Google Ads Keyword Match Types
Google has built an incredibly powerful advertising machine. Powerful in two ways. The most important is that it helps advertisers place their ads in front of people actively searching for content matching their ads. The second is it is a very powerful way for Google to reach further into your company wallet and optimize their way into bigger revenues. Fortunately, it's a winning combination for you, the advertiser. How much you are able to win will depend on how well you are able to optimize Google Ads for your benefit. One of the most important ways to do this is by using Keyword Match Types.

What Are Keyword Match Types?

When you build your Google Ads campaigns, you will include a list of keywords to associate with your ads.  (We won't get into how to structure your Campaigns and Ad Groups in this post.)  Keywords can be in one of 4 keyword match types.
  • Broad Match
  • Broad Match Modifier
  • Phrase Match
  • Exact Match
This list above is also in the order of least specific to most specific.  As the name suggest, Broad Match will match your keywords to as many search queries as possible, search queries that are the same, similar, and related.  On the other end of the scale, Exact Match is also just as named, it will only match to a search query which is exactly the same as your keyword. The more specific your keyword match types, the more targeted your traffic, but also the fewer ad impressions that you will receive.

How Keyword Match Types Work

For our examples below, we will be an online store selling fly fishing gear, including fly fishing rods, fly fishing reels, fly fishing line, fly fishing nets, and fly fishing vests. Broad Match
  • enter the keyword without any special symbols
  • example: fly fishing rod
  • Search queries can match based on any word in your key phrase, in any order plus misspellings and synonyms.  So this keyword could conceivably be triggered by "fishing rod", "fly in fishing", "fly swatter", "fishing boat", "ice fishing tent", "fishing lodge", "best places to fish".  Some of this traffic is desired, some is not.
Broad Match Modifier
  • place the plus sign in front of words that must be matched
  • +fly +fishing rod
  • Search queries can match based on having the + marked word included in the query, in any order, and may also include other words, or synonyms.  "fly fishing lodge", "fly in fishing", "fly angling guide", "fly fishing gear", "fishing flies".  Traffic will be more specific than broad match.
Phrase Match
  • place quotes around the word combination that must appear
  • "fly fishing" rod
  • Search queries can match if they contain the phrase, in the correct order, or closely related phrases, but also may included additional words or synonyms.  "fly fishing trip", "guide to fly fishing", "fly fishing handbook", "fly fishing for trout" could all be matched.
Exact Match
  • place square brackets around the term that must match exactly
  • [fly fishing rod]
  • Search queries must be very specific and must include the entire phrase, all words, in order, or very close variants.  This match type was updated by Google in 2017 to be a little less restrictive so now will also match on close misspellings.  "fly fishing rod", "fly fishing rods", "fly fish rod" would all be search terms that could trigger this match.

Multiple Keywords, Multiple Keyword Match Types

Remember as you are building your campaigns, that each ad group will have multiple keywords and each keyword can use a match type.   Some terms may target traffic broadly while others may be specific enough to eliminate other related traffic, that you do not want.  How broad, or how narrow you set your keyword match types should be based on how broad or narrow are the product or services offered. You should almost never have all of your keywords as the same match type.

What is the Right Keyword Match Type for Me

The only exception to the above would be a brand new ad campaign built by a New Advertiser who does not have the data or the intuition to initially use other match types.  In this case, start with Broad Match and follow the data (see below).  As your campaigns run, Google Ads tracks a very useful set of data that can help you make decisions.  Your data should drive you to consider changing keyword match types.

New Advertisers

If you are new to using Google Ads, then narrow the choices down to two keyword match types, Broad Match and Phrase Match.  This gives you enough control over your keywords without providing a confusing set of rules that end up resulting in casting a net that is either too wide or too specific.  You will need at least 2 weeks of data but it is better to leave your ads running for at least 4 weeks before you start making changes.  Then go to the data, specifically look at keywords within your campaigns that are receiving a very high number of impressions and a very low click through rate (CTR).  Generally a CTR of less than 1% is considered low.  These are quite often add impressions that are triggered by search queries which are only slightly related.  The user then sees your headlines and ad copy as unrelated to their query and does not click your ad.  By using phrase match on these terms, you can narrow down the ad impressions to those matching the most important portion of your keywords.

Experienced Advertisers

If you are an experienced Google Ads user then optimize your use of keyword match types by starting from broad match and working your way to more narrow match types.  If you have enough experience with Google Ads and enough familiarity with the search behaviour of your target audience, then you may be able to begin your campaign with more than just Broad Match keywords.   Let the campaigns run for several weeks to a month and then begin following the data from the campaigns to lead you in the right direction. The data you will want to use most for making decisions on keyword match types will be clicks, impressions, the resulting click through rate (CTR), conversions, and the wealth of information found within the Search Terms report.  Some of the best data available in your Google Ads account will be ad conversions.  To see this data, you will need to have conversion tracking set up. If you do not have this set up, we will be writing a future article on how to set up conversion tracking. Anywhere you have high conversions, your campaigns are doing what you want, driving high quality traffic to your website.  Where you see good conversion numbers, it's best to leave those keywords alone and spend you time on improving the performance of other keywords.  For an optimization strategy, think about beginning as broad as possible and working to becoming as specific as possible.  Where you see keywords with low CTR, you know you need to apply some attention.  As the initial step, consider which individual words in your keywords really should be in a search query to drive relevant traffic, and add the broad match modifier.  In our example, +fly +fishing would be the best place to apply this. Check the Search Terms report.  The link to the report is found above the graph in your keywords performance report.  Here you will find the actual search queries used which triggered clicks on your ads.  Look for commonalities in the terms, phrases which you are not currently using in your keywords, but also pay attention to the CTR in this report.  If you find high impression numbers, with low CTR, make note of the search term and then go back to your keywords and adjust your match types to weed these out.  In our example, if we find high instances of "ice fishing rods" then we know we are too broadly exposed.  We can limit our exposure to these types of impressions by focusing the attention in our keywords to "fly fishing" with the Phrase Match modifier. Looking again at the keywords performance report, look for high CTR but a low number of conversions, these are the types of people you want, (they are likely fly fishing enthusiasts) they just aren't looking specifically for what you are selling.  The downside of this traffic is that it uses up your ad budget but doesn't contribute to your revenue.  In this case, the keyword match type Exact Match can help to focus the ad impressions to those searches looking for the products you carry in your store temp mail.  Examples would include [fly fishing rod], [fly fishing reel], [fly fishing vest], [fly fishing nets], and [fly fishing line].

Pause the Old and Add New Keyword Match Types

One important user tip when you are optimizing Google Ads keyword match types.  When making changes to match types, we recommend pausing the existing keyword and adding a new keyword with the updated match type.  Sometimes your optimization efforts will go too far, get too specific, and reduce the appeal of the ads to a very small audience (low impressions).  But this is hard to tell if you don't have the historical data from the old match type to review.  You can still see the historical data of a paused keyword in Google Ads.  So if your new match type is less effective at driving sales traffic conversions than the old match type, simply pause the new and reactivate the old. Revisit your campaigns at least monthly and look for further opportunities to optimize.