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The Education Industry Guide to Negative Keyword Strategies

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Cutting Wasteful Spending

Frugal adjectivefru·​gal | \ ˈfrü-gəl

Definition of frugal: characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources

Negative Keywords – Overview

  • Negative keywords are an essential component of every account.
  • They prevent irrelevant search queries from popping up under our broad & phrase match keywords.
  • We must do negative keywords on a regular basis.
  • The recommended frequency is weekly, so we adhere to this frequency for all of our accounts.
  • Negative lists should not be applied to exact match campaigns.
  • However, there are more types of negatives we can do besides excluding irrelevant search queries from our account.
  • We will go over various negative keyword strategies in the following pages.

Negative Keywords – Master Negatives

  • “Master Negatives” are the bread and butter of negative keywords.
  • Their goal is to eliminate any irrelevant queries from showing up in an account.
  • This must be done on a regular basis in order to keep the account clean.
  • New irrelevant search queries will never stop showing up. Google has previously confirmed that 15% of all daily search queries are being seen for the first time.
  • Weekly is the recommended frequency, but bi-weekly or monthly is acceptable.
  • We should break out our Exact match negatives from our Phrase match for easier damage control.
  • We should be wary of making Phrase match negative keywords because this may exclude a lot of traffic.

Negative Keywords – Cross Match

  • Cross match negative keywords are our existing keywords in Exact match marked as negative in our Phrase, BMM and Broad match campaigns.
  • This gives us more control of traffic and makes better use of our Exact match bids.
  • This way, we know that the keywords we’ve selected only serve the intended campaigns, and all of the data for these search queries is being accumulated there, as opposed to being split between different campaigns.
  • Very useful for establishing cleaner and more accurate data.

Negative Keywords – Cross Category & Cross Alpha

  • With this negatives strategy, we make keywords from our different programs negative in every other campaign.
  • This will keep our traffic clean and ensure that all traffic goes to the right URL.
  • When different programs have similar terms, we often have search queries pop up under the wrong campaign, which leads the user to an incorrect LP. For example Music & Recording Arts.
  • There are existing and non-existing variants of this strategy.
  • Existing refers to keywords we already have.
  • Non-existing refers to search queries we saw pop up in the wrong place. It is usually recommended to prevent this from happening via Phrase match negatives.

Negative Keywords – Data Based

  • Every 3 months, we should look at data in order to add negative keywords to an account.
  • The idea is to mark anything with 0 conversions and high volumes of clicks as “negative,” regardless of their relevancy.
  • If a search query has hundreds of historical clicks but has never converted, we can safely assume that it should be marked as negative.
  • When implementing this strategy, we should have at least a year’s worth of data and review the top search queries by clicks with 0 conversions.
  • Anything with 100+ clicks can be considered but depending on the account, that number can be anywhere from 50+ to 300+ clicks.

Negative Keywords – Recap & Tips


  • Don’t apply negative lists to exact match campaigns.
  • Break out Exact vs Phrase match master negatives for easier management and damage control.
  • When doing cross match negatives, do not include keywords that are too long and can be considered “low search volume” by Google. 40+ characters is a good guideline.
  • This will decrease the risk of not serving these queries in the whole account. Doing negatives on a weekly basis is ideal.
  • 15% of queries that are searched every day are brand new, so negatives is a never ending process!
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