Google Ads Match Types: What They Mean and How To Use them

PPC Keyword Match Types: What They Mean and How to Use Them 1
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Today, I have the pleasure of guiding you through the extremely important topic of Google Ads Match Types. If you want to know how to make or break the profitability of your Google Ads, this subject is pretty much where it's at. I've seen countless people lose absolute fortunes through not understanding this subject And when we have new guys joining our team, its a topic that normally takes a few sessions for them to properly get their heads around.

Keywords Vs Search Queries

A keyword is the word or phrase you stipulate in your google ads account. This is what you apply a match type to.

A search query is the actual words a user types into a search engine that your keyword gets matched to.

It's very important to understand the difference.

What are Google Ads match types?

Match types are a way to enable advertisers to control how loose or tight they wish to target a keyword within a campaign. Going loose can be great if you want to reach pretty much anyone searching for something relating to a particular word or topic. But generally speaking, there is sense in going tight. Especially as Google is forever changing (ie. loosening) the criteria it applies to match types, so it can make more money out of less discerning customers.

What match types are available?

When it comes to targeting keywords (not excluding them. Negative keywords behave differently), there are 4 match types available:

1) Broad Match

This is the default match type Google will use if you do not specify otherwise and is displayed in a campaign as a standard word with no other symbols around it.

It’s also my least favourite match type because it always attracts a tonne of irrelevant searches.

Using broad match means your ads will appear for search queries that include any word(s) from your key phrase in any order, including misspellings or synonyms relating to other words that Google considers similar.

Basically, if Google can loosely relate your broad match keyword to a users search and charge you the money, it will. It can be a great way to burn budget, if you're into that sort of thing.

2) Modified Broad Match

My personal favourite for starting campaigns out.

With modified broad match, you put a plus sign (+) in front of the words you want to feature in search queries you are matched to. The words that are preceded by a (+) sign must appear in the users’ search query (in any order) or as a close variation.

Example: the keyword +ppc +agency will match to search queries:
ppc agency portsmouth
ppc agency hampshire
ppc agency uzbekistan
which ppc agency will make me millions of pounds and not charge me a penny?

It may match you to search queries that aren't exactly relevant, but can be a great way of identifying other queries you hadn't thought of.

In high-traffic markets, we try to only apply broad match modified to 3-word-keywords. Applying to only 2-word-keywords can sometimes still be a little too loose and troublesome. In this situation, exact match may be best (read below).

3) Phrase Match

Phrase match is (supposedly) tighter than broad match modified but looser than exact match.

Phrase match is applied by placing "quote marks" around the keyword you wish to target and used to mean the users search query must contain the same characters in the same order. However, Google recently loosened the criteria so they could make more money.

Now their definition says:
"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."

Pretty vague, almost cryptic explanation. Phrase match is basically meant to be between exact match and modified broad in terms of tightness.

4) Exact Match

In the good old days, exact match, applied by placing [brackets around the keyword], used to do what it said on the tin, with a few exceptions of close variants.

Then Google kept changing things (so it could make more money).

Google's current definition of exact match is as follows: "Ads may show on searches that are the same meaning or same intent as the keyword. Of the three keyword matching options, exact match gives you the most control over who sees your ad. Exact match is designated with brackets, such as [red shoe]."

It feels like Google is being purposely less descriptive and helpful around their keyword match type descriptions since the most recent changes.

Top Tip: Google will continually move the goalposts when it comes to match types. It pays to keep on top of the subject and modify your methods and negative keyword lists frequently. 

PPC Keyword Match Types: What They Mean and How to Use Them 2


Google Ads match types is a very important subject and is one to regularly refresh your understanding of as Google continues to change the criteria. We will review and refresh the content on this page when possible [last update 01 March 2021] but Google's current match type descriptions can be found here.

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