Negative Keywords for Amazon PPC: The Complete Guide (2020 Update)


If you haven’t been using negative keywords in your Amazon PPC campaigns, I have good news and bad news for you. 

The good news: there’s plenty of opportunity to improve your account’s performance!  

The bad news: a lot of damage has already been done. 

Fear not, we at the Badger Den are here to help. Here’s what you can look forward to learning in the Den today:

  1. What are Negative Keywords in Amazon Advertising?
  2. How are Negative Keywords Different from Regular Keywords?
  3. The Dangers of Not Using Negative Keywords
  4. How to Find Good Negative Keywords
  5. How to Add Negative Keywords in Amazon Seller Central
  6. Using Ad Badger’s Suite of Negative Keyword Tools
  7. Common Questions

What are Negative Keywords in Amazon Advertising?

Negative Keywords are the words or phrases that prevent your ad from appearing on an Amazon SERP (Search Engine Results Page) if those terms are in a customer’s search query.  

In other words, use a negative keyword to tell Amazon when you don’t want your ad to show.

Let’s say you sell plastic spoons on Amazon, and you bid on the phrase match keyword “spoons.” Without negative keywords, your ad for plastic spoons could appear in a search for “wooden spoons” because that search query still contains the phrase “spoons.”

That shopper might even click your ad, realize it wasn’t what they wanted, and immediately leave. Amazon would still charge you for that click, but you’d have no sales to show for it.

Plastic spoons ad on a wooden spoon search query on Amazon
A real example I found on Amazon. This could be you if you're not careful!

Without negative keywords, it’s likely you ads appear for hundreds, if not thousands, of searches that are:

  • Irrelevant
  • Unprofitable
  • Have low click-through-rates (CTR)
  • Have low conversion rates (CVR)
So how do you make sure this doesn’t unknowingly happen to you?

Don’t worry. We’ll help. We created this guide so that anyone, no matter their PPC skill level, can wield the power of negative keywords.

Even better, we developed a negative keyword tool that will automate the whole negative keyword process for your PPC campaigns.

How are Negative Keywords Different from Regular Keywords on Amazon?

Simply put, negative keywords are the opposite of normal keywords. This is why you might normal keywords referred to as “positive keywords.”

Positive keywords trigger ads to show on a search page, and negative keywords don’t trigger for that page. Negative keywords allow you to narrow your target audience based on their search queries.

Additionally, regular keywords have three different match types: broad, phrase, and exact

Negative keywords only have two match type: phrase and exact. You can learn more about how to choose a keyword match type here. 

Negative Phrase Match

A negative phrase match prevents your ad from appearing in search queries that contain the selected set of words in an exact sequence, with allowance for plurals and slight misspellings.

For example, if we had “junior tennis rackets” as a negative phrase, here are some queries that would show your ad and others that would block it.

Examples of negative phrase match
Note: Amazon only allows a maximum of four words for your negative phrase

The first two show the ad because they don’t contain the exact phrase, just parts of it. The last two contain the whole negative phrase and thus are blocked.

Negative Exact Match

With negative exact, the search term must match your keyword exactly, with allowance for plurals and slight misspellings.

What would happen if “junior tennis rackets” was the negative exact?

Results of negative exact match
You can only have a max of 10 words for negative exact

While the whole match is in it, your ad still shows because it also includes extra words outside of the negative exact match. The last two contain only the whole negative phrase or a misspelling, so they’re blocked.

The Dangers of Not Using Negative Keywords

You risk the following consequences if you choose to neglect negative keywords in your Amazon PPC campaigns:

  • Unnecessary, wasteful spend
  • Opportunity cost of wasted spend
  • Lower product ranking
  • Keyword cannibalization

These are not risks you want to take, but keep reading to become fully aware of the dangers of abstaining from negative keywords.

Unnecessary, Wasteful Spend

When running auto campaigns, or manual campaigns with broad/phrase match keywords, we aim to increase our visibility at the risk of appearing in searches that may be irrelevant or unprofitable.

This is a risk we’re willing to take until we have enough data to download our search term report and actually see which search terms eat up budget with no sales in return.

Use your search term report to find what keywords you should block
Spending $36 on a keyword that doesn't generate any sales is a one-way ticket to PPC demise.

At this point, to keep bidding on these terms would be like Charlie Brown falling for the ol’ football prank. 

Charlie Brown kicking the football GIF
Some things never get old

Even though your CPC or Total Spend on a certain search term may seem small, carry this across dozens of campaigns, hundreds of ad groups, and literally thousands of search terms, and you’ll see that it all adds up really fast.

Total spend of non-converting search terms in 2 months
Total spend of non-converting search terms in 2 months.

This screenshot is from an account that didn’t optimize their negative keywords, resulting in $10,625 of wasted spend over a 60-day period, which was 40% of their total ad spend!

Opportunity Cost of Wasted Ad Spend

If you have a strict daily budget, and you spend 40% of it on irrelevant search terms, the opportunity cost of an actual conversion is much greater! You’ve cut your advertising campaigns short by blowing your budget on searches that are meaningless to your product.

