Slash Pay-Per-Click Costs Using Negative Keywords


For anyone who is reasonably new to the world of Pay-Per-Click (PPC), let me share a few words of wisdom — if you don’t have an extensive list of negative keywords, you’re probably paying too much for your traffic.

Suspect you might be one of those advertisers who is feeding the Google piggybank? Well, let’s put a stop to that! In this post, you’ll learn what negative keywords are and how you can generate a starter list of negative keywords in no time at all.

So what are negative keywords? Let’s start with an analogy. When you do pay-per-click advertising, it is like throwing a party. You’ve created a guest list of people who are invited to your party (these are your keywords), but you’ve also hired a bouncer to keep out any undesireables (these are your negative keywords).

Here’s an example. Let’s say I offer French lessons. My keyword list likely has a number of keyword variations that users might type into a search engine, like “French lessons”, “private French lessons”, “French language lessons”, and “French language instruction”.

But what if someone types in “private French Horn lessons”? Or “French language instruction online”? Or “French language lessons on DVD”? Without negative keywords, you will be showing your ads to all these types of bad traffic — inadvertently lowering your quality score and overpaying for your traffic as a result.

Now, you’re probably wondering where you get your negative keywords from? Do you have to pluck them out of thin air by sheer ingenuity? Am I going to ask you to brainstorm negative keywords while sitting in the bathtub, or keep a notebook on your bedside so you can think them up as you’re drifting off to sleep? No, no, no — there’s a much easier way!

Here’s what I want you to do. Just as you probably use a keyword tool to help you develop keyword lists, I’d like you to use a keyword tool to develop negative keyword lists. And if you don’t have fancy tools at your disposal, don’t worry — for our purposes, the free keyword tool in your AdWords account will do just fine!

First, you’re going to type one of your keywords into the keyword tool:

Then, scan the list for “bad traffic” terms:

For each “bad” search query on the list, find the offending word in the phrase and add it to your negative keyword list. (Below is a screenshot of adding a negative keyword in AdWords using AdWords Editor, but this works for whatever search engine or interface you happen to be using.)

Adding Negative Keywords in AdWords Editor

See how it works? It’s not hard at all really and is well worth the effort.

Good luck and remember — don’t feed the Google piggybank!


  • Greg Moore

    Hi there!

    Lack of negative keywords can cost you a lot of money. The next question is, which words will you use for negative keywords?

    We’re in the event registration business. In AdWords we bid on “online event registration.” Since we charge money we decided to use “free” as a negative keyword. We were not interested, thank you very much, in paying for clicks from people searching Google for “free online event registration” where our ad came up on a phrase match.

    Later I was looking at Google Analytics, where you see the organic search queries people have used to find your site. (Traffic Sources –> Search Engines –> Non Paid –> Keyword from the drop down list.) Lots of people were typing “free online event registration,” seeing our organic listing and clicking. Not only that, the Goals showed that a significant percent of these people were hitting the thank you page for becoming a lead, and some were even hitting the thank you page for becoming a customer!

    Apparently people were initially searching for something free, but when they discovered no one was offering these services free, they began investigating our company.


    I removed “free” as a negative keyword in AdWords.

    We’ve learned that looking at the list of organic search queries in Google Analytics, and seeing which are associated with Goal success and which are not, is a fantastic way to discover optimal negative keywords for paid search.

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  • Traci


    Wow, that’s *really* unusual to make money on a keyword that includes the word “free”!

    Instead of just removing free as a negative keyword in your campaigns, what about actually adding keywords like “free online event registration” and putting them in their own ad group with their own special ad targeting the freebie-hunters?

    By having these KWs grouped together into a special ad group, you’ll be able to see – at a glance – whether these freebie keywords as a group are profitable for you. Or maybe you’ve already done this!

    In any event, thanks for reading and thanks for your great comment!

  • keenmary

    Great,explained very nicely about a negative keyword.Slash Pay-Per-Click Costs Using Negative Keywords When you do pay per click advertising, it is like throwing a party. You’ve created a guest list of people who are invited to your party (these are your keywords), but you’ve also hired a bouncer to keep out any undesireables (these are your negative keywords).

  • Kristen

    Ha ha…little notebook next to the bed! Thanks so much for the tip on using the AdWords keyword tool to find negative keywords. There I was plucking them out of thin air…

  • Bill McIntosh

    Ha, nice analogy, I like it. I think using negative keywords is great and very beneficial to the RIGHT traffic you want to get through you PPC crowed.

  • Levi C


    Can you please tell more about negative keywords. I am running a site and i found it too expensive to run ppc specially that the landing page is now the best

  • Missy

    I have yet to delve into PPC, as i dont feel i am well versed in it. If not done right, PPC can be fruitless, not to mention expensive. This is a great tip i while have to bookmark and remember once i do venture into PPC.

    I am highly interested in PPC, and have been reading up on it for some time now. Hope to try it soon.


  • Craig

    I too am in the business of online event registration and have always had a hard time deciding which keywords to use as negative. It’s a really tricky situation because choosing the wrong ones can hurt you badly in the search engines. That being said we haven’t used “free” yet but that might be something we look into down the line.

  • Rob

    Another method, rather than using negative keywords is to use only exact match keywords. Set up using phrase match initially, then after a month, use google analytics to see what exact phrases people searched on before clicking through to your website. Add relevant phrases as exact match keywords and turn off phrase matching. A benefit of this is you will now have data on the search popularity (ie ad impressions) for specific keyword phrases.

  • Manken Resimleri

    I hate the PPC system they dont count it the ppm is the best.

  • Angie Ibrahim


    I am fairly new to PPC!
    So thank you for this!
    I have a question.. What would be the best search type to use for negative words – exact, broad or phrase?

  • PPC Domination

    Your blog is very informative and well organized. Thanks for the tips!

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  • red apples

    Clearly reviewing the op’s info readers will believe this as its what we really believe and its nifty seeing a poster that is showing it publically to look at

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