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The Ultimate Guide To Keywords & Keyword Match Types [2024]

Using the right keyword match type for your campaigns and ad groups can truly make or break the success of your search engine marketing efforts.

Published on

Mar 05, 2024

Written by

Sophie Fell




Using the right keyword match type for your campaigns and ad groups can truly make or break the success of your search engine marketing efforts. From broad-matching keywords with high reach to restrictive exact match keywords with low reach, how can you gauge what’s right for your business and its objectives?

Read on to learn more about keyword match types, when to use them, and how to make them successful!

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Table of Contents

3. How Do Keywords Work On PPC?

3.1. Broad Match Keywords

3.1.1 Broad Match Modifier Keywords

3.2. Phrase Match Keywords

3.3. Exact Match Keywords

3.4. Negative Keywords

4. Other Keyword Match Type Considerations

5. Final Thoughts on Keyword Match Types

The Ultimate Guide to Keywords & Keyword Match Types [2024]

How Do Keywords Work on PPC? 

Let’s start with the basics. You’ll create your PPC campaign and, within it, multiple ad groups, each with a group of keywords and relevant ads. The keywords you use will match with the search queries of those using Google/Bing, and your ads will appear at the top of the SERP when they match (subject to competition, your maximum bid, and a few other factors). Naturally, your ads and landing page will reflect your keywords. 

To make your ads as effective as possible, it’s important to create themed ad groups: your keywords, ads, and landing pages should be relevant to each other. However, there are multiple forms of keyword match types to use.

I’ve put together a whistle-stop tour of the available forms of keyword match types below in order from least restrictive and most broad, to most restrictive and least broad. Depending on your ad group and business objectives, you may want to use one or a combination of match types within your campaigns.

Broad Match Keywords 

Broad match keywords are the default match type on both Google and Microsoft ads. If you’re using Google’s keyword planner or other keyword measurement tools, their insights will be based on broad match data.

A broad match keyword example: Women's red jacket

A broad match keyword will trigger your ad if someone types in a search term related to either:

  • One of the words used (i.e. jacket store near me)
  • Related keywords to your entire keyword/keyphrase (i.e. women's jacket, maroon jacket)
  • The keywords in any order (i.e. red women's jacket)
  • Misspellings (i.e. red jakit)

Broad match keywords deliver a lot of impressions and, subsequently, clicks — but may deliver lower quality traffic due to its ‘loose’ matching. You’ll need to keep a close eye on the Search Terms Report and add negative keywords to ensure your broad match keywords are as effective as possible.

While best practices used to be to use phrase match and exact match keywords to keep ad groups as relevant as possible, Google and Microsoft now recommend using only broad match keywords with automated bidding strategies. However, while this may work well for brands with substantial budgets, we don’t recommend doing this if you’re a brand with more conservative budgets, as there may be a lot of wastage until the point of optimization and adding a sufficient number of negative keywords.

Broad Match Modifier Keywords

You may have heard of ‘Broad Match Modifier’ as a form of keyword match type. For example: +womens +red +jacket or +womens red jacket.  This used to be available as an option to only show the ad if it included all words with the + sign preceding them. So, using +womens red jacket as an example, the ad wouldn’t be triggered for a search of just ‘red jacket’, ‘men’s red jacket’, or ‘red jacket size 12’.

This is no longer supported by either Google or Microsoft Ads and cannot be created. If you have broad match modifier keywords on your live ad groups, they’ll be treated as phrase match keywords instead. If, in 2024, your ad groups still include these, we’d encourage switching these to phrase match.

Phrase Match Keywords

The second of the three keyword match types. Middle-of-the-road in terms of reach and restrictive nature.

A phrase match keyword example: “women’s red jacket”

A phrase match keyword will trigger the appearance of your ad if someone types in:

  • The phrase as it is (i.e. women’s red jacket)
  • The phrase with words on either side (i.e. buy women’s red jacket, women’s red jacket online)
  • Re-ordered ONLY if the intent is the same (i.e. red women's jacket)

Phrase match keywords are known as moderate matching. They’re likely to deliver higher-quality and more relevant traffic to your website. These users will have more intent behind their searches than if they matched with broad match keywords, and will more closely match your ad groups.

Exact Match Keywords

The last of the three keyword match types. The most restrictive in nature and low reach, but very closely matched with your keywords.

