PPCNegative Keywords Geek Out: Proactive and Reactive Approach

Negative Keywords Geek Out: Proactive and Reactive Approach

Since negative keywords prevent ads from showing on irrelevant keywords, advertisers can save significant click spend and improve overall performance of an account by implementing a plan of attack.

In my recent post on SEW, “5 AdWords Optimization Checkpoints You May Be Missing,” I mentioned negative keywords as a critical checkpoint since they are not very visible in the AdWords interface. In fact, they are sometimes forgotten about.

Since negative keywords prevent ads from showing on irrelevant keywords, advertisers can save significant click spend and improve overall performance of an account by implementing a plan of attack.

One concern and case for a negative plan is that now, AdWords matches close variant queries with exact match and phrase match keywords, so they can be triggered by misspellings, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemmings, abbreviations, and accents.

Another good reason to be a big fan of negatives is the “other search terms” row. This data is not detailed out by individual query. It contains keywords not searched enough, those that did not receive clicks in 30 days, and searches in the past 24 hours (may be detailed after 24 in main list). As you can see in the example below, this advertiser paid $490 on “other,” or 14 percent of their total spend.


In AdWords, advertisers can create negative keyword lists at the account level that can be applied to and/or shared among multiple campaigns. They can also be added at the campaign level directly or ad group level.

Organizing keywords into themes, rather than having individual one-off negative keywords applied at various levels in an account, will help to define a strategy, keep organized, and have an ongoing system to apply new negatives in a thoughtful way.

Start With Proactive Negative Lists

Proactive negatives are themes or groups the advertiser can anticipate triggering ads that are not appropriate, based on PPC management experience and experience in the industry. Coordination with the marketing strategy is important. Some approaches to consider include:

  1. Products the advertiser doesn’t sell or accessories such as batteries, manuals, parts, extended warranties.
  2. Close combinations like flat-panel TV rather than industrial equipment panels.
  3. Employment searches that contain terms like jobs, employment, internships, job openings, salary, application, etc.
  4. Negative situations associated with the product or service like accidents, repair, recall, etc.
  5. Terms inconsistent with product positioning such as cheap, free, discounts, hand-made, coupons.
  6. Content searches, when the advertiser does not offer content, such as stories, blog, book, examples.

Query Reports With Reactive Negatives

Once a keyword appears in the query report it has already triggered an ad. If it’s not relevant to the ad, and been clicked on, the advertiser just wasted that click cost.

  1. Review queries first for themes – some will fall into the subject matter of the themes in the proactive negatives. Add the individual keywords into the existing list.
  2. New themes will emerge. For example, consider an iPhone accessory seller who notices an influx of searches for a new iPhone screen replacement parts they do not sell. In this case, simply negative parts names they see in a “parts” list. Another example could be a health care software company that notices various queries for health insurance and open enrollment that are not relevant to their offering.
  3. Individual queries discovered should be prioritized by the cost or frequency, then added to the appropriate list.
  4. If there are many miscellaneous terms, consider creating a campaign list that holds these.
  5. Since lists can’t be applied to adgroups, consider how the negative term impacts only the adgroup, if it should be placed at adgroup level or if the adgroup should be moved. The least amount of random negatives at adgroup and campaign level makes it easier to troubleshoot and be organized moving forward.

Also consider overall when adding negatives that match type also applies. Match types are similar to positive keywords, but differ in that a negative broad match will not include synonyms or close variants. It will include queries that contain all of the words, regardless of word order.

Investing time into a comprehensive negative approach will save a significant amount of time long term as it provides a solid base to add to with new negatives and themes.

Have the secrets to effectively managing negative keywords in AdWords? Share in the comments or tweet us at @sewatch or @LisaRocksSEM to discuss.


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