Negative keywords allow you to reallocate wasted spend so that every cent of your advertising budget is targeting conversions.

Lower Product Ranking

Not only do bad search terms earn unqualified leads, but they also lead to a low CTR.

When you and a competitor vie for the same search page, Amazon decides who gets the best positioning based on each product’s history. We made a whole post about how Amazon ranking works but, suffice it to say, CTR is critical.

If you show up for hundreds of irrelevant search queries, your CTR plummets, a negative mark in Amazon’s eyes.

When it’s time to bid for a search that’s  relevant, Amazon will deem your low-performing product as less-worthy than your competitor for the top spot because they optimized their CTR with negative keywords.

This also impacts your organic ranking and could push your product from the first page to the second. Nobody likes to be second.

Truer words have ne'er been spoken, Kanye. GIF courtesy of GIPHY.

Keyword Cannibalization

Another major consequence of neglecting negative keywords is “keyword cannibalization.”

It is what happens when two of your campaigns or ad groups compete against each other for the same keyword. In the end, both ad groups get less clicks than if only one showed for that keyword.

Here’s an example:

Say you have two products in two separate ad groups. In the first ad group, you sell traditional vacuums, so you bid on the phrase-match keyword “vacuum.” In the second ad group, you sell those little droid-type vacuums, and you bid on the same phrase-match keyword.

If a customer types “vacuum robot” into their Amazon search, both ad groups qualify to appear on the page.

Why’s that a problem? Because you can’t control the order in which your ads appear.

There’s a chance your traditional vacuum will outrank your vacuum robot, pushing that to the bottom of the page, making it less likely that that product will be seen, even though it’s more relevant to the search terms.

This is what your less-relevant ad just did to your breadwinner.

The problem is exacerbated if the product has a higher profit margin or conversion rate.

Adding the term “vacuum robot” as a negative keyword to your traditional vacuum’s ad group would prevent this from happening.

Keyword cannibalism can also occur between automatic and manual campaigns. 

If you have a manual campaign that’s fully-loaded with exact match keywords, it’s possible that your auto campaigns are stealing all the impressions for those searches, preventing your exact match keywords from seeing any action.

If you haven’t added all your “exact match” keywords from your manual campaign as “negative exact” keywords to your auto campaign, you are undoubtedly experiencing keyword cannibalization.

But you’re not a cannibal. Not like actual cannibal Shia Labeouf

How to Use Negative Keywords on Amazon

Now that you know why it’s important to use Negative Keywords, learn how by mastering campaign sculpting (audience targeting), more about auto campaigns, bid optimization, and better market research.

Campaign Sculpting (Audience Targeting)

Negative keywords are a great way to trim the fat from your campaigns. They let you refine your target audience and maximize keyword relevance.

The same is true for phrase match.

A lot of advertisers mistakenly apply the broad match type too liberally. For example, using the word “shoes” as a broad match keyword would expose you to everything from hiking boots to high heels, even though your product might be running shoes (read more about keyword match types).

Where broad match keywords are present, negative keyword sculpting is necessary!

Unless you have insanely long-tail keywords in your broad match, chances are your broad matches waste ad spend on irrelevant, non-converting clicks.

The issue persists with phrase-match keywords. Use Negative Keywords to exclude weak searches from these campaigns.

Automatic Campaigns

If you follow the Badger, you know we talk about the RPSB method. You do the final “B,” block, by adding negative keywords to your automatic campaign. This allows:

  • Bid optimization
  • Better market research
  • Cannibal keyword prevention

Bid Optimization

While the auto campaign feature in Amazon has its benefits, there are a few hang-ups as well. One major bummer is that there is no bid optimization for keywords.

No bid optimization for keywords?? What??

I know. I thought the same thing. 

That’s a problem because every keyword performs differently and, therefore, aren’t worth the same bid. We want to bid more for higher-converting terms and less for the lower-converting terms. 

Better Market Research

Because of the limitations that come with auto campaigns (i.e., limited control over keywords and bids), we get the most value from these campaigns by collecting market research. We use Amazon’s A9 algorithm to discover which search terms lead to actual conversions.

(Again, if you haven’t heard about the RPSB method yet, take a break from reading this until you understand it.)

Once we discover a search term that converts, we want to stick that term into our product’s manual campaign as an exact match keyword. Now we have the power to control our bids for that specific keyword based on its conversion performance.

After we do that, there’s no reason to let our auto campaigns continue bidding on the search term. Their work is done, and we can give them a better opportunity to discover new keywords by blocking out that term as a negative keyword. 

How to Find Good Negative Keywords

Thanks to the measurability of Amazon Advertising, it’s pretty easy to identify which search terms cause your campaign’s grief.

Using this data, we found ways to build a safety net around your campaigns to prevent these terms from wreaking further havoc.

The following metrics are guidelines, not laws, which can be adjusted to fit different niches. Here are three metrics you should use to identify low-performing terms that should be turned into negative keywords:

  • Low CTR non-converters
  • High spend non-converters
  • High click non-converters

You don’t want your campaign to have unnecessary grief. Which of these metrics are the culprit for your Amazon campaigns?

