PPC Google match types

Google AdWords Match Types: Best Practices

Getting to grips with the various keyword match types in AdWords is key to running a successful PPC campaign. But understanding all the terminology associated with PPC can be challenging – and match types are no exception.

In this brief guide, I outline the advantages and disadvantages of each keyword match type and the reasons for selecting one over another.

What are keyword match types?

Keyword match types are settings that can be added to your chosen keywords to control which search terms trigger your ads. There are four possible match types, each with their own specific advantages and disadvantages. These are:

  • Broad match,
  • Broad match modifier,
  • Phrase match,
  • Exact match

Selecting the right match types for the keywords you’re planning to bid on is crucial to the success of your paid search campaigns and to the overall health of your AdWords account. Too restrictive and you may be missing out on potential long-tail search terms that convert well and deliver a positive ROI. Too lenient and you may be paying for irrelevant clicks. Keyword match types have different properties, so it’s important to keep in mind best practices and to ensure that you’re clear about why you’re using particular types.

Broad Match

Broad match is the default setting within AdWords which will show your ads to anyone who searches for the terms you input or related terms across Google’s search network.

Broad match keywords can be really great when you’re in the research and experimentation phase of your keyword research. Setting up a broad match version of a PPC campaign will give you a lot of data that you can use later.

For example, an outsourced payroll provider may bid on the broad match version of the term “payroll”. This would show their ads to anyone searching for the specific phrase “payroll” but also any other phrases containing that term (e.g. “payroll software”, “system for payroll”) and similar terms (e.g. “PAYE”). The most obvious benefit of this is that your ads reach a very large audience, potentially increasing brand awareness. In addition, it will help you to uncover a large range of potentially relevant keywords, along with accurate search volumes and the essential metrics that you would use to measure the success of your campaigns (such as click-through rate and conversion rate).

But there are a whole host of risks associated with using broad match versions of your keywords in AdWords. Your ads will be shown to a large number of irrelevant searches, unless you utilise a complicated network of negative keywords to control how your ads are shown. As Google will show your ads to people searching for similar terms, you may end up bidding on searches that don’t share the same intent. Furthermore, you won’t be able to optimise your ad copy and landing pages well enough to attract good quality scores for your ads, given the huge array of search terms that your ads might be being triggered by.

Broad Match Modifier

Prefixing a broad match term with a + symbol modifies your keyword phrase to allow further control of which searches your ads are triggered by. Like broad match, your ads will receive a large number of impressions, but you’ll have a little more control.

For example, the broad match modifier keyword “+plumber +birmingham” would trigger your ads if people search for:

Birmingham plumber

Best plumber in Birmingham

Cheap plumber in Birmingham

Birmingham commercial plumber

In other words, your ads will be shown for anyone who searches for any phrase containing both the word “plumber” and the word “Birmingham”. Your ad wouldn’t be shown for “drain cleaner Birmingham” – which is possible if you bid on a term like “plumber birmingham” set with broad match as the match type.

The advantages and disadvantages are very similar to using straight broad match. You’ll get larger search volumes and it will generate further keyword ideas, but this still comes at the cost of irrelevant searches, even with the additional control provided by the modifier.

Phrase Match

Phrase match allows for even greater control over which searches your ads are shown for as the user’s search term must include the specific phrase you specify. In this case, the use of quote marks signals that the keyword is using the phrase match type.

For example, if you were to bid on “photo editing software” as phrase match, your ads would only be shown if searchers use the particular words in that particular order. So, your ads would be shown for:

Photo editing software

Best photo editing software

Photo editing software free trial

How to use photo editing software

But wouldn’t be shown for:

Software for editing photos

Photo software

How to edit photographs using software

In a similar way to broad match, this can generate new keyword ideas and give you a good idea of the terms your target audience uses around the your keyword. They can also give you some great insights that you can pursue through other marketing channels. For example, as in the search terms above, you may see people are searching for your key term plus “free trial” or “how to”. This might give ideas of ways to improve your product offering (with a free trial) or for content that you might want to produce in order to attract organic leads (such as a “how to” guide)

In general, using phrase match is a solid PPC tactic, as it has the benefits of broad match while off-setting some of the disadvantages, particularly when negative keywords are used.

Exact Match

Exact match is the most restrictive match type – people must search for the exact keyword or phrase that you’re bidding on in order for that to trigger one of your ads. Or so you may think – it’s actually a little more complicated than that.

Exact match keywords are formatted using square brackets. In simple terms, if you use the exact match version of “tennis coach” (i.e. [tennis coach], users will only see your ads if they themselves search for the exact phrase “tennis coach”. New AdWords users will often assume that this is actually what happens when they use broad match keywords – and that’s where a lot of major PPC account problems start.

The advantages of using exact match are very clear. Firstly, it allows you to have much greater control over the the searches that your ads are shown for than any of the other match types. This, in turn, means that the traffic to your site will be highly targeted and – assuming your keywords are well researched – will be the most profitable for your business. Secondly, you needn’t worry about irrelevant traffic or maintaining a long list of negative keywords. Finally, it allows you to set bids at a very granular level.

Say you sell running shoes through an ecommerce site. You might know that your overall conversion rate through PPC is 2%. But you might also know that one particular keyword phrase – let’s say “cheap professional running shoes” – has an ecommerce conversion rate of 10%. Assuming that your maximum cost-per-click bids are delivering a positive ROI across your PPC account, you could potentially bid 5 times more for the exact match phrase [cheap professional running shoes], knowing that you’ll still be getting a positive ROI.

Of course, there are also disadvantages with exact match. Most obviously, they can’t be used for keyword research or planning, and won’t increase your brand’s exposure to broader audiences. But another problem you may not be aware of is that “exact” doesn’t actually mean “exact”.

Misspellings, plurals and other very close variations of the keyword phrase can trigger ads. For example, if you were to bid on the phrase “pension advice” as exact match, your ads could be shown when people search for “pension advice” (as you would expect) but also “pensions advice” or “pension advices”.
This may not seem a major problem, as these variations do closely match the search intent of your specified keyword phrase. But, more recently, Google has now begun triggering ads for exact match keywords when the search terms use different word orders or contain function words. For example, if you bid on the exact match term “tennis coach”, your ad could be shown when people search for “coach tennis”. And while many people who search for “coach tennis” will be looking for the same information as those searching for a “tennis coach”, there will be others who will be searching for different information – such as finding opportunities to teach tennis. Google insists that instances where syntactic variation changes meaning – as in this case – won’t match, but that still leaves demonstrable cases where phrases with different word order generate better or worse ROI.

If you want support with your business’s PPC strategy, then do not hesitate to get in touch.


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