Already spending big on Google Ads? I can almost guarantee that you’re wasting money. But just peep at how Carrie Albright saved $1 million on her ads budget. No joke. Her secret sauce? Negative keywords.
Get them right, and you’ll save a bundle of money that even Geico would be jealous of.
But go the other way, and your bank account (and brand, and clients, and everyone else) is in for some serious hurt.
I’ll just go ahead and say it though. You’re probably doing them wrong.
And if you want to run successful Google Ads, you need to stop doing them wrong. Today, preferably.
So I want to share the top five ways most brands mismanage their negative keywords and then show you how you can reverse that trend.
First up is one that I really wish I didn’t have to say, but I know from experience that I do.
Error #1: You’re Not Using Negative Keywords at All
Google has no problem spending your money for you.
If you let them, they will burn through your advertising budget no matter what kind of results you’re getting.
And this is a prevalent problem. Almost half of marketers report that at least 30% of their annual budget gets wasted on ineffective campaigns and strategies.
And one of the biggest areas of waste is in the ads market.
On the one hand, this trend makes sense, especially for newcomers to Google Ads.
But on the other hand, Google provides you with a way to combat this that many people (even veterans) choose to ignore for some reason.
The purpose of Google Ads is to provide conversions based on user intent. That means the keywords you target need to be relevant enough to your brand that it prompts a viewer to click and convert.
Anything that doesn’t link user intent to your desired outcome is irrelevant and useless.
If the keywords are irrelevant and useless, then they qualify as negative keywords.
But if you don’t use them as negative keywords at all, then Google is going to show your ads for those searches.
You’ll get low-quality clicks, fewer leads, and waste a fortune while your hair gets even thinner from the stress.
They’re super easy to use. Just go to Keywords > Negative Keywords, and then click the unmistakable blue plus button:
Then you can start uploading your list of negative keywords.
They’ll give you common negative keywords to choose from, and you can fill in the gaps with your own testing and results from there.
Error #2: You’re Using Negative Keywords in the Wrong Place
Okay, I know I just said you need to at least start using negative keywords.
But when you do start adding negative keywords, it’s important to go in with a strategy.
You can add negative keywords to each level of your ads, starting with the overarching account and moving down the ladder to the ad group level.
This was rather cleverly outlined as the negative ads food chain if you need a helpful reference to guide you through how that entire process works.
But a major mistake that brands make all the time happens when they lose sight of their full strategy and start misplacing their negative keywords.
They’ll add campaign level negative keywords at the ad group level (which is a waste of time), or they’ll put ad group level negatives at the account level (which ends in confusion).
What’s the solution?
Find out what’s relevant and what’s not, then tier these keywords appropriately.
The most irrelevant outliers are likely to end up on your account-wide list, whereas mid-range levels of relevance might make it to one campaign but not another.
For example, if you sell mattresses, you may still show up for a Google search for “sleep studies.” Those searchers aren’t likely to convert, because they’re not looking to buy.
On the other hand, searches like “memory foam” may be right in your wheelhouse.
And there are all sorts of grey areas that fit into the three groups shown here, but that’s up for you to find out for yourself.
Start by finding the core keyword terms that fit your products explicitly, then do further research with Google Keyword Planner or a similar tool. (My favorite form of keyword research is to actually spend a few bucks, see what actually works or doesn’t, and go from there.)
In this case, you’re looking for the opposite of what you would normally look at. You want high-volume searches that don’t match user intent.
Input a relevant search term into the search bar, and then comb through the results.
For example, when I searched for “memory foam mattress,” I was able to find some potential outliers that could lead to costly and ineffective clicks:
While it may be easy to dismiss these, you shouldn’t. Even if they only lead to a click here or there, they’ll add up over time.
And once you’ve done your research, remember to take it a step further with experiments, testing, and constant vigilance.
Always make sure that the positive keywords you have left are circling back to use intent, and let the negatives block the rest.
Error #3: You Don’t Know How Negative Keywords Matches Work
Negative keyword matches shouldn’t be tricky, but at the same time some people probably still don’t know how to tie their shoes.
Here’s what you need to know: Your negative keywords aren’t going to cover the full range of relevant search queries.
So misspellings, plural or singular versions of your search terms, gender-based search terms, and other factors can still show your ad to a less than optimal audience.
For example, each of these options could show the same ad if you were to pop them into Google:
- Promo code
- Promo codes
- Promotional codes
- Promotional code
- Discount codes
- Discount code
This makes negative keywords a little trickier in their final application.
