Match Types: Making The Matches That Count In Google Ads [3.0]

Johnathan Dane
Johnathan Dane

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated again to provide a more comprehensive overview of match types for our readers – enjoy :).

Previously updated on February 20, 2018.

In setting up your Google Ads account, you’re quickly faced with impactful decisions left and right. From figuring out your settings to deciding your bids and budgets, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with all the various choices that’ll hopefully benefit your Google Ads performance.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that these decisions may also make or break the performance of your campaigns — so it’s best to get them right the first time.

Keyword match types are a crucial part of small business marketing, but believe it or not, they’re not right for every business. Knowing which match types to include or exclude from your account isn’t common knowledge to the inexperienced marketer.

If you don’t already know, match types are specific parameters set on your keywords to control which searches trigger the appearance of your ads.

We’ll be breaking down the four different match types: Broad match, +broad +match +modifier, “phrase match” and [exact match], each containing a very specific purpose–so it’s important to understand exactly which type suits your ad needs for the best results.

Pre-Check: Looking For Red Flags

First and foremost, there are a few things you to ask yourself:

  1. Is my target market already aware of the product or service I’m advertising?
  2. Am I advertising to a very specific niche market, where it’s nearly impossible to target my market using keywords?
  3. Am I advertising to a market that is so competitive it’s costing me $50 per click, which then causes me to question my conversion rate on my ridiculously high-margin product/service?
  4. Does my website/landing page suck?

If your answer is “yes” to any of the following, then you have problems you need to address. You don’t want to be throwing money away just for the sake of random traffic. If you have any of the above issues, continue reading from here.

If you’re still interested, you’ve officially made the conscious decision to finally start advertising with Google Ads.

Which Match Types Suit Your Business and SKAGs?

Now it’s time to figure out which match type best suits your product or services’ needs.

Different match types within AdWords

Different match types within Google Ads – image source

Let’s say you’ve already got your PPC campaign set to the Search Network, your geo-targeting is specific, your ad scheduling is set to run when you can answer the phone, and your budget, ad rotations, and the likes are all taken care of.

You quickly knock out your first text ad, and *BAM* then comes the keyword box. Uh oh.

Google asks you to write 10-20 keywords and tells you that all new keywords are defaulted to broad match to capture a wider range of “relevant” traffic.

Broad match? Relevant traffic?

That’s probably the biggest oxymoron within Google Ads management. Similar to an “academic fraternity”, “British fashion” or “Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez” – the two just don’t mix.

To make matters easier, the next step we recommend is to build out SKAGS (single keyword ad groups).

Single Keyword Ad Groups

Google has already suggested that you ad 10-20 keywords per ad group, but not everything Google does is true. The only problem with doing this is that it’s very difficult to write ads that are relevant to the 10-20 keywords in your ad group.

Check out these keywords

Check out these keywords

Adding a bunch of keywords into one ad group will stir up some potential problems for you later on. Including all those keywords will also include the match types they consist of, potentially bringing in low-quality search terms. This will make it difficult for you to write dedicated ads that are relevant to every type of searcher who sees them.

But what can be done to make this easier?

In enters these single keyword ad groups, which are basically ad groups with just one keyword in them. To put it in more readable terms, you can see below that there are many different keywords that can trigger a specific ad.

Depending on the visitor, this ad may not be relevant to them.

Depending on the visitor, this ad may not be relevant to them.

This specific ad isn’t exactly all that relevant to most of the keywords. It would be nearly impossible for an ad to target ALL 10-20 keywords. With single keyword ad groups, there’s only one keyword that will be able to trigger your ads, so that your ads are 1:1 with what the user is searching for.

You can even include the keyword that people are searching for within your ad copy, improving ad relevance. The increased ad relevance triggers a higher ctr and later on, a higher Quality Score.

Now that we’ve got all that squared away, it’s time to differentiate each match type.

Match Type Options

There are 4 different keyword match types with Google Ads that you need to know:

  1. Broad match (never use this unless you’re targeting the display network, we’ll explain)
  2. +Broad +match +modifier
  3. “Phrase match”
  4. [Exact match]

Below is an image of how each match type works.

