Keywords are crucial to any Google Ads campaign but not all keywords are dealt with in the same way. Keyword match types give you more control over who sees your ads and these settings have a major impact on key metrics such as impressions, click-through rates and conversions.

While match types can be a little confusing at first, they’re relatively easy to get your head around – and they’re one of the first things you should learn about campaign optimisation. So, in this guide, we’re going to take a look at each keyword match type Google Ads offers and explain when you might want to use them.

 

What are keyword match types?

Match types in Google Ads determine how strict Google is at matching your keywords to user search queries. For example, if one of your keywords is “paid advertising”, you might want to create an ad group that only shows when someone types “paid advertising” into Google and nothing else.

 

 

However, you might want to create another ad group that also shows for all queries including “paid advertising” or searches using variations like “PPC” or “digital advertising”.

 

 

Keyword match types give you this kind of control, allowing you to create ads that only show for specific keywords and others that show for a much wider set of search queries. If you’re wondering why this kind of control is important, it all comes down to finding the balance between getting your ads seen by the widest audience possible without showing them to people who have no value to your campaign goals.

For example, if you’re a wedding photographer in Manchester, an obvious keyword choice will be “wedding photographer in Manchester”. However, you don’t want your ad showing for aspiring photographers searching for “wedding photography jobs in Manchester” and keyword match types are crucial to ensuring you don’t waste impressions or pay for clicks from people who’ll never convert.

That gives you a good idea of what keyword match types are in general and why they’re important. Now, let’s look at each match type in more detail and explain why you might want to use them in different scenarios.

 

 

Google Ads keyword match types

There are four keyword match types in Google Ads that you need to know about: broad match, broad match modifier, phrase match and exact match. When you add a new keyword to an ad group, it will be set to broad match by default and you’ll need to manually change this when necessary.

 

 

As the name suggests, broad match allows your ads to show for the broadest range of queries, including related search terms, synonyms and other variations. Broad match modifier and phrase match are progressively more strict about the search terms your ads will show for while exact match is the strictest of all the match types.

The broader your match type selection, the more people will see your ads – but this comes at the expense of less control over the user intent you’re targeting. Generally speaking, broad match types help you reach the widest audience while stricter match types help you pinpoint a stronger purchase intent.

We’ll explain this in more detail as we look at each match type, starting with broad match.

 

Broad match

Broad match is the least strict keyword match type in Google Ads, meaning your ads will show for the broadest range of keywords. For every broad match keyword you include, Google will also run your ads for relevant variations – including “synonyms, singular and plural forms, possible misspellings, stemmings (such as floor and flooring), related searches, and other relevant variations.”

 

Reasons to use broad match:

  • Your goal is to get your ad seen by the largest possible audience (rather than maximise CTRs, conversions, etc.)
  • You’re too lazy to build a proper keyword list

 

Reasons not to use broad match:

  • Your ads risk showing for irrelevant search terms
  • Broad match typically results in lower CTRs
  • High impressions and low CTRs are bad for clicks, conversions and your Quality Score

 

Verdict: Unless your only goal is to reach the widest possible audience, we recommend you stay away from broad match.

 

Broad match modifier

Broad match modifiers are significantly stricter than regular broad match keywords but they still allow your ads to show for close variants. To use broad match modifiers, you’ll want to keep the default broad match setting but add a “+” in front of any words you want to define as a broad match modifier – eg: +red +women’s +dress (make sure there’s no space between the “+” and each word).

As Google says: “Broad match modifiers ensure that your ads will only show when someone’s search is an exact match or close variant of your keyword. Close variants include misspellings, singular and plural forms, abbreviations and acronyms, and stemmings (like “floor” and “flooring”).

“Synonyms (like “quick” and “fast”) and related searches (like “shoes” and “boots”) aren’t considered close variants.”

 

Reasons to use broad match modifiers:

  • Fairly strict control over who sees your ads but close variants
  • Close variants still allow for different word choices and misspellings
  • You can mix broad match and broad match modifiers for tighter control over specific words – eg: formal +shoes can show for smart shoes but not formal footwear
  • You want to maximise the number of leads you generate

 

Reasons not to use broad match modifiers:

  • You want to target a highly specific audience
  • You’re not converting enough leads from broad match modifiers

 

Verdict: Broad match modifiers are a great option for trying to maximise the number of leads for product and service searches. You might not convert users right away but people in the market for some fancy shoes now might come back to buy something else from you in the future, even if they don’t buy today. You won’t get the highest conversion rates with broad match modifiers but you should end up with more leads to work with.

