Google Analytics and Online Marketing Expert

Negative Keywords in AdWords: Three Essential Techniques

Adding negative keywords improves the performance of your Google AdWords campaigns and absolutely must be part of your regular account optimization. Negative keywords prevent your ad from displaying when the particular term is included in what someone is searching for on Google and as a result improves the relevance of your ads.

Lets look at three essential techniques for identify negative keywords to help you improve your CTR (Click Through Rate) and conversions.

Identifying Potential Negative Keywords

When looking for potential negative keywords it is important to consider the intent behind the keyword. (Intent is why somebody was searching using that particular term.) For example, someone searching for ‘digital camera reviews’ might be starting to research digital cameras, while somebody searching for ‘buy canon powershot g15’ has already decided on the particular camera they want to purchase.

Think about your online marketing strategy and objectives while identifying negative keywords.

When you look for negative keywords, you will also need to consider the strategy and objectives of your AdWords campaign, some people might want to add ‘reviews’ as a negative keyword, while others might want to include this as a keyword to target.

Using Actual Search Terms

Inside AdWords you can see the actual search terms that triggered your ad and resulted in a click. This is really important, especially if you are using broad match keywords, where bidding on ‘tennis shoe’ as a broad match would mean our ad could display for keywords like ‘buy tennis shoes’, ‘tennis shoe photos’ and even ‘used tennis shoes’.

Since there can be a difference between the keyword you are bidding on and the keyword that people are using to find your ad it is important to use this information to refine your campaigns.

To see the actual keywords people are using, navigate to the ‘keywords’ tab within a particular campaign (or if you have a smaller account you can follow these steps after selecting ‘all online campaigns’). Now click the ‘keyword details’ button and under the ‘search terms’ heading click ‘all’.

You will now have a list of all the actual keywords people are search for that have triggered your ad and resulted in a click through to your website.

Search Term Match Type Added / Excluded
buy tennis shoes Exact match Added
used tennis shoes Broad match None
tennis shoes online Broad match None

If you have never run the actual search term report before it is important to spend a decent amount of time scanning through the list of keywords and deciding if any should be added as negative keywords. (You might also find keywords you want to target, but our focus today is on negative keywords.)

You can use the checkbox to select one or more keywords and then click the ‘add as negative keyword’ button. This will add the keyword as a negative exact match (or embedded match).

I recommend editing the keyword to only include an individual word to use as a negative keyword. For example, lets say you scan the list of actual search terms and you see ‘used tennis shoes’, since you only sell new tennis shoes this keyword isn’t likely to result in any conversions, so you select the keyword and use the ‘add as negative keyword’ button.

You will see the keyword shown as ‘[used tennis shoes]’ which means your ad will only be prevented from displaying when somebody searches for that exact term again, but your ad will continue to show for people searching for ‘used tennis shoe’ or ‘used tennis footwear’. So instead of adding the search term as an exact negative keyword, you can edit it to ‘used’ and this will now mean that anybody that searches for a keyword that includes ‘used’ will no longer see your ads. This is much more efficient than adding every single term individually.

Using the Opportunities Tab

The opportunities tab in AdWords provides automated suggestions for your account, including keyword suggestions. This is another great way to identify new keywords and even potential negative keywords for your account. Since the suggestions are all automatically generated it is worth spending a little bit of extra time and care when reviewing the recommendations.

Navigate to the ‘opportunities’ tab within your account and check that you are on the ‘keywords’ tab. There will be keyword suggestions for different ad groups within your account.

When you are scanning the keyword recommendations look for negative keywords that you can add to your campaigns, ad groups and negative keyword lists. Using the same technique we covered when using the actual search terms report, we can identify terms within the keyword suggestions. For example, if you are advertising a real estate agent and you see the keyword suggestion of ‘real estate coaching’ you can add ‘coaching’ as a negative keyword if you don’t offer a coaching service as part of your offering.

Using Google Analytics

Google Analytics is another great way to identify negative keywords to further refine your campaigns. Head over to Google Analytics and navigate to the ‘reporting’ tab. Start by scanning through the organic (free) keywords that are driving people to your website. You will find this report under ‘Traffic Sources’, just click ‘Sources’, then ‘Search’ and finally select ‘Organic’.

You are likely to have hundreds or even thousands of different keywords sending people to your website, so focus on the keywords that are driving the majority of traffic, these will be at the top of the report. You can then expand the number of rows by changing the ‘show rows’ option or simply page through the report using the arrows in the bottom right corner. Quickly scan for potential negative keywords that you can add into your AdWords account.


Remember adding negative keywords will help refine your AdWords campaigns and result in your ads being presented on terms that are more relevant, this will have the added benefit in driving better quality traffic to your landing pages and improve your AdWords Quality Score too.

Use the Keyword Tool, Opportunities tab and your Google Analytics reports as part of your regular optimization to ensure you get the best results from your keywords and campaigns.