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Negative keywords help you control when your ads will show. If a search query contains your negative keywords, then you ad will not be displayed for that result.

There are two most common ways of using negatives:

  • To stop your ad from showing on a query that never converts
  • To make sure the PPC engine shows the correct ad when you have multiple that could be displayed

The first example, stopping your ad from ever showing, is self-explanatory.

The second requires an example. Let’s say I have these ad groups; and each ad group contains only one keyword – the ad group’s name.

  • Tennis shoes
  • Nike tennis shoes
  • Red Nike tennis shoes

A search for ‘red Nike tennis shoes’ could trigger an ad from any of those ad groups.

  • The query contains ‘tennis shoes’ so the tennis shoes ad group could show
  • The query contains ‘Nike tennis shows’ so the Nike ad group could show
  • The query is red Nike tennis shoes; so the red Nike tennis shoes ad group could show

While Google likes to show ‘most restrictive’ match; if one ad has a much higher ad rank for the other – that will often trump most restrictive match.

Diagnosing Ad Serving Problems

The easiest way to diagnose if you have multiple ad groups showing for the same keyword is to:

  • Run a search query report
  • Download the data and put it into a pivot table
  • Sort the pivot table by search terms and number of ad groups per search term

In a perfect world, you will only see one search term per ad group. This means you have no cross over in your terms between ad groups and you have completely controlled the search queries. However, if you see that your search terms are being displayed from 5, 10, or more than 100 different ad groups – then you have ad serving issues.



In this case, you need to use negatives at the ad group level to control your ad serving. If you are are having ad serving issues due to using multiple match types across ad group, then please see this article on organizing by match types.

Ad Group Negatives That Should be Campaign Negatives

Another issue I see is that an account will have hundreds of thousands of negative keywords at the ad group level; however, those negatives are really meant to be global negatives. If you examine your negative keywords by ad group and see a very consistent number; or very similar negatives at the ad group level (that are not being used to control ad serving by match types); then you should move these from the ad group level to the campaign level:


Campaign Negative Keywords

Campaign level negative keywords stop any ads from showing for that keyword in any ad group within the campaign. These are reserved for words that you just never want to show for. If you have a lot of campaigns, I often see another issue arise.

Most people do not do negative campaign level keyword research on a regular basis. Most account managers do negative campaign level research in one of two ways:

  • Add negatives at the ad group level instead of the campaign level. This leads to the problem that if you find a word you never want to show for that if you add it to just an ad group; that same query will often show up in another ad group. Making it a campaign negative instead stops that problem from arising.
  • Campaign negative research is not done on a regular basis. Often its done when someone thinks about it, or every few months. This caues someone to get out of the habit of controlling their negatives well.

For instance, this is an account that has thousands of negative keywords at the campaign, level. However, in reality there are really only 551 or 229 (you can tell the days they did the research by such exacting numbers):


In the case where you have global negatives you never want to show for; but you don’t want to go through the time consuming task of adding it to every campaign on a regular basis; there is a better solution: Negative keywords lists.

Using Negative Keyword Lists

A negative keyword lists is a list of words that you can save together. You can then apply this list to one or more campaigns.


The real advantage of using a list is that if you find a new word you never want to show for, all you have to do is add it to the negative keyword list and that word will automatically be applied to every campaign using that list.

This is a huge time save.

So, if you are looking through search query data and you see a keyword that you never want to show for – do not add it to the ad group – add it to a negative keyword list. This single change in how you add negatives will save you a lot of time as you won’t have to find that same keyword again in a different ad group to add it again; and you don’t have to add it to each campaign. You add it to a list, and as long as that list is applied to all the appropriate campaigns – then you no longer need to worry about how much time it takes to add negative keywords.


Spending time on negative keyword research is essential. Adding negative keywords should:

  • Increase your CTR (you aren’t showing for bad impressions)
  • Lower your CPA (you won’t pay for non-relevant clicks)
  • Control your ad serving (which will help with both CTR and CPA)
  • Increase your conversion rates (again, won’t show for non-relevant clicks)

However, most companies have an ad hoc way of approaching negative keyword research. There really is a simple way to do it:

  • Create one or more negative keyword lists
  • Apply each list to the appropriate campaign
  • Examine search query data
  • If you see a query you don’t want to show for in just that ad group; make it an ad group negative
  • If you see a query you never want to show for, then add it to the appropriate negative keyword lists

This process is pretty simple; but it will save you a lot of time and money by just creating a simple negative keyword review process an sticking to this simple workflow.

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