PPC account managers know that a granular account structure is necessary to build successful campaigns: we want search queries to funnel to the most specific ad group possible so that we can serve specific and targeted ad copy to the searcher. But making sure that your carefully selected ad groups are receiving the correct traffic can be a constant struggle.

Negative keywords are one of the most powerful tools to funnel search queries into the most specific ad groups. Although selecting negative keywords and match types that filter out unwanted traffic without blocking valuable queries from your account can seem like a challenge, this process can be simplified by using negative broad match, which is effective at filtering traffic into correct ad groups the majority of the time.

First, it’s important to note that negative keywords work in slightly different ways in Google and Bing. This post focuses solely on Google. Next, there are a couple of ways that negative keywords work slightly differently than targeted keywords:

  1. Negative keyword targeting doesn’t include close variants – you need to include plural/singular and any common misspellings to block that traffic.
  2. Negative broad is not just the inverse of positive broad keyword targeting – Google does not include interpretations of that negative to filter out additional traffic. Instead, negative broad works like targeted *modified* broad match. All words in a negative broad keyword must be present in a search (again, exactly as spelled in the negative keyword) in order for the search to be blocked.


The different negative match types and the degree to which they block traffic are illustrated below:

Google AdWords negative keyword match types

I was recently working on an account that sold a variety of health cleanses, including an herbal tea juice cleanse. I had two ad groups that were receiving traffic for the same search terms:

The problem is that searches for herbal tea juice cleanse were matching to the Juice Cleanse ad group. Searchers then saw a general juice cleanse ad, instead of our specific herbal tea juice cleanse ad copy. As one would expect, these queries drove a lower CTR, causing us to lose clicks and quality score.


Your first inclination might be to exclude the herbal tea juice cleanse traffic by adding “herbal,” “tea,” or “herbal tea” as phrase match negatives. But this is not a reliable way ensure that all traffic directs to the best possible ad group. Let’s break down the two ad groups:


In this example, we see that several herbal tea juice cleanse queries could still funnel into the Juice Cleanse ad group, where searchers will see general juice cleanse ad copy. So perhaps we should try adding just “herbal” in negative phrase match?



This creates a new problem: by adding herbal as a phrase-match negative, relevant searches for herbal juice cleanse will be excluded from the account entirely, ultimately losing us conversions and revenue.

A seemingly logical alternative to negative phrase match is negative exact match. Negative exact match guarantees that you won’t inadvertently exclude valuable queries, but it is also impossible to predict every single search query that could possibly match to your keywords. Let’s see what happens if I add the negative [herbal tea juice cleanse] in exact match to the Juice Cleanse ad group:

Once again we see that long-tail queries could direct into the less specific Juice Cleanse ad group, ultimately impacting our CTRs. It’s impossible to predict every single search query that could possibly match to your keywords, so exact match can never exclude all queries that should direct to more granular ad groups.


How can we make sure that search queries are directing to the most specific ad group possible without also excluding valuable traffic? Let’s see what happens when we exclude herbal tea juice cleanse from Juice Cleanse using negative broad match:


In this case we have near absolute certainty that queries with herbal tea juice cleanse will match to the appropriate ad group. All related traffic that does not contain those four words will continue to flow into the Juice Cleanse ad group. We can use the search query report for Juice Cleanse to build out more granular ad groups based on converting and high volume queries.

One note for those paying close attention: we could also use the negative broad match keyword ‘tea’ to send all queries containing tea to the Herbal Tea Juice Cleanse ad group.  That’s a good reminder that you can often use certain, short broad match negatives to shift a larger volume of traffic, but be careful when you do so.


Ultimately, negative keywords allow us to exercise control over the queries that our keywords match to, giving us a greater degree of certainty that we are matching to appropriate queries. I now use negative broad match as the default negative match type with confidence that I’m directing long-tail traffic to the most relevant ad groups. After all, a granular account structure is only effective if we’re matching to the proper queries.