About negative keywords

Negative keywords let you exclude search terms from your campaigns and help you focus on only the keywords that matter to your customers. Better targeting can put your ad in front of interested users and increase your return on investment (ROI).

This article explains how negative keywords work and when they might be useful. You can then learn more about how to Add negative keywords to campaigns.

How they work

One key to a highly targeted campaign is choosing what not to target.

When selecting negative keywords for search campaigns, look for search terms that are similar to your keywords, but might cater to customers searching for a different product. For example, let's say that you're an optometrist who sells glasses. In this case, you may want to add negative keywords for search terms like 'wine glasses' and 'drinking glasses'.

Negative keywords won’t match to close variants or other expansions. For example, if you exclude the negative broad match keyword flowers, ads won’t be eligible to serve when a user searches red flowers, but can serve if a user searches for red flower.

If you’re using Display or Video campaigns, negative keywords can help you avoid targeting unrelated sites or videos, but bear in mind that negative keywords work differently for Display and Video campaigns than they do for search. Depending on the other keywords or targeting methods in your ad group, some places where your ad appears may occasionally contain excluded terms. For Display and Video ads, a maximum of 5,000 negative keywords is considered. You can also avoid targeting unrelated sites or videos by implementing site category options and content exclusions.

Types of negative keywords

For search campaigns, you can use broad match, phrase match or exact match negative keywords. However, these negative match types work differently from their positive counterparts. The main difference is that you'll need to add synonyms, singular or plural versions, misspellings and other close variations if you want to exclude them.

For Display campaigns, a set of negative keywords will be excluded as an exact topic. Ads won’t show on a page even if the exact keywords or phrase are not on the page explicitly, but the topic of the content is strongly related to the excluded set of negative keywords.

For example, a set of negative keywords like 'women’s trousers' would block bidding on a page with content about women’s jeans, even if the exact phrase 'women’s trousers' did not appear on the page. However, we would not generalise beyond the concept of women’s trousers to other kinds of women’s clothing (i.e. skirts) or men’s slacks. This is different from how we would treat a positive keyword, e.g. shoes, which we would also match to a broader category like footwear.

Negative broad match

This type is the default for your negative keywords. For negative broad match keywords, your ad won't show if the search contains all your negative keyword terms, even if the terms are in a different order. Your ad may still show if the search contains only some of your keyword terms.

Example

Negative broad match keyword: running shoes

Search Could an ad show?
blue tennis shoes Yes
running shoe Yes
blue running shoes No
shoes running No
running shoes No

Negative phrase match

For negative phrase match keywords, your ad won't show if the search contains the exact keyword terms in the same order. The search may include additional words, but the ad won't show as long as all the keyword terms are included in the search in the same order.

Example

Negative phrase match keyword: 'running shoes'

Search Could an ad show?
blue tennis shoes Yes
running shoe Yes
blue running shoes No
shoes running Yes
running shoes No

Negative exact match

For negative exact match keywords, your ad won't show if the search contains the exact keyword terms, in the same order and without extra words. Your ad may still show if the search contains the keyword terms with additional words.

Example

Negative exact match keyword: [running shoes]

Search Could an ad show?
blue tennis shoes Yes
running shoe Yes
blue running shoes Yes
shoes running Yes
running shoes No

Symbols in negative keywords

You can use three symbols, ampersands (&), accent marks (á) and asterisks (*) in your negative keywords. Negative keywords with accent marks are considered two different negative keywords, like pavement cafe and pavement café. Similarly, 'socks & shoes' is different than 'socks and shoes'.

Here are some of the symbols that our system doesn't recognise:

  • Ignored symbols: You can add periods (.) to your negative keywords, but these will be ignored. That means the keywords New St. and New St, for example, are considered identical negative keywords. If you add pluses (+) to your negative keywords, they'll usually be ignored (for example blue+car), however in some cases if a + is at the end of a word (for example C++), it won't be ignored.
  • Invalid symbols: You'll see an error message if you add negative keywords that contain certain symbols. Some of the symbols that can't be used in your negative keywords are: , ! @ % ^ () = {} ; ~ ` <> ? \ |.
  • Site and search operators: The 'site:' operator will be removed from your negative keywords. That means that if you add the negative keyword [site:www.example.com dark chocolate], it’ll be considered the same as [dark chocolate]. Search operators will also be ignored. For example, if you add the search operator 'OR' to the negative keyword dark chocolate, like‘OR dark chocolate’, the 'OR' command will be ignored and your negative keyword will be just dark chocolate.
  • Other search operators: Adding a minus (-) operator to the front of a keyword will cause this keyword to be ignored for negative keyword matching. For example, if you have a negative keyword 'dark -chocolate', it’ll be considered the same as just 'dark'.

Bear in mind

  • Choose your negative keywords carefully. If you use too many negative keywords, your ads might reach fewer customers.
  • Negative keywords don't match to close variants so your ad might still show on searches or pages that contain close variations of your negative keyword terms.
  • There’s no negative broad match modifier match type.
  • Your ad might still show when someone searches for a phrase that's longer than 16 words, and your negative keyword follows that 16th word. Let's say that your negative keyword is 'discount'. Your ad can show when someone searches for 'nice clean hotel rooms or bed and breakfast rentals in Bournemouth in Dorset close to beach discount' because your negative keyword is the 17th word in the phrase. On the other hand, we won't show your ad when someone searches for 'nice clean hotel rooms or bed and breakfast rentals in Bournemouth Dorset close to beach discount" because your negative keyword is the 16th word in the keyword.
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