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PPC Negative Keywords Guide


The following guide will introduce you to the basics of PPC keyword types, the methods we use to conduct negative keyword research and why we need to do so in order to optimise an account.

Keyword Types

In PPC there are 3 basic types of keyword:

Keyword type Keyphrase User search query
Broad football boots world cup football, boots pharmacy, leather footballs
“Phrase” “football boots” cheap football boots, how to clean football boots, studs for football boots
[Exact] [football boots] football boots

As you can see from the above examples, in terms of search query Broad is the least accurate, followed by Phrase being more accurate with Exact having the most accuracy.

We recommend that Broad type keyphrases be used as little as possible due to their high level of inaccuracy. As a general rule of thumb this means that we should almost always use Exact and Phrase keyword match types.

A problem that remains with this rule is that phrase types can still be inaccurate, as the example above also demonstrates. To counter this, we use a fourth keyword match type called Negative Keywords which are used to block all the unwanted search strings to your Phrase keywords (and Broad, if you have any).

In the above Phrase example, we have three users searching for:

“cheap football boots”, “how to clean football boots” and “studs for football boots”.

Now, our Phrase matched “football boots” keyphrase will trigger ads for these three individuals, giving them the opportunity to click on them if curiosity demands so. The problem is that our product is not what they're looking for and as a result they'll simply bounce away having cost us money for the click in the process.

If we add the keywords “cheap”, “clean” and “studs” as Negative keywords then these three individuals, and the thousands of other people with similar search strings using those words, will no longer see the ad. This will prevent unnecessary costs.

The Process

We determine suitable negative keywords in 2 ways.

The Google Keyword Tool

The first is essentially an extension of how we conduct the main keyword research. For this we use the Google Keyword Tool (GKT) and start searching with broad category terms for the products you have (so things like "football boots", "buy football boots", etc) within the global region and language you wish to target.


This will produce a long list of keyword suggestions that Google thinks are related to the term you used and, depending on the keyword you entered, may contain several hundred results. We take this list and then analyse each suggestion for keywords that appear relevant to our products and ones that don't. The ones that don't are what form the basis of the negative keyword list.

Typically these tend to be keyphrases that contain your desired keyword as part of the them but also contain an additional word that renders it irrelevant.

So for example, the GKT suggested "umbro football boots" as a keyword for "football boots" because there is search history for that term. Umbro has little to do with our QueryClick football boots though and as the searchers specifically want to find Umbro boots we don't want anyone searching with that term to see or click on our ads. Thus "Umbro" goes on the list.

Using the 'Download' button we can make it easy to mark-up the list in Excel as we go along.

The AdWords Search Term Report Tool

While the GKT gives you keywords in relation to a word you input, the search term report tool shows you what people have searched with before clicking your ads.

Search Term Report Tool

To find this tool, in the AdWords account, click on the "Keywords" tab in the middle of the page, then the "Keywords Details" button below that followed by the "All" option.

This lets us know if there's anyone that's been viewing your ads using keywords with low intent to use the services you provide. Like the GKT method, we derive this by looking at the terms they used and more often than not there's one that gives a clear indication of the users intent.

The key way to think when conducting keyword research (both positive and negative) is to put yourself in the searcher's position with the intention of visiting many websites to get what you want. Imagine searching with the terms you find and then think about how likely it is, after visiting your landing page, that that you'll either click on the enquire button or bounce away to another site.

Resulting Benefit

The Quality Score (QS) of a keyword is an estimate of how relevant Google thinks your advert placement will be to users searching on this term. One major factor considered when Google evaluates the relevance is Click-Through Rate (CTR).

So, the higher the Click-Through Rate is, the more likely your keyword will have a higher QS.

Negative keywords help improve the QS of relevant keywords by cutting down on wasted impressions which result in poor CTRs i.e. showing to users who wouldn't find the advert useful, hence not clicking.

Further to this, users may click-through an advert even if the website cannot provide what they are looking for (as it may not be conveyed in the advert copy). This leads to wasted budget and negatively affects the campaign return-on-investment (ROI).

Implementing Negative Keywords is clearly an important step in any account as, when appropriately applied, they will help improve its performance. By conducting this research on a regular basis you will ensure that your account remains consistently relevant to your customers.

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