The Ultimate Google Ads Keyword Match Types Guide

Google Ads’ sophistication gives advertisers flexibility to target, spend, and convert the way they want to. Learning the ins and outs of Google Ads keyword match types is an important step to becoming fluent in Google Ads management. It’s a step that really can’t be skipped if you’re looking for a reasonable return on ad spend (ROAS).

What are Google Ads Keyword Match Types

They are parameters that limit ad impressions, or reach. In other words, they limit the search queries that trigger your ads by disqualifying those that are irrelevant. It’s up to you to determine which ones are and then set your match types accordingly.

For example, someone who sells cacao powder might be interested in showing an ad to someone who searches buy cocao powder in bulk. The advertiser probably isn’t interested in someone who searches for jobs in cocao powder exporting, though. He wants to sell cacao power, not offer jobs. Google Ads keyword match types are one way to avoid showing ads to the job hunter and other people who are not in the target market. There are four match types that range from very restrictive to minimally restrictive. They are broad match, modified broad match, phrase match, and exact match.

Keyword match type

Advertisers check their search terms to find out if a keyword is not restrictive enough and is, therefore, generating clicks from consumers who aren’t in the market. “Search terms” is a fancy way to refer to searches entered into Google.

Google Ads keyword match types are a concept that may appear simple and straightforward or overwhelming depending on the learning source you’re using and the situation in your ad accounts. Be assured, however, that they can be mastered within a few days with a bit of determination and some time set aside for studying and reviewing.

Why Are Google Ads Keyword Match Types Important?

Choosing the right Google Ads keyword match type is important for several reasons.  They should be considered from the start, when you’re brainstorming and making keyword selections. Afterwards, adjusting match types and adding negative keywords can make a big impact on performance metrics.

How Do Keyword Match Types Affect ROI and Search Ad Results?

Keyword match types help you reduce the risk of an unsuccessful campaign and learn about your target audience, which will allow you to improve your campaigns steadily. They can be a big help when your team needs a better ROAS or ROI.

Test and adjust Google Ads keyword match types to increase your performance. For example, many advertisers use a broader match type in the beginning so that data from a larger range of searches can be assessed. Searches that convert are used as keywords, with the appropriate match type. Other searches are eliminated using stricter match types or negative keywords. The result is usually a better ROAS due to the data-backed decision making that comes with all the click and conversion data. A better ROAS tends to keep overall ROI up. Advertisers who don’t want to spend money “testing” keywords like this will need to carefully select match types upfront to avoid a low-performance situation.

If you’re confused right now, don’t worry. The rest of the article should help you understand. Keep on reading.

Spend Your Budget on the Right Consumers

Fight budget burn and spend money on audiences that provide a higher ROI through better conversion rates and close rates. The idea is to signal to Google how you want ads to match searches so that you can reach the right consumers.

Broad match broadens the audience that is eligible to see an ad but many of the users (i.e. consumers who are using a search engine) are not going to be interested because they’re not really looking for what you offer. In other words, the potential for users to see ads that don’t interest them is higher with broad match.

Exact match, on the other end of the spectrum, eliminates most of the audience. The clicks you get are usually higher-quality clicks from consumers who are looking for something you can provide. However, within the many searches that were disqualified by this match type, there are users who are in your market and would be interested in your business. That’s the trade off.

How do we find the sweet spot? How does an advertiser actually use keyword match types? To answer that question, we must first understand how each match type works.

What Is Broad Match Type?

Broad match type makes ads eligible for the largest audience. Ads will be eligible to appear for searches:

  • That match the keyword phrase exactly
  • That match the keyword phrase but with synonyms that replace certain words in it
  • That have the same meaning as the keyword (e.g. NYC baseball caps and NY baseball hats)
  • With the same or similar words as the keyword but in a different order
  • With misspelled words that match those in the keyword phrase
  • With “stemmings” of a word in the keyword phrase (e.g. shelves, shelving, shelved)
  • That include any of the above plus words or phrases before or after it

Broad match keywords might even trigger ads when a search doesn’t meet any of the criteria above. If a search is related to a keyword and a user’s search history shows some kind of intent to find the pages to which its corresponding ads link, the ad might be displayed.

