August 8, 2020

Negative Keywords: What They Are and How to Find Them

Google Ads allow you to target potential customers with the goal of bringing them to your website and converting them. To be successful with your Google Ads however, you need to understand the best keywords to target. Although you might have selected the keywords you want to trigger your ads, have you selected your negative keywords? Below we will dive into the basics of negative keywords and how to correctly use them.




What are Negative Keywords?

Essentially, negative keywords are a way to prevent your ads from appearing when a user searches for said keywords. Adding negative keywords to your Google Ads Campaign is a great way of reducing your ad spend because you’re further classifying the keywords you want to trigger your ads.

The last thing you want is an inefficient Google Ads Campaign where users are clicking on your ad and immediately bouncing. This typically happens when your landing page doesn’t fulfill the searcher’s intent. Eliminate bounced users and ineffective spend by implementing negative keywords.

Build Your Negative Keywords List

Now comes the hard part, how do you find and select the negative keywords you should add to your campaign?

We’ll start out with the obvious, the Search Terms Report. Experts have long known about this report if you’re a novice like yourself probably haven’t heard of it.

In Google Ads, there are two types of keywords. The keywords you choose and search terms, the keywords users actually search for in Google.

Google provides these search terms in their Search Terms Report.

This report is a goldmine for negative keywords.

Here’s how to find your Search Terms Report:

  1. Login to your Google Ads Account.
  2. Select the Campaign you want to add Negative Keywords to
  3. Click on Keywords in the secondary navigation bar
  4. Select the Search Terms tab from the top of the report

Now we could tell you to simply scan this report for any keywords that look abnormal but we’re going to show you some ninja stuff!

via Giphy

First, click on the Columns Button Trulli button and select Modify Columns. Click the Attributes drop down and then check the Keyword box. You’ll notice that it adds keywords to your column to the right.

We recommend moving Keywords up to the top so that you can quickly scan your keywords and search terms. You can do this by selecting the two horizontal bars next to Keywords and moving them up.

Now click on the Performance drop down and add the following:

  • Clicks
  • Cost
  • Impr.
  • CTR
  • Avg. CPC

Next click on the Performance drop down and add the following:

  • Conversions
  • Cost / Conv.
  • Conv. Rate

Make sure to click Apply after you’re done.

Once you’ve hit Apply, there are a couple of filters you can set in order to determine what keywords you want to add as negatives.

If you have conversion tracking set up we recommend starting with the following filter:

  1. Click add filter funnel
  2. Select the Conversions drop down
  3. Select Conversions
  4. Select the < (less than) sign from the drop down
  5. Enter 1 in the Value slot
  6. Click Apply

This filter will give you all the search terms that have not converted.

Now scan these search terms and see if there’s anything that stands out as a potential negative keyword. Here’s an example:

If you own a kitchen remodeling business and notice the keyword “kitchen remodel” is turning up for a lot of people searching for the search term “kitchen remodel photos” you’ll want to add “photos” to your Negative Keyword List. You’ll want to also add similar keywords like “photo”, “pictures”, and “picture” as negative keywords.

Always compare your search terms to your keywords. If you see a keyword is showing up for a lot of the search terms that you don’t want to show up for consider pausing the keyword or changing the keyword’s match type.

To sort your list by keyword, click on the Keyword heading in the table.

To add Negative Keywords just select the checkbox next to the keyword you want to as a Negative Keyword and click Add As Negative Keyword in the blue bar that magically appears.

If you think the keyword would apply across the board then you will want to add it to the campaign level. On the other hand, if you think the keyword only applies to that specific ad group then add it to the ad group only.

add as negative keyword to

If you have a lot of ad groups you may consider going to each ad group and adding negative keywords there instead.

Keep in mind that when you add Negative Keywords, Google uses broad match as the default. Here are a couple of advanced hacks:

  • Add singular AND plural versions of keywords
  • Wrap keywords with two or more phrases in ” ” so that it becomes phrase match. For example, “keyword here”.
  • Wrap the keyword in [ ] if you want to make sure your ads don’t show up for that exact keyword. For example, [keyword here]
  • Edit the keyword. For example, if you see the keyword includes only one word that would make it a negative for you, just remove all of the other keywords.

If you’re short on time, sort by Impressions by clicking on Impr. and look at only the top searched for search terms for your negative keywords.

If you’re receiving a lot of bad leads, consider changing the columns to All Conv. and filter for “All Conv. more than 0. ” You can see more detailed conversion data by going to Segment >>> Conversions >>> Conversion Action. Now you’ll see each conversion action under your Search Terms.

If you’ve linked your Google My Business Page to Google Ads, you’ll get additional conversions under your search terms. This includes Clicks to Calls,  Directions, Website Visits, and Other Engagements. This is uber important if you have a physical location as you might be missing out on people who are searching for directions to your store when left looking at just the conversions column.

