Have you ever faced a situation where your paid search ad gets ranked for a wrong keyword that you didn’t intend it to rank for? Well, you’re not alone as that has happened to the best of us.

A lot of times, an ad can get ranked for a keyword that has a high density in the ad content but is not a target keyword. And, that is a colossal waste of both time and money because ranking for irrelevant keywords does no one any good.

Your ads will be shown to irrelevant people who won’t be interested in your products or services. And, those people will also end up getting annoyed because they are shown irrelevant ads.

To avoid such a situation, you can use negative keywords that will ensure you don’t rank for irrelevant keywords.

What are the Negative Keywords and How are They Different?

Negative keywords are the search terms that you exclude from your campaigns to avoid getting ranked for irrelevant keywords.

Unlike regular keywords, that you want to rank for, these are the ones that you want to avoid ranking for. That is the key aspect that makes negative keywords different from regular keywords.

Another way in which negative keywords are different from other keywords is how close variants are treated in each case. For regular keywords, their close variants are also targeted automatically. For these, you need to specifically add close variants as only the added negative keywords will be considered.

You can add these to your Google Search and Display Network campaigns to avoid getting your ads displayed on sites that use those keywords. These can also be added to your Bing or other ad campaigns.

These help you target your campaigns to the right people and get the best results from your ads.

How to Find Negative Keywords

If you run regular ad campaigns, then it is a good idea to build a list of keywords to block. This will help you save a lot of time and money that gets wasted when your ads get triggered by irrelevant keywords.

Searching for and finding these keywords is not that different from finding regular keywords. It is the same process essentially, except that you look for the most irrelevant keywords on the list, instead of the most relevant ones.

Here are some of the ways in which you can find the irrelevant keywords to block for your ad campaigns.

Using Google Search Terms Report

Google’s search terms report shows the actual search queries that users searched for that triggered your ads and got a click. If you go through this report in depth, you will find terms that your ads got displayed for, but are not exactly what you want to target.

These might be terms that are close to your target keyword but are not exactly what you offer. And, if you still can’t figure out which keywords to avoid, you can always look at the click and conversion rates.

Find the keywords that got the lowest conversion rates as the chances are that these will be the most irrelevant ones. You can sort your list and look at the keywords with the lowest conversions to find negative keywords.

Using Google Keyword Planner

While the Google Keyword Planner is basically intended to find regular keywords to target, it can be used for finding negative keywords as well.

When you search for keywords, the Keyword Planner also shows a list of related keywords. You can use this list to find ones that seem similar to your target keyword but are intended for a completely different target audience. You can choose these as the negative keywords for your campaigns.

Using Keyword Finder Tools

Apart from the Google Keyword Planner, you can use practically any other keyword finding tool to find negative keywords. Any tool that provides a list of related keywords can be used to find these in a similar way as described above for the Keyword Planner.

Types of Negative Keywords

There are three types of options for negative keywords that you can choose from. Each will block ads for different types of search terms. Depending on your requirements, you can select the type that works for you best.

Here are the three types of negative keywords, along with the explanations of how each works:

Exact Match

An exact match negative keyword should match exactly with the search term for it to work. If the search term is even a little different, then your ad will be displayed and the negative keyword won’t work.

So, if your negative exact match keyword is of two words, a longer phrase using those two words would still trigger the ad and will not be blocked.

Example: If your negative keyword is “running shoes”, any query other than the exact match would not be blocked. So, “running shoes for men”, “blue running shoes”, or any other phrase with the words running shoes will trigger your ads.

Phrase Match

A phrase match negative keyword will block ads for all search queries that contain the exact negative keyword within a longer phrase. So, in the above example, if the two-word negative keyword is included in a longer phrase, the ads will not be triggered.

This is better than the exact match keywords when there can be several search queries containing the same basic keyword. This will save you the time of adding all possible variations of the negative keyword manually.

Example: For the same example, with a phrase match any search term containing the exact words “running shoes” will block your ads. So, “running shoes for men”, “blue running shoes”, or any other phrase with the words running shoes will be blocked. However, search queries like “shoes for men”, “shoes for running”, etc. will not block the ads because these do not contain the exact keyword.

Broad Match

With a broad match negative keyword, your ads will be excluded for all search terms containing even a single word from your keyword. So if you have two words in your negative keyword, all search queries including either of the two words will be blocked.

Example: For the negative keyword “running shoes”, a broad match will block ads for all search terms containing either the word “running” or “shoes”. So, search queries like “shoes for men”, “shoes for running” etc. will also be blocked.

How to Add Negative Keywords to Your Campaigns

Once you have built your list of irrelevant keywords that you don’t want to rank for, you need to add them to your ad campaigns. Both Google and Bing offer this option to add keywords for which ads will be blocked.

Here are the step-by-step processes to add these to your ad campaigns:

Steps to Add Negative Keywords to a Google Search Campaign

  1. Sign in to your Google AdWords account.
  2. Go to the Keywords tab.
  3. Click on the Negative keywords tab.
  4. Click + Keywords.
  5. From the "Select an ad group" options, choose a campaign and ad group to which you want to add the negative keywords.
  6. Add keywords and use the appropriate symbols to select the match type.
  7. Click Save.

Steps to Add Negative Keywords to a Google Display Campaign

  1. Sign in to your Google AdWords account.
  2. Go to the “Display Network” tab.
  3. Click + Targeting.
  4. From the "Ad group targeting and exclusions" and "Campaign exclusions" options select the ad group or campaign to which you want to add negative keywords.
  5. Click either on “Add ad group exclusions” or “Add campaign exclusions” from the drop-down and then select “Display keywords.”
  6. Click Save.

You can look at your negative keywords list to see all of the ones that you have added.

Steps to Add Negative Keywords to a Bing Ad Campaign

This is the process to add negative keywords to the ad group or campaign level. Unlike Google, Bing does not allow adding these at a keyword level.

  1. Click on the “Campaigns” option right at the top of the page.
  2. Click on the Keywords tab.
  3. Select View and then negative keywords.
  4. Click on Campaign or Ad group.
  5. Click on “add negative keywords”.
  6. Select a campaign or ad group and then add your negative keywords.

One more difference between Google and Bing is that Bing does not allow broad match type keywords. So, you can only add an exact match or phrase match negative keywords for Bing ad campaigns.


If your ads get displayed to the wrong people and are triggered by wrong keywords, then that’s bad for you as well as the search users. So, it is a good practice to block your ads from getting displayed for certain keywords.

That’s the purpose of adding negative keywords to your ad campaigns. They ensure that your ads don’t get triggered by irrelevant search queries. This post details everything you need to know about such keywords and how to add these to your ad campaigns.