Negative Keywords Adwords

Why Negative Keywords Matter

The perfect negative keyword list – [Spoiler Alert] It doesn’t exist

It’s also very much a “its a journey – not the destination type thing” and something you should always be working on.

A strong negative keyword list is the backbone of every campaign. Understanding what drove the user to search for a particular chain of words is vital, and the information that they are sourcing has multiple benefits. Think of your Click Through Rate rising, your ad relevance shooting up, and most importantly the money you’ll save by limiting wasted traffic that will most likely bounce!

The most important thing in researching keywords, adding negatives and structuring an AdWords campaign is intent. Think about the reason behind each individual search term, about why the user has decided to make that query and what information they are looking for.

Google will recognise when you type in just a few lyrics to a song, try it! Even with obscure lyrics that only feature once in the verse, quickly search “Your arms are my castle” and up will pop Cascade’s ‘Every Time We Touch’. If Google understands the power of intent behind a search, then you certainly need to as well.

So, if you are advertising on AdWords then you are likely aiming to provide one of three things; sell information, sell services or sell products. The key feature of this whole exercise to be find people who are willing to trade actual money for what you have, especially catching them in that moment. If Jackie, an adoring mum of two who lives in a nice little village outside York, is looking for ‘Buy polka dot pillowcase’ and that is what you sell then perfect, she is far more likely to be there with her card details than her friend Wendy; who is just looking for ‘How to make a polka dot pillow’.

So lets break it down into who you do not want your ads to be clicked by

Cut out information searchers

The first five negative keywords that should be in 95% of AdWords campaigns are: who, what, where, why and how.

This is primary school stuff guys! The chances of a user searching for ‘how do they make blue paint’ clicking on your ad for the product, and thinking to themselves “Oh jeez this is the most beautiful colour, I must have it!” is highly unlikely; unless your target market is impulsive rich old ladies whose husbands mysteriously passed in the night.

Yes, the visitor may very much like your paint. However, in that moment they are looking for very specific information, and if the title of your page doesn’t hint at that information in the first 3 seconds, then they are out of there. That’s not just a wasted visit and a negative against your bounce rate, it has also cost 76p.

Even if you have the information they are looking for hidden away in your blog, the visitor is not going to stick around searching for it. Plus, if it is in your blog, don’t waste money on those obscure clicks that you will pick up organically.

Cut out the cheap skates

The next set of negs you should look to be adding are for those that your brand just isn’t right for. Keywords like ‘cheap’, ‘free’ and ‘discount’ are a lot less likely to convert, and a lot more likely to be stuck comparing websites and never actually reaching that checkout or getting in touch.

Even if being the cheapest in the market, or delivering very good quality at a competitive price is one of your USPs, do not feel the urge to keep it in. These users are still more than likely looking for information, and are not yet ready to commit.

I would advise to have these sorts of negs in the campaign to begin with, then if you are really struggling for impressions, then test how the campaign performs without.

Cut out users searching for your competition

Now, using competitor keywords in a specialised adgroup is not unheard of. Made famous by Just Eat vs. Hungry House; bidding on competitor keywords can work sometimes. However, the clear majority of the time it just results in a poor experience. Unless you are in explicit direct competition, offering the same product or service at a cheaper rate and your website is built to support those USPs e.g. same colour pallet & design, it is not worth doing.

If you are an ecommerce site and the user searches for ‘Tea towels Amazon’ and you aren’t amazon, then they are not going to trust you. Much in the same respect for any other large chain. If you do sell a specialised brand of product, like BedHead haircare or Nike shoes, then this is perfect because you will have that on your site. Forget other retailers, focus on what you sell.

For local services like physiotherapists, plumbers and the likes, this is definitely not the way to go. It is highly likely someone looking for ‘Dave’s Electric Cardiff’ knows the information they require and if your site doesn’t deliver it, then bye bye to that click. See our downloads for a sheet of the most popular names and add them all in (apart from your own, obviously).


Having a good base of negative keywords before launching your campaign will always lend to a strong start, and help keep the relevancy of your ads on point. By creating negative keyword lists you can easily pause, experiment and measure the effects of specific negative keyword groups.

The new ones at the start should be on broad match modified, which is achieved by having a ‘+’ in front of every keyword. This will still let a couple of irrelevant ones through but cut most of the garbage.

However, your negative keyword list should never stop growing. Go through your search terms at least once a week, filter by impressions to catch some of the more important ones if you have a lot of data. Feel free to add longer phrase keywords as exact by wrapping the phrase in ‘[]’, Google will automatically do this for you when you select them to add as negatives as well.

Google automatically select to add the negatives at adgroup level, but if your account is structured well I would suggest covering your basis and adding most at campaign level.

And remember, it is all about the intent!