Let’s just say that you are selling romantic werewolf novels for example (Hey, that’s the next big thing. Watch).

Each match type tells you what search query will trigger your ad to show.

Search terms that trigger a match type

Search terms that trigger a match type


Broad match is always the default option in Google Ads. It allows you to reach the largest audience but provides very little control over when your ads are shown. As you can see above, the broad match keyword also shows synonyms and sometimes random things that have nothing to do with what you are trying to promote.

So be cautious.

The main reason people use regular broad match on search is that they believe Ads will pull only from those words.

Not knowing that both words (‘werewolf’ and ‘novels’) actually don’t need to be in the search query that the potential customer is searching for.

If you don’t hire the right pay-per-click agency, you could be paying for keywords that have nothing to do with your business.

And you’ll be surprised what Google thinks is “relevant traffic.” Psssttt! It’s not relevant at all.

Benefits of Using Broad Match Types

This may come as a surprise, but there are times when broad match might be more useful. For example, they can find many other search queries, which will result in targeting a larger audience.

It may even be a great match type to begin with in many cases because you can see the universal search queries for keywords you don’t already have. This can help you find more campaign categories to eventually build off of as well.


Modified broad match is like the middle ground between broad match types and the more restrictive match types we’ll be getting to.

It allows you to reach almost as wide of an audience as broad match types, but with much better control who sees your ad by locking specific words into a key phrase with the ‘+’ parameter.

When you add the plus sign in front of a term, you’re pretty much telling your search engine that it MUST include that term. Below is a chart that should help display this.

Examples of how the ‘+’ parameter triggers certain search terms.

Examples of how the ‘+’ parameter triggers certain search terms.

If you add the “+” parameter to the word “rain,” Google is only able to match your ads to search queries that include the word “rain”, and the same goes for “boots.” Search queries must include that designated word before your ad enters the auction.

Benefits of Using Modified Broad Match Types

There are many “plus” sides to using modified broad match. Not only does adding the modifier (+) increase traffic relevancy with better-targeted traffic and click-through conversion rates, but it improves overall traffic quality without completely eliminating the use of broad matching.

Unlike broad match, modified broad match allows your ads to trigger for close variations, while excluding synonyms or any related searches that will result in wasted spend. This saves you time on your negative keyword management.

And finally, modified broad match allows you to choose which terms receive the modifier in a keyword strand. It’s up to YOU to choose which terms get to be included in user search queries for your ad to trigger, which improves relevancy without hindering a whole mess of traffic volume.


Phrase match keywords allow you to search for a phrase in quotations and will result in that exact phrase as long as the keywords in quotations are in order. However, your ad can also appear for searches that contain other words before or after your quoted phrase, as long as the quoted phrase is still in that order.

Below is the breakdown:

Say you Google search “dragon ball super.” I’m sorry for those who have never watched this… Your search can result in matches like “dragon ball super episode spoilers”, “dragon ball super and pokemon”, or the obvious, “dragon ball super.”

Likewise, using phrase match will stop your ad from showing for searches like “dragon ball z better than dragon ball super” or “dragon ball z super saiyan,” because the three words are not in the same order.

As long as they’re in order, your search has the potential to result in a wide variety of matches.

Benefits of Using Phrase Match Types

Phrase match types enable greater visibility through impressions while still retaining a targeted approach, which is why so many Google Ads users prefer this to other match types.

A general breakdown of match-type visibilities

A general breakdown of match-type visibilities – image source

When account managers review the search terms that visitors use to access a site, then words or phrases can be easily extracted from the results to form new lists, still ensuring that keywords remain relevant.

Another advantage of phrase match is that conversions will increase, seeing that people who click on the ads have already shown some sort of interest in the product. Also, when searching for a phrase match keyword, that quoted keyword will appear in bold in the ad copy.

As any beginner advertiser should know, the more prominent and noticeable the ad, the more attractive and therefore more clicks for your buck.


The exact match keyword type is pretty much as exact as they come – nothing more, nothing less.

