How to Use Negative Keywords in Google Ads to Control Costs

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Google Ads are one of Google’s online advertising platforms. With Google Ads, you can set up digital advertisements that can be displayed to users who use specific keywords when searching for information on Google. For example, if you were Mountain Ridge Apartments you could set up an ad to trigger anytime someone searches “Mountain Ridge Apartments.”

To make their advertising solution as effective as possible for as many users as possible, Google also has a number of built-in features to help marketers reach their desired audience with as much confidence and precision as possible.

One of these features is “negative keywords.” Negative keywords are tools that help you avoid wasting money on unqualified clicks from people who may have searched the keyword you’re targeting, but who are still not actually your desired audience. 

Before we talk about how to use negative keywords, we want to be  clear that negative keywords are not the same thing as “negative advertising”—a marketing strategy that profits through criticizing their competitors. That is not what we are talking about.

How do negative keywords work?

Think of negative keywords as the opposite of your desired keywords. When you build your Google Ads campaigns, you get to select keywords to target—letting you bid on precise keywords you believe your customers are likely to type into Google. Negative keywords let you un-target search queries that are close matches to the keywords you have targeted, but that are obviously unqualified for your purposes. To continue with our example above, suppose you have ads that target the keyword “Mountain Ridge Apartments,” but you start noticing that your ad is being triggered by users searching for “Mountain Ridge Apartments wifi password.” These searchers are probably not apartment shoppers, therefore, you shouldn't spend money your advertising to them. By setting up a negative keyword for “wifi password,”  you’re able to block your ad from displaying to people who search using those terms.

What are some other examples of when you would use negative keywords?

Imagine you are the manager of Mountain Brook Apartments in Evanston, IL, and let’s assume you have a Defensive Campaign protecting your community’s name. Without negative keywords, your defensive campaigns could trigger your ad to run for the following search queries:

  • mountain brook apartments fax number
  • mountain brook apartments pool hours
  • zip code for mountain brook apartments evanston il

Although, all of these search queries are related to your community, none of them seem likely to be queries related to searching for a new apartment. Mainly residents would be looking for your community’s pool hours or zip code, so you would be wasting valuable marketing dollars on these clicks. 

Suppose you have campaigns targeting your location (“evanston il” and “northwestern university”). Without negative keywords, these search queries would trigger your ads:

  • jobs in evanston il
  • vacation rentals in evanston il
  • on-campus apartments at northwestern university

The first two queries obviously have nothing to do with renting an apartment. The third query is a bit more complicated. Yes, someone is looking for an apartment, but they are looking for an on-campus apartment at Northwestern University.

You may be able to convert that person into living in your community instead of on campus, but this broad of a keyword really depends on your strategy and how much money you have in your marketing budget. Ask yourself the question, “How defined do we want to be with our marketing?” 

If you decide to also target students looking to live on campus, and converting them to live off-campus, then it’s best to design a campaign targeting on-campus apartment searches specifically. Your ad copy could then say, “Find Out Why Students Prefer Mountain Brook Apartments to On-Campus Living”, which is highly relevant and intriguing to someone who had begun their search looking for student housing. The link could lead to a page discussing the head-to-head comparison.

Three Types of Negative Keywords

From the examples above, there are three main types of negative keywords you should be using.

  • Amenity-Focused Negative Keywords
  • Non-Buying Negative Keywords
  • Location-Based Negative Keywords

We'll describe each one below:

Amenity-Focused Negative Keywords 

Let's say you're in a small town like Wichita Falls, TX and you're targeting the keywords "apartments in Wichita Falls, TX." 

Your ad is showing up when people search for apartments in Wichita Falls and things are going well. But, pretty soon you realize that many of the leads you're getting are not qualified. Your community doesn't allow pets and you're getting tons of calls from people asking about pet policy. You should add "pet-friendly" as a negative keyword so that if someone searches "pet-friendly apartments in Wichita Falls," your ad won't appear. If there's a feature or amenity that your community does not offer, then you need to tailor your campaigns based on that.

Non-Buying Negative Keywords

The next type of negative keyword you'll want to set up will be keywords that do not reflect commercial intent. Refer to our previous example of excluding keywords such as “pool hours” or “fax number.” That way you exclude any current renters from your advertising list. 

Location-Based Negative Keywords

Some communities have  more common, or location-based names. For example, if you searched for "paradise villa apartments" you might find apartments in several cities named Paradise Villa plus apartments in Paradise CA with Villa in their name.

So, let's say you're Paradise Villa Apartments in Portland, OR. You don't want your ad showing up when people are searching for apartments in Paradise, CA or when they are looking for Paradise Villas in Texas.

To fix this, you can add negative keywords to filter out those specific locations and guarantee that your ad doesn't appear to unqualified searchers. Add "TX," "Texas," "California," "CA," and a few other similar terms that will eliminate people using those queries. That means fewer people see your ad, but the people who do see it are more likely to be looking specifically for you.


It’s incredibly easy to waste large amounts of money on Google Ads. That’s the primary danger for any Google Ads user, in fact. But, if you understand not only what Google Ads are, but also how they work, you can use the full suite of tools Google offers to better control demand at your community.

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