Negative Keywords in Google Ads: A Quick Guide

How to properly use negative keywords in your Google Ads campaigns.

Let's say your in the business of selling kayaks.

Summer is just around the corner so you make a bunch of ads in Google about your awesome kayaks.

You set the campaign up, put in all the keywords and search terms you want to target, and call it a day.

One month later you check back and what to do you find.

To your horror, you see that Google has been showing your ad on search terms not for kayaks but for canoes.

Now to the average joe, the difference between a canoe and a kayak is trivial. But to the seasoned boat expert, it is significant.

Unfortunately, the way Google Ads works in 2020 means that it is very likely your ad for a kayak will appear on a search term for canoe.

That is if you don't use negative keywords in your Google Ads campaigns.

Fortunately, proper use of negatives in paid search will ensure that your ads are shown only for the search terms you choose, not the ones Google chooses.

In this post we are going to go over how to use negative keywords in Google Ads properly and what are some strategies to more efficiently implement campaigns with lots of negative keywords.

How to identify negative keywords?

Identifying and implementing negative keywords could be the most important task that PPC managers are faced with.

A campaign without negative keywords is basically giving Google free money. Your ads will appear on search terms that aren't relevant to your business. Users will click on your ad and not convert, and you will be forced to foot the bill.

Sometimes a business will know exactly what negative keywords to apply to your business.

More often than not, however, businesses will find out which keywords should be added as negatives throughout the course of your campaign.

Be sure to check back regularly in the search terms report to find problematic keywords your ad is appearing for.

Examples of negative keywords are those with low conversion rates and those that drive up average cost per click.

How to apply negative keywords?

There are several things to keep in mind after you've identified your negative keywords and are ready to apply them to your account.

First, there is a cap of 10,000 negative keywords per campaign.

Second, negative keywords don't actually defend against close variants of keywords. That means that if you added 'canoe' as a negative keyword to your campaign for kayaks, Google could still show your kayak ad on a search term like 'boat', if the meaning was deemed to be close enough.

In this case, you would have to go back into your account and add the close variant work as a negative keyword again.

Third, negative keywords can be applied at several levels in Google Ads, including the account level, the campaign level and the ad group level.

Finally, negative keywords can be applied to three match types:

Broad: the word (or words) is anywhere in the search query.
Phrase: the word (or words) is anywhere in the search query in order.
Exact: the word (or words) is the search query (nothing added, nothing missing).

Strategies for negative keywords

For efficiency, it is strongly recommend to build negative keyword lists. These allow learnings from previous campaigns to inform future ones.

Lists are particularly helpful if you need to apply the same negatives across multiple ad groups (to direct traffic) and campaigns.

Beyond identifying and applying negatives, there are other innovative applications for negative keywords.

First, you can use negative keywords to improve your DSA campaigns. With these kind of campaigns, you’ll want to add all keywords you’re actively targeting as negatives in that campaign.

This will protect you from bidding against yourself, as well as ensure DSA is able to do its keyword research job.

You can also use negative keywords on branded or competitor searches, as they serve to protect your general service campaigns from lower/higher converting branded queries.

Some problems with these queries include:

  • Artificially low cost per clicks (CPC).
  • Inflated conversion rates and volume.
  • Inaccurate cost per acquisition (CPA).

By adding your branded and competitor terms as negatives to your general service campaigns, you’ll ensure that your budget goes where it is intended and your performance measurement is more accurate.

Negative Keywords and SKAGS

When it comes to Single Keyword Ad Groups, it is especially important to use negative keywords.

Single Keyword Ad Groups, or SKAGs, are a popular Google Ads setup in which you only include one keyword in your ad group.

Unfortunately, this results in a lot of ad groups in your campaigns.

To protect from keyword cannibalization and from having your ad groups steal impressions from each other and artificially drive up the CPC, it is extremely important to use negative keywords when using a SKAG setup.

Take a look at this example to see how it works:

Ad group 1’s single keyword: iPhone X repair
Ad group 2’s single keyword: iPhone X repair screen
Ad group 3’s single keyword: iPhone X repair screen and battery

Assume that there are three match types for each keyword: BMM, phrase and exact.

What's the issue? The BMM keyword for iPhone X repair will cannibalize impressions from the exact match keyword for iPhone X repair screen and battery.

Automated negative keyword builders

Luckily there are SKAG tools out there that will automatically apply negative keywords across all of your ad groups.

For example, the way our tool Aori solves this is automatically adding keywords from other ad groups as negative keywords if there's a risk of cannibalization. Taking the previous example from above, what you get is the following:

Ad group 1’s single keyword: iPhone X repair

negative key phrases: “iPhone X repair screen”, “iPhone X repair screen and battery”

Ad group 2’s single keyword: iPhone X repair screen

negative key phrases: “iPhone X repair”, “iPhone X repair screen and battery”

Ad group 3’s single keyword: iPhone X repair screen and battery

negative key phrases: “iPhone X repair”, “iPhone X repair screen”

This will save you hours of time, especially for large campaigns with a ton of ad groups. Also when you are adding new keywords later, the negative keywords will automatically be created.


Negative keywords are a crucial part of paid search campaigns.

Adding the right ones will ensure your budget goes where you intend, and not where Google intends.

Want an easy and quick way to add negative keywords to your ad groups and campaigns? Try out our SKAG and STAG tool here.

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