Being a digital marketing firm, we frequently perform audits of paid search accounts. We’ve seen about every way – good and bad – a Google AdWords account can be organized. When it comes to keyword match types, even many basic accounts employ various match types for their bidded keywords.

That said, one area where confusion is clearly present is on the topic of negative match types in search campaigns. Often, within a single account, keyword organization and match type utilization on bidded keywords appears thoughtful and calculated, but negatives reveal quite the opposite. It’s like when you were a kid and your parents said to clean your room, so you stuffed everything in the closet or under the bed. On the surface it looked great, but when you tried to find something, or a parent opened the closet, it simply didn’t work.

Many seasoned search engine marketers have a justified fear of broad keywords. That’s likely why we see so few negative broad keywords and so many negative exact-match keywords. When working with negatives, it’s important to remember things are a bit backward, particularly when looking at negative broad keywords.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, we’ll use some chocolaty examples.

Negative Broad

Negative broad keywords block terms when all words in the keyword are present, in any order. A negative broad of -Dark Chocolate Truffles is therefore far less restrictive than just adding –Dark. This is because -Dark Chocolate Truffles requires every one of those words to be present in the entered query in order to prevent an ad from appearing, whereas –Dark will block any query containing –Dark in any capacity.

Negative Phrase

Negative phrase match keywords work similarly to positive phrase keywords in that they require the ordering of the keyword to match that of the search query. A negative phrase -“Dark Chocolate” would block a search for Dark Chocolate Truffles but not Dark and Milk Chocolate Truffles. A single word negative phrase keyword is effectively identical to a single word negative broad keyword. –Truffles and –“Truffles” both effectively block any potential query with the word Truffles in any location.

Negative Exact

Negative exact keywords eliminate little traffic because they only block exactly what is entered. The addition of any word in the search query not also found in your negative exact keyword (or elsewhere as another negative) would cause your ad to appear. A negative exact –[Dark] would not block a search for Dark Chocolate. In order to block this search with a negative exact, you would need to use –[Dark Chocolate]. However, searches for Godiva Dark Chocolate would still show.

Bottom Line and Best Practices

While there are use cases for negative exact (such as blocking a very specific search query which repeatedly appears in search term reports but does not generate conversions), most search engine marketers can block unwanted traffic effectively without using any negative exact keywords.

Keep it simple. Use one word negatives whenever possible to save time, reduce clutter and block more effectively. Use negative broad or phrase, as they function the same.

Example: If you sell chocolate products but not hot chocolate or hot cocoa, the best way to block anything hot chocolate related is just to add –Hot as a negative broad or phrase. This will effectively block searches for Hot Chocolate Mixes, Recipes for Hot Cocoa, Godiva Hot Cocoa and more, without having to add all of those as separate negatives every time a new one pops up in search terms.

If you need to block a query using more than one word, use negative phrase:

Example: Perhaps you sell milk chocolate sauce but not dark chocolate sauce. You sell other dark chocolate products, and you sell other sauces, just not dark chocolate sauce in particular. The best way to block searches for just Dark Chocolate Sauce is to add a negative phrase –“Dark Chocolate Sauce”. This would also block searches for Godiva Dark Chocolate Sauce or Dark Chocolate Sauce Topping but allow searches for Milk Chocolate Sauce or White Chocolate Sauce to come through.

Don’t Forget Misspellings, Plurals, Stemmings and Synonyms

Negative keywords do not automatically take into consideration all “close variant” situations or synonyms as bidded keywords might, so add them to be safe.

In the example above of –“Dark Chocolate Sauce” it would be good to also include negatives such as:

-“Dark Chocolate Sauces”

-“Dark Chocolate Toppings”

-“Dark Chocolate Syrup”

-“Dakr Chocolate Sauce”

-“Dark Choc Sauce”

Keep an eye on the Search Terms reports to see what’s still slipping through the cracks. Remember that negatives are not something you simply “set and forget” so look frequently for new opportunities to block inefficient or irrelevant traffic.

Note on Bing Ads: Negative Phrase is the default negative match type for Bing Ads, but exact is also available. Negative Broad does not exist within this platform.