Google Ads Keyword Match Types

Google Ads Keyword Match Types

Google and other search engines only work through texts or keywords. This is when a user inputs a word or phrases looking for information and the search engine determines what the results would be. Search engines are text based any words or keywords that are used produce both organic and paid results.

As this is more of a paid results article, it will be focusing more on pay per click rather than organic. Pay per click with regards to Google ads. Search Engine Optimization mostly deals with organic results.

Google ads keywords are broken down to different match types depending on volume and intentions. The keyword match types are

  • Broad match
  • Broad Modifier match
  • Phrase match
  • Exact match
  • Negative match

Different match types enable digital marketers to target different users. This helps the marketer make better ads that are relevant to the end consumer. This also avoids wasting money targeting users who aren’t interested in a product or service.

What are keyword match types

keyword match type

Digital marketers choose specific words or phrases to predict what the end consumer is looking for. If the keywords and user’s query match the Google serves relevant ads to him or her.

Keyword match types looks at how closely to match the keyword used to the user’s query. This enables Google to see whether to display ads or not. The match types are parameters that are set on keywords that control whether the keywords would trigger an ad to appear.

Keyword match types helps to avoid irrelevant searches and limiting the amount of the budget that is wasted.

It should be noted tat Google changes the meaning of keyword match types every so often and digital marketers should stay on top of any changes.

Digital marketers should ensure that keyword match types are properly chosen as they determine who brow or narrow, they will match with the search queries. The broader the keyword match type would bring in a lot of traffic but not as relevant while on the other hand the narrower the keyword match type would have relevant and less traffic.

There are various merits of going with broad traffic as well as narrow. Although finding the balance between the two would help to increase the Return on Investment.

How match types affect your performance

This is how various match type affects your Google ads campaign performance.

Bids – different keyword match types have different bids. In general exact match keywords are usual more expensive while broad match are the cheapest.

Ad copy – as a digital marketer you will know exactly what users are searching for with exact match and you can make the ad copy as relevant as possible. This is not the same for broad match, as the search result would be too varied.

Strategy – depending on what the business is trying to achieve different match types play a different role. For example broad match keywords are great for top of the funnel sales and branding campaigns.

Broad match type

broad keywords match

When you start a google ads campaign, the default match type is Broad Match. It is picked because it has the widest audience and it is said that 20% of searches received by Google haven’t been seen in the last 90 days.

Broad match keyword match any search query that includes any word in the key phrase and in any order. Using “luxury car” as an example, ads will be shown when someone searches for the following:

  • Luxury cars
  • Fast cars
  • Luxury apartments

Google will go a step ahead  to match it with synonyms of some of the keywords for example

  • Expensive vehicles
  • High end automotive

As it can be seen none of the main keywords are included in the previous list. As such the digital marketer has to be careful by looking at the search term reports to see what triggered the ads to show.

This match type takes the following into consideration:

  • Landing page content
  • The searcher’s past queries
  • Other keywords used in the ad group

Broad match keywords are best suited for marketers who don’t have the time to come up with an intricate keyword list. They are also good if the main aim is driving a lot of traffic and awareness.

The main drawbacks are that most of the traffic is irrelevant, a lot of money is wasted, and more time is spent going through the search terms to determine relevancy.

Modified broad match

modified broad match

The next match type that was recently introduced and has now been scrapped of was Broad Match Modifier. This match type would act the same way as the broad match keywords but a bit more specificity and relevance.

It used to be the middle ground between broad match and phrase match. It used to give more control over which searches the ads appear than what broad match would provide but at the same time more freedom than what phrase match would give.

Broad match modifier would only display ads to which the same order as the keywords. The keywords would be written buy using the plus symbol (+) before each keyword.

Ads would appear if the searcher uses close variants that include:

  • Misspelling,
  • Singular and plural forms
  • Abbreviations
  • Acronyms
  • Stemming.

Using the previous example of “luxury cars” it will show up for :

  • Luxury cars
  • Fast cars
  • Luxurious cars

On the other hand it will not show up for other searches like:

  • Car luxury
  • Cars that are expensive

Phrase match

keyword match types

The next match type is phrase match. Phrase match offers more control over which ads will appear as they are more focused than broad match and broad modified keywords. This makes the display ads more targeted.

Phrase match keywords have the following syntax “_ ” and they are only triggered if the search terms are similar to the keywords in the correct order.  Other words could be added before or after the keywords but not in between. For example: “women’s hats” would trigger ads for the following searches:

  • blue women’s hats
  • buy hats for women
  • ladies’ hats on sale

Phrase match was updated in 2019 to include queries that contain, plurals, synonyms, and close variants of keywords.

The main difference with phrase match and broad match keywords is that in phrase match it will not include words in the middle of the keywords. In addition, it is more targeted than broad match

Exact match

exact match keywords

Exact match is written using the following synax [_]. In the past exact match used to match specifically with search querries that are similar to the keywords to the last detail to display the ads.

The exact match would not trigger ads if there are words, before, in between and after the keywords.

Exact match gives the digital marketer more control, and it is very restrictive. In general it would have much less traffic than phrase match.

It should be noted that the search traffic for exact match is low because there are fewer people who are typing the similar search querry. However as it matches with the search querry, it would have the following:

  • A higher CTR
  • A higher conversion rate
  • Higher cost per click.
  • Low traffic.
  • Lower overall costs

Later Google changed the exact match to include synonyms, singular plurals and misspellings, stemmings, acronyms, abbreviations, and accents.

