Negative Keywords Positive Impact

Typically, when you think of the word negative you do not associate it with something positive.  However, utilizing negative keywords in pay-per-click search campaigns can benefit a brand greatly and yield optimal results.

Negative Keywords

Negative keywords are a type of tactic that prevents an advertisement from being displayed or triggered for certain search terms. By adding negative keywords, you restrict your ads from showing for searches that, though they have your keywords in them, also include terms that make the overall query irrelevant to your business. This category of keywords helps focus on relevancy and targeting the right type of customer.

For example, if Penn State is running a campaign on Google Ads highlighting their athletic apparel with terms like “college football jersey” and “university volleyball shirt”, they would benefit from excluding the terms “Ohio”, “Michigan”, and “Stanford” from their campaigns. These negative keywords would prevent their ads from showing for queries like “Ohio state college football jersey” or “university of Michigan volleyball shirt”. By assigning those negative keywords it ensures that consumers who are searching for Penn State apparel are targeted and those poor souls who are not looking for Penn State will not see the ad. If Penn State does not add those negative keywords, they run the risk of wasting their budget on irrelevant customers and hurting their ROAS and ROI.

Too much of a good thing can be bad

Overall, this type of keyword is very beneficial, but in some cases must be used meticulously and sparingly. If a brand uses too many they jeopardize the reach of their campaign by making it extremely narrow in an attempt to reach too particular of an audience. As a result, they may pass up on prospective consumers and miss an opportunity to connect with a possible customer.

For instance, if the restaurant Applebee’s is running an ad looking to hire wait staff and they use “Chili’s” as a negative keyword to deter their ad from showing up for people who are searching for jobs at the competitor Chili’s, Applebee’s may think they are being smart by narrowing their search to only customers looking for their company. In reality, they are hurting themselves by limiting their reach. If Applebee’s were to remove “Chili’s” as a negative keyword, then they would increase their reach by showing ads to a prospective employee of a close competitor. Even though a person may be searching for Chili’s jobs, they may end up clicking on and applying to Applebee’s because even though they were thinking Chili’s, they realize they are open to the idea of working at Applebee’s as well.


When applied to a brand’s pay-per-click campaign correctly it can have a multitude of positive results that branded and non-branded keywords cannot achieve on their own.  

Save Money

Implementing negative keywords will reduce ad spending on useless searches which will give you more budget to spend on relevant keywords.

Improved Quality Score and Click-Through Rate

The more relevant your ad is to users the higher your CTR and Quality Score.

Increased Conversion Rates

Again, the more relevant your ad is to users the more likely they are to interact with the site and make a purchase take a desired conversion action.

How can I do this with my campaigns?

After hearing about all of the valuable aspects of negative keywords you are probably thinking, how can I do this for my PPC campaign? You can go about adding the terms individually by campaign or add them to a shared negative keyword list that can be applied to multiple campaigns.  Here are basic rules of thumb for picking what negative keywords to include:

Unrelated/Irrelevant Keywords

Choose keywords that have no relation to your brand. If you sell sneakers and your ad is coming up when people search salsa then it’s safe to say that’s a word you do not want to waste your budget on.

Incorrect Geographical Location     

Add keywords that are out of the bounds of your business. For example, if you own a small hotdog shop in Pittsburgh, PA then odds are you do not want your ad to come up in a search for “hotdog places in Arizona.”

Linked to Bad Reputation 

You always want your business to harbor a positive sentiment across channels so you would like to avoid your ad popping up alongside negative things. Say you were a brand that sold toys for toddlers. You wouldn’t want your brand coming up when someone searches “kids toy choking scandal.”

Once you have chosen your negative keywords, be sure to monitor the shared negative keyword list monthly to see if you need to add or delete any terms. Remember, the best offense is a good defense so make sure you defend your brand using negative keywords.