How To: Google Ads Keyword Match Types

Simon JonesUncategorized

What are the different ads keyword match types and which ones should you use?

A Google Search campaign is essentially made up of keywords, which are what people type into Google that you want to show search ads for. So you need to think wisely about which keywords you want to include in your account, if someone clicks your search ad and doesn’t buy or sign up for anything, you still have to pay for the click!

One way to help ensure the ads you’ve gone to the effort of creating are shown to the right people is to use the right keywords. Keywords can be of 3 match types: exact, phrase and broad match. Using the right keyword match type can help you get the best results early on, and knowing the difference between match types can save you a lot of wasted time and money on irrelevant clicks.

What are the 3 match types?

Exact match (EM)

This is the most restrictive keyword match type, as Google will only show ads for search terms which exactly or very closely match the specified keyword. This can be both a positive or negative depending on your viewpoint. This match type was updated to include “close variants”, making it slightly less restrictive than it once was but not by much! This means that if there is a spelling error, or if the user used a synonym instead of the word specified in your keyword, your ad is still eligible to show.

For example ‘[buy luxury cardigans]’. Google would show your ad to people who search for that exact term of course, they would also show if there were minor spelling errors, e.g. “buy luxusy cardigana”, or if their was a synonym used, e.g. “purchase luxury cardigans” or “buy quality cardigans”. If someone searched “buy cheap cardigans”, your ad wouldn’t show since while they are relatively similar search terms, Google would recognise that “cheap” is about as far from the word “luxury” as possible. This is good because anything irrelevant is already ignored by this keyword, but also negative because anything still relevant but a bit too different to the keyword also will be ignored, such as “buy luxury cardigans online”.

Phrase Match (PM)

This is slightly less restrictive because whatever phrase match keyword you define can appear anywhere in the user’s search term as long as its in the right order.

For example ‘“buy luxury cardigans”’. Google would show an ad for that exact term, or very close variants as above, but would also show your ad to someone who searched “place to buy luxury cardigans cheap”, because technically the keyword appears in the middle of the search term in the same order. On the plus side, however, you will show ads for terms that are still relevant such as “best online shop to buy luxury cardigans”

Broad Match (BM) & Broad Match Modifier (BMM)

These are the least restrictive keyword match types. The differences between BM and BMM are subtle but can be very important to consider when creating your keyword lists. BM will show ads for search terms that include any of the words in your keywords in any order anywhere within the search term, allowing ads to show for close variants & synonyms. This allows you to expand your ad visibility to potentially relevant people which exact match keywords would likely ignore without expanding your keyword lists.

For example ‘buy luxury cardigans’ could show ads for the exact term, close variants & synonyms, as well as people searching for a specific brand/material like “Ted Baker Luxury Cardigans” or “wool blended quality cardigans”, which could be great if you stock them or a wasted click if you don’t!

BMM lies between BM and PM. Unlike PM the keywords don’t have to be in a specific order, and unlike BM you can specify certain words that absolutely must appear within the search term to trigger the ad. You can do this by adding a ‘+’ before one or more absolutely necessary word that must be within the search term, or for all words if they are all required to be somewhere within the search term. In short, BM is as non-specific as you can be, allowing you to gain more traffic but runs the very real risk of wasting click spend on irrelevant traffic, whereas BMM lets you be slightly more precise while still expanding the range of search terms your ads are eligible to show for compared to EM and PM.

For example ‘+buy luxury +cardigans’, has a ‘+’ in front of each word within the keyword except luxury since “buy” and “cardigans” are absolutely required, whereas “luxury” might represent the ideal customer but perhaps isn’t absolutely necessary to include in the search term. Google would show your ads to someone who searches for that exact term and close variants as above, but you still need to be careful because unless you specify otherwise will also show your ads to people who search “buy discounted fancy dress cardigan free delivery” which as you can see is far less relevant and might not be what you imagine to be your ideal customer.


Exact match keywords are usually the best place to start, as they show ads only for those specific terms, or close variants such as typos and synonyms. This limits how much a search term can vary from your keyword, and so limits the risk of the keyword showing to an irrelevant user who was never going to convert anyway. 

Broad and Phrase match keywords are a great way to expand your search campaign strategy and find new valuable customers once you know what converts well in your exact match campaigns. There might be similar search terms that are relevant to your ad, which exact match keywords weren’t able to show ads for, in addition to including irrelevant terms. 

A way to reduce the risk of irrelevant terms showing up in your broad/phrase match campaigns is to introduce what is called “negative keywords”. Negative keywords follow the same match type principles as above but are applied to an ad group or campaign to tell Google what you don’t want ads to show for. You need to be very careful with negative keywords because if you use the wrong match type, or input the negative keyword wrongly, you might end up preventing your own ads from showing to relevant traffic. Search term reports are the best place to find potential negative keywords, and these are the best way to reduce wasted spend, so be sure to check these regularly for your Broad & Phrase keywords!