Negative keywords can help you refine your keyword list and filter out unwanted traffic for your paid-search campaigns. Excluding specific words or phrases that aren't relevant to your product or service can help you reach your ideal prospects, reduce your cost per click (CPC), and increase your return on investment (ROI).

You might use a negative keyword list if you: have a limited budget, have low conversion rates, have expensive conversion rates, experience bad brand association, or want to improve your quality score.

So how do you find your negative keywords? How do you select your negative keywords? Why is it important to create a negative keyword list? Here are some answers.

How do you find negative keywords?

Negative keywords are a major factor in creating a successful keyword list. A well-targeted list can help lower costs and ensure targeted visits to your website. Ways to identify negative keywords include using Keyword Tools, website analytics tools, and Search Query Performance reports. Another great way is to look up synonyms for identified negative keywords.

How do you select negative keywords?

Though negative keyword lists help target and define your campaign, overusing them will result in a very limited advertising audience. Therefore, identify negative keywords that are particularly irrelevant to your product or business, including high-trafficked and high CPC keywords. One of the most common negative keywords is "free" because it has such a broad range and scope.

Here are some examples of general negative keywords:

  • You are a local dry cleaner. Negative Keywords: "laundromat," "tailoring," "self-service laundry"
  • You sell designer watches. Negative Keywords: "cheap," "batteries," "bands," "imitation," "accessories," brand names you don't sell
  • You are an orthodontist. Negative keywords: "teeth cleaning," "root canals," "teeth whitening," "cavities"
  • You sell new bicycles. Negative keywords: "motorcycles," "used," "helmets," "bike locks"
    In addition, it is important to look at the negative keywords that run on the different keyword match types: broad, phrase, and exact.

Let's take, for example, a store that wants to drive sales of its highest-priced product, diamond bracelets. If you use the exact match keyword type of "diamond bracelet," there is no need to use negative keywords (see example below). However, if you use broad match, modified broad match, and phrase match, it is important to understand how negative keywords work and determine the ways they can benefit (or possibly hurt) your campaign.

With broad match, any keyword that has any variation of "diamond bracelet" or any synonyms of "diamond bracelet," such as "rhombus bangle," will trigger your ad. Therefore, it might make sense to add certain negative keywords to your list, such as "diamond earrings," since that search query would not help generate leads for you. Those who use modified broad match should follow the suggestions related to making negative keywords for broad match.

Similarly, for phrase match, any keyword phrase that uses words before and after "diamond bracelet" will trigger your ad. So you might add phrases such as "amethyst bracelet" to a negative keyword list, because that search query would not help generate leads for you.

Why is it important to create a negative keyword list?

Negative keyword lists affect conversions, leads, quality scores, and visitor experiences. Here is a detailed list of how negative keywords can benefit your campaign:


  • Conversion-rate increases
  • Qualified-leads increase
  • Cost-per-conversion (CPC) decreases
  • Profit increases

Quality Scores

  • Quality-Score increases
  • Ad-position increases
  • Max cost-per-click decreases

Visitor Experience

  • Relevancy increases
  • Bounce-rate decreases
  • Brand-association increases
  • Conversion-rate increases

By researching your keywords, identifying negative keywords, and constantly building your list, you will optimize your search campaign for peak performance.

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How to Build an Effective Negative Keyword List to Increase ROI

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Jill Solomon is online marketing manager at Direct Agents, a full-service performance-based interactive marketing agency.