Negative Keyword Match Types

If you want to stretch your ad budget further on Google, pay close attention to negative keywords. They're an effective tool for preventing your ads from showing for irrelevant searches, cutting costs, and boosting results. You can set negative keywords at the account level, campaign level, or the ad group level.

But here's the thing - many businesses set up their negative keywords incorrectly, and yours might be one of them!

One of the main issues I see: Not understanding negative keyword match types. Don't worry; by the end of this article, you'll have a much better ideas to what is going on!

UPDATE: June 26, 2024: Google just announced, "Negative keywords now block misspellings* No more having to add all those misspellings to your negative keywords anymore either! Just add the correct spelling in your negative keywords and it will block all misspellings now, too. (Feel free to remove misspellings in your existing negatives to help streamline things in your account.)"

Negative Keywords Basicsnegative match type example for basketball sneaker keyword phrase

Negative keywords allow you to exclude certain search terms from triggering your ads. Think of them as playing defense, shielding you from appearing for searches that aren't relevant to your business.

Just like regular keywords, negative keywords have different match type options that determine how precisely Google filters out searches. There are three main types:

Negative Broad Match

  • The broadest option, represented by adding a minus sign before the keyword without any special characters before or after the keyword phrase (e.g., -basketball sneakers)
  • Blocks your ad from showing if the search contains all the negative keyword terms, regardless of order

Negative Phrase Match

  • Indicated by quotation marks around the keyword (e.g., -"basketball sneakers")
  • Prevents your ad from displaying if the search includes the exact phrase, even with additional words before or after the phrase

Negative Exact Match

  • Denoted by brackets around the keyword phrase(e.g., -[basketball sneakers])
  • The strictest option, blocking your ad only for searches with that precise phrase

What's an Example of Negative Keyword Match Types?

Say you sell custom basketball apparel and want to avoid showing ads for general sneaker searches. You could add "basketball sneakers" as a:

  • Negative broad match keyword: Blocks ads for any search containing "basketball" and "sneakers" (e.g., blue basketball sneakers, sneakers for basketball)

negative broad match

  • Negative phrase match: Blocks only searches with that exact phrase, like "basketball sneakers for sale"

negative phrase match

  • Negative exact match: Blocks the search term "basketball sneakers" and nothing else

negative exact match

The more restrictive options give you increased control but require adding more negative keywords to cover variations adequately. 

Other Things to Know

  • Periods (.) are ignored in negative keywords, so Third Ave. and Third Ave are treated the same.
  • Pluses (+) are usually ignored, except when at the end of a word (e.g., Google uses the example of C++ in their help documentation).
  • Search operators like "OR" are ignored in negative keywords.
  • Negative keywords don't match close variants.
  • Ads may show if the negative keyword appears after the 16th word in a search query (that is a lot of words!).

Now that you understand negative keyword match types, you can be strategic about which option serves your goals. Use broader matches for wider-ranging exclusions or more precise matches (negative phrase and negative exact) for surgical ad targeting. 

Remember, a well-crafted negative keyword list is extremely important for reducing wasted ad spend and improving your ROI!

Quick Summary

When to Use Each Type

  • Use Negative Broad Match to block the most search terms possible.

  • Use Negative Phrase Match to be moderately restrictive.

  • Use Negative Exact Match to remove a specific search query exactly.

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