Optmyzr Blog

Back to Basics: Understanding Keyword Match Types in Google AdWords

May 27, 2013
Keywords & Queries

Geetanjali Tyagi

Co-founder & COO



One of the easiest ways to save money in AdWords is to use keyword match types the right way. The beauty of AdWords is its incredible ability to target your ads to just those users who are likely to be interested in what you’re offering. If you’re targeting too broadly, it can cost you money when you get clicks from people who are unlikely to want to buy from you.

So here’s a primer on the different keyword match types at your disposal and my recommendation for when to use each of these.

Google AdWords offers five keyword match types that you can use to control which search queries your ads show for. They essentially help you control the extent to which you want your keyword to match a search query and also helps control costs when you’re on a budget.

1. Broad Match

As the name suggests, this is the most lenient of match types. This will match your keyword to anything broadly related to it including misspellings, synonyms, related searches, and other relevant variations. It will match your keyword to a search query irrespective of the order of the words. For example, if your keyword is ‘women’s shoes’ it can match it to ‘shoes women’s’, ‘ladies shoes’, ‘women’s sandals’ and ‘buy black shoes for women’. This is the default match type in AdWords.

When and how to use it

If your budget is not very restrictive, it is a good idea to use broad match. It helps capture the highest possible volume of traffic which also means that it can match to irrelevant queries. Broad match keywords should always be used with negative keywords. If you’re launching a new campaign, one strategy is to use broad match keywords along with negative keywords. This will give you as much traffic as possible while eliminating irrelevant clicks. Then you can use a search terms reports to identify keywords that can be added as phrase or exact match later. The advantage of using broad match is that you don’t have to add all possible variations of your keywords in the beginning.

2. Broad Match Modified (BMM)

This match type is a relatively new entrant and lies somewhere between broad and phrase match. It gives more control than broad match and more freedom than phrase match. It works by adding a ‘+’ sign in front of words in a keyword phrase when the match type is selected as broad. For the keyword to match, the words that have the ‘+’ sign in front of them should be present in the search query. The order of the keywords doesn’t matter. Unlike broad match, modified broad match won’t show your ad for synonyms or related searches which gives a higher level of control. Also, unlike phrase match the order of the words in the search query is not important which gives more flexibility. For example, if your keyword is +women’s +shoes it’ll match women’s shoes, women’s black shoes and buy women’s red shoes. However, it will not match ladies shoes because the word women’s is missing from the search query.

When and how to use it

Use BMM when you want some phrase match like qualities in broad match. You want your ad to show if certain terms are there in the search query irrespective of order. For example, if you want your ad to show on ‘black striped shoes’ and ‘black heeled shoes’, you can just put a + sign in front of +black and +shoes which will cover all variations.

Put the ‘+’ sign only in front of the words that are important and define your product. If your keyword phrase has 3+ words in it and each of them has a ‘+’ sign in front of it then it is as good as phrase match. For example, if your keyword is ‘buy strappy black women’s shoes’, the words that are important are black women’s shoes so the BMM keyword would be ‘buy strappy +black +women’s +shoes’. If you put a ‘+’ sign in front of all the words +buy +strappy +black +women’s +shoes it’ll mean that all the five words need to be present in the search query for the keyword to match which makes it as good as a phrase match keyword. The probability that someone will search for all these five words in a single search query is quite low which restricts traffic.

3. Phrase Match

This match type is more restrictive than broad match but less than exact match. It works by selecting the phrase match type or putting the keyword in double quotes (“keyword”). For a search query to match a phrase match keyword, the entire keyword should be present in the search query as it is. It can have other words before or after the keyword phrase. The order of words in the search query is important in this case. For example, the keyword women’s shoes will match black women’s shoes, red women’s shoes and buy women’s shoes. However, it will not match women’s black shoes or ladies shoes.

When and how to use it

This match type helps reach more people than exact match but is more specific than broad match. It also shows your ad for close variations of the exact keyword. Use phrase match to have more control on the search terms your ads show for. However, you should still add negative keywords because the keyword phrase may show in conjunction with an irrelevant word. For example, the keyword “black shoes” can show for they query free black shoes. In this case, you’ll want to add free as a negative keyword unless you’re giving out free shoes 🙂

If you’re primarily using phrase match, the number of keywords that you need to add to ensure good coverage is higher than broad match because you need to cover all variations for a keyword phrase.

4. Exact Match

As the name suggests, this only shows your ad if the search query matches the keyword exactly. The search query can’t have any other words before or after it. If someone searches for closely related variations of the exact keyword, the system can show your ad. To use an exact match keyword, simply surround the entire keyword with square brackets or, select the match type as exact. For example, the keyword [women’s shoes] will match women’s shoes and woman’s shoes. However, it will not match women’s shoes black or shoes women’s.

When and how to use it

Use exact match when you want complete control of your keywords and want to prevent them from matching to anything else. To ensure you don’t lose out on traffic, make sure to cover all variations of your keywords to ensure good coverage. If your ad group or campaign only contains exact match keywords, you may not need to add negative keywords.

5. Negative Match

This match type is not as much for keywords showing for a search query as it is for preventing keywords from showing for a particular search query. Keywords with negative match type have the prefix ‘-‘ and prevent your ad from showing if the search query contains the negative term. Negative keywords are important to filter out irrelevant traffic and prevent unwanted clicks. They help maintain a good clickthrough rate and also help control costs. Negative keywords are listed under ‘Negative Keywords’ on the ‘Keywords’ tab. They can be added at the campaign and ad group level. Campaign level negative keywords are valid for all the ad groups in a campaign and ad group level negative keywords are only valid for the particular ad group. Negative keywords can be used in conjunction with broad, phrase and exact match types. For example, if a negative keyword is present in phrase match, it will prevent your ad from showing if the search query contains that phrase in the exact order.

How to find negative keywords

Search for broad match variations of your keywords and see the suggestions that come up in the keyword tool. From that list you can identify negative keywords to add.

Look for parallels in other industries. Does your product name mean something else in a different industry? For example, if you are advertising Java coffee you’ll want to add keywords related to the Java software as negatives.

Use a combination of different keyword matching options to get the right mix of keywords for your budget.