Low CTR Non-Converters

Search terms that get your ad over 2500 impressions with less than 0.18% CTR and no conversions aren’t worth your time. They’re hurting your product’s rank. Stop them.

High Spend Non-Converters

This might vary based on your budget and your product’s profit margins, but it’s safe to say any search terms creating more than $35 in ad spend with no conversions should be eliminated.

High Click Non-Converters

Given that the average conversion rate for Amazon sellers is 9.8%, anything with over 34 clicks that hasn’t converted yet is already suffering miserably. Kill it.

Exceptions to the Rule

Sometimes a seller targets a competitor’s brand name as a positive keyword.

As an example, Pepsi-Cola runs Sponsored Product Ads on the keyword “coke” in an attempt to steal customers from their rival.

Search queries containing the word “coke” obviously won’t convert as well as those with the word “pepsi,” or even “cola,” but Pepsi still wants the paid traffic in case there’s a chance they can snatch away a wavering consumer.

When targeting a competitor’s brand, you will need to forgive your keywords’ bad performance because they have a more difficult target. If you have a tool that automates the negative keyword process for you, be sure to whitelist any competitor’s keywords that you’re bidding on.

How to Add Negative Keywords in Amazon Seller Central

Knowing how to add Negative Keywords to your Amazon Seller Central is one of the more crucial points in this article, and we offer it to you in five simple steps.

Step 1: Navigate to your desired campaign/ad group. Negative keywords do different things at the different levels.

Campaign Level: When you add a negative keyword at the campaign level, it’s automatically added to all of the ad groups in that campaign.

Ad Group Level: Adding a negative keyword at the ad group level will only apply the negative matching to that one ad group in the campaign.

 Step 2: Click the “Negative Keywords” tab.

Step 3: Select which match type you want, negative phrase or negative exact.

Step 4: Add your negative keywords. Make sure each keyword goes on a separate line.

Step 5: Click “Add keywords” then “Save.”

And you’re done! You can remove a negative keyword at anytime by navigating back to the negative keyword page, selecting the negative keyword, and clicking “Archive.”

Note for beginners: If you don’t know where to begin, the safest and easiest method is to add your negative keywords as an exact match at the ad group level.

Using Ad Badger’s Suite of Negative Keyword Tools

Does this seem like a lot of work?

We think so too. That’s why we built a tool that auto-magically does the whole negative keyword process for you.

Negative Keyword Nightly Hunt

Did you already forget all the rules on how to find your negative keywords? No worries. With the Negative Keyword Nightly Hunt, we baked these rules right into the app for you.

Negative Keyword Predator rules
Hit plus, plus, plus on these rules, and you're done!

The Negative Keyword Nightly Hunt scans every single keyword in your ad campaign over the past six months and finds all of your inefficient keywords.

Then it auto-adds them all as negative keywords. You can even add custom rules for full control.

The Nightly Hunt auto-runs daily– uh, nightly– so you can reap all the benefits of using Amazon negative keywords without any effort.

For big sellers this is extremely helpful because when you have 10,000+ keywords, manually choosing and adding each through Seller Central takes ages. 

Total Amazon PPC Automation

If you thought the Negative Keyword Nightly Hunt was great, wait until you hear that we have three more negative keyword tools! 

Read more about the other tools here or watch this great video we made. Either works.

Want to take these tools for a test run right now? Sign up for a free trial of Ad Badger to gain total automation of all your Amazon PPC campaigns.

Common Questions

Why Not Just Make a 100% “Exact Match” Account?

While making a 100% exact match account would solve the issue of showing up in unwanted searches, this strategy creates another problem: discoverability.

One of the greatest things about running phrase match, broad match, and auto campaigns is that they give us the opportunity to be found by searches we weren’t targeting.

This is a form of market research that helps us discover new converting search terms we otherwise couldn’t have predicted.

It’s impossible to guess what people seek, which is why you should always run both auto and manual campaigns for each product.

Auto campaigns let you take advantage of machine-learning algorithms to uncover the hidden gems of new converting search terms. Manual campaigns have the advantage of being more precise. You need both.

How much time should I spend on negative keywords?

Depending on your account size, it could take several hours at first to run through your data and manually add your negative keywords.

Once you’ve done the initial setup, you should check each account at least once a week, combing through the data and seeing if any new search terms appeared that should be turned into negative keywords.

What do I do with search terms that are relevant but unprofitable?

You have two choices:

  1. Add the search term as a negative exact match to avoid further spend.
  2. Add the search term as a positive exact match keyword and significantly lower the bid for that keyword. Don’t forget to block the same keyword as a negative exact for your broad match/auto campaigns.

The second option is the stronger choice because you still get some visibility for the search term, but at a low ACoS.

Key Takeaways

Negative keywords are an essential element of any good Amazon PPC campaign because they reduce unnecessary spend, raise product rankings, and fight keyword cannibalization.

The quicker you start using them, the quicker you realize all of your Amazon seller dreams.

Discover Us on our PPC Den Podcast

If you prefer learning via audio, we cover this same info in the podcast episode below. You can also find us on your favorite streaming platforms like Apple, Google, Spotify, and more!

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