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Understanding Keyword Match Types

In paid search marketing, users searching on specific keywords will trigger ads by advertisers who have indicated those keywords are relevant to their business by participating in the auction on those terms. Beyond just bidding, though, there are many variables that come into play which you can use to tactically enhance the effectiveness of your online campaigns.

One of the most important tactics to understand as a search engine marketer is how keyword match types work.

Let’s say your advertiser is a bank who offers a special high-yield checking account that they’d like to let consumers know about. The actual phrase high yield checking account might only get a few thousand searches a month. So, how do you reach those users? Well, by default, when you initially load up your keywords into Google and other search engine marketing platforms, they are set on broad match. What this means is that if any of those terms appears in a user query, it could possibly trigger your ad. So, a user searching on checking account, high yield checking or high yield account might be served your ad. In addition, Google has expanded broad match to include synonyms or common related words, so your ad might even be served when users search for top interest savings.

Because high yield checking account is a bit too narrow of a term to generate the kind of impression volume you’re looking for, you might decide to bid on the keyword checking account because with broad match you’ll be included in the auction for users who query anything relevant to your advertiser’s product. However, what this means is that you will also be in the auctions for checking account scams, account personalized checks, checking student account, online checking, etc. Are those users really looking for what your advertiser is selling? You don’t want to waste your budget on any searches that aren’t relevant to your advertiser’s business. In a pay-per-click advertising model, it’s almost as important to make sure to not get in front of the wrong people as it is to get in front of the right people.

Here are the four main keyword matching types as outlined in Google AdWord’s Help Center using the classic example of the keyword tennis shoes.

Broad match

In your AdWords console, when you bid on a keyword by simply typing it with no adornment, your ad may appear when any of the words appear in a searcher query. This is the default option. If your ad group contained the keyword “tennis shoes,” your ad would be eligible to appear when a user’s search query contained either or both words “tennis” and “shoes” in any order, and possibly along with other terms. Your ads could also show for singular/plural forms, synonyms, and other relevant variations.

With broad match selected, ads may show on searches for tennis, shoes, buy tennis shoes, tennis shoe photos, running shoes, tennis sneakers, and so on.

Phrase match

In your AdWords console, when you bid on a keyword and include it in quotation marks, as in “tennis shoes,” your ad is be eligible to appear only when a user searches on the phrase tennis shoes, with the words in that order. However, your ad can also appear for searches that contain other terms as long as it includes the exact phrase you’ve specified.

With phrase match selected, ads may show on searches for red tennis shoes, buy tennis shoes, tennis shoes photo and so on.

Ads won’t show on searches for shoes for tennis, tennis shoe, tennis sneakers and so on.

Exact match

In your AdWords console, when you bid on a keyword and surround your keywords in brackets—such as [tennis shoes]—your ad will only appear when a user searches for the specific phrase “tennis shoes” with the words in that order, and without any other terms in the query.

Ads won’t show on searches for red tennis shoes, tennis shoe, buy tennis shoes and so on.

Negative match

In your AdWords console, when you bid on a keyword like “tennis shoes” (with any of the above three match types) and you add the negative keyword “-used,” (with a minus sign, indicating it is negative) your ad will not appear for any searches that contain the word “used”

With negative match combined with another match type selected, ads may show on searches for tennis shoes, buy tennis shoes, tennis and so on.

Ads won’t show on searches for used tennis shoes, shoe used for tennis and so on.

In Summary

Your account can contain the same keywords using each of the three main match types. Certainly, there will be a difference in performance for a term such as checking account on broad, phrase, or exact match. Just remember, in most cases, the more narrow your match type, the fewer times your ad will appear. There’s a good chance that your overall traffic could significantly decrease if you many of your keywords don’t use the default broad match and do use phrase or exact match. On the flip side, by casting a smaller net, the chance of your keywords being more relevant to users may increase dramatically.

Using match types to your advantage is tried and true tactic that search marketers have used for years. Get too broad and you bring in the wrong kind of users. Get too narrowly focused and you fail to reach users who are searching for you but not using the terms in your account. It may take some time for you to really learn how to use keyword match types appropriately, but make sure you do not neglect them for your long-term SEM strategy.

Google’s new modifiers for broad match (not yet in the U.S.)

This is a relatively new way to handle match type and the full explanation can be found here. Basically, many search marketers found that Google’s broad match was “a bit too broad” and felt that they were losing a bit of the control with that match type on too many synonyms and related terms. To address this issue, in the UK and Canada Google is testing a feature which allows you to specify which words in a broad match phrase are most important to the advertiser. According to the Google AdWords help article:

You implement the modifier by putting a plus symbol (+) directly in front of one or more words in a broad match keyword. Each word preceded by a + must appear in the user’s search exactly or as a close variant. Close variants include misspellings, singular/plural forms, abbreviations and acronyms, and stemming variations (like floor and flooring). Synonyms (like “quick” and “fast”) and related searches (like “flowers” and “tulips”) are not considered close variants.

I’m not sure when this feature will be available in the U.S. but I know many advertisers hope it will arrive here soon. Here’s a great graphic that illustrates the use of the modifiers for broad match along with phrase and exact match:

This week’s question: “How do you see match types affecting your business?”

PPC Academy is a comprehensive, one-year search advertising course from beginning to end. Starting with the basics, PPC Academy progressively explores all of the varied facets of paid search, and the tactics needed to succeed and become an advanced paid search marketer.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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