What searches could trigger ads for the broad match keyword phrase streaming movie services? Let’s take a look.

Eligible SearchesEligibility Reason
Streaming movie servicesSearch and keyword phrase exactly match
Streaming film services“Film” and “movie” are synonyms
Online movies streamingSame or similar meaning
Movie streaming servicesSame words, different order
Streamingk movie servicesMisspelling of “streaming”
Online stream movie servicesStemming (stream vs. streaming), Word reordering, additional word before similar keyword phrase
What is the best streaming film service?Synonym (movie and film), similar phrase in question form (i.e. with words before and question mark after.)
Streaming movie service jobsExact phrase with extra words after it.

Broad match keywords are entered with no symbols or settings. They’re just typed directly, like this:

Broad match type keyword example

Broad Match Concerns & Considerations

Broad match is straightforward in its implementation but not so much in its function.  It allows impressions in more instances than any other match type. Inevitably, some of the users who see your ads won't be part of your target market and won’t be interested in your business.

A few unwanted clicks might not be so bad, right? In many cases, the unwanted clicks will use up the budget and there will be little to show for it. It’s not unheard of to spend the whole weekly or even monthly budget for no conversions at all. There may not even be much valuable data to use to optimise the account in that case, which means the money went down the drain.

Always consider the kinds of searches that might trigger your ads and tighten your match types when you think there’s a risk of low conversion rates. In addition, always use a negative keyword list.

What is Modified Broad Match?

Modified broad match was created to give advertisers a little bit more precision than broad match but not as much as phrase match, the next most restrictive type. What it does is eliminate searches for related words. It still includes synonyms and stemmings, however. The extra restrictions apply to individual words instead of the whole phrase. The words that should be restricted more are marked with a “+” before them.

modified broad match keywords and their ad groups

For example, consider the broad match keyword custom deck builder. If company X is using it, they may be getting clicks from people who search for patio construction company. But their company doesn’t construct patios. They builds decks. If they replaces custom deck builder with custom +deck builder, they should get better leads.

Eligible SearchesEligibility Reason
Custom deck construction“Construction” and “builder” are closely related
Deck builder near meIncludes a synonymous (or almost synonymous) phrase and some extra words
Ineligible SearchesIneligibility Reason
Custom patio builderPatio ≠ deck
Custom backyard structuresDoesn’t include the word “deck”

It’s worth noting that company X's scenario assumes Google views decks and patios as being similar or related enough and that they can trigger ads interchangeably in broad match. That may not actually be the case. It’s up to company X to review their search terms report to find out what irrelevant searches they are getting.

Modified Broad Match Can Still Cause Lots of Bad Clicks

While modified broad match does make keyword targeting more precise than broad match, it’s still the second least restrictive match type. For that reason, it’s liable to cause some of the same problems broad match causes. In short, the initial performance could be dismal if keywords aren’t chosen carefully and a good negative keyword list isn’t added to the campaign. Some time after going active, it’s important to review search terms and add negative keywords to combat those irrelevant searches.

Take it from Susan Wenograd at Moz:

“Since the search query can still include other words, you really have to be on top of what you’re showing up for.”

What Is Phrase Match?

Phrase match checks full phrases or word sequences against searches. Searches can trigger ads for synonyms, stemmings, acronyms, and other similarities, like broad match. The added precision of phrase match comes from the fact that word order matters. If the order of the words in a search query don’t match with the order of the words in the keyword phrase, the ad won’t show. An exception to that rule is when both phrases have the same meaning, which shouldn’t occur very often. Any words can appear before or after the phrase in a search and still trigger ads. However, putting extra words in the middle of the phrase usually disqualifies it. Phrase match keywords are put between quotation marks.

phrase match keywords in Google Ads

Let’s examine the phrase match keyword “interior design consultant”.

