A Guide to Keyword Match Types in Google AdWords


When creating a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign for Google AdWords, a decision will need to be made relative to the keyword match type you’d like to use. Why? Google needs to know how specifically you want your ads to match user searches. Before you decide which AdWords match types to use, you should first gain an understanding of the categories available, as well as how each works. Here is a list and description of each of the six match types in AdWords.

Broad Match

Listed by Google as the “default matching option”, the broad match category is best if you want your ads to show in results where your preselected keywords were entered in any order. The ads could also appear if close variations on the keyword are entered. This is also a good option for those who don’t have the time to invest in creating in-depth keyword lists.

Broad Match Modifier

As suggested by the name, a broad match modifier is a spinoff of the broad match option. The difference is that when a modifier is added, the words must appear in the search criteria, and variations on said word will not show. For example, if you selected the keyword phrase “boys shoes”, your ad may appear if someone searched using the phrase “shoes for boys”, but your ad would not appear if someone searched using the phrase “boys boots”. Modifiers can be identified by adding the “+” symbol in front of the relevant word (+boys +shoes).

Phrase Match

Using the phrase match option, ads will appear in search results when a person searches using the exact keyword phrase you entered. Your ad may also show if a person uses the keyword but adds words before or after it, or with close variations. For instance, if you’ve chosen the keyword phrase “blue car”, your ad will appear when someone searches using the phrase “light blue car” or “blue cars”, but it will not appear if the user searches using the phrase “blue used car”. Phrase match keywords are identified by their surrounding quotations.

Exact Match

Just as the name suggests, exact match will only work when someone enters the exact words you’ve chosen. This option allows for more specific targeting than the other options. However, if additional words are added to the users search criteria, or a synonym is used (ex: pants instead of slacks), your ad will not appear in the results. Identify exact match keywords by surrounding them with brackets.

Negative Match

Use this option to prevent unwanted ad traffic and clicks. By adding a negative symbol (“-“) at the beginning of the keyword you can keep your ad from appearing in search results that use that phrase. You can also use negative match with other match types. For example, if you don’t want your ad to appear in any search that uses the exact phrase “dog treats”, simply create it as follows: -“dog treats”.

Which Keyword Match Type Should You Use?

Google recommends taking a ‘broad to narrow’ approach when selecting the match type. That way, there is more of a chance that your ad will appear in relevant search results. However, you’ll need to monitor your choices to ensure that you aren’t getting too many irrelevant hits. Remember that you pay for every click, so choosing relevant keyword match types is critical to your ROI.

After you’ve received enough impressions and clicks to analyse, pour over the search terms report to identify the keywords and variations that brought up your ads. If the variations in the report aren’t relevant try using phrase match or exact match. The report will also tell you which keywords to eliminate through the use of negative match.

Selecting the right keyword match types is not an exact science, and your choices should be monitored and regularly tested. However, the effort will pay off in saved clicks (which saves money) and an increase in quality leads, because it communicates clearly to Google under what search criteria you want your ad to be displayed.

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Article by Will Williamson