Google Search Match Types: How do Keyword Match Types Work?

Google Match Type Feature Image

Written by Kyle Crooks

Kyle is a Digital Marketing Executive at GlowMetrics, working on digital marketing campaigns for a range of clients via Google Ads, Bing Ads, social media, and other platforms.
September 29, 2021

In this blog post, we will look at the Google keyword match types in their most up to date form. Match types are the bread and butter of Google Search Ads, helping us define exactly which search results we want our ads to be shown in. Therefore, it is extremely important to understand what each one is and how to use them.

Google match types currently come in 4 different variations (broad, exact, phrase and negative) with each one used differently. In the list below we will break each one down for you, define them and show you how to use them.

Broad Match

Designated by simply entering in your keyword to the Google Ads platform and therefore the default, broad match allows you to simply get more eyes on your ads. Using broad match your ad is eligible to appear when a user’s search query includes any word in your keyword in any order or if a user’s search query uses a word that Google deems relevant to your keywords.

Helping to define further, Google has also stated that it may take into account, a) the user’s recent search activity, b) the content of the ad’s landing page, and c) other keywords from the ad group to construct a better understanding of intent when matching keywords to search queries. This elevates broad match into a more targeted method paralleled to previous iterations of the match type, though broad match is still very much open in comparison to the other match types. In the same breath, Google has also stated that any identical matches of the query string of search terms will be given priority over any other relevant keywords.

Overall, using broad match keywords will give your ads a lot of reach, though with this comes a heavy loss of relevancy, so it is important you have a strong plan and that you understand how your budget will be spent.

How you could use Broad Match?

Broad Match could be useful at the start of a campaign to help collect data and help illuminate keywords are working (or not). Though this could be seen as a more blindfold and shoot method with the long-term idea of then refining based on the results. Broad match could also be useful if you have a budget to burn and you want to create awareness.


Exact Match

Exact match is the most restrictive/specific of the Google ads match types and is designated with [brackets]. Previously, exact match was also one of the easiest match types to define – Google will only show your ads for the keywords you choose – though this has now changed.

Now, if you select your keyword as an exact match, ads may show on searches that have the same meaning or same intent as your keyword. To aid this Google uses what they call ‘Close Variants’ to help define search terms relevancy:

Close Variant Keyword Search Query
Misspellings [Phone] Phnoe
Plural or singular [Mobile phone] Mobile phones
Abbreviations [January] Jan
Acronyms [Business to business] B2B
Accents [slainte] Sláinte
Synonyms & Paraphrases [covers for phone] Phone covers
Function words (in, to) [trees in Africa] Trees Africa
Conjunctions (and, but) [Parks and Rec] Parks rec
Articles (a, the) [Clifford the dog] Clifford dog
Different words with the same meaning [large door] big door
Implied words [mango flavoured sweet] Mango sweet
Same search intent [dairy free chocolate] Milk free chocolate

Bear in mind, however, that Google may not always select relevant variations of your keywords, so it’s always worth checking your search terms report. 

Overall, exact match has been designed for the maximum relevance for search terms though will it receive a minimal reach due to the close variant’s limitations.

How you could use Exact Match?

Exact match could be used at the start of your campaign if some long-tail keywords show enough search volume, it might be valued to add them as Exact match terms to take full advantage. It could also be very useful if your product is well defined and has a strong landing page, in this case, exact match will help your ads rank high in search results. Overall, exact match will allow you very tight control on keywords and your budget.

Phrase Match

Before an update that started on February 2021, to trigger an ad using a phrase match keyword the keyword needed to be present in the search query in the same order as you stated with a few extra words allowed before or after the search term (ie. Black book – old black book, TV black book show).

Around this time Google also had an extra match type called ‘Broad Match Modifier’, which allowed us to deem keywords as necessary in a search query, allowing the reach of broad match with the option of extra relevancy.

Though now, two have become one. Broad match modifier no longer exists and phrase match was updated to take on some new qualities. Google helpfully now explains phrase match as:

Ads may show on searches that include the meaning of your keyword. The meaning of the keyword can be implied, and user searches can be a more specific form of the meaning.’

The key to this description is ‘meaning’. While previously phrase match was oriented around the keyword/the order of the keywords and broad match modifier allowed you reach with extra relevance, Google’s machine learning is now deemed good enough to allow both and now attempts to distinguish if a search term means the same as a keyword while also deciding if a keyword order is relevant to the meaning.  

While this is not as rigid as exact match or not as loose as broad match, phrase match is an extremely useful way to reach more relevant customers without listing every single term and synonym you can think of. Phrase match sits nicely in-between broad and exact match, granting medium control and medium levels of reach while also offering some relevancy. Phrase match keywords are designated with “quotes”. Similar to broad match, Google has also stated that any identical matches of the query string of search terms will be given priority over any other relevant keywords.

How you could use Phrase Match?

Phrase match is useful if you want to increase your CTR  as the search terms will be close to keywords you have entered for your ad group. While phrase match could also be used if you want to create ads that feature keywords customers use to search.


Negative Match Terms

Unlike the other match types, negative match allows you to stop your ad from being triggered by the keywords you input, therefore allowing focus on the terms you believe your customers find the most relevant.  Designated by a minus symbol before the keyword, for example ‘-petrol’, negative terms are extremely useful in a number of ways. First, in the building of campaigns, if you already know some terms that you don’t want your ads to be triggered by you can add these as negative terms. While they are also very useful once you have some data. After the first few weeks of your campaign, you should review the Search Terms Report to view which search terms triggered your ad. You can then select search terms you would like to add to your negative list to stop your ads from showing against these irrelevant search terms. Overall, negative keywords can help optimise your campaigns and help to save those all-important pennies/cents.

To conclude, match types are extremely important to make the most out of Google ads, though it is vital to stay at the top of your game. Google are fantastic at updating and ensuring their tools are the best they can be, however, they are known to change them without much notice, so keep yourself updated with all the recent changes.

Here at GlowMetrics, we keep our followers and subscribers as up to date as possible with any updates in digital analytics and digital marketing – so follow us now and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.


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