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How to maintain a healthy negatives setup

Section 1.8: Maintaining a healthy setup of negatives

What can go wrong

Over time, your negatives can get out of control in the following ways.

You have too many and can’t add anymore

This can happen fairly quickly if you set up an auto-negatives script and forget about it.

  • You’re allowed 5,000 negatives per negative keyword list.
  • You’re allowed 10,000 negatives per campaign.
  • You’re allowed 20,000 negatives per ad group.

Your negatives don’t keep up with your evolving catalog

Perhaps you’ve been selling nothing but red roses for years, and now you’re adding white roses into the mix. And some yellow lilies. Well, now most of the examples we’ve gone through above need some revisiting.

You’ve lost the thread

It all seemed so easy when you were doing it at the time, bit by bit, but now you’ve got thousands of negatives nestled into keyword lists, campaign levels, and ad group levels. You’re not sure if you can even launch a Yellow Lilies or White Roses ad group in your main campaign.

How to prevent it from going wrong


Before you get militant about applying negatives, understand the three areas you can apply them in.

  • Negative keyword lists – where your list can be applied across multiple campaigns
  • Campaign level – where the negatives are applied to every ad group within it
  • Ad group level – where the negatives are only applied within that ad group

Let’s again look at the search term examples we used when we were selling just red roses.

Search termsQualified?Negative(s) to add
roses are red[roses are red]
dozin red rosses 
12 red roses 
why are roses red“why”
is rosé considered a red wine“rosé”, ”wine”, ”wines”
full stem red rose dozen 
dozen red and white roses“white”
order twelve red roses 
image of dozen red roses“image”, ”images”
dozen red flowers“flowers”
bouquet of red roses[bouquet of red roses]

If “flowers” and “white” were added at the campaign level, then this campaign won’t be great for our newly expanded catalog of white roses and lilies. We can remove those negatives, but are we sure we can remove every permutation of search term we’ve added as a negative over the years that might now block qualified traffic? Only you’ve got a small list of negatives and some patience to carefully review it.

Sure, you could start a new campaign for White Roses, or even just for Yellow Lilies, but now you need to start building up healthy negatives list for that campaign and its ad groups.

Themed negative lists

Well organized negative lists are the answer. If, every time you came across a search term that seemed like a good opportunity for a phrase match negative, you added it to a themed list, you’ll have a much easier time going forward being able to review and update the traffic you’re blocking.

Here’s an example of themed lists.

Themed List – ColorsThemed List – GeneralThemed Lists – Competitors
“white”“images”“jerry’s flower shack”
“black”“why”“bob’s rose emporium”
“blue”“ros锓lucy’s floral store”
“orange”“wine”“samantha’s garden”
“yellow”“flowers”“romantic arrangements r us”

With these in place in lists instead of ad group or campaign levels, they can be reviewed quickly and revised.

Now that you’re selling white roses and yellow lilies, you’ll want to remove “white” and “yellow” from the Colors list, and consider removing “flowers” from the General list.

Furthermore, if you’ve discovered that Lucy’s Floral Store has gone out of business (because you’re always monitoring your competition, right?), you can remove that negative from the Competitors list, and perhaps even target terms for that brand.

Exact match audits

Finally, you’ll want to review all your exact match negatives once they get into the thousands in order to find ways to reduce them. The best way is to review them (often start with alphabetical order) and see if there are any repeated words that jump out at you.

If there are, consider adding the word(s) to an appropriate (list, campaign, or ad group) and then removing the exact match keywords that are now made redundant.

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