Comprehensive Guide to Negative Keywords in PPC

Negative keywords are the best friend of a PPC Marketer. Deciding who is your target audience is as important as deciding who is not your target. With a comprehensive negative keywords strategy, you can

Improve ROI,

Save on the cost,

Reduce wasted spend and,

Laser target your campaign.

Read this post to learn

How to build a negative keyword list

Where to apply negative keywords (Account Level, Campaign Level and Ad group level)

How to build a negative keyword list

To start building your negative keywords list, create of copy of this template. this contains the most common negative keywords to exclude searchers who are job seekers, freeloaders, discount shoppers, DIYs etc. Your objective is to stop paying for every single term that will never convert into sales.

Common Industry level Negative keywords

Make it as your negative keywords repository. Use your judgement and keep negative keywords that applies to your industry. It does not harm to have few extra keywords in your negative keywords list. You can create up to 20 negative keywords lists of 5000 keywords each.

You only need to keep one thing in mind – None of your negative keyword should cause a conflict with your running ads.

Now this is a good beginning. Follow these steps to add missing keywords as per your industry.

To be effective with the negative list you need to “Filter the list of people who should not see your ad”. To understand this better lets assume that you run a local taxi rental business providing cross station taxis.

Your objective is to prevent Google from showing your ad to people who are

  1. Looking to work as a taxi Driver in your city.
  2. Looking for taxi drivers in your city.
  3. Looking to start their taxi business in your city.
  4. Looking for taxis which ferries inside the city.
  5. Looking for star cast of the movie ‘Taxi Driver’
  6. Some of your customer might be looking for Ola or Uber taxi, you may or may not want them to see your ad
  7. Some of your customer might be looking for luxury taxi, you don’t want them to see the ad for a budget taxi.
  8. Some of your customer might be looking for a budget taxi, you don’t want them to see the ad for a luxury taxi.
  9. Some people might be looking for a self-driven car, you don’t want them to see your taxi ad.
  10. Some people might be looking for a public transport, you don’t want them to see your ad.
  11. Some people might be looking for taxi in a city where you do not operate, you don’t want them to see your ad.

We have following three tabs in the sheet you copied just now.

  1. Account level negative keywords
  2. Campaign level negative keywords
  3. Ad group level negative keywords

The first tab is account level keywords, even if you add most of these keywords on an account level list, no harm! (I will show you how to do that later). We will also learn how to resolve keyword conflict, an important step for ensuring ad delivery

We will enhance the negative keywords list further. We will use these following methods/tools to expand our negative keywords list.

  1. Google search with a Seed Negative keyword (pick negative keywords from Google suggest, related terms, and from SERP results)
  2. Google Adwords keyword planner
  4. Ubersuggest’s free keywords tool
  5. Your search term report (If you are already running an ad)
  6. Your Google search console and Google Analytics (If you have a running website with significant traffic volume)

Lets start with the account level negative keywords list with objective 1. People who are searching for a taxi driver’s job should not see your ad.

Run a Google search with a seed negative keyword. I have highlighted all the negative keywords in the SERP page, simply copy these keywords in your account level tab

You can repeat Google search with more seed terms like this

Taxi driver in Delhi

Taxi driver opening in Delhi etc.

Every time you perform a search you will get a more negative keywords ideas. Remember we are still building the negative keywords list with objective 1 in mind, next head over to Google Adwords keyword planner.

Repeat this process for more negative seed terms to keep enhancing the negative keywords list.

Next Head over to and repeat the search for few seed terms. You will find few great negative keywords ideas.

Next head on to and repeat the search to find some additional keywords

After you have repeated the process with multiple tools, your negative keyword list for objective 1 would look like this

Repeat the process for objective 1-5 and you will have a refined list of negative keywords.

Now few important things to understand about negative keywords.

  1. How to use negative keywords match type
  2. Traffic sculpting using negative keywords.

Negative keyword match is works exactly opposite of the regular keyword match type. The broad match negative restricts more queries than an exact match negative. Lets understand with an example.