Exact match is classified by adding brackets [keyword] around the keyword. This tells Google that you only want your ad to trigger if the search exactly matches the keyword(s) within the brackets (with the allowance of slight misspellings and the use of singular/plural variations).

For example, once again referring back to ‘dragon ball super’, an exact match of [dragon ball super] in brackets would only result in a match of ‘dragon ball super’, but no other keyword.

So, you can forget your search also resulting in ‘dragon ball super show’, ‘dragon ball super figurines’, and most definitely ‘dragon ball super vegeta.’

Benefits of Using Exact Match Types

Although impressions and clicks of exact match type are likely to be much lower in number than clicks garnered through phrase or broad match types, the benefit of using exact match type is increased relevance. The more relevant a keyword is when searching for a specific product, the more valuable each click will be.

If you’re an eCommerce brand selling figurines, you can trust that a click coming from the search “dragon ball super figurines” is more valuable than “dragon ball super” in general. In this case, an exact match keyword match for “dragon ball super figurines” could generate a lower CPC (Cost per conversion).

Graph showing the decrease in CPC with exact close match

Graph showing the decrease in CPC with exact close match – image source

Exact match can also result in a higher conversion rate, so the more relevant your audience is, the more likely this match type will pay off in terms of sales, subscriptions, demos, calls, quotes or newsletters.

This will also result in extending your daily or monthly budget.

The greatest benefit of exact match type (in my opinion) is that costs tend to run relatively more manageable compared to the other match types mentioned, because your total number of clicks should run relatively low.

Close Variants

In March 2017, Google announced a major change to the exact match type.

In addition to allowing singular and plural versions of the keyword to trigger your ad, Google will now also allow search variations, function words, and different word orders to trigger your ad. This can be good or bad depending on whether or not they convert. Make sure to keep an eye on this at all times.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  • Keywords AREN’T case-sensitive
  • Symbols have special meanings in Google Ads, so avoid using them at all costs. Also, keywords can’t contain any non-standard characters like: ! @ % , *
  • You can use keyword match types with campaigns that show ads on the Search Network. On the Display Network, keywords are treated as broad match.

Now that we’ve gone over the basics, make sure to optimize your accounts like we would.

Negative Keywords

One way to continue gaining efficient targeting is by adding negative keywords to specific campaigns. This tactic can be just as important as choosing which match types to include.

In a case where match types are causing an excess of low-quality search terms, using negative keywords to cancel out match types can help stop the bleeding before it starts.

You should be aware of the possible outcomes to “negativing” each type of keyword match type, however.

Negative Exact Match

Negative Exact Match keywords will prevent your ad from showing only for that exact search query. Your ad will still show up if someone adds more words to the phrase. So, if you negatived out the exact match keyword “cat socks,” then your ad still might show up if someone searched “cute cat socks.”

Negative Phrase Match

Negative Phrase Match keywords will stop your ads from showing for that particular phrase, but will still show your ad if the words are switched around. If you negatived out the phrase match keyword “adult cat socks,” your ads would still show up if someone searched for “cat socks adults.”

Negative Broad Match

Lastly, Negative Broad Match keywords stop showing the ad regardless of the order and any possible phrasing additions of the original keyword.

“Negative-ing” out the broad match keyword “purple cat socks” would still show an ad if someone searched for “purple socks with cats on them,” but the semantic variations have to get very complex at this point.

If you’re looking to gain further knowledge upon this practice, then it’s best to read this article to have an even better understanding.

Wrap Up on Match Types

Google Ads can be a quick way to burn money if you don’t know how to properly allocate your ad budget towards high-converting, high-revenue audiences. This is why matching up your ads with the right search queries is so incredibly important. It may be nice to see a massive flow of traffic to your landing page. But it won’t be as nice when you notice that a giant percentage of that traffic is bouncing off immediately due to a lack of relevance to their actual search.

True success in the PPC world isn’t about counting the people you reach; it’s about reaching the people that count.

Having read this post, you should be sure to dive into your campaigns and make sure that you have the right match types for each of your ad groups and campaigns. The more granular your control, the more success you’ll tend to see. Pay for the clicks that count by matching the keywords that matter.