Your Guide to Negative Keywords

Everybody knows negative keywords, but how do you use them in an ROI friendly manner. Find out here

Negative keywords are criminally neglected discipline by what I call “surface level PPC managers” who only optimize at the campaign level in Google Ads, but negative keywords are actually your secret weapon for making sure your search ads hit the mark. Think of them as the bouncers of your ad campaign, only letting the right click into your campaign eco-system. 

Allow me to break down what they are, why they matter so much, and how you can use them to make meaningful optimizations on your search/shopping (even pMax) campaigns.

What Are Negative Keywords, Anyway?

So yeah - it’s pretty self-explanatory what negative keywords are, and what they do, but for the ones in the back I like to phrase them as 

”the words or phrases you tell Google to steer clear of when matching campaigns to consumer”

Pretty powerful

 So, while regular keywords are shouting, "Hey, show my ads to people searching this!", negative keywords are whispering, "Nah, don't bother showing my ads to people searching this."

Why should you care? Well, let's say you're running ads for luxury vacations. You want to attract the jet-setters, not the bargain hunters. Negative keywords help you avoid wasting money on clicks from consumers looking for budget deals when you're selling top-tier experiences.

Again - pretty simple, but I’ve seen multiple times that “positive keywords” get all the attention when optimizing one's search campaign, and in a few instances I have seen a shopping campaign running for years without a single negative keyword added - ever. 

That's next level. 

Negative Keyword Match Types

Negative keywords come with match types, just as “positive keywords”. There's broad match, phrase match, and exact match. Each type gives you a different level of control over which searches trigger your ads.

This is illustrated here

Broad match negatives cast a wide net, blocking your ads from showing for any search term that includes your keywords in any order. 

Phrase match negatives are a bit more specific, only blocking ads when the search term contains your exact keyword phrase, along with some extra words

Exact match negatives are the strictest, only blocking ads for the exact keyword phrase you specify, with no extra words allowed.

You simply can't only use 1 negative keywords match type, as all 3 match types have a say in almost every single Google Ads account out there.

Finding Your Negative Keywords Goldmine

Finding negative keywords isn't rocket science – it's more like a treasure hunt. Start by thinking about what kinds of searches just don't fit with what you're offering while you are doing your normal keyword research – see my recent article about just that HERE

Then, dive into your search terms report to uncover any hidden gems (or duds). Look for terms that are leading folks astray from what you're actually selling or have abnormally high CPCs, and boom – you've got yourself some negative keywords, that you could segment further into a negative keyword list 

Putting Your Negative Keywords to Work

Once you've got your negative keywords locked and loaded, it's time to put them to work. 

Start by making 3 different keyword lists

  1. "Global neg list" for account-wide negative keywords
  2. "Brand neg list" for your very own brand terms
  3. "Competitor neg list" for competitor search term

Then you simply sprinkle all your negative keywords into fitting lists. These are my preferred lists, but in reality, you could also make a pMax-specific negative keyword list, a product-range-specific negative keyword list, a country-specific negative keyword list, and so on. 

After you fill your negative keyword lists it’s time to add them to your search/shopping campaigns. 


Negative keywords might not be as flashy as their positive counterparts, but they're just as important when it comes to making sure your ads hit the right search terms. By using them wisely, you can save money, improve your ad relevance, and get more bang for your buck, higher ROAS, and so on.

One important note to make is also that negative keyword management is - as with everything else in Google Ads - not a set-and-forget thing. I highly recommend both adding them regularly, but also revisiting the lists and seeing if there might be some negative keywords that were added a year ago, which might cause som conflicts now given that the business might have launched new products or made some changes to their offering. 

I have seen ecommerce brands with very large and old negative keyword lists where a few searches inside the negative keyword list show that they are blocking searches that have become highly relevant for them in the most recent month, that weren't relevant for them years ago. 

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