However, there may still be instances where your ad can be displayed if only some of the keywords are present in the search query.

Exact Match Negative Keywords

Negative exact match keywords prevent your ad from appearing when a search query contains the exact keyword terms specified, in the same order, without any additional words. Your ad may still be displayed if the search query includes the keyword terms along with additional words.

Phrase Match Negative Keywords

Negative phrase match keywords prevent your ads from being displayed for search queries that include the exact keyword phrase specified. Additional words can be present in the search query, but as long as the keywords appear in the same order, your ad won't show.  

Negative Keyword Match Types

Best Practices for Implementing Negative Keywords

To make the most of negative keywords in Google Ads, consider the following best practices:

Thoroughly analyze your search terms

Regularly review the search terms report to identify irrelevant or non-converting keywords. This analysis will help you uncover new negative keyword opportunities. 

Search Terms

(Note that for older accounts, the search terms report will be under the “Keywords” tab and not the “Insights and Reports” tab)

Prevent search term overlap across ad groups/campaigns

For example, if you own a carpentry business and want to segment ad groups by bathroom and kitchen contracting services. You can add “bathroom” as a negative keyword in your Kitchen ad group and vice versa. This way you can target each audience more effectively, and obtain cleaner data on each service’s performance.

Block branded searches

Branded traffic comes from users who already know about your business and are searching for you specifically. While there are different benefits to running branded campaigns, if you’re working with a smaller budget, you may want to block branded traffic to avoid spending budget on users who likely would have found you organically anyway. Add your business name as a negative phrase match keyword to prevent wasted ad spend on branded traffic.

Block competitor traffic

Many advertisers choose to use a competitor’s branded terms as their keywords. However, similarly to branded traffic, advertisers with a limited budget may want to avoid showing up for competitor searches in order to avoid traffic from users who may be less likely to click on your ads.

Get a head start with pre-determined negative keywords

While you can’t predict all of the irrelevant/unwanted searches your ads will show up for in the future, there are some common keywords that you may want to add to your campaigns right away.  

Keywords like “free”, “cheap”, and the five W’s: “who”, “what”, “where”, “when, and “why” (these usually signal an informational search as opposed to one with commercial intent).

Spend some time brainstorming the kinds of searches your ads could potentially show up for that you’d want to avoid. For example, if you run a hardwood flooring business, you may want to add the words “fake”, “imitation”, “vinyl”, or “laminate” to avoid users who are looking for hardwood flooring look-alikes.

Putting Negative Keywords to Work for You 

Negative keywords are a game-changer for virtually any Google Ads campaign.

By effectively utilizing negative keywords, you have the power to:

  • refine your ad targeting
  • reduce wasted ad spend
  • improve the overall performance of your campaigns. 

Whether you're eliminating irrelevant clicks, enhancing ad relevance, or maximizing your advertising budget, negative keywords provide a valuable tool for success in the digital advertising realm.

Remember to regularly monitor and refine your negative keyword lists, staying attuned to the ever-changing dynamics of your target audience's search behavior. Embrace this powerful tool and watch as your campaigns thrive with precision, efficiency, and exceptional results!

Expert Quote - Rachel Burgard

Rachel was born and raised in southern NH, and became an official Mainer in 2016. With an academic background in psychology, she brings to flyte a passion for people and a fascination with what motivates them. This, combined with her artistic skillset, made the decision to pursue a career in marketing a no-brainer.

With a big sense of humor and sentimental nature, she becomes the “morale booster” of whatever group she’s in.

Outside flyte Rachel can usually be found doodling in her sketchbook, doing spot-on impressions (if she does say so herself), or binging the latest Netflix competition show.