An exact match keyword example: [women’s red jacket]

An exact match keyword will trigger the appearance of your ad if someone types in:

  • The keyword exactly as it is with nothing before or after (i.e. womens red jacket)
  • Very close variants such as misspellings, punctuations, synonyms, minor variations, and reordered words (i.e. womens red jackets, womens red jacket, red women’s jacket)
  • Search terms with the same meaning as your keyword (ladies maroon coat)

Exact match keywords are known as tight matching. You’re likely to receive fewer impressions and clicks overall, but those who do click will likely have strong intent and may be more likely to convert once they reach your website. Generally speaking, CTR for exact match keywords is much higher than phrase match or keyword match types.

Negative Keywords

While a keyword specifies when to show certain ads based on the user’s search term, a negative keyword does the opposite by telling the search engine not to show your ads when certain keywords are used.

A super-simple example of this is a Google search for ‘trainers’. In American English we’d commonly use ‘sneakers’, but to clarify this point - let’s imagine you are appealing to the international English language community. If your eCommerce or brick-and-mortar store sells men’s trainers, you might be tempted to use ‘trainers’ as a broad match keyword. But, it’s important to consider all the other potential homonyms that the user might be referring to with their search query:

  • Personal trainer
  • Cross trainer
  • Virtual trainer
  • Dog trainer
  • Animal trainer

There are also other services that may apply that are relevant to ‘shoe’ trainers, but aren’t what your store sells in this scenario:

  • Kids trainers
  • Women’s trainers
  • Trainer repair
  • How to clean trainers
  • Shoelaces for trainers
  • Personalized trainers
  • Hiking trainers
  • Design your own trainers

If your keywords are too generic and subject to tens of thousands of impressions daily, you’ll end up with a lot of wasted impressions to uninterested customers as well as wasted clicks, which will quickly eat up your budget. There are a few ways to get around this — we recommend using them in conjunction with each other.

  • Stay away from broad match keywords and generic terms such as ‘trainers’ and be more specific with your keywords. Use phrase match keywords (“phrase match”) or exact match ([exact match]) keywords to narrow this down. “Men’s trainers”, “Men’s running trainers” and “Men’s black trainers” are good examples of what to do here without being too restrictive.
  • Use negative keywords. As well as making your keywords more specific using keyword match types, add negative keywords to reduce irrelevant terms. You can add negative keywords as broad match, phrase match, or exact match. We usually add them as broad match for single words such as ‘cross’ or ‘jobs’ and phrase match for phrases such as “shoe repair” — in the latter example, you don’t necessarily want to add ‘shoe’ as a negative keyword, but the phrase as a whole.
  • You can apply negative keywords at either the account, campaign or ad group level. This gives you additional flexibility and the opportunity to use cross-negatives too. For example, if your ad groups are separated by color scheme, ‘black’ or “black trainers” could be applied as a negative keyword to an ad group for white trainers only and vice versa. So, use a combination of account-wide, campaign-level, and ad-group-level negatives for the best results.

Other Keyword Match Type Considerations

  • Google and Microsoft are currently pushing users to ‘upgrade’ their keywords to broad match — be careful with this and test a small sub-section of keywords before blindly changing all keyword match types to broad.

  • “Adding very similar keywords, such as ‘red car’ and ‘car red’ isn’t recommended, as only one keyword would match both searches. However, doing so won’t affect your costs or performance in any way.” — Google Support

  • Keep in mind the goals of your advertising and your audience — if you want to increase your brand reach and awareness, broad match keywords are great. If you need more defined campaigns and want to drive conversions, exact match keywords are better for reaching higher-intent audiences

  • Check Google’s Keyword Planner (or your choice of keyword research tool) for search volumes and CPCs before starting. This ensures that there’s sufficient demand for your terms, especially if you’re only using exact match keywords.

  • Regularly check the Search Terms report. Note: this is different from your Search Keywords report which shows you the keywords you’re currently bidding on. Instead, the Search Terms report shows you the keywords and search terms that have triggered your ads. Check here regularly for irrelevant words or phrases to add to your negative keyword list.

Final Thoughts on Keyword Match Types

Choosing the right keywords and match types for your campaigns and ad groups is crucial to their success. It’s important to keep your keywords relevant to your ads, and your keywords and ads relevant to your landing pages for success.

If you take one thing away from this guide, remember this: broad match keywords don’t use special characters and are the least restrictive and highest-reaching keyword match types. Phrase match keywords require the use of quotation marks (“ “) and are middleweight in terms of reach and restriction. Finally, exact match keywords use square brackets ([ ]), are the most restrictive match type, and will deliver less reach, yet stronger matches from users who are more likely to click and convert.

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