Negative keywords in Google AdWords

Have a Negative Holiday Season?
The holiday season is now upon us, and many marketers have their holiday campaigns up and running. So, I decided to write a post that can help you today. Thats right, you can make changes right after reading this post. Below, Ive included four tips for using negatives in Google AdWords that you might not be aware of. Each tip can be useful for ensuring your ads display for the most targeted audience.

If youre not familiar with negatives, they are keywords you can add to your campaigns and/or ad groups that block your ads from triggering (if those keywords are present in the search query). Using negatives correctly can have a big impact on the success of your campaigns. For example, if you sold Bicycles, but not Mountain Bikes, you could add the negative "mountain" to block your ads from triggering. Note, you can also add "mountain bike" as a phrase match negative, and Ill cover more about match types shortly. Lets jump in.

1. Campaign And Ad Group Negatives

You can apply negatives at the campaign level and the ad group level in Google AdWords. I find this confuses some marketers, so I included it in this holiday tip list. Campaign negatives would apply to every ad group in your campaign, so you should make sure these negatives can be applied to a broad set of categories and keywords. For example, "free", "used", "cheap", etc. are negatives often used at the campaign level.

On the other hand, ad group-level negatives only apply to the ad group at hand. This is where you can get more granular and specific with negatives, since your other ad groups will not be affected. Using our example from earlier for bicycles, "mountain" could be a negative keyword if you dont sell mountain bikes. But how about if you sell "mountain gear" on your website? If you applied "mountain" as a campaign negative, then your ads wouldnt show for people searching for "mountain gear". That wouldnt be good, and thats only one example of how the wrong implementation of negatives could get you in trouble.

Ad Group and Campaign Negatives in Google AdWords

2. Singular, Plural, And Misspellings

When using negatives, you should also use variations of your negative keywords to ensure you weed out untargeted queries. This includes adding singular and plural variations of your negative keywords and misspellings. By the way, anyone neck deep in keywords each day can tell you that misspellings run rampant in search queries. Using misspellings and plural versions of keywords can ensure you have a thorough negatives list per campaign and ad group.

In order to hone your targeting as much as possible, make sure you understand how people search for your keywords and include any misspellings along the way. You should also be mining your raw search queries to find negatives, which can also reveal common misspellings. You can also use various tools to determine common misspellings, and then export those lists to use in AdWords.

As a quick example, you might include the following negatives based on our mountain bike example from earlier:
mountain
mountains
mmountain
mountaine
montain
montains

3. Phrase And Exact Match Negatives

When including negatives, you might quickly determine several broad match keywords you would want to add (such as "mountain" from earlier). But, you should be pleased to know that both phrase match and exact match negatives can be included in AdWords.

Phrase match keywords can be included in quotes and will stop your ads from triggering when the phrase is included in a search query (in the exact order). For example, "oakland raiders", "for children", or "laptop computer". This enables you to increase your level of targeting for negatives by addressing very specific phrases. You can add phrase match negatives by surrounding the words with quotes. For example, if you sell costumes, but dont offer Power Rangers costumes, then you could use "Power Rangers" as negative phrase match.

Exact match works a little differently. When you use exact match negative keywords, AdWords will not show your ads when someone exactly searches for the keyword at hand (only the exact words you include as a negative). Exact match negatives can be included by using brackets around your keyword, like [power rangers]. Using our example from above, if you added [Power Rangers] as an exact match negative, then your ads would not show when someone searched for "Power Rangers" by itself, but your ad could show for "Power Ranges Costumes" or "Buy Power Rangers". Its only the exact keyword you include as an exact match negative that would stop your ads from showing. You wont use exact match negatives as often as phrase and broad, but it can be extremely useful in certain situations.

Phrase Match and Exact Match Negative Keywords

4. Domain Names (Or Any Query With A Period)

When mining raw search queries (actual queries that have led to your website), you might find several domain names listed. Using our example from above, you might be targeting the keyword "power rangers", but find powerrangers.com in your matched search query list. If thats a domain name that you dont want to trigger your ads, you can add it as a negative keyword. But, punctuation does matter when entering negatives.

Periods are ignored by AdWords, so powerrangers.com will actually be interpreted as powerrangers com. Notice the space where the period used to be located. Thats important to know, since you want to make sure your negative keyword works. Its also worth noting that your matched search query report would show the keyword using spaces versus periods. Again, AdWords ignores periods. So, you might see domainname com, or domainname org.

Based on how AdWords treats periods, you should use the phrase match keyword "powerrangers com" when adding your negative. In addition, I spoke with Google AdWords support about this and they said you should also include a second keyword using the period. For example, they recommend including both "powerrangers com" and powerrangers.com as negatives.

In my experience, using the phrase match negative has worked out fine, so Im not sure the negative with a period is necessary. That said, you should test this out on your own campaigns and then roll out the approach that works best for you. By the way, this tip applies to any keyword with a period, and not just domain names. Its also worth noting that this situation also applies to dashes, in case you want to include negatives that have dashes in them.

Punctutation and Negative Keywords in AdWords

Analyze, Include, And Hone Your Targeting With Negatives

There you have it. Four tips for using negative keywords in AdWords that can help improve your targeting this holiday season. I highly recommend reviewing your campaigns and ad groups this week and make any necessary changes to your negatives. As I mentioned earlier, using negative keywords properly is an outstanding way to improve your targeting, increase your click-through rate, lower your CPCs, and increase conversion. And thats the name of the game in SEM.

Glenn Gabe

Glenn Gabe is a digital marketing consultant at G-Squared Interactive and focuses heavily on SEO, SEM, Social Media Marketing, and Web Analytics. Glenn has over 16 years of experience and has helped clients across a wide range of industries including consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, military, education, non-profits, online auctions, real estate, and publishing.

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3 Responses to “Negative Keywords in Google AdWords – 4 Tips For Improving Your Targeting This Holiday Season”

  1. ADN says:

    Nice work. I've always used negative words for our Adwords campaigns,it's known that this is a basic tactic when dealing with Adwords, however, you have pointed out some good advices in your article. The issue with the dots and dashes was one of them.

  2. John says:

    Your article is exactly what I've been looking for. I'm going to start using exact match negative keywords. My click through rate is horrible because of market competitors checking the rankings. My website already has a significant hold on those exact keywords through places and organic so I shouldn't lose leads.

  3. Larry Chrzan says:

    Glenn, thanks for this good piece. The details on exact and phrase match negatives were informative and helpful to what I'm currently working on. I have a follow-up question.

    I just took over a customer campaign that has a long list of negatives. They have put in multi-word negative phrases. Example:
    where to buy

    If it's a multi-word negative, not in quotes or brackets, what is the effect, if anything?

    Thanks in advance,
    Larry