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How Negatives Keywords Work

Negatives are how you tell Google that you don’t want your ad to show if certain words are in the search term.

Match types

It’s very important to know how match types work for negatives. They don’t work like the modern version of match types for regular keywords, they’re far stricter and more simple in their rules.

Negative broad match

When you add broad match negative keywords, the order of terms doesn’t make a difference, the negatives just need to all be found in the search term.

Example If you set the following broad match keyword: red roses
Search termBlocked?
dozen rosesNo
red flowersNo
roses redYes 🟥
roses are redYes 🟥
red rosesYes 🟥
dozen red rosesYes 🟥

Negative phrase match

When you add phrase match negative keywords, the order of the terms do make a difference, and must be in the same order within the search term in order to block the ad from being shown.


If you set the following broad match keyword: “red roses”

Search termBlocked?
dozen rosesNo
red flowersNo
roses redNo
roses are redNo
red rosesYes 🟥
dozen red rosesYes 🟥

Negative exact match

When you add exact match negative keywords, the search term must exactly match them in order to block the ad from being shown.


If you set the following exact match keyword: [red roses]

Search termBlocked?
dozen rosesNo
red flowersNo
roses redNo
roses are redNo
red rosesYes 🟥
dozen red rosesNo

Characters in negatives

Google only accepts 3 characters to be used within negative keywords: the ampersand (&), the asterisk (*), and accent marks (such as: é).

Note, that if you create a negative keyword that uses an accent mark, it will not work for the more common use of it without the accent mark. For example, “pokémon” as a negative will not block the search term “pokemon”.

Invalid characters

Google won’t accept these characters in negative keywords: , ! @ % ^ () = {} ; ~ ` <> ? \ |.

Ignored characters

Google will ignore periods (.) and plus signs (+). That means “” is the same as “example com”, and “heart+home” is the same as “heart home”.

There is one exception for plus signs, which when they’re placed at the end of a word. Example, “A+”, or “C++”.

The sneaky hyphen

Google treats the hyphen as a minus (-) operator. In the case of negatives, if the hyphen somehow makes it in front of a word within a keyword, it effectively negates the negative. For example, “round -trip” is treated a “round”.

Levels & lists for negatives

You can apply negatives in three ways.

  • Campaign levels
  • Ad group levels
  • Negative lists

Campaign level

When you apply negatives at a campaign’s level, you’re directing Google to use it for everything within the campaign. Therefore, every keyword in every ad group will have those negatives applied to whether or not they show for a search term.

Ad group level

Ad group level negatives only apply to the keywords within the ad group. All other ad groups in the campaign are unaffected.

Keyword lists

Negative lists are created outside of campaigns at the account level. You create and name these lists, and can apply them across multiple campaigns at once.

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