Nick Rennard
By Nick Rennard | SEM | July 7, 2014

Negative Keywords

Google’s Mission Statement: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

The reason people advertise on Google is to funnel relevant traffic to their website. Generating a high density of clicks is great and all, but we need to measure the value of those clicks. One of the ways we do this is through search term reports (you can read more in this link about the basics of running search term reports).

Once you’ve run a search term report, you will likely find search queries that aren’t relevant to what you’re trying to advertise for. The best way to filter out bad traffic is through negative keywords. This article will go more in-depth on how to properly add negative keywords to your campaign.

There’s three ways to filter out bad traffic: broad, phrase, and exact match negative keywords.

Anyone who has read my previous articles knows that I’m a dog lover. As an example, for the sake of this article, let’s say you just opened up a dog wash facility that also sells basic dog equipment (leashes, collars, treats, etc). You have two campaigns: one of them for the dog wash service, and the other one for the e-commerce sales of your doggy toys and trinkets. You have a large list of keywords for both of your campaigns.

dog wash

You run a search term report for the broad match keyword “dog wash” in your dog wash campaign and come up with this list of search queries:

self dog wash

local dog wash facility

how to wash out fleas

DIY dog wash place

dog facility

veterinary sulfur dog wash

puppy store for leashes and toys


There’s three ways to filter out traffic with negative keywords: broad, phrase, and exact match.

Broad Match – If you add “dog” as a broad match negative keyword, then you would block out any search query that had the word “dog” in it. You would still show for synonyms like ‘canine’ or ‘puppy.’ Your ads would still show up for the “how to wash out fleas” and “puppy store for leashes and toys” search queries (since the word “dog” isn’t in these). You generally only want to use broad match negative keywords for single terms, so let’s say the ‘veterinary sulfur dog wash’ is something that you don’t want to show up for. Then you could add ‘veterinary’ and ‘sulfur’ as individual broad match negative keywords. You should refrain from adding ‘veterinary sulfur’ as a broad match negative keyword. You’ll want to save multiple-word negatives for your phrase and exact match negative keywords.

Phrase Match – Let’s say you don’t like the search query “how to wash out fleas” because you feel the phrase “how to wash” is too generic. You could add “how to wash” as a phrase match negative keyword to block out anyone who has the phrase “how to wash” contained anywhere within their search query. Adding “how to wash” as a phrase match negative keyword would block out a search query for “how to wash out fleas,” but you’d still show for all of the other search queries listed above. Phrase match negatives are extremely useful for multiple word terms like “las vegas” or “how to make” since you can block out these phrases without blocking out the more generic, individual words within them.

Exact Match – Exact match negative keywords are pretty straightforward; they will only block out exactly what the keyword is set to block out (and very close variants such as plurals and minor typos). Most people think that exact match negative keywords are too precise, but I use them a lot for shorter terms that are too broad for the given industry. In this example, I might add “dog” and “wash” as exact match negative keywords. Since these terms are very generic, the chances are slim that someone typing “dog” or “wash” into Google is looking for the product that I’m selling. There are quite a few different industries that are covered under a search query for a generic term like “dog.”


Someone typing “dog” into a search engine could be looking for any number of things…

Let’s run through the search terms individually and consider what kinds of negative keywords we might want to add:

Self Dog Wash

This could be a good search query for you if you offer self dog wash service. If you aren’t a self-wash facility, then you certainly want to add “self” as a negative broad match keyword within your campaign.

Local Dog Wash Facility

This one seems good.

How to wash out fleas

This one is probably good as well.

DIY dog wash place

This is similar to the “Self Dog Wash” search query. You might want to put “DIY” and “do it yourself” as negative keywords within your campaign if you don’t offer a self wash service (hint: I’d put “DYI” on broad negative and “do it yourself” on phrase negative).

Dog facility

This search query is a bit open-ended for my taste. Since this search query isn’t very specific about what type of facility they’re looking for (training, bathing, veterinary, etc), then you might want to add “Dog Facility” as an exact negative keyword. You definitely wouldn’t want to put this keyword on broad of phrase negative since you still want to show for keywords that are similar to this, but not EXACTLY “Dog Facility.”

Veterinary sulfur dog wash

Unless you’re advertising for a veterinary clinic, I would highly recommend adding “Vet” and “Veterinary” as broad match negative keywords. You don’t want to show for search queries that are related to those keywords.

Doggy store for leashes and toys

This is a complicated one since, remember, the other side of the store in this example sells leashes and toys. However, you should keep in mind that you would ideally like to separate this traffic since you have separate ads for your wash service campaign and your e-commerce campaign. I would recommend adding “leashes” and “toys” as broad negative keywords in the wash campaign, but make sure to add these as positive keywords in your e-commerce campaign so that you’re showing for this search query with the appropriate ads.


How to implement changes via Adwords Editor:



All of your negative (and positive) keyword additions can (and should) be added using the Adwords Editor. Follow the arrows in the picture above to see this process, and don’t forget to post your changes!

Remember that it’s Google’s “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It’s also within your best interest to make sure that the keywords you’re bidding on are optimized as much as possible (you don’t want to waste money on irrelevant clicks). Since there are so many overlapping homonyms within different industries, it’s good to check on your search term reports every couple weeks to make sure that your keywords are generating good traffic. Knowing how to add negative keywords properly will certainly save you a lot of money when you advertise on Google.

May your future search term reports come up clean and relevant!


background dots

Related Topics

Mastering Your GTM Pt 2: Techniques on How to Improve your GTM

by Ryan Rosati

In part 1 of this series, Master your GTM Pt 1: Auditing Your Google Tag Manager in 3 Steps, I showed you how…

Programmatic Advertising Unpacked: Why You Need it in Your Digital Strategy

by Nick Rennard

Marketers understand the importance of incorporating a digital strategy—leveraging various channels to achieve their performance marketing efforts—into their omnichannel marketing mix. Historically, advertisers…

Navigating Your GA Part 1:
3 Tips for Understanding Your Audience

by Rebecca Berin

So, you’ve spent all this time working on creating the perfect site in hopes it will resonate with your audience and ultimately convert…

In the time it takes to read this sentence, you could be on your way to a well-oiled demand generation machine. Ready for your blueprint?

yes, i want my Digital blueprint