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How to Make the Most of Negative Keyword Lists on GoogleAds

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Lockdowns and social distancing practices have profoundly impacted the world we live in and  the way it functions now and in the foreseeable future. Many services have already been moved online entirely and others are still finding new and inventive ways to take advantage of the Internet to advance their business. Online competition has become fiercer than ever, which means that you need to be on your best game in order to get ahead with your marketing campaigns. There are many ways for you to adapt your marketing strategy during COVID-19, but in order to implement them correctly, you need to have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of online advertisement. 

One of these fundamentals is undoubtedly the use of negative keywords lists. Although negative keywords lists are often neglected, they are actually a cornerstone of any Google ad campaign, and a crucial detail on which the success of your campaign hinges.

What is a Negative Keywords List?

Keywords are a type of descriptive metadata that categorizes your ads for the benefit of search and display ads algorithms. Algorithms use keywords to discern whether an ad is relevant for a user’s searches or interests and when it is appropriate to show the ad to said user. A keyword list is just what its name suggests – a list of all the keywords applicable to your ad that describes all the cases in which your ad would be suitable for the user.

Negative keywords perform the same function as keywords but with a twist. Instead of telling the algorithm where your ad would be appropriate, they mark out search queries in which your ad would not be an appropriate result. Thus, negative keywords act as a filter, making sure that your ads don’t show up in searches where you don’t want them to.

Why are negative keywords important?

On the Internet, showing ads to people who aren’t interested in your product is generally an inefficient way to go about marketing. There are two likely scenarios that may play out when that happens – and both lead to undesirable results.

If users are shown your ad, and they ignore it, the ad’s Click-Through Rate, or CTR, is lowered. A lowered click-through rate leads to a lowered Quality Score for your ad. A lower Quality Score worsens the ad position of your ad and can negatively impact the costs of maintaining it.

Similarly, you don’t want a user to see an irrelevant ad, click on it and only then realize that said ad is not useful to them. You end up paying for the click, even though the ad didn’t even have a chance of converting into a sale.

The correct application of negative keyword lists goes a long way towards preventing both of those scenarios by not showing your ads where they’re not relevant. A well thought out negative keyword list can have an immediate and profound impact on the effectiveness of your ad campaign. It can dramatically increase click-through rates, lower the costs of maintaining it, and improve conversions.

How to Use Negative Keywords to Improve Your Ad Campaigns?

Making a list of negative keywords may seem like a simple enough job, but there are a number of peculiar intricacies that you need to be aware of when doing so.

  • Enter your negative keywords into the list like you would regular keywords, one per line. Note that even though their name implies otherwise, a negative keyword entry can consist of multiple words.
  • Negative keywords you input are used exactly in the way they are typed out in their individual entries. Words with multiple spelling options, synonyms, singular or plural versions, close variations, and all the various common misspellings must be added as separate entries to be excluded from searches.
  • None of your negative keyword list entries should ever exactly match an entry in your regular keywords list. Your ad will not be displayed as long as this is the case.
  • “Negative broad match” is the default setting for negative keywords. These list entries ensure that if all the negative keywords in a field match some of the words in the user’s search query, your ad will not be displayed. The order in which the negative words appear in the query does not matter. This means that if you set “tea cup” as a negative keyword, your ad will not be displayed to a user searching for “tea cup”, “red tea cup” or “cup for drinking tea.”
  • If you put a negative keyword under “phrase match,” your ad will not pop up if any part of the user’s search query contains the negative keyword entry verbatim. 

For instance, if your negative keyword is “tea cup”, your ad will not be displayed to a user who is searching for “red tea cup” but may still appear to someone searching for “cup for drinking tea.”

  • If you input a negative keyword as “exact match,” your ad will not appear only if said keyword completely matches the search query. For instance, if you put “tea cup” in your exact matches, only users whose entire search query consists of “tea cup” will be barred from seeing your ad, and your ad could be displayed to people searching for “red tea cup” or “cup for drinking tea.”
  • Google has some very specific restrictions when it comes to the symbols you can put in the entries. You can use up to three symbols in any one negative keyword entry, but not all symbols are allowed. For instance, the minus (-) symbol causes the word that comes after it in the entry to be treated as if it is not there. The period (.) symbol is always treated as if it was not in the entry. Additionally, the following symbols are impossible to include in negative keywords list entries, as including any of them results in an error message: , ! @ % ^ () = {} ; ~ ` <> ? \ |
  • Restrictions imposed by negative keywords only apply to the first sixteen words of the user’s search query. This means that if your negative keywords appear after the sixteenth word in a long search query, your ad could be displayed to the user. For instance, if you’ve specified “tea cup” as a negative keyword for your ad campaign, and the user searches for “sth sth sth sth sth sth sth sth sth sth sth sth sth sth sth sth sth tea cup,” your ad can still be displayed to them.
  • Google doesn’t actually penalize your ads for adding as many negative keywords as you like. Don’t worry about the warning against adding “too many” negative keywords on the “About” page. The only limit is the maximum of 10,000 negative keywords for search ads and a maximum of 5,000 for display ads.

