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What Are Negative Keywords?

In short, negative keywords are any keyword that will prevent your ad from showing up for a certain phrase or word when placed in your pay per click (PPC) campaign. Essentially, you avoid paying for clicks from individuals who aren’t your ideal client.

There are different types of negative keywords that apply specifically to law firms. For example, there are price-sensitive keywords such as: free, pro-bono, and affordable. If you add “pro-bono” as a negative keyword to your Google Ads campaign, you’ll tell Google not to show your ads to users who are typing that in along with your targeted keyword (e.g. Divorce attorney vs Free Divorce Attorney) when making searches. This process allows you to niche down within a niche!

Negative Keywords allow you to limit searches for the keywords in the ad auction to limit any potential waste from off-topic or irrelevant searches.

Why Are Negative Keywords So Important?

It’s no secret that the online legal market is saturated. Most attorneys fear that they’re going to spend their entire PPC budgets on clicks that never turn into real, paying legal clients. While that can certainly happen, you can avoid it altogether by implementing negative keywords. Without them in your PPC campaign, you run the risk of burning through your allocated budget fairly quickly.

By using negative keywords, you’ll be able to automatically qualify the individuals whom your ad is showing up for. Instead of speaking to the masses, you’ll be speaking to an extremely specific type of prospect.

How To Find The Right Negative Keywords

When it comes to negative keywords, it starts with understanding what you DON’T want to show up for. Some things to take into account are your area of law, the household income of your ideal client, competitors, etc.

There are 4 main categories that you want to focus-bucket the negative keywords into price-sensitive, geography, competitors, and areas of law.

1. Price-Sensitive Keywords

These could be negative keywords such as: free, affordable, pro-bono, cheap, etc if you serve higher-income clients. Searches for cheap legal advice or pro-bono service can destroy your budget before you’ve even received a single qualified lead!

2. Geography-Specific Keywords

If you only serve clients within the city limits and zip codes of Chicago, you’d want to exclude the zip codes and town names of the cities that are surrounding Chicago.

While you may think that location targeting may already exclude these individuals, that’s not always the case. Say you’re showing your ads to individuals who live within Chicago, yet they’re searching for the “Best Divorce Lawyer in Naperville” for their best friend or family member. You wouldn’t want to show up for that ad because you don’t serve Naperville, thus, wasting your ad spend on an unqualified lead who would never convert to a real, paying law client.

3. Competitor Keywords

Let’s say that your law firm is “ABC Law Firm”, but your competitor is named “XYZ Law Firm”. You’d want to use negative keywords for all of the variations of XYZ Law Firm such as, “XYZ Law”, “XYZ Firm”.

Individuals specifically searching for your competitors are (most likely) only interested in their services. They’ve done their research, perhaps they’ve had introductory calls with them, and they’re likely just Googling them to find their number to call back. This individual isn’t very likely to turn into a paying law client of yours, save your ad spend for leads who are more open.

4. Area of Law

For your divorce & separation law practice, this may include the words “mediation” or “counseling”. If you’re a DUI attorney, these keywords could be “assault”, “battery”, etc. You don’t want to show up when prospects are searching for lawyers for an area of law which you don’t practice.

Levels of Negatives: Campaigns vs Ad Groups

Something extremely important to note is WHERE you place your negative keywords: at the campaign level or at the ad group level. At the campaign level, you’ll want to place geographic, competitor, and niche-specific negative keywords. At the ad group level, you’ll want to negative-out synonym keywords such as attorney or lawyer, car or auto, etc. You may be thinking, “But why would I want to negative out ‘attorney?’ I want to show up for those searches!” Down the line, you might find that attorney is far more expensive than lawyer, and you haven’t turned any of those leads into paying clients.

A Last Piece of Advice: Think Beyond The Word

A final piece of advice to remember is to think beyond the word. What does this mean exactly? You do not want to unintentionally eliminate queries that you WANT to show for, by forgetting about multiple meanings, context, and intent. “ME” has a double meaning: it could be an abbreviation for Maine, as well as a pronoun referring to oneself (“divorce lawyer near ME”). Before you negative-out specific keywords, be cautious of the other meanings that might not always be intended.

Choosing the right negative keywords will help you save on your ad spend and increase your click-through and conversion rates. By promoting your ad to a more highly-specific audience, you’ll increase your chances of closing new legal clients!

Bill Hauser
CEO & Founder at

After managing over a million dollars in ad spend, Bill has become a PPC expert. Working with small-to-medium sized businesses, he understands the importance of maximizing budget and delivering the highest quality results and return on investments.