What are Negative Keywords? How to Use Them?

negative keywords

When you really think about it, keywords are a very interesting concept. Through standard keywords, potential customers can search for our businesses. With long-tail keywords (more in this article), they can narrow down their search for exactly what they need. Negative keywords round out the bunch by helping weed out searches that might relate to your business in the keywords used, but not in the products intended.

What Are Negative Keywords?

Sounds kind of confusing, but basically, negative keywords help keep people on the right path with their search, even if the keywords they use are vague or only partially related to your business. When you invest in Google Ads (link to the website here), you don’t want your ad to appear time and time again for users who aren’t interested.

They may accidentally click your link with no intention of even looking at your product, which raises your ad spend and skews your analytics (more here and here). Instead, both you and the customer alike will be much happier if negative keywords are employed to keep their search focused on what they want.

Let’s take a deeper dive to learn what negative keywords are, and how you can use them to guide just the right visitors to your site.


The purpose of negative keywords is to attract the right audience.

Negative keywords allow business owners to exclude specific terms from Google Ad campaigns and Google searches, because those terms may have nothing to do with the products or services you sell.

People often search for products with very broad terms, then tighten up their search as they narrow down their particular wants and needs. For example, someone might search for a “handmade table for sale”. Their search could bring up coffee tables, end tables, dining tables, or multiplication tables. The term is very non-specific. “Glasses for sale” could mean sunglasses, reading glasses, drinking glasses, or wine glasses. Even something that seems very specific to a user, such as “bright red-flowered glasses for sale” can be open to interpretation.

Negative keywords allow business owners to target their ads to specific audiences so that your adorable ladybug-themed sunglasses for toddlers aren’t mixed in with ads for cut glass shot glasses. While the audiences might overlap, those two different items are generally the product of very different search intentions.

How Are Negative Keywords Used?

There are two main ways in which you may want to use negative keywords. The first, and more traditional way, is to ensure your ads are not shown for specific keywords. These terms are entered at the campaign level when setting up your Google Ads. Basically, you’re saying “don’t show my ad when these types of words are entered”

With your ladybug-themed sunglasses for toddlers, you might exclude terms used for searching adult sunglasses, or wire-rimmed sunglasses, or other specific styles that would indicate the person searching is not looking for novelty wear for a small child.

The second is considered the “protective” use. This type of negative keyword is entered at the ad group level. This allows you to control exactly when your ad pops up and target searches that are ideal for your product. 

If you were to assign an ad group to those adorable ladybug-themed sunglasses for toddlers, for example, you might want to make sure the ad only shows up for very specific searches, such as “sunglasses for toddlers”, rather than every search for “red sunglasses”. The point of doing this is to place your ad directly in front of the people who are most likely to click on it, rather than a vast majority of people who are looking for something very different.

What Are the Different Types of Negative Keywords?

Google Ads offers a few different options for using negative keywords.

The default is “negative broad match” keywords. In this type, a search that contains all of your negative keyword terms will not display your ad; however, if some of the terms are in the search, your product may still be displayed. The order of the terms doesn’t matter, as long as all of them are present.

In a “negative phrase match”, the order of the words does matter. As long as all the keyword terms are in the correct order, your ad will be excluded, even if extra words or characters are added. 

A “negative exact match”, on the other hand, will prevent your ad from being displayed if a user’s search includes exactly the words chosen, in a specific order. If additional words are added to the search, your ad may still appear.


So, let’s say your negative keywords for your adorable ladybug-themed toddler sunglasses are “adult sport sunglasses driving”. In a negative broad match, “sport sunglasses for driving adults” or “driving sunglasses adult sports” would work to exclude your ad.

In a negative phrase match, your ad would not be displayed for anyone searching for “adult sport sunglasses driving discount” or “adult sport sunglasses driving Pacific Northwest”. But for a negative exact match, they would have to enter “adult sport sunglasses driving” and ONLY that phrase to be exempt from seeing your ad. “Adult sport sunglasses driving discount” would potentially trigger your ad to be displayed.

Another thing to keep in mind is similar words and close variants. For example, plural versions or different tenses of words won’t trigger the negative keyword response. So if someone typed in “adults sport sunglasses driving” or “adult sport sunglasses drive,” they would still potentially see your ad.


It’s certainly a lot to think about, and you’ll certainly want to play with your Google Ads campaign a bit to get exactly the right fit for your product. The most important thing to remember about negative keywords is that unlike regular and long-tail keywords, which lead towards your site, these words will prevent users from seeing your ad. 

Additionally, try not to be too restrictive with your negative keywords. Give searchers some credit: all of us have, at one point, entered a vague search, only to realize our mistake. Use negative keywords to provide focus and guidance, but don’t use so many that your ad hardly ever displays!



Teachingbiz provides internet marketing services and education to digital entrepreneurs and marketers who want to learn how to build and scale their businesses.

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