What to Include in Your Negative Keywords List?

Now that we have covered the fundamentals of what negative keywords are and why they matter, how negative keywords lists work and how to avoid some of the more common pitfalls when it comes to composing them, it’s time to discuss what to actually put in these lists to make sure they work well.

You need to put some thought into what other negative keywords to put into the list. Intimate knowledge of the company’s business model, its product, its customers, and their needs is the key to making effective negative keywords lists.

Profanity Filters

It’s a good idea to include some of the most popular curse words and swear words, insults, and profanities in your negative keywords list. Those are rarely, if ever, appropriate, and their presence is a pretty sure indication that your ad will not convert.

Localization Filters

If you’re providing a localized service, it is always a good idea to implement a location-based marketing strategy. To do this effectively, you should make an effort to outline all the areas where that service or product is available, as well as where it isn’t available. It makes sense to include “New York City” in your keywords if your cup-selling business is limited to that area and make sure that people in NYC get your ad in their search results. At the same time, it’s not a good idea to show your ads to random people outside of NYC who may also be looking to purchase cups. Adding all the names of states and countries where you don’t do business to your negative keywords lists reduces the chance of that happening. Manually adding so many entries may seem like overkill, and a load of tedious work to boot, but it’s better to restrict who can see your ads than to show them to the wrong users.

Details About What Your Product Isn’t

Think of things that your product categorically isn’t and qualities it does not have, or are completely antithetical to the nature of the product, and put those on the list.

Does your company focus on providing a premium product or service at a higher price? Add words such as “cheap”, “affordable”, “no charge”, “no cost”, “promo”, “promotional”, “discount”, “discount code”, “bargain”, and “free” to your negative keywords list. 

On the other hand, if you focus on providing products or services that are affordable, you may add negative keywords such as “high end,” “professional,” “deluxe,” “premium,” etc.

Adding production-specific details is important when it comes to keywords and is just as relevant when it comes to adding negative keywords. Say your business offers cups – but do you offer paper cups, plastic cups, glass cups, porcelain cups, tin cups, or any other type of cups? It’s a good idea to put all possible descriptions that don’t apply to your product in separate entries in your negative keywords list. This way, you’re making sure that you’re not trying to offer delicate antique china tea cups to someone who wants to make a bulk order of paper drinking cups for use in a vending machine.

If you run out of ideas, try googling some of the more relevant terms that are included in your keywords list. The results you see may give you some inkling about situations in which you don’t want your ad to pop up. 

Create the Negative Keywords Lists Manually

As with most practices in marketing, negative keywords list building works best if you do some due diligence and don’t cut any corners. Check every entry in your negative keywords list to make sure it’s appropriate and that it doesn’t match an entry in your regular keywords. Doing so may be annoying and time consuming, but it’s a very bad idea just to copy a premade list of words you found on the Internet. You could look a couple of those over for ideas, but it’s a terrible practice to just google lists and use them verbatim. 

Naturally, once you have a list you’re happy with, you may tweak it and re-use it in multiple ad campaigns – but don’t do it the first time around. 


Negative keywords lists are one of the aspects of an ad campaign that’s often neglected. Ignoring negative keywords can render the campaign more expensive than it should be at the very best, and completely ineffectual and wasteful at worst. This is why it is recommended to put the effort in to compose your negative keywords lists, then review them carefully to make sure that everything in said lists is just right. Furthermore, it is a good idea to make a habit out of reviewing and updating negative keywords lists when changes are introduced to either Google’s ad system or your business model.

About the author


Marice Peralta

Marice Peralta is a content writer at DevriX. She has 8 years experience and is passionate about writing articles on digital marketing and tech topics. She loves art and animals and is an advocate for keeping stray animals safe.