Marketing Terms

Negative Keywords


Keywords that prevent ads from appearing for search queries that contain them.


When you bid on keywords, you have an idea of what kind of search intent is relevant to your business. Negative keywords help to ensure that search queries triggering your ads stay true to the intent of your bid keywords.

Over the years, the role of negative keywords has changed as new campaign types and technologies have been introduced, and the rules governing how keyword match types work have evolved.

In the early days of Google Ads (then AdWords), exact match and phrase match keywords worked exactly as their names imply, and broad match modifier (BMM) keywords provided a check on the sometimes chaotic nature of broad match keywords. But over time, broad match modifier keywords went away, exact match included many variations (misspellings, stemming, abbreviations, etc.), phrase match allowed for the varied word orders and synonyms previously reserved for broad match, and broad match often triggered keywords that bore little resemblance to the original keywords.

Google claims that these new rules largely preserve the intent of the bid keywords, and that negative keywords are less important as machine learning determines which keywords are profitable and which or not. or which keywords are profitable for one audience and not for another audience.

This may increasingly be the case as time goes on, but there may still be situations where the machines get confused. Plus, companies may have other reasons for adding negatives, such as restrictions by brands to their resellers or affiliates. For these and other reasons, negative keywords seem likely to survive in some form.


Why use negative keywords?

There are two reasons to use negative keywords:
1. For undesirable queries, avoiding wasteful spending by keeping your ad from triggering.
2. For desirable queries, ensuring ads are triggered only from certain campaigns or groups.

How to add negative keywords in Google Ads?

Negative keywords can be added to ad groups, campaigns, or negative keywords lists that can apply to one or more campaigns. Google’s Help Center explains how to add, edit or remove negative keywords at

How to find / choose negative keywords?

1. If you are already advertising, go to the “Search terms” report and sort by cost. If you find any negative keyword ideas here, they are likely to be among your top money-savers.
2. To look for negative keywords proactively, use many of the same tools you use to find good keywords (Google Keyword Planner, Sermrush Keyword Magic Tool, etc.) and build your good and bad keyword lists at the same time.

Should negative keywords be broad match, phrase match, or exact match?

Each of the negative keyword match types have their uses.

  • Broad Match Negatives – use when a word turns a query undesirable, no matter what other words are added. Popular examples include free or scam. If certain words are always undesirable for your business, there is no sense in adding numerous phrase or exact match variations containing the same word. Just weed out the root cause once in broad match and be done with it.
  • Phrase Match Negatives – use when the specific word order matters. For example, a company may want to bid on “web design for building company” but not “building a web design company”. Adding the latter as a phrase match negative will negate “building a web design company”, “building a web design company from scratch” and so on.
  • Exact Match Negatives – use when a keyword or keyword phrase is too short to establish sufficient intent. For example, searches for “accident attorney” tend to be lucrative, and thus expensive, while searches for “attorney” are less profitable due their ambiguity. Thus an accident attorney that bids on “accident attorney” may want to add an exact match negative for [attorney].

Can I find ready-made negative keyword lists?

Yes, there are many ready-made lists online, but the most of them fail to stand out in any significant way. One of the better general-purpose negative keyword lists (that isn’t gated) is at If you are in a popular industry, you can also search for “yourindustry negative keywords” or “yourindustry negative keyword list”. Just don’t expect these lists to do everything. They are only a starting point, as only you know which keywords are the most relevant (and irrelevant) to your business.