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What are Google Ads Keyword Match Types?

January 3, 2019
written by Amber Dawson

Learn how to correctly use Google Ads keyword match types and improve your conversions, traffic and how your budget is spent.

It’s easy to think that keywords are simple.

You pick some keywords, put them in Google Ads and Google will help you find reliable traffic for those words – right? Sadly, it’s not that simple.

You can easily waste money by not understanding what each match type is used for.

If you don’t know how to use keywords to highly target your Google ads, you’ll be paying for the wrong audience to come to your site and not buy. So, you’ll be out of pocket whilst your potential customers don’t know you exist.

Keyword match types are easy enough to learn, it’s just knowing the differences between them that’s crucial.

What are keyword match types?

Keyword match types are specific parameters that control which keywords trigger your ads to appear in searches.

There are four primary Google Ads keyword match types:

  • Exact match
  • Broad match
  • Phrase match
  • Broad match modified

Don’t worry if you don’t know the difference, just read on and we’ll explain what each of these means and how to use them.

Exact match

Exact match

As their name suggests, these keywords match what’s put into the search engine exactly.

To signify that you want an exact match you put the keywords in square brackets ([ ]). For example, the exact match keyword [ice cream] will only match if someone searches the words ‘ice cream’ or ‘ice creams’. Your ad will also appear if a close variant of your keyword is searched for, e.g. a misspelling.

So, only those words, in that order, will trigger your ad if you put them into your campaign. All the words must be there but none can go before, after or in the middle.

The best time to use exact match keywords is when you want to be very specific and only show up for exactly those words.

Be careful though, you may get buried amongst the competition if you’re a small business. The best way to get ahead of them if to bid on more precise keywords so you appear for more specific searches.

For instance, if you’re selling ice cream, just bidding on [ice cream] may not be the best bet as all the big brands will be coming up for that search too. If you’re an independent business, you’re not going to be able to compete with the likes of Wall’s and Magnum on ad spend.

But, if you’re selling an unusual brand of ice cream suitable for vegans, bid on that – [ice cream for vegans] is a much more niche search term. So, the traffic you attract is much more likely to be ready to buy as they know what exactly what they want.

Broad match

Broad match

At the opposite end of the spectrum, broad match keywords don’t require any symbols like plus signs (+) or quote marks (” “) and can just be typed straight into your keyword box.

How they work: if you just type in ‘dog lead’ you’ll appear for dog leads, yes, but you’ll also appear for ‘dogs for sale’, ‘dog walker’, ‘lead poisoning’ and a whole host of other things. Anything relating to your words could cause your ad to appear and consequently be ignored if it’s totally unrelated.

This is the primary reason for money being wasted as broad match keywords mean your ad appears for such a wide range of things. You might be thinking “Great! I’ll show up for everything!” but using broad match doesn’t mean your ad will necessarily be seen.

Everyone else that has done the same will appear as well, so you’re battling against a lot of competition. So, unless your keyword is highly unusual, a broad match isn’t your best bet.

Furthermore, you won’t just appear for that exact search.

In summary, a benefit of broad match is you’ll often have a cheaper cost-per-click but these clicks won’t be precise or bring you those top quality conversions, so you’ll need to way up your options.

Broad match modified

Broad match modified

One step up from broad match is broad match modified (BMM) which is increasingly specific and gives you more control. You can dictate which words are necessary and have to appear in searches.

If you were to put +blue+balloons, you would appear for blue balloons, big blue balloons, blue elephant balloon – words appear before, after or in between as long as they include blue and balloons.

The format for these keywords is a plus sign in front of the word that must appear in a search. For example, putting +balloons in your keywords means that the word balloons must appear but that words can be in front, in the middle or after too. So, you can appear for ‘party balloons’, ‘balloons for children’ and anything else Google deems to be a synonym of ‘balloons’.

Ultimately, broad match modified allows you to narrow the search field and clearly tell Google what you want. So, you can generate better-matched traffic and get better conversions.

Phrase match

Phrase match

Phrase match is similar to BMM but you put quote marks around the keyword or keywords you want to come up.

This primarily means that no words can appear in between. So, if you phrase match “cat food” you’ll appear for searches like ‘healthy cat food, ‘cheap cat food’ and ‘cat food shop’ – any search with words before or after, but the phrase words will never be separated.

So, this match type is great for being specific whilst still leaving room for a wide audience. Essentially, this gives you a great middle ground between exact match and broad match, so is a great one to use if you’re still unsure how things work.

Google Ads Keyword Match Types funnel

Get the right combination of keywords

Ultimately, it’s all about finding a balance between volume and specificity.

You need a good volume of traffic clicking on your ads, however, you want those clicks to have been specifically targetted so that they’re likely to take action from your site.

To find out what’s working and what’s not, have a look at your Search Terms Report found inside Google Ads. This will show you exactly which searches you’re appearing for so you can work out if you’re on track.

If your search terms are all over the place, you’re probably using too much broad match or broad match modified.

On the other hand, if you’re not getting enough volume, you’re likely using too many exact match or phrase match keywords.

Use your search terms report to see what is working, what’s converting and, importantly, what it’s all costing. From there, you can address problem areas and increase budgets accordingly.

What about negative keywords?

Yes, you have to make sure you’re using negative keywords too. If you’re not sure what these are, just take a look at our Beginner’s Guide To Negative Keywords.

Essentially, just like you’ve spent time choosing keywords you do want to appear for, you can dictate to Google what you don’t want to appear for. And, the same keyword match types you’ve learned about here apply there too. So, you can be even more specific about what you do and don’t want.

If you want to see how your keywords are performing right now, try our free Performance Report.

It’s super easy to use and a great starting point for getting your Google Ads to be the most successful they can be.

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Apply automatically generated suggestions to optimise your campaigns with a single click. Use clever automation to do away with routine, time-consuming tasks. Run easy-to-understand reports at the click of a button.

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Amber Dawson

I’m the Creative Content Strategist at Adzooma and spend my time coming up with ideas and writing about Digital Marketing. My work features on the likes of Marketing Donut and PPC Protect. I studied English at Exeter University and have a Creative Advertising Masters from Falmouth. In my spare time, I like to read, draw and get taken for walks by my German Shepherd.

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