What is a Negative Keyword in Google AdWords?

When an advertiser doesn’t want to trigger an ad for a word/phrase, the words/phrases are called negative keywords.

For instance, Mr. Shawn is running a search campaign for beer mugs using beer mug as the keyword. He offers mugs that are made of plastic, they can also be customized, but they are not free. Mr. Shawn makes a list of negative keywords which includes free beer mugs. This list of negative keywords is to make sure that an ad isn’t triggered for search queries that are deemed irrelevant for Mr. Shawn’s business.

Learn more about finding the right Negative Keywords for your business.


Match types in Negative Keywords:

Match types are available for negative keywords too like for keywords. 3 match types are applicable for negative keywords.

  1. Exact match
  2. Phrase match
  3. Broad match
Exact :

Mr. Shawn first sets [free beer mugs] under exact match. A search query saying free beer mugs didn’t trigger any ad. But free beer mug, free beer mugs made of plastic etc did trigger an ad.

This is because only when a search query is same as the negative keyword defined by the advertiser, ads won’t be triggered by exact match. Enclose a negative keyword in square brackets to set it under exact match like [free beer mugs].

negative keywords under exact match in AdWords
negative keyword Free beer mugs under exact match
Phrase :

Mr. Shawn then chooses to set “free beer mugs” under phrase match. Search queries like free beer mugs of plastic or best free beer mugs in Laketown didn’t trigger an ad. But queries like free mugs of beer and large beer mugs for free triggered ads.

When a negative keyword is set under phrase match, it will refrain from triggering an ad only when the search query has words in same order as in the negative keyword. Enclosing the negative keyword in quotes like “free beer mugs” will invoke phrase match.

negative keywords  under phrase match in AdWords
negative keyword Free beer mugs under phrase match
Broad :

Not satisfied with filtering exact or phrase match types offered, Mr. Shawn sets the negative keyword free beer mugs under a broad match as none of his products he is offering are free. All search query that included free beer mugs in any order didn’t trigger his ads.

Broad match is the default match for a negative word in Google AdWords. No ad would be shown for search queries with the advertiser defined keyword when a negative keyword is set under broad match,

Negative Keywords under broad match in AdWords
Free beer mugs under broad match

People looking for free mugs will leave the website when they find out that none of the products are free. These clicks would have added up to the overall cost of the search campaign Mr. Shawn was running. Thus setting up negative keywords enabled Mr. Shawn to reach the right audience.


Did you know that long tail keywords can lead to better conversions?

Inference :

After testing the campaign Mr. Shawn observed that a search query free beer mug was still triggering an ad. To curb this, he makes an interesting adjustment. He sets free as a negative keyword under broad match instead of free beer mugs for this campaign. He explains that this is a better strategy because he doesn’t have to worry about variations of negative keywords anymore and as none of his products are free, free under the broad match would refrain any search query including free from triggering his ad.


Google considers variations of regular keywords, but for negative words, it isn’t the same.
To restrict the ads both mug and mugs have to be different negative keywords.
Whereas a search query mugs would have triggered an ad too if mug was a regular keyword.

Learn more about finding the right keywords for your business in this Keyword Research Guide.


About the author

Mantha Sai Praveen

Content marketer by day, a poet by night.

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