How to Find & Fix Common Negative Keyword Problems in PPC Accounts

By Brad



In our last article, we covered the basics of negative keywords:

  • What they are
  • Negative keyword match types
  • Where to add them
  • How to find them

In this article, we will examine some of the most common problems with negative keywords.

Inconsistent Usage

One of the most common problems in larger accounts is that they are applied inconsistently. You can often tell exactly when someone did negative keyword research by campaign by just examining how many negatives are in each campaign. For instance, this is a common report to see:

Campaign Number of Negative Keywords
1 112
2 112
3 894
4 894
5 894
6 396
7 396
8 396
9 112

In accounts like this; what is usually the problem is that someone adds negatives to some campaigns and not others when they really don’t want a word to show from anywhere in the account. This is an easy solution: switch to negative keyword lists. By creating lists and applying them to the campaigns, every time you find a word you don’t want to show from anywhere in the account, you can just add it to the negative list and ensure it’s applied throughout the account.

There are times that you do want specific campaign types (such as brand and non-brand) to have different sets of negative keywords. In these cases, you can make multiple negative keyword lists.

To find out if you have this issue; there are two simple ways of doing it:

Dimensions report:

In the dimensions report, underneath campaign details, you can see how many negative keywords and shared lists you have by campaign.


If you have a small account, then you can easily see where you have inconsistent usage and fix the problems. If you have a large account with many campaigns, then using pivot tables is more efficient.

Pivot tables:

  • Download your campaign details report
  • Create a pivot table where the key is the campaign and the entities are the negative keywords and negative keyword lists
  • Look for inconsistent patterns in your negative keywords and lists
  • When there are discrepancies, add the appropriate negative keywords to the campaign that are missing them
  • This is easy for large accounts

Keyword Conflicts

The biggest issue with negative keywords is that they stop your ads from showing no matter if this is the intended effect or not.

We commonly see accounts that have keywords, often with past conversions, that are being blocked because of negative keywords. This is known as keyword conflicts – when you are blocking an active keyword from showing an ad.

This usually happens for a few reasons:

  • You see a search query not converting from an ad group and add the negative at the campaign level. The issue is that the keyword might not have been in the ad group, it could have been a different match type that was causing an ad to show for that query. If that keyword is in another ad group, then you might have just blocked it from showing ads you intended to show.
  • You see trend in queries that a particular word within a keyword phrase isn’t converting (such as the word ‘plasma’ in ‘plasma TVS without pixel burnout) and you add the root word as a negative keyword, which can then block other terms. This is why when adding root terms, it’s useful to do n-gram analysis first.
  • You have a list of negatives you always use and just apply them without examining all search queries first
  • You add a shared negative list to new campaigns where that list wasn’t intended

There’s a few ways to diagnose and fix these issues.

Keyword Conflicts Reports

Bing and Google both have negative keyword conflicts reports. In Bing, it’s easy to find in the reporting options.


In AdWords, there isn’t a standard report. You must see the keyword conflicts link in your opportunities tab or alerts, and it only shows if you have some conflicts. The biggest problem with the AdWords report is that it only examines negative keywoThe other option is ds at the ad group or campaign level in finding conflicts. It does not examine shared lists, so it has blind spots.

The other option is to use AdWords software that automatically scans and alerts you to this problem. Here’s the filter and report within Adalysis.


Please note that it is possible for a conflicting keyword to get impressions. For instance, if you have an ad group with:

  • Keyword: [Plasma TV] (exact match)
  • Negative Keyword: TV
  • Search Query: Plasma TVs

In this case, there is a conflict as the negative keyword “TV” is within the exact match search query “Plasma TV”; however, match types can show for variations, such as plurals. In this case your ad would not show for “Plasma TV” (singular) but it would show for Plasma TVs (plural).

The Same Negatives in Every Ad Group

There’s a maximum number of keyword and negative keywords that you can use in an account. A common problem is seeing that you have 10,000 ad groups with the exact same negative keywords. In these cases, you are causing two potential problems:

  • Creating a new ad group and forgetting to add the negative keywords
  • Creating more negative keywords that can eventually make you run out of space for new keywords and negatives

This is an easy problem to solve:

  • Move all the ad group negative keywords to campaign negatives or to campaign negative lists

If you’re using Adalysis, you can click a single button to find and fix this problem.


Malformed Negatives

When using modified broad match, you add a +plus sign to the front of the keywords that you want to closely match to the search query. Many people copy and paste their keyword lists into negative keyword lists. However, the +plus sign isn’t a match type for negative keywords and often causes problems and may not block your ads from showing.

There’s two ways to find this error. The first is just to look through all your negative keywords in the account for any plus signs and remove them. However, remember that you’ll want to do this after adding new negatives so you should do it on a regular basis.

The second is to just use an alert system that automatically scans and alerts you to these types of issues. For instance, Adalysis automatically scans your negative keywords and creates and alert for you that you can quickly click on to remove the offending negative keyword.


Too Little Data to Make Decisions

Another common problem is just not having enough data to make decisions. What do you do with search queries that have 10-50 clicks without any conversions?

You can make them negatives if they are obviously not related to your business; but in most cases, you just do nothing since you don’t have enough data.


There are two solutions to this problem. The first is to gather more data points. If you are using AdWords and Google Analytics together, you cannot see analytics data, such as bounce rates and time on site, for your search query data within AdWords. You can see this in Google Analytics.

In Google Analytics, we can build filters such as bounce rates are greater than X% and clicks are greater than Y. This can give you a different picture of your data as it’s one thing to see that a keyword has 25 clicks and 0 conversions; it’s another to see that it has 25 clicks, 0 conversions, and a 96% bounce rate.


The other way to examine these words is by using n-grams. With n-grams you are examining the terms that occur across search queries instead of each individual query.

For instance, in this account the term ‘custom koozies’ has appeared in 38 different search queries (and with a total of 163 clicks, we would never see all these terms as the individual search query data would be too low). When it appears there is only 1 conversions for $629 and the account average is $47. The term would never be found by looking at individual queries, but when we examine the n-gram data, we can easily find a few terms that are good negative keyword candidates.


Not Adding “Root” Words

I can’t count the times I’ve seen negative keyword lists such as:

  • 15 steel tires
  • 15 inch steel tires
  • 14 inch steel tires
  • 19 inch steel tires
  • steel tires with winter treads
  • steel snow tires
  • steel bike tires
  • steel tires for plows
  • and the list goes on for another 10,000 negative keywords

When you see lists like these, it makes you think that they don’t sell ‘steel tires’ but they probably sell lots of other tires. Instead of adding every single query variation to your list, just add “-steel” or” -steel tires” and that will stop you from finding all the possible variations to add them as negatives.

This is another good use case for n-gram analysis of search query data. Find the root terms that are causing your problems and just add those as negative keywords.


Using negative keywords is an important aspect to managing any PPC account. If you’re not using negatives, you’re wasting valuable ad spend. Money that could be spent more wisely on your top keywords that are converting.

However, once you start using negatives, you must also manage them.  Make sure you follow a few simple guidelines when creating and managing your negative keywords:

  • You have enough data to make data driven decisions
  • You’re not causing conflicts with your other keywords
  • You’re adding the ‘root’ negative keywords
  • You’re using negatives consistently
  • Your using the proper negative match types
  • You’re regularly monitoring your negative usage

If you can follow these few simple guidelines, your negative keyword usage will keep you from showing ads on irrelevant search queries so you can spend your PPC budget on your top preforming keywords.

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