Online Marketing Blog

7 Tips For Finding & Expanding Your Negative Keywords

With the now fully accepted quality score mechanism implemented in all major PPC platforms (and soon to be MSN too), click through rate (CTR) is even more important now than it ever was. Broad match and advanced matching options allow your products and services to be found for terms you may not even have thought existed but that luxury comes at a price. The phrases you “never knew existed” can also be phrases and search terms you do not want your ads to show for. Having a comprehensive and well built negative keyword list can significantly improve not only your CTR, but your conversion rate too. Here are some of the methods that we use to build our negative keyword lists.

Caveat: Many advertisers think that they do not need to use negative keywords if they are only advertising using exact match keywords. While this may be true to an extent, it is important to still use negative keywords on the content networks. Exact match should also be used in conjunction with phrase and broad match to expand your keywords list.

1. Your Own Data.
Your Own Analytics Data Your own analytics can be an amazing source of negative keywords. Look at not only your PPC data but your organic data too. Print out a monthly keyword report and highlight those negative terms. If you are unsure of any, do a simple search for the keyword and see what results pop up. You might be surprised. Don’t forget to run a search query performance report on your PPC account to make sure your ads are not being triggered by terms you don’t want them to. The guys over at ApolloSEM have a fantastic article on extracting your search query data that Google doesn’t want to give you.

2. Google’s Keyword Tool.
Google Keyword ToolUse the free Google keyword tool. Paste in your keywords and make sure you select the “Use synonyms” checkbox. You may be surprised what keywords show up that Google thinks are related to your product or service. Also, paste your URL into the “Website Content” box to see what the tool thinks what your site/page may be about. Check the “Include other pages on my site…” checkbox to get a more rounded view. Make a list of words you are unsure of.

3. Organic Search Results.
Negative Organic ResultsThis may seem blindingly obvious, but try setting your search results to display 100 results. Search for your main keywords and notice the results that have absolutely nothing to do with your product or service. Visit those sites and take down negative keywords. Run those sites through the Google keyword tool too. Leave nothing to chance. Think about words people would be using to complain about your product or service or show it in a poor light.

4. Adsense And Other Ads.
AdSense and other advertisersDo a search for your keywords. Look at other advertisers PPC ads. Many may be completely unrelated or triggered by one of your stem keywords. There are so many advertisers that allow their ads to be displayed for completely unrelated or downright silly terms. Don’t be one of them. Also, try dropping an adsense unit into your page or site as a test. See what advertisers are displayed. Make sure your keywords are not displayed for keywords relating to their product (unless you have the same product!). Be as anal as you can and don’t forget to run the sites you find through the keyword tool again.

5. Use A Thesaurus.
thesaurusTry running your main keywords through a thesaurus. There is no way you could possibly know every single synonym of your main keywords. A Thesaurus is not only great at expanding your negative keyword list but also your main keyword list. Find variations of your variations. Ask friends and family that have nothing to do with your product or service what words they would use to search for your product and run them through the thesaurus too. If you are advertising in a competitive space, missing a single negative and having your ad displayed for a search that will never convert can be extremely expensive. You might not even find out for weeks if your PPC management company are not monitoring your log files. Don’t find your negatives the hard way.

6. Obvious And Industry Related.
ObviousTry using your own knowledge of your industry and product. What terms are you certain people will be searching for that are either not related to your product or service or that are related and that you don’t provide? Sit down with your co-workers and brainstorm for ten minutes. Again, be thorough and leave nothing to chance. If you do not know your industry (you do know your industry right?) or product well enough, visit the manufacturers website or give them a call. Ask your customers if you need to. What words are similar or spelled similar to your product or service name? Also be aware that new products are being released every day. Set up a Google alert for your keywords.

7. Anti Tire-kicker, Penny-pincher & Freeloader Terms.
Anti PiracyThere are many terms that you will want to add to all of your campaigns to prevent your ads being shown for searchers at the beginning of the buying cycle, who are looking for the cheapest option or for searchers who are outright trying to steal your product or service. While your business may be competing on price, I think it would be safe to say that you do not want your ad being shown for searchers looking to rip you off or complain! Solomon Rothman has a great list of keywords that can start you off. Remember to use common sense when generating your negatives. If you offer a free trial or a free product, do not blindly use the negative keyword “free”. Use what applies to your business. Some of the negatives Solomon offers are:

Problem Negative Keywords

problem, problems, warranty, returns, parts, complaints, complaint, sucks, suck, hate, protest, indictment, illegal

And of course some freeloader related ones negatives to get you started too:

Technical Negative Keywords
warez, crack, serial, serials, cracks, rss, xml, hack, hacks

So there you have it. Seven simple ways to build a super negative keyword list to increase your CTR, improve your quality score, increase your conversion rate and give you a higher return on your ad spend. This is by no means an exhaustive list on how to create a negative keyword list but it’s a good start. Feel free to share your own negative keyword generation tips in the comments below.

