Properly Using Keyword Match Types In Google Advertising

Properly Using Keyword Match Types In Google Advertising

While creating a Google AdWords campaign an advertiser must enter a list of keywords for which they wish to have their ads display. As simple as that sounds, there are variances to adding keywords that will determine the number of impressions and clicks an advertiser’s campaign receives.  The type of keywords entered is a vital factor in determining impressions, clicks, spend and the overall success of advertising on Google.

Every month Google processes over 100 billion searches.  As amazing as that number is, it is equally amazing that on average 15% of those searches have never been previously searched, ever!  This is one reason why an advertiser cannot simply enter a list of keywords, but rather must enter a list of keywords and their match type in order to determine how they wish their ads to appear for any relevant search query.

Let me explain. Google currently supports five different match types: broad, phrase, exact, broad based modifier and negative.  Each match type has its advantages and which type will be the most effective is dependent upon the type of business using it, but generally it is a combination of match types within a campaign that proves to be the best option. 

The ability to determine match type gives marketers the tool to direct as granular or broad of traffic as they wish to their website.  It should be noted that the best match type is not going to be the same for all advertisers and continual testing is recommended.

Broad Match –

Broad match type is the most basic match type.  When using a broad match type, advertiser’s ads will be eligible to run on any search query that has the broad match word(s) or slight variances listed (slight variances include singular/plurals, misspellings, abbreviations and stem words). 

Example, if a marketer is using the broad match term – shoes, ads will be eligible to display for the following search queries: red shoes, women shoes, expensive shoes, cheap shoes, shoes sold online. Any query that contains the word shoe the advertiser’s ads will be eligible to show! 

As you can imagine, broad match type is going to deliver the most traffic; however it is also most likely to deliver the lowest return on investment (ROI), so use it wisely. Note, the broad match type is Google’s default if an advertiser does not specify one of the other match types listed below.

Phrase Match –

Phrase match is generated by added quotation marks around the keyword or keyword phrase. This match type will allow ads to be eligible for display if the search query matches the keywords or when additional words appear in the search query either before or after the keyword or keyword phrase. 

Example, if a marketer has a phrase match term – “red shoes”, ads will be eligible to display for the following queries: ‘buy red shoes’ or ‘red shoes on sale’.  However, ads will not appear if the query has the keyword phrase interrupted such as is the case with the search query – ‘red pretty shoes’. If an advertiser wishes their ads to trigger in this instance, they would need to use the broad match modifier match type (described below).

Exact Match –

An exact match type is generated by using brackets [ ] around keyword(s).  For exact match, the search query must match exactly your keyword or keyword phrase in order for ads to be eligible to display.

Example, if a marketer has an exact match keyword – [red shoes], only if the search query is ‘red shoes’ or a slight variance such as ‘red shoe’ will the keywords trigger an ad to display.  Using exact match keyword and keyword phrases will deliver advertisers the most targeted traffic of any match type and many times the highest ROI, although it will be the least traffic generated of any search type.

Broad Match Modifier

My favorite match type is the broad match modifier. The broad match modifier match type will trigger ads to display for more search queries than the phrase or exact match types while providing more control than a broad match search type. 

The broad match modifier search type is able to be used with single or multiple words.  It is generated by adding a (+) symbol directly in front of the word with no space between the (+) symbol and the word or words.  Once the (+) is added, each word or close variant (singular/plurals, misspellings, abbreviations and stem words) that is preceded by a (+) must be present in a search query in order for an ad to be eligible for display.

Similar to phrase match, a broad match modifier needs to have all the words in the query to appear, but unlike phrase match the order does not need to be the same. As an example, if a marketer uses the broad match modifier search term – +Red +Shoes, ads will be eligible to display even if the words within the broad match modifier are interrupted.  Queries such as ‘Red Unique Shoes’ will trigger ads to display just the same as queries that do not interrupt the broad match modifier keywords such as ‘Unique Red Shoes’.

Negative Keywords

Negative keywords are unlike the other match types in how they are setup, but may be the most important of the match types!  Negative keywords are words that advertisers can add that will cause ads NOT to display even if other match types are triggered.

Negative keywords are generated by adding a minus symbol (-) before any words that should be a negative keyword. Example, if there is the negative word ‘–used’ and a search query is done for ‘used red shoes’, an advertiser’s ad would not be display even if the campaign contained “red shoes” as a phrase match; +red +shoes as a broad match modifier or red shoes as a broad match.  The ad would also would not show for an exact match for [red shoes]; not because of the negative keyword ‘-used’ is present, but because the query ‘used red shoes’ of course is not an exact match for [red shoes].

The proper use of negative keywords is quite important in limiting unwanted traffic and costs. In fact negative keywords are so important that I’ve dedicated an entire blog post to the subject – The Art of Adding Negative KeywordsPlease review that post for complete details on how to implement negative keywords at the campaign as well as the ad group levels along with some best-practices and strategies.


In order to determine which match type will generate the highest return on investment, continual testing is required.  The proper use of match type is a delicate balancing act between generating traffic and generating a positive ROI.  Only through continual testing can advertiser discover the proper balance for their specific advertising campaign.  

Fortunately for advertisers, Google makes it easy to track results by implementing Google’s conversion tracking code.  Tracking conversions allows a marketer to determine directly in their AdWords account what costs and conversions are being generated at the keyword level. 

Note, while testing it is not recommended to change a keyword’s match type once listed as historical data will be permanently lost.  Instead, if an advertiser wishes to change a keyword’s match type, it is recommended that the original match type be paused and a new search term with the new match type be created.  This will preserve all historical data and hence allow a comparison of which match type provided better results.

An important tool Google provides in looking at match type on the historical level is the keyword search terms tool as seen in the image below.  By viewing search terms, advertisers can realize exactly which search queries have been driving traffic and how those queries are being matched with existing keywords.

Search-Terms-AllFor more additional instructions on how to access the keyword search terms tool and best-practices when using, read my blog post – The Art of Adding Negative Keywords.

Still need help or looking for someone to bounce ideas off?  I am currently offering free marketing discovery sessions to those interested. Call True Online Presence at 1-888-456-6943 or schedule online.

Happy Marketing!


Andy Splichal is an online marketing strategist  with more than a decade and a half of experience helping companies increase their online presence and profitable revenues.  Although this blog focuses on driving profitable traffic through Google AdWords, True Online Presence offers additional services for lead generation as well as other proven marketing strategies customized for each client.