AdWords Negativity Grows to Lists

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Negative keyword lists was launched just over a week ago and likely not noticed by many AdWords users was an improved platform for controlling and refining campaigns by using large lists of negative keywords. The main benefit is that agencies, franchises or consultants can now develop reusable core lists of negative keywords that might be specific to their industry, type of client or geographic location in the world.

It is even possible to have a standard set of keywords that you include due to their very low conversion rates in previous campaigns or know to generate extremely high search volume and associate that list with multiple client campaigns. The next step might be that Google brings back the ability to easily generate negative keyword lists and export straight to your AdWords account ready to be applied to your campaigns.

What is the impact of not using large lists of negative keywords?

One of the largest domain registrars in Australia did not use negative keywords for a long period of time as it was visible they had been bidding on the keyword “parking” with a mind to capture “domain parking” traffic but failed to miss the far higher negative keyword for geographic search queries like “brisbane parking” and “airport parking” which would have certainly taken some of the budget away from their domain parking campaign. It’s would not have been hard for the client/consultant running their campaign to run a quick report to see what search terms where driving very high impressions or very low conversion rates and be added to a list of negative keywords.

What types of negative keyword lists should I create?

There is no set list of what negative keywords you should have on your list but here are some of the types I have identified based on some of my past AdWords campaigns grouped into some possible lists categories. There are possibly hundreds if not thousands that you might discover in each of these categories but this improves your campaign ROI as it reduces wasted clicks but improves the traffic numbers around true campaign impressions.

  • Geographic – street, suburbs, cities, countries, states, regions
  • Alternative meanings – industry acronyms, abbreviations, initialisms
  • Business type – delivery, postal, affiliate program, out of hours, inhouse,
  • Competitors – regional, interstate, international, online, offline
  • Actions – print, download, save, share, follow, username, settings, reset, password
  • Non-commercial – complain, complaints, contact, email, head office, foundation, help desk, forum
  • Offline – directions, store locations, store hours, store details,
  • Employment – jobs, internships, employment, working, hr contacts, application process, apply online
  • Educational – student, assignments, research, describe an example, meaning of,
  • Informational – free, trial, test, download, clipart, how to, photographs, pictures, symbols, examples, commonly, common, chart, diagrams
  • Commercially sensitive – trademarks, suppliers, licensing, informal agreements, patents
  • Company related – abn, pty ltd, plc, company registration, tax details, owners, investors, board members

It is important to note that the above list is not extensive but I encourage you to expand you list of negative keywords from the 10-20 you currently might use to expand via negative keyword lists to thousands. You can use a number of keyword generators to give you ideas for negative keywords but often your existing AdWords search data is the best place to start and expand from there as I guarantee there is garbage hiding in there that you are bidding on and even wasting money paying for non-relevant visitors.

Examples of why to use Negative Keywords

If you use the AdWords platform to define a geographic area such as Brisbane where we have a local meetup group and we know that we only usually get members attending who live in the Brisbane area. If we are already running a campaign we could see that often the AdWords targeting is not as accurate as it needs to be. There are a few reasons such as your ISP maybe not providing accurate information on it’s users locations, your Google search personalisation might be set to a different location, or the controllable factor we are able to control is they might be using a geographic search term such as “Gold Coast SEO Meetups”.

So if we we were to consider buying AdWords traffic to increase the members of the local Brisbane SEO meetup group you might be using some of the following keywords with a geographic target set to 20Kms around Brisbane.

  • meetup
  • seo meetup
  • seo groups
  • industry meetups
  • search group meetings

The interesting part is that a majority of those terms don’t include a geographic keyword as part of the phrase but that is because we know the estimated AdWords search traffic drops to almost zero if we add “Brisbane” to every phrase listed above. The only phrase that shows a tiny amount of traffic is “brisbane meetup” but that is likely too generic and will result in no new members signing up and we don’t really want to have to restrict the audience to just those including the keyword “Brisbane”, but it is possible that we can expand the targeting to feature everyone surrounding suburb.

In the past I have started the process by manually viewing all the surrounding cities such as Redcliffe, Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast on Google Maps and add these as negative keywords as they are beyond the 20kms people are willing to travel but there is a smarter option. There are a number of free online platforms that allow you to set a postcode for Kangaroo Point as 4169 and then set a radius of 20kms and you will then see all the relevant suburbs we can add to our campaign, but we can also pick a much larger radius of 100kms and cross match the data in excel to get our list of negative keywords outside the 20km range.

