Easier Negative Keyword Management in AdWords

In January, Google introduced a useful addition to AdWords that potentially makes managing negative keywords across multiple campaigns a lot easier. Maybe it was because January is such a busy time of year, but it’s a feature that seems to have passed by many advertisers. Here’s a recap.

What Are Negative Keyword Lists?

Simply put, a central place to store master list(s) of negative keywords and apply them to multiple campaigns. This is an improvement on the old way of doing this in AdWords, when you had to laboriously copy and paste negatives between campaigns — a process which can mean copying thousands of words for a mature campaign that’s been built out over time.

Accessing Negative Keyword Lists

The lists are easy to access. In AdWords, simply click Control panel and library on the left of the screen, and select Negative keyword lists.


In the example above, you can see that I’ve already got a list in place of 127 keywords applied to four campaigns. You can create multiple lists and apply them to different combinations of campaigns.

This is useful if you want to apply a master list of negatives to all campaigns, and another, separate list to only a select few — for example, if your product range is limited in some regions, but not everywhere.

Creating new lists is easy — just click the New negative keyword list button, name the list, and paste in the keywords. You’ll need to spend some time consolidating existing lists across campaigns — more on that later — and then you’ll need to apply them to campaigns. That’s where AdWords interface design provides something of an obstacle.

Applying Negative Lists to Campaigns

Using this feature, it feels like Google designed it without thinking through the workflow involved for existing campaigns (i.e., most of their customers).

Once you’ve created lists, there’s no easy way to apply them to multiple campaigns. Instead, you have to go into every single campaign and then apply the lists(s) that are relevant to that campaign.

Here’s the process:

  1. Click All online campaigns on the menu on the left of your screen
  2. Click the campaign to apply the list to
  3. Click the Keywords tab
  4. Scroll to the bottom of this screen
  5. Click Negative Keywords
  6. On the right of the inflated lists that appear, click Keyword Lists
  7. Click Add
  8. Click Add next to the negative keyword list you want to apply
  9. Repeat across multiple lists
  10. Click Save


Unfortunately, you need to repeat these steps for every campaign — there’s no way at the time of writing to select multiple campaigns and apply the same list(s) to them all at once — which would have been a real time saver. There’s no way to apply them to multiple accounts within the same My Client Center (MCC) either, something that would help with enterprise level accounts like national retailers.

Negative Keyword List Deployment Steps

Interface gripes aside, negative keyword lists are a worthwhile addition to any AdWords campaign. Here are some steps to follow to get the most out of them:

  1. Download your account via AdWords Editor
  2. Sort the columns in Excel and delete all of the rows and columns with anything other that negative keywords and the keyword type in them
  3. Use these to plan the lists you need — I’d suggest a Whole Account list of terms you’d never, ever want your ads to appear for, and then any more specific lists you need around those you have in AdGroups or only in some campaigns in the download
  4. Rearrange the negatives in the download to populate these lists and save them
  5. Add any additional terms that spring to mind, or you can find via search query reports or keyword tools
  6. Save the master list(s) and then start adding them via the procedure above
  7. Update your campaign build out process to include applying these lists to any new campaigns in future

Negative keyword lists will no doubt become a standard of AdWords campaign management — hopefully Google will improve the interface over time and add support via AdWords Editor and the API, too.

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