Mastering Negative Keywords: A Step-by-Step Guide

Welcome to the world of Google Ads, where navigating through the sea of keywords can make or break your campaign’s success. I’m Sam Ashrafi, a seasoned digital marketing expert with over a decade of experience in the field. Today, I’m excited to share with you some insights on a topic that’s often overlooked but crucial for optimizing your ad spend and reaching your target audience more effectively: negative keywords.

Negative keywords help ensure your ads only appear to those genuinely interested in what you’re offering, saving you from unnecessary expenditure and improving your campaign’s overall performance. Drawing from my extensive experience and aiming for simplicity, I’ve crafted this article to demystify the process of selecting and applying negative keywords. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to refine your strategy, the following steps will guide you towards more successful Google Ads campaigns.

Step 1: Grasp the Basics of Negative Keyword Match Types

Negative keyword match types might sound complex, but they’re your best ally in refining your ad campaigns. Just like their positive counterparts, negative keywords prevent your ads from showing up in user searches that aren’t related to your services. Understanding how to effectively use these match types – broad, phrase, and exact – ensures you’re not spending on words or phrases irrelevant to your business’s offerings.

Example: If “free” is a term you don’t want associated with your paid service, adding it as a negative keyword ensures your ads don’t appear in such search queries.

Understanding negative keyword match types can significantly improve your campaign’s efficiency. For example, using broad match negative keywords allows you to exclude your ads from searches containing any words in your negative keyword phrase, in any order. This means if you add “free” as a broad match negative keyword, your ad won’t show for searches like “consultation for free” or “free advice on consultation,” ensuring you’re not attracting users looking for free services when yours are paid.

Another critical aspect to consider is the precision offered by phrase match and exact match negative keywords. Using “free consultation” as a phrase match negative keyword prevents your ad from showing for searches with that exact phrase in that order but might still appear for searches that include additional words, like “best free consultation services.” On the other hand, exact match negative keywords like [free consultation] ensure your ad is excluded from searches for that exact phrase only, offering the highest level of specificity. By effectively utilizing these match types, you can finely tune your ad spend, directing it towards the most relevant search queries that are likely to convert.

Negative Keyword Match Types

Step 2: Use Keyword Research Tools to Identify Unwanted Search Terms

Keyword research tools aren’t just for finding the right keywords to target; they’re invaluable for spotting the ones to exclude. By analyzing search terms report from your Google Ads account, you can discover which irrelevant search queries trigger your ads. Adding these terms to your negative keyword list is crucial in refining your ad targeting.

Leveraging keyword research tools is pivotal in uncovering unwanted search terms that could waste your budget. Take, for instance, a landscaping business using Google Ads to attract local clients. By conducting keyword research, they might find that their ads inadvertently appear for searches like “landscaping jobs” or “DIY landscaping tips,” which are not relevant to their service offerings. This misalignment not only drains the ad spend but also lowers the campaign’s overall effectiveness.

To counter this, using tools like SEMrush or the Google Ads Keyword Planner can provide insights into the search queries leading users to your ads. By filtering these reports by low conversion rates and high impressions, you can identify which terms to add as negative keywords.

This proactive approach ensures that your ads are more likely to appear in front of users with genuine interest in your services, thereby increasing the likelihood of conversions and maximizing your return on investment (ROI). Regularly updating your negative keyword list based on these tools’ findings keeps your campaign relevant and efficient over time.

Google Ads Keyword Planner can provide insights into the search queries leading users to your ads

Step 3: Add Negative Keywords to Your Google Ads Campaigns

Implementing negative keywords effectively requires navigating to the “Keywords” tab within your Google Ads account, opting for “Negative Keywords,” and incorporating the terms you’ve earmarked for exclusion. It’s crucial to deliberate whether to apply these negative keywords at the campaign level, ad group level, or account level. Adding them at the ad group level allows for finely tuned precision, ensuring specific ads are shielded from irrelevant queries. Conversely, applying negative keywords at the campaign level offers broader protection against undesired traffic for all ads under that campaign.

However, for terms universally irrelevant to your entire Google Ads operation, adding negative keywords at the account level is the most efficient approach. This method ensures a blanket application of these keywords across all your campaigns, including Performance Max campaigns, safeguarding your entire account against unwanted impressions and clicks. This hierarchical strategy in managing negative keywords – distinguishing between ad group specificity, campaign-wide relevance, and account-level inapplicability.

Add Negative Keywords to Your Google Ads Campaigns

Step 4: Regularly Update Your Negative Keyword List

The work doesn’t stop after you’ve initially set up your negative keyword list. Regularly reviewing your search terms report is essential to catch any new irrelevant search queries. Add these to your list to continuously refine your ad targeting, ensuring you’re always reaching the most interested potential customers.

Continuously updating your negative keyword list is as crucial as setting it up. Market trends and user behavior change, and what was once a relevant search query might become unrelated over time. For instance, a company selling artisan coffee beans online might initially find it beneficial to target broad searches related to “coffee.” However, as their brand evolves to focus more on high-end espresso blends, terms like “cheap coffee beans” or “instant coffee” might start attracting the wrong type of traffic, necessitating their addition to the negative keyword list.

This ongoing refinement process involves regularly reviewing the search terms report within Google Ads to spot new and irrelevant queries triggering your ads. Adding these to your negative keyword list helps refine your targeting, ensuring your ad spend goes toward searches with the highest potential for conversion. This diligent management of your negative keywords can significantly enhance campaign effectiveness, leading to higher ROI and a more substantial impact from your Google Ads efforts.


Mastering negative keywords is an ongoing process that can dramatically enhance the effectiveness of your Google Ads campaigns. By carefully selecting the right negative keyword match types and diligently updating your list, you can prevent wasted ad spend on uninterested users, direct your budget towards more promising prospects, and significantly improve your service business’s online advertising success.

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