Google Ads Best Practices – Keyword Match Types

Updated June 2021 due to the change from Google about how phrase match works and the sunsetting of broad match modified.

Google Ads keyword match types are your tool to help control which searches your ads will show for on the search engine results page. Account efficiency is vital in ensuring your ad spend is being used in the best possible way.

There are three main keyword match types, broad match, phrase match and exact match. Each of these match types has its uses, advantages and disadvantages. In most cases, a combination of each match type works the best.

Broad Match

Pros: More volume than any other match type, find new keyword opportunities Cons: Less control, ads may appear for unrelated searches

Google says “Ads may show on searches that are related to your keyword, which can include searches that don’t contain the keyword terms.” This sounds ok but in real practice, you can find broad match keywords triggering your ads for a number of unrelated search terms.

One of our main areas of work is finance. If we were using a broad match keyword Car Insurance For Young Drivers. Google could look for anything broadly related to car, insurance, young, and driver. Searches for generic car insurance, driving lessons, cars for young drivers or gadget insurance could trigger our ad, amongst many others.

In this example, ads could get clicked that would have very little chance of converting or, due to how the Google Ads auction works, the less relevant your ads are, the more you may have to pay per click.

For the above reasons, broad match keywords should usually be used sparingly and in conjunction with a strong negative keyword strategy. You would also bid the lowest for broad match keywords.

Google state that broad match used in conjunction with smart bidding can yield good results. Google have been saying for a long time now that the broad match of today is not the same broad match of old. This in part is due to broad match also taking into consideration:

  • The user’s recent search activities
  • The content of the landing page
  • Other keywords in an ad group to better understand keyword intent

To this point, in tests we have conducted, we have found that broad match still brings in too many unrelated terms to be efficiently used, however, we have seen studies from other Google Ads users who say it has worked well. So test, but keep a close eye on the campaign.

Broad Match Modified

This keyword match type is no longer available to add. But if you have existing broad match modified keywords, these will still work as the updated phrase match. The below description is how broad match modified used to work. We decided to leave this here so people can understand the differences about how this keyword match typed used to work compared to now.

Pros: More volume than phrase or exact match, find new keyword opportunities, more control than broad match Cons: Less control than phrase or exact match, ads may still appear for unrelated searches

Google says “Similar to broad match, except that the broad match modifier option only shows ads in searches that include the words with a plus sign ‘+’ in front of them (+women’s hats), or close variations of the ‘+’ terms”

Broad match modified, or BMM for short, gives you the option to mark certain keywords with a ‘+’, this means that as in our example above for broad match, +Car +Insurance For +Young +Drivers would not appear for the irrelevant searches also mentioned above, as the search must include the words marked with a +. If we just put a modifier on some of the keywords, Car +Insurance For +Young Drivers, for example, you could show for a search of “Gadget insurance for young person” So you do get more control, but you need to consider your keywords carefully.

You would still need to monitor what searches are triggering your ads, adding new relevant terms and blocking the irrelevant ones. As you have more control, you can bid more competitively for BMM keywords compared to broad match.

Phrase Match

The way phrase match works has been updated in 2021.

Pros: More control than broad match, find new keyword opportunities Cons: Lower volume than broad match

Google says “Ads may show on searches that include the meaning of your keyword. The meaning of the keyword can be implied, and user searches can be a more specific form of the meaning. Ads won’t show, however, if a word is added to the middle of the phrase that changes the meaning of the phrase”

Phrase match keywords are identified by the use of quotation marks. “removal services London to Manchester” may show for “Affordable removal services London to Manchester” or “London corporate removal services to Manchester but should show for “Removal services Manchester to London” as the order difference, changes the meaning of the search.

Phrase match keywords give you much more control as the order of the keywords must remain the same but as a result, you will often find the volume lower than broad match. Bid higher for phrase match than you would do for broad but also keep investigating new keyword possibilities you may be missing if you’re not including broad match keywords.

Exact Match

Pros: The highest level of control, match ads more specifically Cons: Lowest volume of all match types, won’t help you discover so many new keyword opportunities

Google says “Ads may show on searches that have the same meaning or same intent as the keyword. Close variants include searches for keywords with the same meaning as the exact keywords, regardless of spelling or grammar differences between the query and the keyword.”

By marking keywords like this [Car Insurance For Young Drivers] you have much more control over what searches your ads will be eligible for. Google would show your ad for a search “Motor Insurance For Young Drivers” as it would see car and motor as being a close variant. But it should not be eligible for “Car Insurance” or “Car Insurance for Drivers In London” as these are either missing certain keywords or have keywords added at either the beginning or end. 

As exact match gives the highest level of control, as long as you know it converts well, you would usually bid higher for exact match keywords than any other match type. But similarly to phrase match, you will need to put the work in to find new keyword opportunities. 

The above is a very basic overview of how keyword match types in Google Ads work. Each has its advantages and its challenges.

Digital marketing, as in life is all about balance. Use too much broad match and you will find a lot of your ad spend wasted on irrelevant searches. Put too much focus on control by only using exact match, and you could find yourself missing out on a huge number of new opportunities. But, used collectively along with negative keyword lists, your Google Ads account can run efficiently and find new opportunities.

Here at Optimyzd, we handle accounts with thousands of keywords using a mix of match types, mostly phrase and exact match, if you would like to find out more about we could help you with Google Ads, or any other digital platform, feel free to get in touch with us.

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