Eligible SearchesEligibility Reason
Interior design consultantExact phrase
Interior design consultingExact phrase except with a stemming (consultant vs. consulting)
Hey Google, show me interior design consultants nearby, pleaseIncludes exact phrase (with plural variant of “consultant”) plus lots of other words on either side of it
Ineligible SearchesIneligibility Reason
Design consultant for interiors Wrong word order
Interior bedroom design consultantNot exact phrase (includes “bedroom” in the middle)

When Using Phrase Match, Consider the Potential Searches

With phrase match, we’re still not immune to irrelevant searches and we really never will be, even with exact match. Something to think about when using phrase match keywords is the sentences or longer phrases they might be a part of. For example, imagine Sam is selling Korg Krome EX keyboards (an electronic musical instrument). He decides to use the phrase match keyword “korg krome ex”. Sam notices search queries like Korg Krome EX t-shirts in his search terms report. He adds “t-shirts” to his negative keywords, since he doesn’t sell t-shirts.

On the other hand, at this level of restrictiveness, advertisers might miss out on a lot of relevant searches. Sam won’t reach consumers who search for krome EX because his phrase match keyword includes Korg. Though users searching for krome EX, without Korg in the phrase, are probably good ones for him to target. He should probably add “korg ex” (or the same in other match type) to one of his ad groups and test it if he hasn’t already.

What Is Exact Match?

Exact match is the most restrictive match type, allowing the fewest impressions. If an advertiser needs more precision than exact match, he must use negative keywords. Exact match keywords appear inside brackets, as shown below.

exact match keywords and their campaigns

With exact match, ads rarely appear when the search doesn’t match the keyword exactly. Sometimes the search and keyword are not exactly the same but have the same meaning, in which case the ad is eligible.

Eligible SearchEligibility Reason
Baseball gloveSearch and keyword are the same
Glove for baseballSearch and keyword have the same meaning

But what if the user wants a Rawlings baseball glove, which is a particular brand?

Ineligible searchIneligibility Reason
Rawlings baseball glove“Rawlings” isn’t included in keyword

This would not generate an ad impression, since Rawlings doesn’t appear in the keyword and exact match doesn’t allow words before, after, or in the middle of phrases like other match types do, with the exception we explained above (same meaning).

Exact Match Can Improve Performance but May Limit Clicks Too Much

Tighter match types like exact match can help to improve performance. Impressions will generally be limited to high-relevance searches, which tends to boost click-through rates and quality scores. The high relevance clicks can also help to reduce costs and improve return on ad spend (ROAS).

Sometimes the restrictiveness of exact match is a bit too much and the keywords end up with few clicks, or even none, for quite a while. It’s possible to use too many negative keywords and end up with few clicks as well, especially with exact match keywords.

How Do Negative Keywords Work?

Negative keywords are used to cut down on irrelevant searches. Negative keyword match types have the opposite effect of “positive” ones. They can be entered in any of the four match types.

  • Negative broad match
  • Negative modified broad match
  • Negative phrase match
  • Negative exact match

Negative phrase match keywords

For example, broad match keywords can trigger ads when:


  • A user searches the exact keyword phrase that the advertiser is using in a Google Ads account
  • The user enters the exact phrase except that one word is a synonym of a word in the keyword phrase

Conversely, negative broad match keywords disqualify ads when the same things happen.

Likewise, negative phrase match keywords have the opposite effect as positive phrase match keywords, negative exact match keywords have the opposite effect as positive exact match keywords, and so on.

There is one exception. Close variants don’t apply to negative keywords. If you use the negative keyword wooden horses, searches for wooden horse are still eligible to trigger your ads. You must exclude the exact variant of a word to disqualify the searches.