In the earlier exercise, we created a negative keyword list to exclude people who are looking to work as taxi driver or start a taxi business. Lets add Taxi driver as a broad match negative keyword

Negative Broad match Keyword
-Taxi driver
Will your Ad Show?
Taxi driver No
Taxi drivers No
Driver less taxi No
Taxi with driver No
Taxi driver movie No
Cab driver Yes
Cab with driver Yes
Driverless taxi Yes
Taxi driver movie cast No

Ideally you would like people searching “Taxi with driver” to see your ad. The next negative keyword match type is phrase match. Lets say you do want google to show your ad to anyone searching for

Negative Broad match Keyword
-“Taxi driver”
Will your Ad Show?
Taxi driver No
Taxi drivers No
Driver less taxi Yes
Taxi with driver Yes
Taxi driver movie No
Cab driver Yes
Cab with driver Yes
Driverless taxi Yes
Taxi driver movie cast No

Finally you can use exact match query to restrict Google from showing your ad to anyone searching following queries

Taxi driver jobs

Taxi driver salary

Taxi without driver

Taxi driver in Delhi

Taxi driver near me

You need to put your keywords in Box brackets [like this] and your ad will only be restricted when people use exact query matching your keyword. For example even when you put all keywords mentioned above as exact match your ad will still show up for following search terms

Taxi driver

How much taxi driver earns

How many hours taxi driver works

Taxi driver skills etc.

Now you understand how to search negative keywords and different keyword match types.

We will learn how to add negative keywords in your ad account.

Lets start with account level negative keywords. Login to your ad account and click on Tools in the top right

Click on the + sign to add your negative keyword list

Copy and paste all keywords from the excel sheet, and click save. Next you need to apply these negative keywords to your campaigns. To do this head on to campaigns and click on keywords.

Click use negative keywords > use negative keywords> and select a campaign on which you want to apply the negative keywords. You should apply to account level negative keyword list to all campaigns; one by one!

You can apply multiple negative keyword lists to at campaign levels. This will restrict the wasted spend.

There is another great use of negative keywords which you should know. Remember the objectives we discussed earlier. Revisit the objective 7 and 8 from that list

By using the negative keyword list you can force google to show a specific ad/s on a set of search queries. This process is known as traffic sculpting and can be applied at both campaign and ad group levels. Lets learn this with an example, you are still running ads for your taxi business, and here are few distinct line of business you might be having

  1. A luxury taxi service for premium customers seeking comfort
  2. A budget taxi service for cost sensitive customers

You can create two separate campaigns targeting these two segments, and you want Google to targeted ads. You can add keywords like “chauffeur driven car”, “hire chauffeur driven car”, “luxury car hire” as negative keywords in your campaign targeting price sensitive customers. Similarly you can add “cheap car hire”, “cheap rental cars”, “car rental discounts” as negative keywords in your campaign targeting premium customers.

Now, lets say inside your campaign for luxury taxi service, there are brand sensitive customers. Some people only want to hire a BMW car while another group of customer would love to go for Toyota cars only. You can have two ad groups inside your campaign for luxury cars and apply traffic sculpting to have exclusive campaigns for both the segments.

Strategic use of negative keywords in your campaign

Here is how to do it. Lets say your campaign is up and running for 24 hours or more. Access your search term report to find our irrelevant queries and keep adding them to your negative keyword list. This is an ongoing optimization process.

Just select the search term you find irrelevant and keep adding them as your negative keywords.

Take your negative keyword Game to next level

Trust me, whatever we have been discussing till now, is just a tip of iceberg. The negative keywords can do much more. They can help you reduce CPC of a running campaign, improve your CTA directly contributing to your bottom line.

This process starts once your campaign is up and running for around a week. Here are the steps you need to follow

Make note of the average CTR (interaction rate), Avg cost, cost per conversion, and conversation rate of the campaign. You can get this information on your campaign dashboard.

Now again go to your search terms report inside the same campaign and check for outliers.

These outliers are eating your budget, while reducing your CTR; a direct impact on your bottom line.

While I do not recommend you straightforward action and put them as negative keywords. Make a list of these keywords and after a careful consideration you can decide your course of action for every keyword.

If the CTR is low, you can check the quality score, improve on ad copy, landing page experience, check location and other factors impacting your CTR for this keyword. If nothing works, you can add it to your negative keywords list. This exercise takes around an hour per week and you will be able to save around 15-20% on your cost while having a positive impact on your CTR.

This is it for the negative keywords. Whats your strategy to handle negative keywords. Do share in comments.

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