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  • Writer's pictureAndy Harvey

PPC: What Are Negative Keywords?

Negative keywords enhance ad targeting and ROI. They instruct ad hosts to exclude displaying an ad based on specific keywords. For example, if you choose 'discounted' as a negative keyword, search engines will refrain from showing your ad when 'discounted' appears in someone's search query.


PPC - negative keyword poster

Negative keywords, also known as negative matches, ensure that particular words or phrases do not trigger the display of an ad on a search engine results page (SERP) or website. This optimisation of targeting allows greater confidence in reaching the intended audience.

To illustrate, imagine you're running an ad campaign for a webinar series focused on entrepreneurship. Your target audience consists of working professionals aspiring to start their own businesses.

However, you notice that your webinar series, titled "How to Succeed in Business: A 6-Week Course," is being viewed by prospective university students seeking introductory courses before pursuing a business major.


To ensure your ad reaches the right individuals, it's advisable to include "university" and "business class" as negative keywords. This way, prospective students interested in majoring in business are less likely to encounter your ad, ensuring that your ad spend is directed towards the appropriate persona: aspiring entrepreneurs.


Refining your ad targeting enables a stronger emphasis on the most crucial keywords.


The business course is likely to be "entrepreneur courses," "business webinars," and "how to open a business."


An ad that reaches the right people through exceptional targeting improves ROI.



What sets negative keywords apart from other keywords?


Utilising negative keywords prevents wasteful ad spend. By incorporating conflicting keywords, you gain greater control over the audience that views your ads, emphasising the importance of valuable keywords.


Negative keywords ensure that unintended audiences are not exposed to your ads. Both strategies aim to enhance the ROI (return on investment) and targeting of advertisements.


To illustrate, let's consider an example: Imagine you're promoting social media analytics software for agencies through a PPC ad campaign. Initially, you bid on the keywords "social media analytics" and "social media software" without negative keywords.


However, during the course of your campaign, individuals searching for social media scheduling tools may come across your ad when searching for "social media software." Since they are not interested in social media analytics for agencies, they won't engage with your ad.


This leads to a decrease in ROI and CTR (click-through rate). By incorporating negative keywords such as "social media scheduler," "beginner social media software," and "social media software for influencers," you can avoid these losses.


Negative keywords differ from other keywords as they enable a more focused approach to your ads. They enhance the precision of your campaign and determine the audience that interacts with each ad. The strategic selection of words to be avoided amplifies ROI.



How to Use Negative Keywords in PPC


When creating a negative keyword list, avoid going to extremes. You don't want to limit the reach of your ads due to an extensive list of excluded words. Choose search terms that are like your keywords but provide nuances that your keywords lack.


For instance, if you sell sunglasses and your keyword is "glasses," consider subcategories like water glasses and eyeglasses as negative keywords to include in your list. However, terms like "bifocals" and "cute glasses" may not need to be excluded as they still fall within the "sunglasses" category.


There are three types of negative keywords: broad match, phrase match, and exact match. Let's discuss when to use each one.


keyword match types poster

Negative broad match keywords prevent your ad from appearing if the search query contains all the negative search words. However, if only a few of those words are present in the query, your ad may still be shown. If your negative keywords don't fit into any other category, they will be considered a negative broad match.


Example: If the negative broad match keyword is "wax melts," your ad could still be displayed for searches like "wax melts" and "pink max melts," as well as "melts for wax," as these queries contain some of the keywords. Negative broad-match keywords are suitable when you want to maximise the reach of your negative keywords.


To add broad match keywords in Google Ads, enter the keywords without any formatting such as plus marks or quotations.


A negative phrase match is used when you want the search query to include your negative keywords in the exact order you specified. The search won't exclude additional words. Also, the inclusion of characters like exclamation points or question marks in the search won't result in the exclusion of your ad.

Example: If your negative phrase match keyword is "wax melts," your ad won't show up for "pink wax melts" and "where can I find wax melts?" but it may still appear for "pink wax melts" and " melts for wax" because the first two queries use the negative keywords in a different phrase order. A negative phrase match is suitable when you want to reach a broader audience but consider small words that can alter the query's meaning.


To add negative phrase match keywords in Google Ads, enclose the keywords in quotation marks, such as "wax melts."


A negative exact match ensures that your ad won't be displayed for queries that contain the exact keyword(s) in the exact order. However, additional words in the query may allow your ad to be seen.


Example: If your negative exact match keyword is "wax melts," anyone searching for the exact phrase "wax melts " won't see your ad. However, queries like " melts for wax" and "pink wax melts" may still trigger your ad. While queries like "Where can I find wax melts that are pink?" are unlikely to display your ad, there's a possibility due to the presence of multiple words surrounding the phrase.


If your negative keyword phrase is broad and can be interpreted in various ways, a negative exact match is recommended. It is also suitable when targeting a specific and focused audience.


To add negative exact match keywords in Google Ads, enclose your keywords in brackets, like [wax melts].


Negative keywords are meant to minimise wasted ad spend and maximize ROI through targeted advertising. Consider them as an additional tool to ensure that your ads appear in the right places.

As a consumer, I value finding relevant answers to my search queries, and Google shares the same goal. Negative keywords aid in this process, particularly for advertisers. They help maximize your reach and ensure that your ads are seen by the intended audience.

Ultimately, negative keywords provide an extra layer of refinement that can drive significant positive results. Even if you're not selling ground coffee beans, consider how negative keywords can contribute to the success of your next ad campaign.


If you need help refining your current campaign, reach out to North Wales Digital for a full PPC audit.

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