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What are negative keywords?

What Are Negative Keywords?

Negative keywords are words you add to a pay per click campaign to deliberately prevent your adverts from being shown and clicked on for specific, unwanted searches.

Here’s a simple example. You only sell inkjet printers online. So in your pay per click ad campaign you might have ‘laser’ and ‘scanner’ as negative keywords. Anyone searching for ‘laser printer’ or ‘printer scanner’ would not see your printer ads.

Negative keywords improve your ROI because they increase the chances that a click-through to your website is relevant and therefore more likely to convert to a sale or enquiry.

You can use negative keywords in either Google AdWords or Bing Ads campaigns:


How to use negative keywords in your PPC campaigns

You can use negative keywords at 3 different levels:

  • Campaign level
  • Ad group level
  • Shared Library


Shared Library
(negative keyword lists, optionally applied to campaigns)
Campaign 1
(negative keyword list)
Campaign 2
(negative keyword list)
Ad group 1-1
(negative keyword list)
Ad group 1-2
(negative keyword list)
Ad group 2-1
(negative keyword list)
Ad group 2-2
(negative keyword list)


Campaign level
Negative keywords added at a campaign level will affect all ad groups within your campaign. This is an effective way to stop your ads appearing for any unwanted searches, just like the printer example already discussed.

Ad group level
Negative keywords added at an ad group level is an effective way to control which ads from which ad groups are shown for which searches.

Back to our example of advertising inkjet printers online, we might have three ad groups like this:


Ad Group Name Canon Inkjets Epson Inkjets HP Inkjets
Keywords inkjet printer inkjet printer inkjet printer
Negative keywords epson


Using the printer brand names as negatives keywords in each of the other two ad groups means we can funnel searchers to the most relevant ads and landing pages for their search. This is a very simplistic example to demonstrate the principle. In reality you need to be careful to ensure there is no conflicts between your negative keywords, either at campaign or ad group level. I recommend using AdWord’s ‘Tools > Ad Preview and Diagnosis’ (‘Tools > Ad Preview and Diagnostics Tool’ in Bing Ads) to ensure the right ads are being shown.

Shared Library
If you run multiple ad campaigns and want to apply the same negative keywords to each, then you might find it easier to create your negative keyword lists in the Shared Library instead, and then apply them to your campaigns as needed.

Both AdWords and Bing Ads have almost identical features, including the Shared Library. With AdWords you can have up to 5,000 negative keywords per list and up to 20 negative keywords lists in your Shared Library. Bing Ads doesn’t give a list limit but you can import up to 5,000 negative keywords at a time.


How to implement negative keywords in PPC campaigns

In addition to the 3 levels, you can implement negative keywords using three different methods:

  • Online interface
  • Desktop editors
  • Google AdWords Script

Online interface
Using the standard Google AdWords or Bing Ads dashboard.

Desktop editors
You can manage campaign and ad group level negative keywords using the desktop Google AdWords Editor or the Bing Ads Editor respectively. You cannot manage Google ad campaigns with the Bing Ads Editor or vice versa.

Google AdWords Script
Surprisingly neither AdWords nor Bing Ads seem to offer an easy way to import large negative keyword lists into your account or campaigns. However, using this AdWords script you can maintain and implement a master negative keyword list across multipe campaigns based on a Google spreadsheet. Or if you’re an agency looking after client accounts you’ll need to use this MCC script instead.

I don’t know of any negative keyword scripting solutions for Bing Ads but they make it very easy to copy campaigns over from AdWords!


Want to learn more about negative keywords?

Read the next blog post in this series to learn how to find and add negative words to your Google AdWords and Bing Ads campaigns.


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Founder & CEO

Paul is Founder & CEO of 47 Insights. He has been helping software and publishing subscription companies with growth strategies since 1995.

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