Digital Marketing

Turbocharge your digital campaigns with negative keywords

  • By Robin

If you have started on your Google Ads journey, the chances are that you have heard about negative keywords. But in the excitement of setting your campaigns, ad groups, ads, and of course keywords, negative keywords are usually forgotten, and they usually come last in the pecking order. From a campaign perspective, their importance in optimizing your campaign performance cannot be underscored enough.

Negative keywords allow weeding out those search queries that do not add value to our ad group/campaign. For instance, a retailer in the physical world selling a branded product gets a few 100 footfalls in a day. Most of them, about 50%, enquire about the about and leave. 30% ask for discounts and look for cheap deals. 20% are those who enquire the retailer for a demo, and 1% (out of that 20%) go ahead and purchase the product.

From a funnel perspective, prospects in the ‘top of the sales funnel’ are those who just came to enquire about the product. And the people who abandon the sale are those at the lower end of the funnel, and they need to be ‘won back with reminders or a better offer.

So, if you are a retailer and you want to avoid bargain and discount seekers. All you have to do is put up a sign outside your shop that unequivocally states that prices of products are fixed, and there are no deals. But this sign outside will also limit those genuine buyers who are on the lookout for bargains. So, what do you do? An intelligent strategy here would be to ask a few open-ended ‘intent’ driven questions to the prospect and gauge his buying intent. These prospecting questions should be enough for you to decide to serve them or not.

The assumption is that you do not have unlimited resources or time to serve all customers. Instead, you want to focus your energies on those who are most likely to buy and the ones who could be pushed over to the ‘other side.

Negative Keywords – Understanding the psychology of search


In Google Ads, the buying or purchasing action is a conversion. And, unlike physical signboard where you can weed out low intent buyers, Google Ad offers you a mechanism where you can weed out discount hunters using negative keywords. It’s a pretty powerful concept that will save you a ton of money by ensuring that you do not pay for irrelevant clicks. 

Negative keywords prevent your ad from being shown to people who have used that particular search phrase.  

According to Google. “Negative keywords let you exclude search terms from your campaigns and help you focus on only the keywords that matter to your customers. Better targeting can put your ad in front of interested users and increase your return on investment (ROI).”

To understand negative keywords, one needs to understand the concept of targeting. It’s like karma. It would help if you had an idea of what you do not want to attract. In Google Ad terminology, you should know your target audience. It’s too narrow; you might miss out if it’s too broad, you might attract those prospects who would be of no use at all. In digital marketing, it’s just not traffic but good quality, high-intent driven traffic.  

One idea is to select negative keywords for search campaigns close to the search terms in your keyword list but might cater to customers seeking other products.  

For example, let’s say you run a furniture store and sell only tables and wheeled chairs. In this case, you may want to add a negative keyword for a search term like” wheeled chairs” to ensure to exclude that search terms.

But it’s important to remember that if you have too many negative keywords, limit your campaign’s reach. It works opposite to the Broad match keyword, where your ad can trigger a broader set of search terms.

For search campaigns, there are options (like keywords) to hyper-target your negative keywords. For display campaigns, exclusions (of negative keywords) are based on the topic.

  1. Negative Broad match – this is the default option.
  2. Negative Phrase match – does not show your ad for exact keyword terms in the order they have been specified.
  3. Negative Exact match – does not show your ad if the search term is the exact match of the keyword specified in the same order.

Strategies to build your negative keyword list 

Like in any search campaign, it’s essential to understand the customer’s search process and the terms they are likely to use in Google as a ‘search term.’ The best way to do this is to simulate this process with a few friends or colleagues and document their search process and purchase. A few customer interviews make a lot of sense here.

You get a couple of outcomes after this exercise.

1. Know how the search process roughly works. I say ‘roughly’ because this isn’t an experiment, and we are not looking at any statistical validation.

2. You get a fair idea of attribution and what kind of attribution you can apply. For example, you may decide that ‘last-click attribution may not be the best option as customers are more likely to review multiple sites before clicking on that purchase button. You may want to give credit to all that aided the sale, i.e., Linear Attribution.

3. You get your initial set of keywords (positive and negative) to work with. And, once the campaign picks up steam, you are in a position to expand that list using the search term report. Clicking on the search term gives you the option of adding the keyword as a negative keyword.


  1. The ratio of positive to negative keywords ideally should be 1:3. For every one positive keyword, it’s a good idea to have three negative keywords.
  2. Have a negative keyword list at the campaign level for broad keywords – like ‘cheap,’ ‘discount,’ ‘free.’ The advantage is that you can use (instead attach) this list to other Search campaigns.
  3. You could use exact and phrase match keywords at the campaign level. But it would help if you were careful with it. As the narrower you go, the limited your reach will be. Ideally, use this option if you are sure about the search process.
  4. Include close variants, singular (“Wheeled chair” and “Wheeled chairs”), implied keywords (Dinner Table and Table for Dinner), and misspellings. Again, these strategies are advanced, and I would recommend them after looking at the search terms triggering your ads.
  5. Be smart about your negative keywords. Do not overstuff.  

An optimized campaign is one where you have a judicious mix of both positive and negative keywords. Negative keywords are about optimization and thus saving you money from a lot of irrelevant clicks. Negative keywords don’t win you clicks, but they do filter irrelevant traffic. It’s a potent tool if it’s used intelligently. That being said, if you don’t try, you never know! 

Image credits: 

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash