Defining Negative Keyword Match Types

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Negative keywords are important to any PPC campaign as it can help filter unwanted traffic before a user even reaches your landing page. For instance, you are trying to attract people interested in shoes, but you don’t sell red shoes. By adding “red” as one of your negative keywords, you can be sure you are not spending money on clicks from people looking for red sparkly shoes so you have more funds available for those looking for brown loafers.

Google, Yahoo! and Bing allow you to add negative keywords into your account but they each approach it a little differently. Google provides the most options allowing you to specify Broad, Phrase or Exact match negative keywords. Negative keyword match types work a little differently than traditional search terms, so make sure you think through each negative before adding it into your account.

Negative Broad: if used correctly, this can filter out a lot of different variations. If a keyword is Negative Broad, then your ad will not show anytime the entire term is used within a search query. For example, if your negative is video game, your ad will not appear for someone searching for game video or video game deals. BUT know that this will not prevent ads from showing for variations of the word. That means that if you want to exclude both video game and video games (plural version) you need to add in BOTH as negative keywords. Also, Negative Broad match will not restrict ads from showing if someone searches on only one of the words. So if someone searches for board game you will still appear, as the word game on its own is not a negative.

Negative Phrase: this match type works similarly to traditional search terms in that it will exclude the phrase. A negative keyword is designated as phrase match when quotations are used around the phrase. If someone searches for only one of the terms in your phrase, your ad will still appear. For example, if your negative is “fiction novels” and someone searches for history novels, your ad will still appear. This also means that if additional words are used in the search query, such as fiction romance novels, your ad will still appear as fiction and novels are not next to each other in the search query.

Negative Exact: this match type will eliminate very little traffic as it only excludes searches for the exact term(s) in the order they are used. To designate a negative term as Negative Exact, include [ ] around the term. If someone uses any other terms in his or her search, your ads will still appear. For instance if your negative is [green sweater] and someone searches for ladies green sweater your ad will still appear as it does not match the negative term exactly.

The Google AdWords blog has put together this chart as a quick reference of the search queries that would be ruled out depending on your negative match type.

Yahoo! has a similar concept but it is referred to as Excluded Keywords instead of Negative Keywords. In Yahoo! you don’t have the same match type options, so keep in mind that what you add in as an excluded term is essentially a broad match keyword. There is a limit of 500 excluded keywords at the account level and each of the ad groups. You can also add in 1,250 excluded words at the campaign level if you choose.

Bing allows the addition of negative keywords at the campaign, ad group or keyword levels. Know that if you use multiple levels, the keyword-level negatives override those at the ad group and campaign levels and ad group negatives override those at the campaign level. As with Yahoo!, there are restrictions on the number of negatives that can be added in. At the campaign level, the negative keyword limit is 1,022 characters and you are required to place a comma between each keyword. This quickly reduces the number of keywords you can add in, so make sure you are choosing the keywords that will rule out the most traffic. Similar to Yahoo!, you are not able to designate match types so all keywords entered are again broad match.

If you haven’t added negative keywords into your account yet, a good place to start is by running a Search Query Report to review what users are searching on to get to your ads.  This will get you started, but the report only shows information for those that have clicked on your ad. Don’t forget you also want to eliminate irrelevant traffic that may not have clicked yet so do a little research to see what other terms people might be using. Also, if you haven’t gone through your negative keyword list in a while, you might want to take some time to review what is currently in the account. As your business changes, negatives aren’t always updated so while terms might have made sense to exclude in the past, they may be relevant now.

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18 thoughts on “Defining Negative Keyword Match Types

  1. Arvind

    I have utilized negative keywords in many campaigns, Negative broad explanation is not matching with my experiences. E.g. If i have taken “Silk Scarves” as a negative keyword then my ads will not show for whenever “silk”, “scarves” and “silk” scarves are present in the search query in any sequence.

  2. Ranjan jena

    Even I would agree with Arvinds’ comment. In case of negative broad keywords, for eg., the search query “paid look”, the ad won’t show up if any of the queries is encountered in the search by the user i.e., if the user query is “online look” or “online paid”, the ad won’t show up in sponsored links.

    1. Puneet

      Hi Ranjan,
      I think negative broad match keywords don’t behave same as broad term in keywords. Negative broad won’t trigger on close variation and also on single word matching.

  3. MaxeBiz


    A great post.

    Sometimes it is difficult to get your mind thinking in “negative match mode” when you spend much of the time thinking about which positive keywords to add. But both are equally important!

    One word of warning about Google Adwords. If you use the See Search Terms Tab then add one of the displayed keywords as a negative, AdWords only adds it as an Exact Negative, which is probably not what you really need.

    Keep the great posts coming!

  4. Kai

    Hi, I’ m new in PPC.
    I confuse about negative keyword type phrase.

    If I set “silk scarves” is negative keyword phrase type.
    And someone search for
    silk scarve

    my ad will appear or not ?

    1. Puneet

      Yes Kai, Your Ad will appear as your -ve keyword is “silk scarves” and your search term is silk scarve (singular version).

  5. Justin

    I could use some help here. I am buying the keyword kickboxing as a broad match as a way to find good keywords relating to kickboxing. However, my ads are also generating clicks on the keyword boxing. Now I was thinking of adding the broad negative of boxing, BUT I also have the keyword kick boxing. So I would think that anytime someone searches kick boxing, even though I have it in my list, it would still not show b/c I added boxing as a negative. Any thoughts? The only solution I can think of is to pull all my kick boxing keywords into their own adgroup that’s phrase matched so I can add the negative to the campaign with kickboxing in it. Can anyone else think of any other way to handle this?

    1. Arvind Katke

      Hi Justin,

      Try using Embedded Negative Match type at first place. Negative embedded match has ability to show for every variation of a keyword, except for the keyword itself.

      How does negative embedded match work:

      * Insert -[boxing] into your ad group.
      * Insert “boxing” (you could also use broad match) into your ad group

      Also utilize Boxing as negative exact match.

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  8. Divya Gunaseelan

    Hi, I understand I’m a little late on this thread. But I do have a related question on this topic. I have 2 sets of ad groups with the same keywords but different match types, broad and phrase. In this case, for the broad ad group do I make the phrase terms negative and for the phrase ad group do I make the Broad terms negative?

    1. PPC Hero AllyPPC Hero

      Hi Divya,

      In your case you would have negative phrase match in the broad ad group. You shouldn’t have negative broad for your phrase, however (that would block out all of your traffic).

      You set up embedded negatives so that your most specific match type can be ensured to show (i.e. broad keywords have a negative phase on them and phrase keywords have negative exact on them as long as you’re bidding on the exact version of them). This structure allows you to get the impression you want to get while making sure that your targeting is also segmented as possible.

      Thanks for reading!

  9. Ji Yeon

    Thanks a lot for the helpful information, Erin. So it seems, if you use only one-word negative keyword, there is no difference between broad & phrase match types? (e.g. “FREE” VS FREE as a negative keyword)

  10. Yousuf Seo

    Thanks Erin and PPC Hero. I found many informative articles at this portal regarding PPC and Google Adwords. I am checking your blog almost daily.


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