  1. Peter Says:
    January 14th, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Nice article as usual :)

    I have a question little off topic :) what kind of software do you use to make such nice screenshots? :)


  2. Dave Davis Says:
    January 14th, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks Peter for your kind words. Regarding the screenshots, they were done with PrtSc and Paint. :)

  3. jameszol Says:
    January 14th, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Dave, Thanks for the mention! -James

  4. NewSkill21 Says:
    January 14th, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    Great article. I really like the “Use Thesaurus” part. I’ve never heard of that, but now that I think of it, It’s obvious!

    P.S. You might want to make the font of this article a little larger, it’s a little hard to read.

  5. Greg Moore Says:
    January 14th, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Our products are not free, so it’s tempting to use “free” as a negative keyword. Who wants to pay for clicks for visitors who are looking for free stuff?

    Not me, until I looked at Google Analytics. Organic searches with “free” in them were converting well. Paid too.

    Maybe people start by looking for something free, but if they have no luck they end up paying for what they want. Who knows?

    I don’t really know what color the button should be, or what negative keywords to use. I don’t have the slightest idea.

    Those PPC accounts with no negative keywords are a wonderful treasure trove of data. The list of paid keywords in Google Analytics, with conversion rates for each — there’s my list of negative keywords.

  6. Scott Clark Says:
    January 14th, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    It’s my opinion that when Google took the “possible negatives” feature away from the keyword research tool, pay-per-click marketing took a step backwards. Google, in the meantime, just looked damn greedy.

    Thanks for the tips – they’re all in my arsenal already, and hopefully others will take advantage of this as well.

  7. Diana Adams Says:
    January 14th, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Nice simple list, thanks for the tips.

  8. David Anderson Says:
    January 17th, 2008 at 2:48 am

    Thanks for sharing those tips on how to build negative keyword lists. I learned something new today.

  9. Shifty Says:
    January 17th, 2008 at 4:44 am

    Hey there
    Your web site is getting better and better and I think you have freal scope to be the best adwords blog out there by far. Your stuff is really great.

    Having spent over 100 million bucks on adwords, your article really got me thinking and I am glad that you have taken the time to help others. What goes around comes around!

    Interestingly we have a -ve meeting last night and death came up as a kw….don’t ask me why but people seem to time it in with product searches….funny old world isn’t it!

  10. Elizabeth Says:
    January 17th, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    A lot of common sense compiled into a nice tidy list. Thanks!

  11. Dave Davis Says:
    January 27th, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    @NewSkill21: Thanks for that. There is a new design in progress that will address that issue. Sometimes fresh eyes are needed. Thanks!

    @Greg Moore: I couldn’t agree more. Obviously testing is required but free is a VERY powerful word and can be used to sell (quite effectively) high margin products if done right.

    @Scott Clark: You’re dead right. When you think about it though, Google ARE making more money as a result. :( It just means that PPC management requires more effort and more experience. Good for us right?

    @Diana Adams: Thank you and thanks for your visit. I have been a subscriber to your blog for quite a while.

    @Shifty: Thank you but flattery doesn’t work on the Irish :) Are you Shifty from SP? The articles come directly from reading forums and help groups where I got VERY sick of seeing bad and downright incorrect advice being dished out. RE: -death, good point. I am very surprised at how searchers refine results sometimes!

    @Elizabeth: Thanks a lot. On the way to being GAAC too!

  12. Dave Brown Says:
    February 18th, 2008 at 3:31 am

    The thesaurus and the paid and organic search results are great ideas that I have not yet thought of. Thanks for the tip. This should save myself and my clients some cash.

  13. Craig McPherson Says:
    March 7th, 2008 at 1:47 am

    Great article mate. The resources you listed are a bonus. I especially love the link to ApolloSEM. I will blast a broadcast out to my list to pop over.
    Thanks for taking the time.

  14. Chris Peters Says:
    March 21st, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    These tips are great for short-term campaigns that you need to post quickly. Short term campaigns may not run long enough to warrant the investment that exact match keyword research requires.

    I think that long-term “evergreen” AdWords campaigns should be run as exact matches only. Even with a wide plethora of negative keywords, you end up wasting a ton of money on clicks. Because of Google’s decision to not report to you which searches you’re appearing on, any kind of exact match opportunities you find are a much wiser investment of your time.

