Keyword Match Types: Explained

When Google asks you to assign keyword match types to your PPC (pay per click) campaign, do you often just leave it on the default and move on?

You could be doing more damage to your campaigns than you realise.

If you’re left wondering each month why your budget runs out so fast, or why users aren’t converting, or why the keyword CPC (cost per click) keeps getting higher…..then this article may just have the answer – and it has a lot to do with the match type you use.

What are keyword match types?

When setting up a keyword for your advertising campaigns, you need to let Google know your intentions behind the keyword, so you can get the most out of your PPC ads and increase your traffic.

For example a person searching for the term ‘piano’ could be looking to buy a piano, or they could be looking for piano lessons. Sometimes it’s hard to know what they want, so Google asks us assign a match type to our keywords, in order to effectively target our ads to the right search query.

There are three different match types, that can help Google determine how broad or how narrow a users search query will match to the keyword.

The types are:

  1. Broad match
  2. Modified broad match
  3. Phrase match

Broad Match

A broad match will reach the widest audience and it is the default option in Adwords. If you decide to go with broad match, your ad will appear when a user searches for parts of your keyword, in any order, or similar phrases.

Say for example your keyword phrase is: boutique hotels. Your ad could appear if the user searches for ‘hotel stay’, ’boutique holiday’ or even ‘luxury break’. Variations of your keyword could also appear such as abbreviations, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemmings, and even misspellings.

Although on the plus side your ad will reach the largest audience, on the downside this could negatively impact your budget as it is not highly targeted. This means a user could click onto your ad, and click off straight away without converting, so tailoring the broad match option is advised — which brings me to the next option…

Broad Match Modifier

A broad match modifier is all about the + sign. If you assign your keyword with a + sign then you’re letting Google know that the search query must include that term. The good news about a modified broad match is that it can help you reach a wide audience, whilst narrowing down individual keywords.

For example if you use +boutique hotel, Google can only let the user see your ad if they have searched for boutique (or a variation such as a misspelling), somewhere in their query. So a person who searches ’boutique stay’, ‘country boutique manor’ or reviews for boutique hotels’ will receive your ad.

As you are targeting specific keywords, this can help improve your click through rate, with traffic that is much more likely to convert.

Phrase Match

A phrase match helps you better target your keywords by ensuring your ad will only show if a person searches for the exact phrase of your keyword, or close variations. It does allow for words to appear before or after the phrase, but not in between.

For example if your key phrase is ‘luxury boutique hotels’, then your ad will show if a user searches for ‘cheap luxury boutique hotels in north west’ or, ‘best luxury boutique hotels’ or even ‘luxry boutique hotel for couples’.

As you can see it must have the phrase in the right order, somewhere within the query, but it does take into account close variations of the words used such as the misspelling of ‘luxry’. Phrase match will again help you better target traffic, as you are giving the user an ad based on exact phrase that they are searching for.

What about exact match?

From September 2014, Google said goodbye to the exact match type — which basically meant that the user had to type in your exact keyword to see your ad. Although this did offer control over the quality of leads that come to your site, it also limited the amount of traffic you were likely to receive.

According to Google people are not great at spelling. In fact, 7% of Google searches contain a misspelling, which is why they probably feel an exact match type would not be beneficial to the success of your PPC campaigns. So they’ve made sure that each match type offers the close variation feature to go alongside it.

But what if I want to have more control?

If you are worried about the changes to ‘exact match type’, you can still be strategic in the way you optimize your keywords, and it’s something Google likes to call negative keywords.

If you assign a negative keyword to your phrase, for example the word cheap. A user who searched for ‘cheap boutique hotels’, would not receive your ad. This can help you weed out the people who are not interested in your product, whilst still targeting a wide audience.

Test out your keywords

To run a successful campaign, you need to be testing various keywords to see which ones work for you. If you are struggling with the standard keyword tools then you could benefit from our keyword tool.

Not only will you find out the latest keyword trends, but you can discover what keywords and links your competitors are using, find out the phrases that your customers are typing into Google, and discover the links that people are using to come to you.


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Written by Jackson Miller

Jackson is a 10-year veteran of the SEO industry with expertise in in-depth keyword research, content marketing, and social media marketing. He shares his knowledge on the KeywordEye blog. Read more of Jackson's articles.