Navigating the Changes to Negative Keyword Close Variants in Google Ads

In 2024, Google Ads introduced a significant update that affects how negative keywords work: the expansion of close variants for negative keywords. This change has far-reaching implications for businesses using Google Ads, impacting ad relevance, campaign control, and overall ad spend efficiency. In this blog, we’ll delve into what this change means, how businesses can adjust, and strategies to implement for optimizing negative keyword lists.

Understanding Negative Keyword Close Variants

What Are Negative Keywords?

Negative keywords are terms that you specify to prevent your ads from appearing in search results that include those terms. By using negative keywords, businesses can avoid irrelevant traffic, ensuring their ads reach the most relevant audience, thereby optimizing ad spend and improving conversion rates.

What Are Close Variants?

Close variants include misspellings, singular and plural forms, stemmings (like “run” and “running”), abbreviations, and accents. Previously, close variants primarily applied to positive keywords, allowing ads to match with searches that were similar but not identical to the keywords targeted.

The 2024 Update to Negative Keywords

As of 2024, Google Ads has expanded the use of close variants to negative keywords. This means that negative keywords will now match more variations of search terms. For instance, if “free” is a negative keyword, your ad might also be excluded from searches containing “freebies,” “freeing,” or “freed.”

Implications for Businesses

Enhanced Ad Relevance

The update aims to enhance ad relevance by preventing ads from appearing in searches that are closely related to the negative keywords but not exact matches. This change can help businesses avoid wasting ad spend on irrelevant traffic, thereby improving the overall efficiency of their campaigns.

Greater Control Over Ad Campaigns

With close variants applied to negative keywords, businesses gain more comprehensive control over their ad campaigns. This update reduces the chances of ads being triggered by searches that are semantically similar to the specified negative keywords, leading to more precise targeting.

Potential for Over-Exclusion

However, there is also a potential downside. The expanded close variants could lead to over-exclusion, where ads are prevented from appearing in searches that might actually be relevant. For example, a negative keyword like “cheap” might also block searches for “cheapest,” which could sometimes be relevant depending on the context of the product or service being advertised.

Adjusting to the Change

Reviewing Existing Negative Keywords

The first step businesses should take is to review their existing negative keyword lists. This review should focus on understanding how the expanded close variants might affect current campaigns. Look for instances where close variants might unintentionally exclude relevant searches.

Refining Negative Keyword Lists

Refining your negative keyword lists involves balancing the need to exclude irrelevant traffic with the risk of over-exclusion. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Use More Specific Negative Keywords: Instead of broad terms, use more specific negative keywords to avoid unintentionally blocking relevant searches.
  • Monitor Search Query Reports: Regularly review search query reports to identify any relevant terms that are being excluded due to close variants. Adjust your negative keyword lists accordingly.
  • Test and Iterate: Implement changes gradually and monitor the impact on your campaigns. Use A/B testing to determine the optimal negative keyword strategy.

Implementing New Strategies

To effectively adjust to the new close variants for negative keywords, businesses should consider implementing the following strategies:

1. Comprehensive Keyword Research

Conduct thorough keyword research to understand the variations of terms that users might search for. This includes identifying potential close variants that could impact your campaigns. Tools like Google’s Keyword Planner can be useful for this research.

2. Segmenting Negative Keywords

Segment your negative keywords into categories based on their impact and relevance. For example, create separate lists for brand-related negative keywords, product-specific negative keywords, and general negative keywords. This segmentation allows for more precise management and adjustments.

3. Using Phrase Match and Exact Match

Leverage phrase match and exact match types for negative keywords to control which variations are excluded. Phrase match ensures that the negative keyword is only excluded when it appears as a part of a phrase, while exact match excludes only the exact term specified. This can help prevent over-exclusion.

4. Regular Audits and Adjustments

Regularly audit your negative keyword lists to ensure they align with your campaign goals. Schedule periodic reviews and adjustments to respond to changes in search behavior and campaign performance. This proactive approach helps maintain the relevance and effectiveness of your campaigns.

5. Leveraging Negative Keyword Lists

Utilize shared negative keyword lists across multiple campaigns to streamline management and ensure consistency. Shared lists allow you to make updates in one place and apply them across all relevant campaigns, saving time and effort.

Example Scenarios

Scenario 1: E-Commerce Business

An e-commerce business selling premium electronics might use negative keywords like “cheap” to avoid appearing in searches related to low-cost products. With the expanded close variants, their ads might also be excluded from searches like “cheapest high-quality headphones,” which could be relevant. To adjust, they could refine their negative keyword list to include specific phrases like “cheap electronics” while monitoring search query reports to catch any relevant terms being excluded.

Scenario 2: Service-Based Business

A service-based business offering luxury spa services might use negative keywords such as “discount” to avoid budget-conscious customers. The new close variants could exclude searches like “discounted luxury spa packages,” which might still target a high-value audience. They should review and adjust their negative keywords to ensure they do not miss out on potential high-intent customers.


The 2024 update to Google Ads’ negative keyword close variants represents a significant shift in how businesses can manage their ad campaigns. While this change offers enhanced control and improved ad relevance, it also requires careful adjustment to avoid over-exclusion. By reviewing existing negative keyword lists, implementing new strategies, and continuously monitoring performance, businesses can effectively navigate this change and optimize their Google Ads campaigns.

Staying informed and proactive is key to making the most of these updates. For more detailed information on this change, visit the official post by Google titled, Maximize performance on Search with updates to query matching.