How to Use Negative Keywords to Optimize Your PPC Campaigns (In 3 Steps)

When creating Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising campaigns, some businesses make the mistake of only focusing on keywords they want to rank for. However, there’s no use in having your ads show up in irrelevant searches.

This is why it’s also important to consider the keywords you don’t want to rank for, also known as ‘negative keywords'. Incorporating them into your PPC campaigns can help increase conversions, drive traffic to your site, and make the most of your marketing budget.

In this post, we’ll explain what negative keywords are and how they're used in PPC advertising. Then, we’ll provide some advice on how to find and use them to optimize your ad campaigns. Let’s get started!

An Introduction to Negative Keywords

PPC advertising is an effective marketing tool, especially for affiliate marketers. It enables you to control your target audience, and you only pay when a user interacts with your ad. However, the goal isn't just to increase clicks. It's also to turn them into conversions. Using negative keywords can help with this.

Negative keywords are search terms that are irrelevant to your brand. Incorporating them into your PPC campaigns helps improve the quality of searches and clicks by filtering out the queries that don't pertain to your business.

Similarly to how you bid on certain keywords in Google Ads (previously Google AdWords), you can also input negative keywords. This informs search engines which terms you don't want your ad to rank for.

For example, let's say you own a dine-in-only pizza parlor. By adding ‘delivery' to your negative keyword list, you can prevent your ad from appearing in searches for pizza delivery options.

Overall, negative keywords improve the efficiency of your marketing strategy. They'll help you avoid paying for click-throughs that don't result in sales because the lead was confused. Plus, the clicks you do get have better chances of leading to conversions, because your ad is more likely to be relevant to searchers.

How to Use Negative Keywords to Optimize Your PPC Campaigns (In 3 Steps)

Now that you understand what negative keywords are, you can start incorporating them in your PPC campaigns. Let's take a look at how to do so in three simple steps.

Step 1: Brainstorm a Negative Keyword List

You can start brainstorming a negative keyword list by conducting a Google search for your products and services. Scan the results for ads and listings that contain terms relevant to your campaign, as well as ones that don't.

As a starting point, it's also helpful to reference universal negative keywords lists. There are a number of extensive references available, such as the one offered by WebMechanix:

WebMechanix list of universal negative keywords.

Another method is to check your Search Query Report in your Google Ads account. This identifies the search terms currently triggering your ads. To access this report, go to your Ads account and click on Campaigns in the top left corner. Then, navigate to Keywords > Search Terms:

Google AdWords dashboard and menu items.

You can filter and search this data to see which ads have the most impressions and conversions, as well as the highest Click-Through Rates (CTRs). You may want to consider adding terms that aren't converting well to your negative keyword list, so you can focus your budget on more profitable options.

There are also a handful of keyword research tools you can use to help build your list. One of them is Google Keyword Planner, which generates a list of alternative keyword ideas and information such as search volumes. Another platform you can try is KWFinder:

The KWFinder keyword research search bar.

To use this tool, you'll need to create an account. After that, you can find relevant long-tail keywords based on terms you're already targeting. Scanning these lists can help you find potential searches that don't apply to your business to add to your negative keyword list.

Step 2: Add Negative Keywords to Google Ads

Once you have your list of negative keywords, you need to format it for Google Ads. To do that, place each word or phrase in square brackets with a hyphen in front of it. Sticking with our pizza parlor example, the list would look like this:

-[pizza delivery]
-[delivery restaurants]
-[free pizza delivery]
-[delivery near me]

Next, on the dashboard of your Google Ads account, click on the Tools and Settings wrench icon in the top menu bar. Then click on Negative keyword lists under Shared Library:

Google AdWords tools and settings menu options.

Select the blue plus sign (+), which will bring you to a page where you can add your list of negative keywords:

Entry fields to add negative keyword list on Google AdWord campaign.

Make a name for your list and paste your keywords in the relevant field. When you're done, click on Save. It's important to note that you can apply negative keywords to a single campaign or a group:

Google AdWords negative keyword list overview.

Once you assign the negative keywords to a campaign or group, no ads in those categories will appear for search queries that contain those terms.

Step 3: Review and Continue Building Your Negative Keywords List

As with any marketing campaign, it's important to review your PPC ads regularly. Checking in on at least a weekly basis is generally recommended. Using Google Ads reporting, Google Analytics, and affiliate program management tools can help you stay on top of the latest developments in your campaigns.

Managing your negative keyword list should be an ongoing process. To update your negative keywords in Google Ads, simply go to Tools & Settings > Negative keyword lists. Then click on the blue plus sign (+) to add a new negative keyword as we described in Step 2:

Google Ads settings option to add new negative keywords.

If you're monitoring the performance of your ads, you should be able to identify any that aren't producing results. This will enable you to continue building out your negative keyword list and, in turn, create a PPC campaign tailored to your target audience.


Showing up in irrelevant searches can waste your PPC budget on users who aren't interested in converting. To make the most of your ads, it’s beneficial to consider the search terms you don’t want them to rank for.

As we discussed in this article, there are simple steps you can take to find and use negative keywords to optimize your PPC campaigns:

  1. Brainstorm a negative keyword list through research.
  2. Add your negative keywords to Google Ads, and apply them at either the ad group or campaign level.
  3. Continuously review and build out your negative keyword list.

Do you have any questions about using negative keywords? Let us know in the comments section below!