Understanding Keyword Match Types

Adwords provides the advertisers significant level of control over where your ad is displayed, you can control which search phrases your ads are displayed by using the four different match types.

Broad match

A keyword is regarded as broad match when you enter the keyword with no formatting around the keyword, example is attached below:

Broad match keywords attract your ads to loosely matched and/or closely related keywords, broad match keywords attract misspellings, plurals and synonyms. For example the keyword lemons from tuscany could attract lemon from firenze (location similarity), lemon italy (location similarity), tuscany lemon (singular and different order of words) etc.

As demonstrated above, the order of keywords doesn’t matter, so bidding on italian lemon will just as easily bid on lemon italy.

Broad match will also attract keywords that have additional words italy lemon can also attract fresh italy lemon, plastic italy lemon, toy italy lemon etc.

If you’re a wholesale grocer looking to export lemons from italy, bidding on just italy lemon is probably a bad idea as you will also display your ad to people looking to buy plastic toy lemons.

Broad match tends to have a poor click through rate compared to other match types because of its “broad spanning” match. Click through rates are poor because ads tend to be displayed on a lot of irrelevant keywords.

Over the years Google has worked on the matching algorithm to make the broad match tighter, however algorithms can never truly understand nuances of the English language (or any language for that matter).

The advantage of broad match is it’s a great “fast track” way to do keyword research, Google will send you a lot of related traffic with misspellings and unconventional word order phrases and you can incorporate them into your tightly matched keyword formats.

Broad match also help in trigger longtail and “never seen before” keywords. Google announced a few years ago:

Did you know that 20% of the queries Google receives each day are ones we haven’t seen in at least 90 days, if at all?

The problem of wide variations of keyword possibilities, need for advertisers to target as many keywords as possible while maintaining a sound click through rate led to the introduction of Modified Broad Match

Modified Broad Match

If you look at a relevant search term that a user searches to find your website you’ll find that there are usually 2 or 3 essential search phrases which really matter, the rest are just filler words that are not important. E.g. the search term professional web developer in ontario has two essential words “web” and “developer”, professional is irrelevant for a professional agency and the location Ontario is unimportant if you’re based on Ontario and have geo-targeted Ontario in your campaign.

Since the essential words are “web” and “developer” you can tell Google to use a form of broad match where it targets a lot of keywords with a wide brush which all contain exactly the keywords web and developer by placing a modifier  (+) before them.

Google ensures that all words with + in front of them are included in the search phrase, though it does also match plurals and misspellings of the modified keywords too.

This is best illustrated using example

Your modified broad match keyword Possible triggered search terms
Blue +balloon Balloon blue
Balloon dark blue
Violet balloon
+Blue balloon Blue inflatable
Balloons blue
Blue party balloonBlue water balloon
Blue baloon (misspelling)
Blue hot air balloon
+Blue +balloon Party balloon blue
Balloon for blues party
Kids balloon blue
+Blue +balloon kids Blue balloon for kids party
Kids party balloon in blue
Blue kids birthday balloon


You’ll notice that as you add more keywords with modifiers the keywords get closer to your intended target audience. In most cases modified broad match keywords with 3 modifiers tend to provide a good balance between reach and relevancy.

The modified broad match isn’t mentioned much in Adwords and lies deep in the help pages. In the Adwords interface modified broad match are categorised as simply “broad match”.

Modified broad match is an excellent way to discover new keywords and broaden your reach. When used correctly modified broad match can be used indefinitely as part en parcel of your main keyword campaigns.

Why use modified broad match?

Modified broad match pretty much replaces the standard broad match and renders it obsolete. Why Google doesn’t inform more DIY Adwords customers about this is anyone’s guess.

Its best use is as a “research buying” mechanism. You can simply use it as a tool to do expansive keyword research into your market, research that can cost a lot of money to buy.

In addition to this, when working with local service businesses where reach and volume is an issue. You can use modified broad match to get in front of every possible search query. Therefore maximising your reach and revenue.

Phrase match

A phrase matched is formulated by placing quotation marks around your keywords, see picture below.

In order to display your ads the users search term must match your keywords inside the quotation marks exactly in the order you typed them in

In the case of the keyword “football boots” it will trigger the keywords:

  • grass football boots
  • astro turf football boots size 10
  • football boots girls
  • mens football boots
  • reebok football boots
  • football boots

In each case the phrase “football boots” is in the search term exactly in this order with other words as prefixes or suffixes or neither. It will also trigger just the phrase football boots as displayed in the example above.

Phrases matches do not include misspellings and singular/plural keywords.

E.g. in the case about misspellings and singulars such as “footbal boots”, “football boot”, “futbol boot” will not match.

In addition to this if there was any words in-between the phrase match keywords then the ad will not be triggered, so a search term like football size 9 boot will not trigger that phrase match.

Phrase match is the ideal go-to keyword type for all campaigns starting out, however with the introduction of modified broad match, phrase match has been used much less. Modified broad match is great when time is limited and you want to start a campaign in a hurry. Phrase match is useful when time isn’t an issue and you can carefully reflect on the different ways a user much search for your product and the associated word orders and variations.

Exact match

Exact match is the most specific match type in Adwords, the search terms triggered are matched exactly to your keywords (hence the name). Exact match keywords appear inside square brackets as illustrated below:

Exact match keywords match to search terms strictly; they do not include misspellings or any variations in singular and plural forms. They also do not include any prefixes or suffixes to the exact match keywords at all.

The advantage is that you know exactly what the user typed to trigger the keywords and decide whether the keyword is relevant or not on face value.

Long tail exact match phrases are the best converting keywords available, an exact match keyword [buy iPad mini] will trigger ads on search term buy ipad mini which has a lot of commercial intent behind it, so exact match is preferable for doing detailed split testing.

However, when a phrase match keywords has 3+ words inside it, it can come close to the click through and relevancy of its exact match equivalent. A lot of users search using filler words like:

  • where can i buy ipad mini
  • buy ipad mini online
  • buy ipad mini today

The exact match keyword [buy ipad mini] will not trigger the above keywords, where as a phrase match would. You can generate a massive list of exact match keywords for every conceivable 4-5 word variation. However Google has prevented this with the introduction of the low search volume status where it prevents keywords with very low volumes from being actively bid on in search. This is done officially to save resources and make Adwords system more efficient.

Which match type is best?

This really depends on a case by case basis, if you’re a freelancer who is constrained by cost you may want to start by doing detailed and meticulous keyword research and then bid on the keywords you think are highly relevant using exact match and test them. On the other hand if you’re a large company dealing in a high volume market it may just be cost effective to just create a campaign using phrase match and modified broad match and go for volume at first and then filter the keywords back.