Let’s use our streaming movie services keyword as an example. Since it's a broad match, searches for jobs in streaming movie services could generate impressions for it.

We’re not advertising jobs, though. We’re advertising streaming movies. People click on ads all the time, even irrelevant ads. That’s why we want to avoid impressions by adding jobs as a negative keyword.

Negative KeywordIneligible SearchIneligibility Reason
jobsStreaming movie service jobsExact word with extra words before it

Keyword Match Type Strategy

Since the 4 match types qualify and disqualify a wide range of searches, they’re the best way to set parameters on your bids. Your strategy is an important factor in determining the right match type to use. Here are a few things to consider.

Planning & Keyword Research

Keyword research involves finding relevant keywords that signal a consumer’s intent to buy the product or service being advertised, or at least intent to give your brand some consideration. Match types eliminate searches that don’t signify the right intent, which is why it’s a good idea to think about them during the keyword research process. Not doing so might cause some backtracking later on, when the team realizes their keywords are generating too many clicks on the wrong kinds of searches. In these cases, it could mean going back to the drawing board.

Try not to use too many short, two-word or one-word, keywords. The shorter the keyword phrase, the greater the risk of irrelevant clicks. The longer the keyword, the more targeted it is. Of course, the longer it is, the lesser the likelihood that people are entering search queries that will trigger it as well.

Keywords consisting of 3 or 4 words are recommended. Even more would be great. Avoid one-word keywords unless they’re for a brand that has a short product line.

Keyword match type strategy

You can see how long keywords in a restrictive match type are probably not useful. But even shorter keywords with less restrictive match types might not get any impressions. Use keyword planner before setting up a campaign to forecast clicks for any keywords you’d like to use. Sometimes there are just no searches to trigger ads

For keywords with a lot of clicks in the forecast, think about what kinds of irrelevant searches there could be and build a negative keyword list or tighten your match types.

Historical Performance

When a keyword already has a history, using its data to make decisions about match types can be a relatively quick way to improve your performance metrics. You can simply switch out a low-performance keyword with a new, tighter-match-type option and the monitor results, for example.

Some advertisers use multiple match types in the same ad group (e.g. +A4 envelopes, “A4 envelopes”, and [A4 envelopes]) and then compare the metrics to determine which match type is best. This is sometimes called a “money keyword” because it will work fairly well in all match types. The downside to this strategy is that any automated bid strategy (e.g. target ROAS, maximize conversions, etc.) will automatically spend more money on the best keywords, and therefore the best match types, as data accumulates. That’s why the technique works best with bid strategies like “manual cpc.”

Target the Right Consumer at the Right Stage in the Buying Cycle

The data gathered from every interaction with your ads should give your team a better idea of what your target market wants and how they search for it. High-performance campaigns advertise according to consumers’ position in the buying cycle. There are three stages.

  1. Awareness stage: The consumer has a problem but doesn’t yet know how to address it.
  2. Consideration stage: The consumer understands the problem and is looking for solutions.
  3. Decision stage: The consumer is comparing brands or competitors and will make a decision.

If the buying cycle stage isn't aligned with the keyword and ad text, the campaign’s conversion rate is likely to be low.

Here’s an example:

Keyword match type example

This is Amy.

She got a job at the front desk of a hotel 3 months ago and has noticed some lower back pain has developed from her posture in her desk chair. There’s her problem. She doesn’t yet know of any specific solutions, which means she’s in the consideration stage of the buying cycle.

Lumbar support pads, elastic exercise bands for strengthening back muscles, or even physical therapy services could solve her problem. Although, she doesn’t know that yet since she’s in the consideration stage. She’s searching queries like how to prevent back pain, back pain from sitting at work, and lower back pain from sitting at desk.

How do we align our ads and landing pages with Amy’s searches?

Audience: Amy & Other Users in the Consideration Stage
Example KeywordExample SearchExample Ad Text
“Back pain from sitting”Back pain from sitting at workBest At-Work Back Pain Solution

Find out why Lumby Pad ranks #1 in Chiro Mag’s 2020 survey. Prevent back pain. Order now.

