Filtering Traffic With Keyword Match Types

written by Ash Smith

December 1, 2019

Regardless of whether you’ve just created your first Google Ads campaign, or if you’ve been running your account for some time and are looking for ways to optimise; it’s important to put some work into the lifeblood of your account: your keywords.

Keywords are what trigger your ads to show, and more importantly, they are what you’re spending your budget on – so it’s crucial that you’re targeting the best keywords for your business goals.

If you’re not already aware, the keywords that you choose to bid on will trigger a range of search queries – and the size of that range depends on your keyword match types.

In this article, we’ll run you through the different match types that are available for your keywords including the kinds of search queries they can trigger, and how you signify them when adding them to your account. We’ll look at the pros and cons of each, and hopefully help you achieve better returns from your spend.

So just what are keyword match types?

Match types are parameters you can add to your keywords to help control what searches your ads show for. There are four different match types that offer varying degrees of control, these are: 

  • Broad Match
  • Broad Match Modifier
  • Phrase Match
  • Exact Match
  • Negative Match

So how do you harness these different match types and what impact will they have on your account? Take a look at the table below for a top level idea of how they work:

Broad Match

Broad match are exactly as their name states – broad. Depending on what you’re wanting to achieve from your marketing, this could be a good or a bad thing – and we’ll explain why.

Broad match is the default match type for keywords and don’t require any symbols to specify a match type. If you’ve already added keywords to your account without having an understanding of match types – you’re using broad match.

The good thing about broad match is that it lets you cast your net wide, using a single keyword to seed a range of different results. What this means is that you can use a smaller keyword set (reducing the time needed for upfront keyword research) and let your ads run for a period of time. During that time, you should keep an eye on your search query reports to see what your ads are being triggered for. You’ll likely find a lot of irrelevant searches that have nothing to do with your business, and at that point you’ll want to create negative keywords to filter these searches out (more on that later) so that you aren’t wasting your budget. Conversely, you’ll find some searches that are offering a good click through rate and conversions on your site – search queries you wouldn’t have considered when you started – that’s the power of broad match.

Broad Match Modified

Need a bit more control over what your ads are showing for, but still want to test the waters and find new search queries? Introducing Broad Match Modified – the more conservative brother of broad match.

By using the ‘+’ symbol in front of a keyword, you’re telling Google that you want that word or words to appear in the search query – but you’re happy for these keywords to appear in any order, and with other words before, in between or after your keywords. Like broad match, this allows you the flexibility to have a smaller keyword set up front that will seed a range of search queries, but these need to meet your criteria. Again, you’ll need to keep an eye on your search query report to see which searches are bringing in good returns and which are duds.

Phrase Match

As you’ve probably guessed, the further we go down the list of match types – the more control you’re going to find. But on the flip side of that coin – you’re keywords are going to spawn a smaller variation of search queries, limiting your reach.

Similar to Broad Match Modified, Phrase match requires the keywords that you choose to appear in the search query they trigger. Going beyond this, the additional layer of control provided by phase requires these words to appear in the exact order you specify. Words may still appear before or after your phrase match keywords, but no words will appear in between.

Phrase are great to use once you’ve done a bit of experimentation with broad match modified (or broad) and found keyword combinations that are particularly strong – we recommend looking for two and three word combinations for your phrase match keywords.

Exact Match

When it comes to exact match you’ve reached the proverbial ‘peak’ of keyword control – that’s right, you can tell Google that you only want your ads to show on searches exactly matching your keywords. Well – that was the case up until a few years ago any way.

The truth about exact is that it isn’t as exact as you’d think. Back in 2014, Google introduced ‘close variant matching’ that allowed your exact match keywords to show for searches that were nearly exact, but carried the same search intent.

The reason for this was that exact match was very limiting. If a searcher forgot to include a space, or accidentally forgot a letter – your ads weren’t going to get shown. The search needed to match your keyword exactly. With close variants, you’re ads will show for abbreviations, misspellings, as long as Google determines the search intent to be the same.
While Google will do its best to determine intent, you should still keep an eye on your search query report to ensure you’re only showing for relevant searches. If you’re interested in finding out more, we’ve written another article all about close variant matching.

Negative keywords

Regardless of which match type you choose, you will likely still need to use negative keywords.

While broad, broad match modified, phrase and exact match types essentially create a net to catch a range of search queries, it’s likely that that net is going to pick up some trash along the way. Negative keywords stop these searches from being caught, filtering and ensuring your spend is being used wisely.

Regardless of what your business is, its likely that due to match types, you will show for something something irrelevant that shares a keyword. We recommend thinking of some of the potential irrelevant searches that could appear for your keywords prior to setting your campaign live, and ensuring that you are plugging any holes before you start spending money on advertising.

Once your campaign is active, you’ll be regularly checking your search query reports, at which point you’ll likely find more irrelevant searches that you didn’t forsee. At this point you should look to add them as negatives.

Negative keywords can be matched in the same way as normal keywords that you want to target, that means you can have broad, broad match modified, phrase and exact match negatives. For efficiency’s sake, if you find a keyword that you know to be completely irrelevant, we recommend using phrase match on that word, its plurals, and common misspellings to ensure it doesn’t appear in any searches again.

To add negatives, you can go to the keywords tab and add a keyword with the ‘-’ symbol in front of it.

So which match type is best?

While we have our favourites – modified broad match and exact match – each match type has its pros and cons, and when it comes to choosing the best match type for you, you need to go back to your business and campaign goals. If you’re looking for reach and willing to use a portion of your media spend for ‘research and development’ purposes, broad match may be a good option for you – just remember that you’ll need to put in work with constantly reviewing your search query reports and updating your negative keyword lists. If you’ve got a limited budget, or have a small keyword set that you are confident will deliver results for your business, using phrase or exact match may be the better option – again though, don’t take this as a free pass from keeping on top of your search queries.

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