Fix issues with negative keywords

This article explains how to troubleshoot when negative keywords are not working as expected.

Common issues and misconceptions with negative keywords

1. My ads are showing on searches that should be blocked by a negative keyword

Negative keywords don’t match to variants

Negative keywords work differently than their positive counterparts. Positive keywords can match to close variants—these are searches that are similar, but not identical to the targeted keyword, such as misspellings, reordered words, or same meaning terms. Negative keywords do not match to variants.

This means that if you want to prevent an ad from serving on an eligible search, you need to exclude the specific search terms exactly. For example, if you add the negative broad match keyword -house to your ad group, it will only prevent ads from serving on searches that contain the term ‘house’ exactly. This means an ad wouldn’t be eligible to serve on ‘red house’ but it could serve on ‘blue houses’. Learn more about negative keywords

Queries over 16 words long

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 your negative keyword is "discount." Your ad can show when someone searches for "nice clean hotel rooms or bed and breakfast rentals in Los Angeles CA 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 Los Angeles close to beach discount" because your negative keyword is the 16th word in the keyword.

Note: Prior to October, 2019, the limit was 10 words instead of 16. Prior to this date you may see negative keywords after the 10th word in a keyword.

Check the date range

If you identify a search in the search terms report that should have been excluded by a negative keyword, make sure you are looking at the correct reporting date range. You can use the change history to check the date when the negative keyword was applied to the ad group or campaign. For example, if you are looking at the search term report for the last 3 months, but the negative keyword was applied 2 weeks ago, it’s expected that you would see the negative term in your report.

Ensure the negative keyword list is applied to your campaign

Negative keyword lists are created and managed on the account level in the Shared Library, but they need to be associated with specific campaigns to be active. Make sure the list is applied to the right campaign by checking the Negative Keywords tab. Learn more about negative keyword lists

2. My keywords are not triggering ads due to a negative keyword, but they should be

Diagnostic Tool incorrectly showing the keyword isn’t serving

The keyword diagnostic tool tests a search for the exact match version of a keyword, even if the keyword is phrase or broad match. If the exact match version of the keyword is excluded, the tool will return messaging “A negative keyword is preventing your ad from showing. Your ad may be showing on others searches matched by this keyword.” This test isn’t comprehensive, the keyword may be eligible to serve on additional variants that it matches to.

Check negative keyword lists

Make sure to check if the negative keyword preventing serving is in a negative keyword list. These are lists that are created and managed on the account level in the Shared Library or in a Manager Account that manages the account. If the negative keyword is in a list that is not applied to a campaign, it could be the culprit. Learn more about negative keyword lists
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