 

Phrase match

Phrase match limits your ads to showing for users who type your keyword exactly as you do, including searches with words before or after your keyword. So if your phrase match keyword is freelance web designer, your ad will show for queries like this:

 

  • Freelance web designer
  • Freelance web designers in Manchester
  • Hire freelance web designers in Manchester
  • Freelance web designer jobs in Manchester (notice the conflict in user intent compared to the other keywords in this list)

 

However, your ad won’t for queries that don’t include your keyword – eg: web designer in Manchester. Close variations are allowed, which means singulars, plurals, spelling mistakes and the usual exceptions apply.

 

Reasons to use phrase match:

  • To target high-intent search terms
  • To target highly specific long-tail keywords
  • For campaigns designed to maximise conversions or CTRs
  • To maintain or improve your Quality Score

 

Reasons not to use phrase match:

  • When you want to reach a wider audience
  • When you’re targeting search terms that will naturally have a lot of variations

 

Verdict: Phrase match is a powerful choice if you’ve done your homework and you know what people are going to be searching for when they’re ready to do business with you. It’s also a good approach for targeting the highest intent keywords when your goal is to maximise CTRs and conversions or build marketing lists of highly-qualified leads, rather than the largest volume.

 

Exact match

Exact match is the strictest keyword match type in Google Ads, only allowing your ads to show for queries that are exactly the same as your keyword choices. So, if your keyword is freelance web designer, your ads will only show when a user types in freelance web designer (the usual variations apply) without any other text before or after it.

 

Reasons to use broad match modifiers:

  • Fairly strict control over who sees your ads but close variants
  • Close variants still allow for different word choices and misspellings
  • You can mix broad match and broad match modifiers for tighter control over specific words – eg: formal +shoes can show for smart shoes but not formal footwear
  • You want to maximise the number of leads you generate

 

Reasons not to use broad match modifiers:

  • You want to target a highly specific audience
  • You’re not converting enough leads from broad match modifiers

 

Verdict: Broad match modifiers are a great option for trying to maximise the number of leads for product and service searches. You might not convert users right away but people in the market for some fancy shoes now might come back to buy something else from you in the future, even if they don’t buy today. You won’t get the highest conversion rates with broad match modifiers but you should end up with more leads to work with.

 

Phrase match

Phrase match limits your ads to showing for users who type your keyword exactly as you do, including searches with words before or after your keyword. So if your phrase match keyword is freelance web designer, your ad will show for queries like this:

 

  • Freelance web designer
  • Freelance web designers in Manchester
  • Hire freelance web designers in Manchester
  • Freelance web designer jobs in Manchester (notice the conflict in user intent compared to the other keywords in this list)

 

However, your ad won’t for queries that don’t include your keyword – eg: web designer in Manchester. Close variations are allowed, which means singulars, plurals, spelling mistakes and the usual exceptions apply.

 

Reasons to use exact match:

  • When you only want your ads to show for your keyword, nothing else
  • When you’re targeting high-intent keywords at the end of the buying process
  • When you only want the highest quality of leads, not quantity

 

Reasons not to use exact match:

  • You limit your reach
  • Managing a lot of exact match ad groups can be time-consuming

 

Verdict: Exact match is the way to go when you want the most control over who sees your ads but this comes at the expense of limiting your reach. If you’re targeting users at the very end of the buying cycle, this might not be a problem but exact match can even be too limited at this late stage of the consumer journey, depending on the queries you’re targeting.

 

Use negative keywords for greater control

The keyword match types we’ve looked at so far give you varying degrees of control over who sees your ads, but negative keywords give you an entirely different level of control. With negative keywords, you can rule out specific search queries that you don’t want your ads to show for and this is crucial to making sure you target the right kind of user intent.

Earlier, we looked at a list of potential search terms that could trigger an ad using freelance web as a phrase match keyword:

 

  • Freelance web designer
  • Freelance web designers in Manchester
  • Hire freelance web designers in Manchester
  • Freelance web designer jobs in Manchester

 

A freelance web designer advertising their services doesn’t want someone looking for design jobs to see their ads, let alone click on them. By adding web designer job as a negative keyword, you can stop this ad showing for the wrong type of audience and make sure you’re pinpointing the right target audience with your keywords.

 

See which search terms trigger your ads by using the search terms report

When it comes to managing your keyword strategy, the Search terms report is your best friend. This is where you’ll see which search queries are actually triggering your ads, find new keyword opportunities and discover new negative keywords you need to add to your lists.

To view the report, click on the Keywords tab in the left-hand menu in your Google Ads dashboard and click the SEARCH TERMS tab that appears in the horizontal navigation menu.

 

 

With keyword match types, you’ll generally want to test different options against each other to see whether broad match modifiers or phrase match perform better, for example. With the search terms report, you can get the full picture on how your keyword strategy is working and spot opportunities for improvement.

Now that you know the keyword match types in Google Ads, you can get an idea of the level of control you have over who sees your ads – and this is before you apply any targeting for demographics, location or anything else.