Since Amy doesn’t know what kind of solution she wants, we have to pitch ours: the Lumby Pad lumbar support pad. But remember, she hasn’t decided on a specific solution yet. In our headlines, we want to let her know we’re providing her a great solution to her problem. Our specific solution doesn’t need to be revealed yet. The bulk of the details about it can be explained in the body of our landing page. Let’s go with a headline like “Best At-Work Back Pain Solution”. At this stage, we’re selling back pain prevention options.

Some advertisers would avoid targeting Amy at the consideration stage because there are too many alternative solutions for her. It may be easier to wait until she enters the decision stage and starts searching for a specific product, such as lumbar support pads. Or, it might be a good idea to target her in both stages. It may be worth a test.

For more about writing copy that sells, see our article on the 4-show method.

Competitors & Bids

Google Ads is an auction-based network, which means your competitors’ can outbid you and sometimes leave you with few opportunities to get clicks. Adjusting match types can help you to fight back by bidding on less-competitive keywords.

Tools like SpyFu and SEMRush are great for finding out what competitors are bidding on. Google’s free Keyword Planner and your account’s own data will show you the average cost per click of any keyword, which is usually enough to go by when making decisions. Keyword planner is found at Tools & Settings > Planning > Keyword Planner.

Even when competition is low, advertisers tend to bid on match types that offer the lowest CPCs or costs per conversion. Compare match types when you can.

Keep in mind that even when a match type and search query are compatible and your bid is high enough, your ad might not show due to budget constraints, settings, or account status.

Ad Text & Ad Structure

One more way advertisers use match types is to determine what appears in their ads. Dynamic keyword insertion allows the search query itself to show up in the ad text. When using dynamic keyword insertion (DKI), it’s best to use exact match keywords since you’ll know exactly (or almost exactly) what the user will see in your ad.

It may also help to write different ads for different match types. For tighter match types (e.g. exact match, phrase match), including the exact keyword phrase in the ad is usually best. For broader match types, you can write ad text that aims to grab the attention of the wider audience that will see your ads.

Here are some examples:

Exact Match KeywordEligible Search ExamplesGood Ad Headline Example
[tanzania safari]Tanzania safarisGil’s Tanzania Safaris
Tanzanian safaris
Modified Broad Match KeywordEligible Search ExamplesPotential High-Performance Ad Headlines
+tanzania safarisTanzanian excursionsBook a Tanzanian Safari
Tanzania safari guidesTanzania Safari Excursions
I want to book a tanzanian safariTanzania Adventure Tours

The idea is to test different ad variations and find out what works best. It’s a game of continuous improvement.

Getting Started on Your Campaigns

Now you know why one of the most important and least understood aspects of PPC advertising is Google Ads keyword match types. They’re probably the most effective way to avoid costly, unwanted clicks. The difference between proper and poor usage of match types could be a big chunk of ROI. Match types should be aligned with ads, landing pages, buying cycle, and advertising strategy. They can be tested and compared when some extra budget is available.

We recommend reviewing this resource a few times until you’re familiar with each of the match types: broad match, modified broad match, phrase match, and exact match. It can be difficult to memorise their characteristics but doing so will make your campaign setup go much more smoothly.

Although Google Ads keyword match types are one of the most important parts of a campaign, there are many make-or-break settings and tools in Google Ads. When the learning is too great to fit into your team’s schedule, get help from an expert. An experienced campaign manager can create a campaign that aligns with your goals. Get in contact with our digital marketing consultant today!

Xavier Tan
Xavier is the Co-Founder of Heroes of Digital. He started social media marketing and SEM long before it became popular in Singapore. His passion is in helping businesses grow through effective lead generation. He has overseen campaigns for Amara Hotel, NTU, Marina Bay, L'Oreal, and 100+ SMEs.
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