Negatives are keywords that enable advertisers to prevent ads from appearing when specific terms are a part of a user’s search query. They help keep ads from being shown on non-relevant queries. This results in an improving performance and subsequently in increasing returns on investment. The specific effects are:

  • Decrease of unwanted impressions increases CTR without raising clicks
  • Direction of traffic to better ads increases CTR, clicks, and conversions

Negative match types

This match type is the opposite of exact match type. At this level, only queries that are absolutely identical to your negatives are considered.

Example Negative: [red shoes]
Will match to: red shoes
Will not match to: anything else

This match type is very common, and excludes your ads from queries that contain the negative phrase keyword in your specified order, with any pre- or suffixes, but with no other characters in between. It is the opposite of phrase match type.

Example Negative: “red shoes”
Will match to: buy red shoes, red shoes store, red shoes on sale, …
Will not match to: red leather shoes, shoes red, red sandals, …

Broad negatives behave differently from their positive counterparts. Broad negatives block traffic only if all words of the negative appear in the search term. The order of the words does not matter, but broad negatives do not expand to close variations, synonyms, singular or plural, or other variations of the search queries as in the case of modified broad match keywords.

The figure shows how the same keyword operates under different match types in practice.

Negatives in the Account Structure

An account mainly consists of three main levels:

  • Account level
  • Campaign level
  • Ad group level

Negatives can be implemented on each of these levels. Account Negatives are set in the so-called Shared Library and are applied to all campaigns. Campaign Negatives are set to a specific campaign and apply to every ad group belonging to that campaign. They are used for keywords we want to prevent from getting triggered anywhere in this campaign. Ad Group Negatives are assigned to a single ad group and thus prevent all ads within the chosen ad group to show for the negative keyword.

Types of Negatives

There are two main types of negatives. Firstly, blocking negatives isolate certain or all campaigns from keywords associated with undesired topics. These are global negatives and standard negatives.  Secondly, there are structural negatives that redirect traffic to the most relevant keyword. Different types include “Inline negatives”, “Match Type negatives”, and “Punk negatives”.

Blocking Negatives
Global negatives are account negatives and are mostly managed by Google. They prevent the search-engine from delivering your ads alongside any abusive or offensive content, such as pornography, weapons, prostitution, or illicit substances. However, an account holder may also set global negatives by setting a campaign negative to all campaigns simultaneously. Examples of such negatives include: “free”, “information”, “download”, “tutorial”, or “priceless”.
Similar to global negatives, standard negatives should block certain keywords from triggering ads. Nonetheless, standard negatives are applied only on campaign level and its corresponding ad groups.

Advertisers of the clothing brand “Puma” would implement “wild cats” and “zoo” as standard negatives for their campaigns to be “protected” from irrelevant traffic.

Structural Negatives:
The same search term can theoretically trigger keywords of different match types. Even if an exact or phrase keyword is booked, Google might allocate the traffic to the more expensive, registered broad keywords. To prevent that from happening, certain Match Type negatives can be set to the broad or to the phrase keywords on the ad group level.

An advertiser books the following ad groups:

  • [Cat|Color]{exact}: green shoes       (keyword: [green shoes])
  • [Cat|Color]{broad}: green shoes      (keyword: green shoes)

Now, if a customer searches for green shoes, the more expensive broad ad might be triggered although a more relevant exact ad is registered. Therefore, the advertiser should insert the match type negative –[green shoes] to the broad ad group, to reallocate the traffic to the exact keyword.

If the negative was a broad negative, some impressions would be lost. Whenever a user searches for “shoes green”, the exact keyword will not be triggered, but the negative would prevent the broad one from being triggered. The negative implemented in the broad ad group must have the same match type as the keyword, which is to be triggered.

Sometimes keywords are so similar that one contains a single additional term compared to another keyword. The definition of inline negatives implies the extension does not belong to a different semantic group (otherwise refer to punk negatives). In this case, the shorter keyword might be triggered, although a longer and thus more relevant keyword is available. To overcome this threat, advertisers should add the longer keyword as a negative to the shorter one. Such a negative is called an inline negative.

An advertiser books the following ad groups:

  • [Cat|Ecom]{phrase}: Shoes Shop (keyword: “shop shoes”)
  • [Cat|Ecom]{phrase}: Shoes Online Shop (“online shop shoes”)

According to these ad groups, the advertiser should add the negative –“online shop shoes” as an inline negative on ad group level to the shorter keyword.

Punk Negatives are similar to inline negatives, with the difference that with the extension also a new semantic group appears. To lead the traffic to the longer, more accurate, and often also cheaper keyword, a punk negative consisting of the extension should be added to the short ad.

An advertiser books the following ad groups:

  • [Cat]{phrase}: shoes (keyword: “shoes”)
  • [Cat|Color]{phrase}: green shoes (keyword: “green shoes”)

According to these ad groups the advertiser should book the extension (in this case “green”) as a punk negative on an ad group level to the shorter ad group.

Finding negatives

There are several practices that one can make use of when trying to generate valuable negatives. The first practice that you can make use of is brainstorming. Moreover, creating a mind map can make it easier to categorize your thoughts. Second, the Google Keyword Planner can support you in the search for negatives. This tool helps you find suggestions for a keyword of your choice. This might give you input when looking for keywords as well as negatives. Third, you can make use of the reports that can be accessed through your Google Ads account. These reports can help you check the performance of all keywords, search terms (user’s queries), ads, ad groups, campaigns, or partly selected elements.


Negatives are not only useful to block ads for search queries that are not relevant for your business. Furthermore, they empower you to direct traffic more specifically than Google allows you to by default. A good negative structure is crucial to maintain high CTR’s and high quality account data.

– Yuliya Chosik, Associate Account Consultant