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AdWords Keyword Match Types

There are almost too many decisions to make when setting up your AdWords account for the first time. How much money should I spend per day? Are my bids high enough? Do I start with Search, Display, or Search Network with Display Select? The list goes on and on.

One of the most common mistakes advertisers who are new to AdWords make is not fully utilizing the available keyword matching options. Selecting which words you want to trigger your ads is deceptively difficult to get right from the start, but makes a heck of a lot more sense once you understand what keywords are and how they work.

What The Hell Are The AdWords Match Types? 

Keyword match types are parameters that can be set on your keywords to control which searches trigger your ads to appear. There are 4 different keyword match types in AdWords: Broad Match, Broad Match Modifier, Phrase Match, and Exact Match.

Each match type has its own advantages and disadvantages, and it’s incredibly important to understand the circumstances in which you should use one and not the other.


Broad Match

Google makes it easy to find customers via keyword traffic. All you have to do is add in your targeted keywords, click save, and BOOM! you’re off to the races. Your keywords are placed in Broad Match by default, which can be problematic once you understand how Broad Match keywords work.

Broad Match, as its name suggests, is the keyword match type that allows you to reach the widest audience. When your keyword is Broad Match, your ads are eligible to appear whenever a user searches any word in your key phrase, in any order. It also allows misspellings and synonyms to trigger your ads to appear. For example, if you use broad match on the keyword “women’s hats”, your ad might show when a user searches for “men’s hats”, “women’s scarves”, or “girl fedoras”.

The wide reach of Broad Match keywords will increase the number of clicks you see on your ads, the problem is that a lot of those clicks may be coming from irrelevant traffic.  (In fact, broad match keywords is one of five default settings in your AdWords account that could be lowering your ROI.) If you decide to stick with default broad match keywords, it’s important to check the Search Terms Report to ensure you’re not spending money on keyword traffic that is irrelevant and not converting.

Broad Match Modifier

The Broad Match Modifier match type is one of our favourites because it gives you the crazy reach of Broad Match keywords, but allows you to be more restrictive around the specific queries that will trigger your ad. It’s the mullet (business in the front, party in the back) of the match type world.

Broad Match Modified keywords work by appending a ‘+’ to the specific word in your keyword phrase that you want to lock in place. When you lock a word in place, you are telling Google that you only want your ad to show when that word appears in the search query. The query can be in any order, but that one word needs to exist in it somewhere. To use the example from earlier, if you use a Broad Match Modifier on the keyword “ +women’s hats”, Google can show your ad when a user searches for “women’s fedoras”, “hats for women”, or “women’s clothing”, but will not show your ad when a user searches for “men’s hats”.

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Phrase Match

Phrase Match is another one of our favourite match types because of the balance of control and reach that it gives you as an advertiser. Your ad will only appear when a user searches for your exact keyword phrase, in its exact order, but maybe with some additional words at the beginning and the end of the query.

As with most things in AdWords, it’s way easier to see how this works in action, so let’s take a look. If you use the keyword “women’s hats” in Phrase Match, your ads are eligible to show for users searching for “red women’s hats”, “women’s hats for weddings”, but not for “women’s blue hats” or “hats for women”. We like using Phrase Match on two-word keyword phrases

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Exact Match and Close Variant Matching (2017 Update)

Exact Match used to be the most restrictive match type option in AdWords, and the match type option we found ourselves using the least.

It used to be the case where Exact Match keywords only triggered ads when the exact keyword phrase you targeted was searched. I mean, that’s the definition of exact, isn’t it?

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 10.28.37 AM

Google implements close variant matching

Google realized that advertisers were missing out on huge opportunities on people misspelling and abbreviating variations of the designated keywords, making Exact Match a very ineffective strategy. They then fixed the issue, so those small variants to search queries still triggered ads, although the keywords weren’t necessarily an exact match. This is called “close variant matching.”

In early 2017 Google announced that they’ll take things a step further, disclosing that exact match keyword ads will now be triggered when phrases are reordered and when function words are added, removed, or changed.

Negative Match

Choosing what NOT to target can be just as important as choosing what to target. Negative keywords prevent your ads from showing up for search queries that have nothing to do with your brand.

If you’re selling bacon, you don’t want to show up for queries looking for the Bacon Bros.

Now there are three types of negative keywords:

Negative Broad Match is the default setting that stops your ad from showing if all the negative keywords are searched, regardless of order. For example, the negative keywords “dog hat” will prevent your ad from showing up when “cute hats for dogs” is searched.

Negative Phrase Match stops your ads from showing if the search includes your exact keywords. Order matters! If your negative phrase match keyword is “dog hat,” your ad will not show up for the search query “cute dog hat” but will show for “hat dog.”

Negative Exact Match prevents your ads from showing if the search query is exactly your negative keyword. This means, your ads will show if extra words or phrases are added. The negative exact match keyword “dog hat” will prevent your ads to show only when someone searches exactly “dog hat.”

If you’re feeling stuck, read our guide on how to set up negative keywords.


If you’ve made it down this far, you’re now a keyword match type expert! If you have any questions, please feel free to drop a comment below or tweet at us @resellhub. We read every tweet!

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