Ahrefs Keyword Explorer

Ahrefs is the go to SEO tool for expert SEOs. One of our favorite features is Questions which is found within their Keyword Explorer.

To access Questions you just have to do the following:

  1. Login to Ahrefs
  2. Click on Keyword Explorer in the top navigational bar
  3. Enter your keyword and hit enter
  4. Select Questions in the left hand menu

Let’s say you run a lawn care business and want to see what questions people have that may disqualify them from being a customer. Just pop in “lawn care” and we’ll see the following:


You’ll notice there are a lot of people who are searching for “how to start a lawn care business” or “how to get customers for a lawn care business”. We’d recommend adding these questions as phrase match negative keywords since these people aren’t likely to need your services.

Google Keyword Planner

Not only is Google Keyword Planner great for finding relevant keywords, but it’s also a great tool to find negative keywords.

To access Google Keyword Planner:

  1. Log into your Google Ads Account
  2. Click on the Wrench Icon
  3. Select Keyword Planner

    google keyword planner for negative keywords

  4. Click on Discover New Keywords
  5. Enter your Keyword

If you’re a pool builder in Austin, TX you might search for “austin pool builder”. You can further refine your keyword results by clicking on Add Filter, selecting Keyword Text from the drop down and type in Austin.

You’ll notice I’ve highlighted “above ground pools austin”. If you build custom in-ground pools adding the phrase “above ground” would be a great negative keyword. Another great negative keyword is “pool repair”. If you’re more interested in building pools than repairing them, then you’ll want to make sure to add the word “repair” as a negative keyword.

Furthermore in the list above, I would also consider adding the keywords “supply” and “supplies” as negative keywords. These are likely people who already own a pool and just looking for things like pool cleaners, filters, etc.

So really think about what services you offer and what customers might be looking for when searching for your keywords when considering adding negative keywords.

Google Suggest

If you’ve ever typed something into Google and it started to autocomplete your search term, then you’ve witnessed the power of Google.

Just now I started typing in Patio Cover. Checkout what popped up!

A lot of the keywords Google suggested are excellent examples of people who might be searching for what we like to call “inspirational” keywords. Keywords such as “patio cover ideas” and “patio cover designs”. These are usually people who are in the beginning stages of the buying cycle and looking for inspiration for their next home improvement project.

Keywords like “patio cover kits” and “patio cover plans” are coming from people who are likely DIYers. If you build patio covers for your customers you’d want to add “kits” and “plans” as negative keywords.

Lastly, the keyword “patio cover repair”. If you don’t repair patios or consider this a low ticket item then you’ll want to add “repair” as a negative keyword.

Now that you’ve learned the power of Google Suggest let’s actually search for something.

Brainstorm 10-15 keywords with your team that people might be searching for when looking for your business. Once you have your keywords, head over to Google and search for each keyword. You’ll want to use this time to see which companies are appearing in the Google Ads for your search. These are easy to find, Google puts a little green Ad tag next to each ad. Next, look at Google Maps and see if the businesses listed are similar to yours. Lastly, take a look at organic listings and see if they’re relevant or not.

Here’s an example: 

If you run a fencing company, one of your keywords might be “fencing”. If you search for “austin fencing” you’ll notice a few organic listings that stand out.

The first two listings are for Fencing Organizations.

via Giphy

Yeah that kind of fencing.

Reading Austin Fencers Club’s description we can find a bunch of negative keywords – “fencers”, “club”, “classes”, “lessons”, “camps” and “competitive”.

With Texas Fencing Academy the word “academy” would be a good negative keyword.

Google My Business

Did you know that Google My Business shows you keywords that your listing shows up for?

Just login to your GMB account and click Insights in the left hand corner and they will be towards the top.

Let’s use a flooring company as an example; if you’re a flooring company you probably only carry certain brands.

Looking below there are few keywords I’d consider as negative keywords.

This client doesn’t carry Aztec or Anatolia brands. These would be negative keywords for us. Weirdly, our client shows up for the keyword “austin restaurants”. It’s another candidate.

Lastly, “austin wood” is too vague to know if they’re looking for flooring or firewood. Just make sure to add “austin wood” as an exact match negative keyword just incase someone was searching for “austin wood flooring”.

Google Search Console

If you have Google Search Console setup for your website, you can find a treasure trove of ideas from their keyword performance report.

To access your Keyword Performance Report:

  1. Login to Google Search Console
  2. Select your website from the Property dropdown on the left hand side
  3. Click on Performance

Now you can see all of the keywords that your website shows up for in Google; just scan your keywords or “queries” and find keywords that stand out.

For instance, if you’re a kitchen remodeling company, you might see a few things that stand out from this report:

Someone searching for “kitchen remodel software” is likely another kitchen remodeler looking for new software or possibly someone looking to draft their kitchen remodel.