The upside is that you know have an accurate list of Brisbane suburbs for any AdWords campaigns that are interested in targeting that similar 20kms region but also you can expand or reduce that radius and you already have an existing list of negative suburbs/cities you have already captured which saves time.

How do negative keywords impact Google Display Network campaigns?

Using negative keywords as powerful when displayed via AdSense placements as they are in search as they are used as a guide by Google in deciding if your keyword might be displayed on what it’s algorithm feels is a relevant page of content. The best practice method is to use site exclusion or category exclusion to limit your ads being displayed on sites that either don’t generate quality visitors or spread your budget too thin, but don’t rule out the impact of negative keywords just don’t rely on them exclusively.

Who might benefit from Negative Keyword lists?

It is now possible for affiliate marketing programs to now include a simple link to a downloadable text file for any affiliates wanting to run AdWords campaigns to drive traffic. Because of the nature of the changing policies of an advertiser to adjust the negative keyword lists to ensure affiliates follow their guidelines and no reason for infringing of their SEM bidding policies should be infringed upon because they have more control of the keyword sets and affiliates can more easily stay upto date.

Another large market for negative keyword lists is for franchise chains that often have policies and gentleman’s agreements not to actively bid on competitors branded traffic as it usually results in a much higher CPC due to low quality score but also starts an aggressive bidding war driving up both businesses AdWords costs. The final market for negative keyword lists is for large agencies or consultants who specialist in AdWords campaigns as they can progressively develop and refine their known list of under performers and include these to quickly get improved results for clients campaigns.

Go out and build and share negative keyword lists!

So it’s a welcome feature update from Google and the next step might be working with other agencies to start to build a constantly growing set database of industry/vertical specific keywords that are known to be non-performers or those that often sneak under the radar and ruin your campaign ROI. Remember that the more accounts use negative keywords correctly the more relevant the Google search results will be to those users looking to get instant gratification from AdWords and the more people will trust AdWords.

David Iwanow

David Iwanow

Director of Strategy at BlueGlass
David has joined BlueGlass London as Director of Strategy having spent the last 3 years in Amsterdam, Netherlands working with the ebay classifieds group as... Read Full Bio
David Iwanow
David Iwanow
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  • CYZ

    I actually just did this excercise for a client the other day. They had wasted over $10,000 on keywords that were not relevant. It made my job a lot easier though

    • David Iwanow

      Yes that’s the biggest thing so many campaigns never really took the negative keyword element as something important… they focus on quality score moving from a 5 to a 6 but will burn $10k that didn’t need to be spent

  • Mike Taylor

    i dont see really how this change makes much difference – we have always been able to add campaign negative keywords and its just as quick to do this in editor as it is to manage a list in adwords…

    • David Iwanow

      But the problem is being able to keep track of those lists and even sharing between other clients/agencies is now possible… think along the lines of crowd sourcing a perfect negative keyword list.

      I’ve seen that many people don’t have the time and patience to create decent negative keyword lists who knows you might see the lists being sold on elance or ebay.

      It gets a bit more structure to the process

  • David Iwanow


    Thanks for the feedback, also appreciated the links to some great resources for some more advanced ways to build those lists using excel. That is also that is a nice video walk thru you have on search query mining using excel on the first link.


  • Anonymous

    These lists, and even share with other clients / agencies can now … that along the lines of public supply a list of perfect negative keywords.

    Motorcycle Parts

  • smith greal

    As the Google AdWords needed to get rid of poor quality search advertisers, they introduced a concept which is known as a quality score on order for AdWords Marketing.

  • Shop4CarHire

    This is a great feature from Google. I’m a big user of modified broad match keywords to find new keywords however these have to be combined with negative keywords to control costs. Prior to this new feature I’ve accumulated negative keyword lists on excel however this is so much easier. I’m not sure we’ll see agencies sharing negative keyword lists ?

  • Jen

    Hi, I wanted to ask a question about impact in earnings/displaying Adsense ads by using a Adwords Negative keyword in a domain name . For example if my domain is and I wrote a iPhone review, will the iphone advertiser’s Adwords ad run on my site or not? (assuming he has entered “free” as a negative keyword in his adwords campaign)