You can still get plenty of waste in your ad budget simply due to a lazy Googler who didn’t pay attention during their third-grade spelling class.
Or more frustratingly, you can still have your ads show for searches of similar intent.
For example, say you search negative broad match “running shoes.” You’re still going to have to enter negative keywords with similar intent like “tennis shoes” and “running gear.”
Negative phrase match may tighten this up a tiny bit more, and again for negative exact match.
But that means you’ll have to add more and more negative keywords to build a narrower audience.
That’s why it’s important to learn your negative keyword match types and use them appropriately.
It’s like keyword match types in that you can provide exact matches, phrase matches, and broad matches.
Your best bet is to keep a chart like this handy:
And then keep a vigilant watch on the results of your ad campaigns.
Remember, one keyword can match for hundreds of different search terms, often in ways you don’t expect.
That means it pays to be thorough on the negative side of your keywords.
Small changes can make a huge impact on which ads get shown in the search results, and thus on your budget gets spent.
If you don’t consider your match type, and then block the appropriate keywords, their common misspellings, and any variations on their theme, then you’re going to have waste.
Error #4: You Have the Same Keyword as a Positive and Negative
Sometimes, you will get your wires crossed.
There are plenty of highly likely scenarios that may result in a positive and a negative keyword running on the same campaign or ad group.
- You add a negative at the campaign level when you see one ad group fail to get results with it, thus blocking other ad groups.
- You accidentally add a negative keyword as a broad match instead of exact, which then blocks versions that are better at converting.
- Your brand has a list of default negatives that get thrown onto an account-wide negative keyword list.
- You add a shared negative list to new campaigns where that list wasn’t intended.
It’s all too easy to be guilty of any of these.
That’s okay, and Google will (sort of) help you try to get it fixed by letting you run Negative Keyword Conflicts Report.
Unfortunately, this is a bit of a process for Google Ads at the moment.
Start by making a copy of the Keyword Conflicts spreadsheet that Google provides.
Fill out the appropriate information with your negative keywords and other info from your Ads account.
Then, you’ll open up the Script Editor under tools and copy-paste the code provided by Google in the link above.
You’ll need to ensure that you add your spreadsheet’s URL and the email address you want to send your report to.
Once you run the script, you’ll get a detailed report sent straight to your inbox.
You can go through and eliminate all of the conflicts you find, and you’ll have eliminated this problem for the moment.
Just make sure to make this audit a regular part of your routine, and you’ll be set.
Error #5: You’re Inconsistent at Managing your Negative Keywords Lists
If you’re worried about maxing out your ability to add negative keywords, don’t be. You can add up to 10,000 negative keywords to a single list.
Not that you would need that many, but the point is, you can and should add keywords liberally and often.
Despite this, it’s not atypical to see a negative keywords report for an account that looks like this:
If you’re new to this, you’re probably wondering what’s wrong with that picture.
Unless you’re running some very niche campaigns, this isn’t likely to happen.
It’s inconsistent. Some campaigns have close to a thousand negatives, and others have barely more than 100.
That means that whoever made half of these ads didn’t do a proper amount of keyword research. Or, they were too lazy to apply what they found universally across each campaign.
Either way, this is a great way to get inconsistent results from your ads.
So the solution here is to do better research for your negative keywords (see above), then create keyword lists that you can apply quickly and easily to your campaigns and ad groups.
Creating keyword lists with these results is fairly simple. Go to the Shared Library section of your Ads dashboard, and select Negative Keyword lists.
To add your new list, give it a name, and then add (or copy/paste) your new negative keywords with abandon.
Once you’ve added everything, save the completed list.
You can then go into your individual campaigns or ad groups, find the Negative Keywords tab, and quickly add the list you just created:
It’s by far the fastest way to consistently blanket your campaigns with the appropriate negative keywords
You should be adding as many negative keywords as you can to each of your campaigns and ad groups.
Stop wasting money.
Negative ads are not a waste of time.
They’re a way to save on wasted ad spend and make your lead magnets more effective.
If you’re not using them at all, then you better be okay justifying all of the waste your ads are generating.
And if you’re using them in the wrong place, educate yourself on ad basics like user intent and keyword relevance. Then apply that knowledge.
Spend some time perfecting your match types too. One poorly matched negative keyword can open a floodgate of waste.
Don’t cockblock your own keywords either. Conflicts may take time to hunt down, but you can make it part of a routine that leads to smooth sailing.
And for the love of God, be consistent. Do the research, build lists, and don’t be lazy about adding them.
Negative keywords are not rocket science. They’re lego blocks with an open instruction booklet that helps you build success piece by piece.