Users who match to exact match are more likely interested in the product or service.

Negative match

Unlike the other match types, the negative match type doesn’t show ads. It is used to prevent ads from showing when they match with the search querry. It is written with the following syntax -.

Negative match type prevent unwanted search terms to appear and lose of ads spend. The work well with broad match and phrase match for more targeted ads. You should note that they all have the same match types like for example broad, phrase and exact match negative keywords.

Keyword match types changing

Google announced in February 2021 that is going to make changes to the keyword match types. The changes were going to affect both broad match modifier and phrase match keywords.

Google has been to make changes over the course of the years. In 2014, the search engine decided to stop the “pure” exact match types and started allowing close variants.  the close vatiants included plurals, misspellings synonyms and abbreviations.

Three years later, Google told search engine marketers that the word order and function words will be added to the close variants that would trigger for exact match.

In 2018, It changed again to make exact match to trigger with keywords that have the same intent or meaning. This included words that implied the same meaning and paraphrases. In 2019 the same meaning and phrases were expanded to both phrase match and broad match.

Broad match modifier was introduced because many informed digital marketiers refused to touch broad match keywords. The reason for having broad match according to google was to find variations of keywords that would lead to conversions. The only problem for this, it was too broad; led to too few conversions and a lot of ad spend.

This led to Google introducing broad match modifier to get more advertisers to use broad match. This was a big step as more and more marketers started to use it as it gave them more control. however it didn’t bring the results Google was hoping for. In addition other informed advertizers still didn’t trust the newe broad modifier match.

Google had to make another change. This was done by getting rid of broad match all together and expanding the reach for phrase match. At the time of this writing phrase match keywords will significantly expand the search querry they match to. They will be similar to what broad match was doing in the past. While at the same time broad match would be similar to phrae match. Thus nullifying what was introduced.

This new changes makes phrase match to look much closer to results broad match would produce in the past. While at the same time broad modified match would be phased out.

Google said:

“That’s why we’re rolling these changes out slowly over several months: 

“Starting mid-February, both phrase match and broad match modifier keywords will begin to transition to this new matching behavior. Because this behavior will be applied to both match types, you won’t have to take any immediate action—you’ll keep your performance data and have no need to migrate your keywords.

In July, once the new behavior has been rolled out globally, you’ll no longer be able to create new broad match modifier keywords. However, existing broad match modifier keywords will continue to serve under the new behavior. That’s why starting now, we recommend creating new keywords in phrase match going forward.”

Phrase match will be triggered to include the meaning of the keyword and its implication when with the search queries. It should be noted that, also it can trigger the meaning of the keword as well as additional texts.

The word order used to be very important in the previous phrase match but in the new itteration, it doesn’t matter.

Pros and cons of the new change

pros and cons

This depends on the user as some wil be delighted about the the changes while others are skeptical and others are still on the fence about the new changes.

One of the changes is that it would be a huge time saver in the sense that the digital marketer doesn’t have came up with different account structures. In the past marketers would come up with different campaigns for phrase, broad and exact match. Now that broad modifier is being eliminated that would mean they would only create just two namely exact and phrase match.

The cons of making these changes will be that:

  • Ad spend is expected to increase as the ads will be serving to more queries
  • The click-through rate is like to decrease as there will be times when google doesn’t properly match the right keyword to the search query.
  • The cost per click will go up because the keywords will be less relevant and relevancy is a key component of quality score which influences the cost per click.
  • The ads would be less relevant because they will be matching with all sorts of search queries.

What to do about the new changes

  • Monitor the current phrase match keywords using the search terms report to see which search queries were used.
  • Keywords that were broad match modifier will be automatically converted to phrase match. Although, Google will provide tools that will help users converted from broad match to phrase match
  • Most users will be forced to add more negative keywords to ensure that they prevent unnecessary spillage.
  • Advertisers are encouraged to constantly check the recommendations as Google will help accounts transition to the new changes.
  • Keep an eye on things for a couple of weeks to see the impact of the account. This will help to understand what search queries are triggered by the phrase match.


The reason why Google is phasing out broad match modifier is that it is saying that through machine learning they are able to improve on matching keywords. They are able to look at a user’s history and intent to serve them ads. This in turn will make it easier especially for those who don’t have a lot of Google ads experience.

It should be noted that Google is pushing its automated bidding strategies taking away control from the digital marketers. This way they are able to learn and control their system more effeciently.

As a digital marketer myself, I can’t control what Google does or doesn’t do as such I can only react to them. Keyword structuring and campaign performance would depend mostly the strategy that I am employing.

This doesn’t mean that I will ignore any changes that Google or any other marketing platform make but makes me more nimble to the changes.


There are 3 comments on this post
  1. October 17, 2023, 6:07 am

    […] Keywords that were steady at $0.5-1 per click can quickly spike to $3-5 once heavy spending jumps start. This CPC inflation leads to exponential budget burns. […]

  2. October 23, 2023, 9:18 am

    […] top-ranking keywords for each competitor locally and nationally using SEMrush, Ahrefs or […]

  3. November 04, 2023, 6:48 pm

    […] keyword research to find out what your target audience wants to know or search for, and give them an answer in […]

Leave a reply

× How can I help you?