What Are Negative Keywords and How Do You Use Them?


Successful online marketing campaigns should strive to create clear and specific lists of keywords, both for SEM and SEO functions.

SEM interfaces, such as Google’s AdWords, allow you to determine the most relevant and non-relevant keywords.  Non-relevant keywords are known as “negative keywords,” or the search terms on which you don’t want your ads to show up. For example, when promoting a fine dining restaurant, a major keyword would be “food.” If the user is in the market for a quick meal and decides to search for “fast food” you would not want your ad to appear.  The negative keyword in this case would be “fast food.”



The main benefits of negative keywords are the following:

  1. Efficient – a negative keyword friendly SEM campaign leads to a more specific target market, and, hence a more efficient use of ad placement and spend.
  2. Less expensive – When ad placements become more specific and, although possibly appearing less, they are more efficient in providing qualified customers.
  3. Higher ROI – With more specific ad copy, click-through-rate and conversion rates should increase, ultimately relating to a more efficient and profitable SEM endeavor.

There are several tools and methods to hone negative keywords. Below are some ways to get started:

  • When dealing with Google accounts, the best place to start is by downloading a Search Query Report.  It will show the terms to which your ad showed up. If relevant, perfect. If not, research further into the term and think about adding it as a negative keyword.
  • Default negative keyword lists are also available online and, although general, they provide additional ideas to consider, as well as a general sense of terms that might be influencing your ad placements.
  • Keyword research tools such as Google AdWords or even Google Suggest can be helpful. Negative keyword research tools such as WordStream are also available.

A negative keyword might apply to only one keyword, another to a whole campaign or ad group. It is essential to manage and revise these lists regularly to make sure you’re showing up for what makes the most sense for your account and avoiding those search terms that aren’t relevant.


Written by Rafael Grados, 451 Marketing SEO / SEM intern, undergraduate business management student at Boston University graduating spring 2014.