Google Adwords: Back to Basics – Keyword Match Types

Google Adwords: Back to Basics – Keyword Match Types

Last week we reviewed the importance Quality Score and how it’s calculated by AdWords. Sticking with the theme of going back to the basics, let’s revisit keyword matching options. After all, keywords are the gateway to traffic and sales. You have to be strategic when setting your match types to ensure that you’re not being excluded from popular search queries. You also want to make sure you’re not losing money when your ad appears on irrelevant queries as well. No matter how narrow or broad you set your match types, you want to make sure that the right people are seeing your ads.

The match type that you assign to your keywords (designated by different symbols in AdWords) will ultimately affect how and when your ad will appear on the General Display or Search Networks. You must be mindful of the customers you are hoping to reach when making these assignments.

The following are the match types available in AdWords:

Broad Match – There is no symbol associated with broad match types. This option provides the broadest opportunity for ad display, but this also means that your ad could be triggered by an irrelevant search query. If you used the keyword “running shoes”, your ad may display whenever someone searches a synonym like “jogging shoes” or “running sneakers”. It may also display if the search query includes a misspelled word like “runnign shoes”, or may appear on other relevant searches and variations of the phrase. Search queries like “shoes”, “minimalist running shoes” or “grey running shoes” may also trigger your ad.

Broad Match Modifier – The symbol is +keyword. In this instance the ads will display when a search query enters the modified term in any order, but will not appear when a synonym is searched. So your ad may display on “shoes running” or “running shoe”. This is a good way to add more control to your keywords since specific phrases must be included in the query.

Phrase Match – The symbol is “keyword”. Your ad may appear on searches that include your keyword phrase or similar variations of that phrase, in that order. Here, your ad would display on a query that includes the phrase, like “buy running shoes”, or matches the phrase “running shoes”.

Exact Match – The symbol is [keyword]. This one is pretty self-explanatory; your ad may display on searches that include the exact keyword. You ad would display on the search “running shoes”.

Negative Match – The symbol is –keyword. This match type excludes the keyword you designate. This can be helpful if you find that your ad is appearing often on certain irrelevant searches. For example, if you wanted to exclude the keyword summer (-sandals) because you ad is appearing when someone searches for “sandals”, this is a way to filter your ads. Your ads may still appear when someone searches for “running shoes” or “running sneakers” but they will not show up if someone searches for “sandals or running shoes”. You should only add the minus sign when you DON’T want your ad to show up on a specific search query.

When selecting your match types, AdWords recommends starting broad and then getting narrower after you have consulted activity reports. Your strategy on whether to start with broad, or tightly defined with exact and phrase, should be based on your budget limitations and how quickly you want to learn. The Keyword Tool is great for helping you select appropriate keywords for your campaigns. While selecting these, you’ll likely get ideas of the types of searches potential customers will enter on Google. You don’t want to start so narrow with your match types that your ad never appears, but you don’t want it to display on any old query either. Use your judgment, but for newer campaigns Broad Matches, Modifiers and Phrase Matches are a good place to start, unless you are working with a niche product/market.


Once you’ve given your campaign some time to breathe, activity will begin to generate in your reports. Be sure to reference the Search Terms Report to get a sense of when your ad is appearing and if this is translating to site traffic, increased conversions or sales. Once you have a sense of when and why people are clicking on your ads, you can start selecting narrower match types to apply to your keywords. This should also give you a good sense of negative match types to set if you see that certain irrelevant queries are triggering your ads. As always, test, test, test.


Zach Etten

Zach is a seasoned leader with nearly 10 years of digital marketing experience. His analytical and goal focused approach has helped businesses achieve lofty growth initiatives through search, social, and content marketing. Outside of work, you can usually find Zach cheering on any of the Boston sports teams.