Match Types Explained

Understanding the Differences Between Keyword Match Types and Knowing When to Use Them


There are more than 63,000 Google searches per second. Keyword match types are one way that Google helps filter those searches and connect you with the people you actually want to find you.

You don’t want to spend money on irrelevant clicks; if you’re selling a professional service, you don’t want someone to click on your ad who is searching for ways to do it themselves, and if you’re selling an expensive product, you don’t want someone to click on your ad who is looking for discount products. These users won’t find what they’re looking for, and they won’t convert. It’s a lose-lose for everyone when the search query leads to a keyword that doesn’t reflect the accurate intent of the searcher. 

Match types are essentially a way to filter intent. There are four keyword match types: broad match, broad match modifier, phrase match, and exact match. Having the right match type in place can make the difference between the success and failure of your campaigns; it’s that big of a deal! 

So how do match types work, and how do you know which one you should use?

Match Types Overview

Think of the match types like a funnel that help you refine your search results; as you go down the list, each one results in a smaller audience because they use more specific criteria.

Broad match targeting will show your ad to the highest number of people and get the most clicks. Broad match modifier will yield a slightly smaller audience, and phrase match even smaller. Exact match will show your ad to the least amount of people because the criteria are the most restrictive of the four types.

Here’s a basic overview that’s easy to remember (read below for a more detailed explanation of how to use them wisely):

Broad match = any words/synonyms, in any order

Broad match modifier = only certain words, any order

Phrase match = exact order, but can have words in between/around

Exact match = certain words

Broad match

What it is:  The default setting in Google Ads. If anyone searches for any word in your key phrase, or searches for synonyms related to your key phrase, your ad may be triggered, even if search query contains the words in the wrong order. You will reach the highest amount of people with this match type. 

What it looks like:  Entering your keywords as plain text will tell Google to automatically choose the broad match option. (Example: stainless steel dishwashers in tampa)

When to use it: When your primary objective is getting more clicks and increasing traffic. You will get more clicks from broad match than you will from any other match type. This strategy works well for bigger businesses in general/popular industries, like someone searching for wedding dresses and getting an ad for wedding photography. It’s assumed that anyone planning a wedding is searching for many things wedding-related, even if photography wasn’t the exact keyword. 

Pros/Cons to consider: Quantity is not always better than quality. Using broad match means you run the risk of getting clicks from irrelevant traffic, which are expensive and useless; you may hurt your ROI. In PPC advertising, you only pay when someone clicks your ad, which is a good thing if the user wants what you’re offering and is likely to purchase your product. It’s a bad thing if  the user doesn’t want what you’re offering and wastes your money on clicks that won’t result in conversions, a high probability of broad match targeting. It’s also worth noting that Google’s default setting are designed to spend as much of your money as possible, which is good for Google but may not be good for you. 


Phrase match

What it is:  The second most specific match type. It only connects you with users who search for the core of your keyword phrase – the words have to be in the same order you designate, although words may appear before and after. You will reach a smaller audience but will have more relevant clicks. 

What it looks like:  Putting parentheses around the keywords that you want to show in order tells Google to use phrase match targeting. (Example: “stainless steel dishwashers”)

When to use it: Use this option when the keywords are brand names, when the order of the words matters (“used cars” vs “cars used”, which may be triggered by search queries like “cars used for…”), or when you aren’t as concerned with high volume as you are with high intent. If you are targeting a small group of people, this is the match type to go with. 

Pros/Cons to consider: While broad match modifier may essentially get you close to the same results without sacrificing traffic, phrase match gives you more control over which search terms to target – you can focus on a certain way of expressing a search term, even more than you can with exact match. It is useful for testing purposes, also. However, you will reach a narrower audience; less people will see and click on your ad.  

Broad match modifier 

What it is: A more relevant alternative to broad match. You can specify that one or more words in your keyword phrase have to be included in the search query in order for your ad to be triggered, but they can be in any order. You will still reach a wide audience, but the relevance will be higher.

What it looks like:  Adding a plus sign (+) in front of the word that you need to be included tells Google to use the broad match modifier setting, only showing your ad to users who type in the words you designated. (Example: stainless steel +dishwashers in +tampa)

When to use it: When you want more traffic, but need more control, for budget purposes, than broad match offers. If you’re trying to build brand awareness, broad match modifier can get you attention while protecting your spend from going too quickly. This strategy can work well for any business unless you’re a niche market, in which case you need to have a more restrictive match type in place to absolutely ensure relevant traffic.

Pros/Cons to consider: AdHawk words it in a way we love – “It’s the mullet (business in the front, party in the back) of the match type world.” Broad match modifier gives you the reach you want and the relevance you want. However, you still run the risk of wasted clicks, because the targeting is still broad. Let’s say your keyword phrase is “women’s bathing suits” and you use a broad match modifier on bathing suits (women’s +bathing +suits). Search queries for “kids’ bathing suits”, “men’s bathing suits”, “bathing suits under 40$”, and etc., would all trigger your ad (which if you only sell women’s bathing suits, would be useless).

*Bonus – research has shown that broad match modifiers increase quality score, increase CTRs, and drop CPC. 

Exact match

What it is:  The most restrictive match type. Before 2017, this meant that your ads would only show when your exact keyword was typed – no synonyms, no words in between, no out of order queries. However, Google has relaxed this definition to include plurals, close variants, and out-of-order terms. This increases the reach by about 3%, but will still get you the least amount of clicks with the highest amount of relevance. 

What it looks like:  If you put brackets around the keyword phrase, Google will know to implement exact match targeting. (Example: [stainless steel dishwashers])

When to use it: When you want to be ultra-specific and close the gap between clicks and conversions, or if you have a low budget. If you’re in a niche market, and you don’t have a lot of excess time to optimize your keywords, this is probably the smartest option. You’ll only get extremely high intent searches. Likewise, if your ad spend is low at the current moment, exact match can be a way to conserve budget. 

Pros/Cons to consider: Exact match is limiting, even with Google’s recent changes. You won’t get the volume you may need in certain industries, but you will have lower costs with a higher conversion rate. 

Negative keywords

It’s always worth the reminder, in every match type discussion, that with every match type, negative keywords must be included if you want to retain any sort of control over your ad spend. Negative keywords are exclusions – specific words that tell Google not to trigger your ad when typed. They have a minus sign in front of the negative (-stainless steel), so you can turn away any intent that has nothing to do with your business or that may be hurting your ROI.

For example, if you are a hardwood floor installation company, you may want to filter out -carpet flooring company, -carpet floor installation, -carpet floor, -diy floor installation, -redo hardwood floors on your own, or other keywords that reflect the intent of someone trying to search for something other than hardwood floor installation from professionals. 

15% of the millions of searches that are performed every day on Google are brand new. You should add negative keywords to your campaigns regularly in order to optimize and ensure top performance. When negative keywords are added to the right match type strategy, you’ll experience better results and enjoy more revenue!

Have questions about the different match types affect your campaigns, or about when you should use each one? Empirical360 has extensive experience in paid search marketing for a variety of industries, including medical, home services, Ecommerce, insurance, and more, and our accounts convert (on average) at 20%. We know how to translate match type strategies into revenue, and we’d love to show you what our agency can do to grow your business! 

Shea Antonucci - Author

Director of Content Marketing

Shea is an expert content writer and is a classic literary nerd! She loves writing highly engaging content and has a knack for making it convert!