Why It Pays to Be Negative In AdWords

Over the years I’ve reviewed a lot of Google AdWords accounts. And, in this article, I’m going to share one of the biggest takeaways from that experience… one that can pay immediate dividends for your Google AdWords account performance.

A big part of my biz used to be doing Google AdWords Optimization Reviews for clients. This is where I’d look over their accounts and give them specific advice and coaching on how to optimize things.

One such client asked a terrific question after getting his report. The question was…

“You made a lot of great suggestions for improving my AdWords campaigns, but it’s a big overwhelming. Where should I start? What is the low hanging fruit? Which optimizations will give me the biggest bang for my buck?”

Now the answer to this question depends on the AdWords campaign. However, there’s one that stands out that is pretty simple to make and can have an immediate positive impact on performance (ie. improve clickthrough rates (CTRs), Quality Scores and reduce wasted spend on irrelevant clicks).

So what is this simple thing?

It’s adding negative keywords to your AdWords campaigns.

For the uninitiated, a negative keyword tells Google what search terms you don’t want your ads to show up for.

Here’s an example…

Pretend you’re a dentist but you don’t want to work with kids. In this case, you can add terms like “kids”, “children” and “pediatric” as negative keywords to your campaign.

By doing this, you ads will no longer show up for search terms like:

 “pediatric dentist”

“best dentist for children in chicago”

 “dentist for kids”

And by ensuring your ads don’t appear for these irrelevant search terms, you should improve your CTRs and save yourself some money.

But it’s not just using negative keywords in your AdWords campaign that matters, it’s HOW you use them. So let’s look at some tips to help you use them like a champ…

Getting Savvy with Match Types

First thing is to understand that your negative keywords can have different match types (as is the case with your “regular keywords”).

Let’s pretend you’re not a dentist anymore. Instead you sell fishing poles and supplies.

Ideal keywords for your AdWords campaign include “fishing rods”, “fishing tackle”, and “fishing lures”.

But the plain old keyword “fishing” is way too broad and you don’t want your AdWords ads showing up when someone types just the keyword into Google.

You can do this by adding “fishing” as a negative EXACT match keyword to your AdWords campaign.

Contrast that with a negative BROAD match keyword “fishing”. Adding that to your AdWords campaign would prevent your AdWords ads from showing up for any search query that has the word “fishing” in it.

So even if “fishing rods” was a keyword in your campaign, if you had “fishing” as a negative BROAD match keyword, your ads wouldn’t show up when someone typed “fishing rods” into Google.

It’s best to use negative BROAD match keywords for generic keywords like “free”, “cheap”, “jobs”, etc. Basically words you don’t want your AdWords ads to be displayed for no matter where they show up in a search query.

Campaign vs. Ad Group Negative Keywords

Okay, next tip.

In AdWords, negative keywords can be added either at the the Campaign level of your account of the Ad Group level of your account.

When you add a negative keyword at the Campaign level, it will apply to the entire campaign and all the ad groups within it.

However, there may be situations where you don’t want to do that. In these situations, you can add the negative keywords at the Ad Group level.

Sticking with the fishing products biz, let’s say we have an AdWords campaign with 3 ad groups…one for fishing rods, one for fishing lures and one for fishing tackle boxes.

The “fishing lures” ad group has ads related to, wait for it, fishing lures! So we don’t want folks searching for rods, tackle boxes, clothing or other fishing related items seeing those ads.

This is the perfect situation to use Ad Group level negative keywords. Because we can add negative keywords like “rods”, “poles”, “tackle boxes”, “clothing”, etc. to our “fishing lures” ad group. And that will block people typing in search queries with those words in them from seeing our ads for lures.

Where to Find Good Candidates for Negative Keywords

Now you’re sold on the importance of using negative keywords in your AdWords campaign. So now the question becomes where to get negative keyword ideas you should add to your campaign.

Well, I’d recommend two places.

One is the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. You can find this in your AdWords account in the “Tools” section of your account.

Basically you type in some keywords related to your product/service and Google will give you a list of related keywords. Go through that list and note any keywords that you don’t want your ads showing up for and add them to your AdWords campaign as a negative keyword.

Second place is to run a Search Query report in your account. It will show you the actual search terms people typed into Google before clicking on your AdWords ads. As you look through this report, you can check the keywords you want to add as negatives and add them directly to your campaign.

Making a Positive Difference in AdWords

After a decade plus of reviewing Google AdWords campaigns, ignoring or misusing negative keywords is still one of the most common issues I see.And it’s one of the easiest to fix.

So go negative to make a very positive difference in your campaign!

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Adam K
Adam K

Adam has been fascinated with online marketing, particularly PPC, since 2004 and opened his own PPC management company in 2006. Over the years he's written extensively about Google AdWords and online marketing on his own sites as well as partnered with/written for Perry Marshall, Ryan Deiss of DigitalMarketer.com and Neil Patel.