Adding Negatives the Smart Way

Posted on December 29, 2014 in

Don’t Subsidize Google; Add Negative Keywords

Pay-per-Click isn’t just about reaching new customers. It is also about cost efficiency. Depending on your business model, this may mean either measuring Return On Investment or Return On Ad Spend. No matter how many leads or sales you are able to attract, if you’re not receiving more than you spend, it’s bad business. None of this is news to anyone running a business; this is all just add a point of emphasis.

PPC is not just about volume. It’s also about efficiency.


Types Of Negatives To Add

Query Themes

I have seen many AdWords accounts filled with negative keywords that were a series of long query strings. While there are the occasional very specific queries worthy of being blocked, most of the time there is a theme that fits. For example, if you’re serving ads for a product that only works on Windows environment, ‘iPhone’ and ‘Android would be great negative keywords. While there might be the rare query that would still be applicable, like “how do I order something software from my iphone”, these sorts of examples be considered extreme. Blocking them is completely safe.


One Word, Two Word, Three

One single word might be fine, like the example above. On the other hand, let’s say I’m worried about people searching for my client’s phone number, but I still need to block users that type ‘i phone’. Google AdWords and Bing Ads are extremely precise. Although capitalization does not mean anything, plurals, singulars, and misspellings are not considered with regards to negatives. The negative ‘Android’ would not block a search about ‘androids’. To block ‘i phone’ but not ‘phone’, you would need to add the negative phrase match “i phone” and ‘iphone’. but not ‘phone’.Adding ‘i phone’ (broad match negative for Google AdWords) would actually block queries that contain both the word ‘i’ and the word ‘phone’. On a final note, broad match negatives are safer to add without guessing the possible queries as the longer the string becomes because the queries the keyword can possibly block become increasing limited.


Negative Phrase, Negative Broad

In AdWords, one word negative broad match and one word negative phrase match perform the exact same way and are essentially legal duplicates! Bing Ads does not support broad match negatives though, and any imported broad match negatives from AdWords are reclassified as phrase match negatives. Broad Match Modifier is not supported by either as a negative, but both support exact match negatives.


The Invisible Missing Impression Share

There are times you’ve gone a step too far. While both AdWords and Bing Ads provide tools to help find negatives that conflict with existing keywords, some good queries may be blocked unintentionally that do not cause a conflict. It is always a good idea to to review your negative keywords from time to time to test them. Heck, throw certain terms into a different ad group or campaign so that the negatives are still in place for most of your terms, and then test in safety. This point is especially important if you’ve noticed an unexplainable drop in overall conversions.


Plurals, Singulars, Misspellings

When working most accounts, ‘law’ and ‘laws’ are both effective negatives. You don’t really want to push out ads to the user that wants to know the legalities surrounding one of your client’s products or services. On the other hand, the marketing for a law firm has to take legal queries into account. While ‘law’ might be a poor negative in that instance, and might even create conflicts with existing keywords, ‘laws’ might be a worthwhile exclusion.


One Last Warning

Negative keywords are replete with the phrase “unintended consequences”. So, it might not come as any surprise that blocking common words like state names could create an “oops” moment that is difficult to retrace. Note that the abbreviation for Colorado and company are both ‘co’.



I really recommend building out your own personal lists to apply to different industries, and I don’t just mean the “Campaign negative keyword” lists supported by Google AdWords and Microsoft Bing Ads. Keep a spreadsheet or some sort of document up-to-date, especially in case your work gets wiped out.

Now, go make some money!

By Kevin Adams

Kevin Adams has been doing PPC since 2004. He has managed many accounts from local service companies to large mortgage companies. His primary proficiencies are Google AdWords, Google Analytics, and Bing Ads. He continually stays up-to-date on the latest tricks, tools and trends provided by the search engines. If there is one thing that Kevin excels at most is making his clients money with Pay-per-Click advertising.