Over the past decade, Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising has experienced immense change and growth, such that PPC advertisers are constantly searching for ways to improve their strategies and increase their return-on-investment (ROI). Negative keywords play a crucial role in Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising strategy, allowing advertisers to target a more refined audience. By adding negative keywords into their campaigns, advertisers can keep their ads from showing up for irrelevant queries, reducing wasted spend and increasing ROI.

Here’s How Negative Keywords Work

While keywords provide the target criteria, negative keywords provide the exclusion criteria. This means the search engine will not show your ads if the user’s search query contains a negative keyword added to the campaign.

For example, imagine that you manage a PPC campaign for a business that sells apples wholesale: WholeApple, Inc. You have “wholesale apples” as a keyword in your campaign. Without any negative keywords, your ads can show for any of the following search queries:

“buy wholesale apples”

“purchase wholesale apples and fruit”

“wholesale apples price quote”

“buy wholesale apple laptops”

“wholesale apple iphones”

While the first three are likely search queries of potential customers, the last two are completely irrelevant. By adding “laptop” and “iphone” as negative keywords, you can stop your ads from showing when users search for Apple laptops or iPhones.


Are we comparing apples to apples here?


The Benefits

The benefits of negative keywords go far beyond refining your target audience when used properly. Because they eliminate irrelevant impressions, negative keywords can improve ad click through rates (CTR), which in turn helps improve quality score. A higher quality score allows you to bid less than a competitor with a lower quality score while still achieving a higher ad position on a search engine results page.

While managing negative keywords across all of your campaigns can be a labor-intensive task, we find the rewards are worth the work. Ready to implement negative keywords for your campaign? Here are three best practices to follow:

  1. Develop a General Negative Keyword List

No matter what industry you are in, there are keywords you do not want your ad to show up for. Developing a list of general negative keywords gives you a head start when launching a new PPC campaign. For B2B marketers, we typically recommend excluding terms related to:

  • Education: class, course, education, training, etc.
  • Job Searchers: career, job, internship, employment, salary, etc.
  • Hobbies: craft, antique, vintage, homemade, etc.
  • Web Portals: login, sign-in, error, [your company website], etc.

Dozens of online search engine journals and agency blogs have general lists freely available. While they can be good starting points, they are neither comprehensive nor tailored to your specific industry. We recommend going through and selecting negative keywords relevant to your industry and adding more keywords to your list as you go.

  1. Use the Proper Match Type

Like normal keywords, negative keywords have match types in most search engines. Google allows for three (broad, phrase, and exact), while Bing has only two (phrase and exact). The match types for negative keywords are not to be confused with standard match types, however. The match types for negative keywords are slightly different and do not have close variants. This means that the negative keyword “apple laptop” will function in the following ways:

  • Broad: -apple laptop as a broad match negative keyword will prevent your ads from showing up for any search queries that contain both the words “laptop” and “apple” arranged in any order. (i.e. apple mac laptop, laptops by apple, etc.)
  • Phrase: -“apple laptop” as a phrase match negative keyword will prevent your ads from showing up for any search queries that have “apple laptop” with additional words before and/or after it. (i.e. buy apple laptop, cheap apple laptops for sale, etc.)
  • Exact: -[apple laptop] as an exact match negative keyword will prevent your ads from showing up only for search queries for “apple laptop” exactly as is.

Be careful in your selection of match types for negative keywords; you do not want to accidentally block ads from serving due to a match type mistake.

  1. Avoid Internal Competition

Depending on how you structure your campaigns, you may have the same keywords in different match types. While having the same keyword in different match types may provide benefits for bidding and targeting strategies, it also presents an issue with internal competition. Because negative keywords can be added at both the campaign and ad group level, they can be used to eliminate internal competition.

Let‘s return to our imaginary WholeApple, Inc example. In your campaign, you are bidding for the exact match keyword [apples wholesale quote], which triggers an ad that offers a free quote. You are also bidding on the broad match keyword “apples wholesale,” which triggers an ad purposed for brand awareness. When a user searches “apples wholesale quote” in search of a quote, the search engine detects that both of your keywords are eligible to show an ad. This creates competition between keywords, which may cause two major problems:

  • Higher cost-per-click (CPC).
  • Less relevant ad copy (in this case, if the brand awareness ad is served).

By adding the negative exact keyword -[apples wholesale quote] to the ad group containing “apples wholesale,” you can stop internal competition and eliminate the chance of the wrong ad showing.

Negative keywords are crucial to the success of any PPC advertising campaign. We here at SCE have seen the benefits of applying these best practices (and others) across the board for our clients and continue to implement negative keywords as a part of our advertising strategy. We hope this helps you in your digital marketing efforts and wish you the very best in optimizing!


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