  15. Kartenlegen Says:
    April 21st, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    nice tips lets see how it is

  16. Goran Web Says:
    April 26th, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    Hi Dave

    This is my first time on your website. I would like to start by complementing you on your brilliant brand, I think it is one of the best I have seen on the web. Your logo is amazing and the use of space and colours is equally good.

    This article has some interesting facts to follow. I like the part about using the thesaurus.

    By the way the link to is not working above.

  17. Ken - Web Designer Says:
    May 1st, 2008 at 9:44 am

    Hi, I’m web designer and I just want to tell you how great your blog is, there’s some very inspirational stuff here. I’m certainly going to bookmark it now and will come back when I get one of those creative blocks.

  18. Pama Says:
    May 10th, 2008 at 5:31 am

    Brilliant post and really the creator of this post has thought out of the box and come up with unusual and extraordinary ideas and the 7 tips for negative keywords really can be a boon if executed properly.Thanqs.

  19. Internet Marketing Leeds Says:
    May 20th, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    This is great reference post. Appreciate you sharing the info.

  20. Mineral Rights Says:
    May 22nd, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    The very 1st method is the simplest and has the biggest impact. As these are keywords that we’ve already had drive traffic to our website. The other are great as well, but can become time consuming and extremely pre-cautious for most PPC managers. Nonetheless, thanks for the article. These are great methods on finding more negative keywords.

  21. bayrakci Says:
    May 25th, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    most usefull tips. i try it. Thanks

  22. Hem Says:
    June 3rd, 2008 at 6:22 am

    Thanks for your valuable tips. I read your post carefully. It is very interesting.

  23. VestRite Says:
    July 8th, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Wow. I never thought of adding in freeloader words! Thanks a bunch! I’m pretty bad at keyword research sometimes and just need a kick in the right direction.


    -Devin T

  24. Ajith Edassery Says:
    August 2nd, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Excellent post. In fact, I have the habit of using a lot of negative (in fact double negative usages) words in my post titles etc. Should be careful now :)


  25. mercedes benz Says:
    August 2nd, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Interesting article. I always that that it was a good thing that […Broad match and advanced matching options allow your products and services to be found for terms you may not even have thought existed…] I understand that this may cost me a lot of money. Thanks.

  26. Mark Webb Says:
    September 9th, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. These are certainly great methods on finding negative keywords. Particularly, I like the part about the thesaurus.

  27. Jason Smith Says:
    September 14th, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    thesaurus is new to me. Digesting…

  28. Earn Money Wizard Says:
    September 15th, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Nice article. However, I haven’t realized a big difference between ads where I have and havne’t used negative keywords. Perhaps I’d just chosen the wrong ones…

  29. MovieBlip Trivia Says:
    November 4th, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    Great tips Dave, we will be testing these out with our new campaigns

  30. Demtron Web Design Says:
    November 11th, 2008 at 2:39 am

    Great article. I have found that AdWords as a great tool for negative keywords research. This is an often overlooked topic that, if considered, can same a marketer time and money.

  31. Martin Johnson Says:
    November 21st, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    We have a huge list of negative keywords for our timesheet software advertising. Works for us!

  32. Bill Says:
    December 23rd, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks for the great tip, we have many clients that have huge negative keyword files and this are some great tips on how to manage them. Thanks again.

  33. curt Says:
    January 18th, 2009 at 11:17 am


    I have heard about keywords but i never find the article about negative keywords but it looks very intresting to know about negative keywords!The seven tips are really good to find negative keywords!
    I hope that these tips will be usefull to improve my blog!

    thank you!

  34. Elise Says:
    January 18th, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    I’m pleased to have found this blog. You’re giving many valuable tips and resources away that will help anyone managing PPC campaigns improve their results.

    Your reminder to “look within” i.e. analyze Google Analytics data for expanding keyword lists is most helpful – and as you say, one aspect that many of us have overlooked.



  35. Paul Sheppard Says:
    May 17th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Very useful as a web designer doing work for all kinds of clients its hard sometimes to come up with negatives when we do not know a great deal about their industry.

    It is always worth having a meeting with the client though to iron out any ones that they may actually want.

    Good article though!

  36. Megha Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    I never thought of using Thesaurus, but surely it makes sense to build the keywords as well as negative keyword list.
    Thanks for the tips Dave!

    Tino Reply:October 10, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    yea, I never used online thesaurus either for keywords improvement, and I’m using it all the time when writing posts…
    thanks for good tip