AdWords Negative Keyword Lists: A Negative User Experience


When you have to read a help file to understand how to use a feature, doesn’t it bug you? Don’t you wish that things were a little more intuitive and easy to use?

For whatever reason, the AdWords team seems to be masters at releasing very useful features (sometimes awesome features like Broad Match Modifiers) and then making them a pain to use. You may remember my concerns about  ACE for ads a few weeks back. Again, ACE for ads is great, but no fun to use.

I hate to be negative about negative keywords, which I love so much (see my posts on search query mining), but AdWords made me feel stupid when I created my first "negative keyword list." I hate it when software makes me feel stupid.

Creating the list was very straightforward. Simply:

  1. Navigate to the Control panel and library
  2. Click on Negative keyword lists
  3. Name your list and add your keywords
  4. Click on Save

negative keyword lists

And you get this:

negative keyword list

I’m feeling good at this point and I’m ready to associate my new list to some campaigns, but can’t find any way to do so. Where’s my "Add Campaigns" button? I end up clicking back into the list to see if I missed something, but I didn’t.

Eventually, I give up and click on the "Learn more" link, and start to read about how to associate campaigns with my new list. Keep in mind that I was following directions from the Inside AdWords blog post up to this point, and believed them when they said:

Now, with shared lists, you can simply create a single negative keyword list and associate it with each search campaign.

Simply create. Check! Simply associate? Not so much.

After “learning more,” I realize that the only way to associate your new negative keyword list is one campaign at a time. Here are the instructions as written in AdWords Help:

Then, follow these instructions:

  1. Click the Keywords tab for each of the campaigns for which you'd like to use this list of negative keywords.

  2. Click the Negative keywords link at the bottom of the page. The Campaign level table has two views:

    • Keywords: Shows which individual negative keywords have been directly added to this campaign.

    • Keyword Lists: Shows which negative keyword lists have been added to this campaign.

  3. Click the Add drop-down menu from either view, and then select Negative keyword list. You'll then be able to choose the lists you'd like to add. If you didn't already select a campaign, you'll need to do this before adding the negative keyword list.

I guess this seems backwards to me. Maybe I’m the only one, but I would rather have a "negative list-centric" work flow. Anyone remember associating campaigns with a report in the old Report Center and how the process worked?

How about something like this:

adwords negative keyword lists

Wouldn’t a process like this make more sense? While you are thinking about the context of your negative list, couldn’t they have the option to add multiple campaigns immediately without having to click out of the experience and go to the campaigns individually?

Powerful features are great, but without an equally great user experience most people will not change their behaviors and habits to start using it (even if they should). How many AdWords features and capabilities go unused each day for of this very reason?

However, I guess this opens the door for third-party developers to make our lives easier, and also gives the advantage to the advertiser who is willing to do the hard work.

AdWords, if you’re reading this, I think your users would appreciate and love you for a better user experience with using our new, much appreciated negative lists. Keep up the (mostly) good work!

This is a guest post by Chad Summerhill, author of the blog PPC Prospector, provider of free PPC tools and PPC tutorials, and in-house AdWords Specialist at Moving Solutions, Inc. ( and

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Daily Digest for February 9th | A Blog by John A. Lee
Feb 09, 2011

[...] @WordStream: NEW Post: AdWords Negative Keyword Lists: A Negative User Experience? [...]

David Rothwell
Feb 10, 2011

The main drawback being (if you're using adwords editor) you can't see these negative keywords or know their scope.

And will they be in the scope of the ads diagnostics? One would hope so, but you never know and I haven't tested yet. But it wouldn't surprise me if that was initially an oversight!

Maneet Puri
Feb 14, 2011

Totally agreed with David, even I encountered the same problem and could fix the problem even after much trying.

Feb 19, 2011

Hey Chad, I just read through this post and I think there's another way to accomplish this (if I'm reading your post correctly). Try selecting your campaign, or All Campaigns, click on the "keywords" tab, and scroll to the bottom. Expand the "negative keywords" link. There you can add keywords one at a time, or you can add keyword lists at the campaign level.

I'm having a negative keywords issue of my own, which maybe is just a mistake made by the guy who managed our lists before me. I've found thousands of negative keywords on the campaign level which seem to be added automatically. They contain major broadmatch keywords including ones being targeted thus causing conflict (easily resolved). They also contain city names. I can't fathom a reason why the guy before me would add these negative keywords, so I'm looking for other answers. Ever see this issue????

Mar 14, 2011

The problem which the author describes, is just a usability issue. But do you people notice, how your keywords on negative lists NOT ALWAYS WORK? Search queries, that should be excluded by my negative keywords list, still trigger ads - and this is the real pain in the ass. This feature is either encountering teething problems, or negative keyword matching works in some mysterious way, I am not aware of...

Jun 07, 2011

The next amend is with the abrogating keyword lists to your account's Control Panel and Library. It will accord the user a new way to administer a accumulation of abrogating keywords and accessory them with assorted seek campaigns. Abrogating Keywords,

David Saba
Dec 13, 2017

I just spent two hours trying to add/modify negative keyword lists on the adwords editor for mac just to find out there is no option. Frustrating! I spend so much money with Adwords, this seems like a trivial feature to me.

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