If you only remodel kitchens, then you would want to add “bathroom” as a negative keyword to avoid people searching for bathroom remodels. The same would go for “cabinet resurfacing”.

You’ll often find people searching for resources. For instance, “kitchen remodeling blog”. Some other resource keywords to consider adding would be “define”, “definition”, “youtube”, “example” and “examples”, etc.

To speed up the process, you might consider filtering your keywords. You can easily do that by clicking on +New, selecting Query… and entering your keyword. With this filter you can search for queries that exclude your main keyword or branded keywords – this will allow you to narrow in on your negative keywords.


Do you wish there was a way to automatically find negative keywords? Well, you’re in luck! Brainlabs’ N-grams script does just that.

N-grams will find phrases made of “n” words.  A single word would be 1 gram, a 2 word phrase would have 2 grams and so on. For instance, “austin tree removal service” contains two 3 grams. They are “austin tree removal” and “tree removal service”.

The N-grams script creates a Google Sheet with a seperate sheet for each N-gram at the Campaign, Ad Group and Account Levels. Each sheet will then total the amount of clicks, impressions, cost, conversions, conversion value, CTR, CPC, conv. rate, cost/conv. and cost. value/cost per query.

Also included in each sheet is a “Query Count” column that shows how many queries each phrase appeared in. This allows you to focus your attention on queries that are most popular.

Depending on how many N-grams you want to look at, the software will total all of the N-grams in a Word Count Analysis so you can see the length of queries converting.

You may be intimidated by Scripts but here’s how to get started:

  1. Login to your Google Ads Account
  2. Click on Tools
  3. Select Scripts

4. Click on the Blue + Sign
5. It might ask you to Authorize Scripts. Go ahead and do that now.
6. Go to the N-grams script .
7. Copy the N-grams script and paste it into the Script Field in Google Ads

Now before hitting RUN, you’ll want to make some changes.

First find the startDate and endDate fields and update them to the dates you want to focus on.

Change the currencySymbol to your local currency.

If there are certain campaigns you want to focus on, make sure to include them in campaignNameContains. If not, just leave it be, and it will run across all of your campaigns. The opposite goes for the campaignNameDoesNotContain field.

If you’d like the script to not ignore paused campaigns or ad groups, change the ignorePausedCampaigns and ignorePausedAdGroups to false. The script will ignore them by default.

Keeping checkNegatives as true will remove queries that include your negative keywords. If you’d like an extensive list of keywords that will include your negative keywords, then change this to false.

Next, you’ll need to create a blank Google Sheet. Once you create your sheet, click on the big green Share button. Then you will want to copy the link, removing the part where it says “edit?usp=sharing” and paste the URL into line for spreadsheetUrl.

Lastly, set minNGramLength and maxNGramLength to the length of n-grams you want to check. For instance, if you set minNGramLength to 1 and maxNGramLength to 3, it will look at 1-grams, 2-grams, and 3-grams. You can look at single queries by setting both minNGramLength and maxNGramLength to 1.

Click RUN.

It will take up to a few minutes to complete but once it’s done you should see this:

And your Google Sheet should now be populated.

We recommend starting with the Campaign Word Analysis tab. If you have conversion tracking setup, filter it by phrases with 0 conversions. If you don’t have conversion tracking setup, sort by Cost. Then review your phrase list and see what keywords stand out as either costing too much to be profitable, or those that are irrelevant to your business.

For instance, if you run a window replacement company you might see keywords like “cleaning”, “tint” or “auto”. If you only replace residential windows however, and don’t provide the other services, you’ll want to add these as negative keywords.

Go to the last tab Word Count Analysis and see what the search query performance is by word count. If you’ve set the maxNGramLength to a high level like a 6 or 7, there might not be any data for keywords that longtail. This will help you save time by focusing on the top gram analysis reports.

Then go through each Gram Analysis report and select your negative keywords by filtering for 0 conversions or sorting by most costly.

The more granular you are the more control you have. Start at the Ad Group level. You can always go back to the Campaign and Account levels.

Hopefully you now have a better idea of how to find negative keywords. We understand there are a lot of keyword tool options available, but don’t feel obligated to use all of these tools to narrow down your list of negative keywords. Rather, mix and match the ones you have access to, and the ones that make the most sense for your business.

Still stuck on negative keywords? Not to worry, the Google Ads Consultants at The Kaanen Group can handle all of your pay per click needs.



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Joel Casarez

Joel Casarez | SEO Consultant

Joel is an SEO consultant with over 14 years of experience. He utilizes his experience as a search marketing expert to share tips, tactics, and best practices on SEO and PPC. When not assisting businesses in growing online, he loves to travel, listen to podcasts, and watch stand-up comedy.

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