Keywords can sometimes feel like strange, archaic signposts that lead you to the promised land of online success—if only you can decipher the right ones to follow and use. And that feeling isn’t unique to you—which is why we wrote this guide to Keyword Match Types.

Before diving into the weeds of Keyword Match Types, make sure your Google Ads account is set up and triple check that you’re up-to-date on your PPC basics. If you know the basics but want an intermediate course refresher on building keyword lists and dominating when it comes to SERPs, we’ve got some amazing resources for you. Now, on to the big question: what is keyword matching, and how is it related to “Mad” Max Rockatanski?

The Thunderdome vs. a Thunder Dome: Keyword Death Match

In Google Ads, keywords are the focus of most of your efforts. You bid on them, carefully choose the landing pages they link to, and tailor copy specifically for them. But English is an annoying language where one word can have multiple meanings. This can cause headaches, especially when a keyword you need to bid on is heavily contested by an unrelated industry.

Imagine someone selling Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome merchandise who can’t get their ads to show up because there are too many results related to a cloud that causes thunder domes: the cumulonimbus. In the early days of Google, there wouldn’t have been much you could do in that situation except to throw down and try to battle it out with the other results. But nowadays, we have Keyword Match Types, which make the process much easier.

What Are Keyword Match Types?

Keyword Match Types are a feature in Google Ads that allows our mid 80’s film merchandise salesperson to separate and distinguish themselves from search results that may seem similar or have similar words but are, in fact, very different. Another way to say it: Keyword Match Types help Google decide how closely the keyword should match with a user’s search query in order to enter the keyword auction. In other words, Keyword Match Types allow Google to differentiate between the Thunderdome and a thunder dome. There are four types to choose from.

Broad Match

A broad match keyword type is the widest net you can cast. Google’s search result algorithm is really smart now, so if you choose a broad match, your ad will show up even when someone isn’t looking for the keyword terms you’re bidding on. This wide net is advantageous in a number of instances but can be detrimental if you are selling a very specific product or service.

Example Search: “1980s action movie props”

Hypothetical Broad Match Results: Conan the Barbarian Sword eBay Auction, Mad Max Action Figure w/ Gun, Star Wars Han Solo in Carbonite, Indiana Jones Whip & Hat Replica.

Example Search: “Local Accounting Firm”

Hypothetical Broad Match Results: Annie’s Tax Services, Vancouver WA Accountants INC, Accountants Anonymous, Vancouver’s #1 Tax Service Agency.

Phrase Match

If a broad match is a huge net, a phrase match is a crab pot. It’s going to bring you smaller results than a giant net, but it will catch a large quantity of the same type of search result, and it’s not as restrictive as a single hook (the exact match). Specifically, a phrase match will match a person’s search results with your ad if the search either contains some of the exact keywords you bid on or words that mean the same thing (running shoes or tennis shoes, for example).

Example Search: Vintage Leather Jacket

Hypothetical Phrase Match Results: Anthony’s Warehouse of Vintage Leather Clothes, Vintage Leather Jackets on eBay, Old-School Leather Bomber Jacket, Wilson’s Leather Outlet Jackets.

Example Search: Walkman CD Player

Hypothetical Phrase Match Results: Walkman CD Players at Best Buy, Sony CD Player, Walkman CD Replica Player, Refurbished Walkman CD Player.

Exact Match

The exact match is the fishing hook, or perhaps the bait on a hook: it gets you exactly one type of thing, and there’s not a lot of wriggle room. When you choose exact match, you’re telling Google that every single word in a keyword you’re bidding on—and nothing more or less—will turn up your result. The benefit is you’ll find exactly who you’re looking for and no one else; you don’t have to worry about cumulonimbus ruining your Mad Max ad.

The bad thing is, if someone misspells something or adds an extra word, you won’t show up at all. There’s a teeny bit of leeway here: if your exact match keyword is, for example, “square silver tablecloth,” the algorithm is smart enough to return extremely similar results like “square tablecloths silver” or “silver and square tablecloth” but it won’t return something like “silver tablecloths rectangular” because that’s not a near perfect match to your key phrase. A rectangle and a square are very similar, but Google would likely regard them as two different keywords.

Negative Match

The final Keyword Match Type is the negative match, or negative keyword. This is a tricky tool to use right, but basically, it allows you to designate a result you do not want, under any circumstances, to appear next to. Often, this is used to make sure things like cartoons for kids don’t show up when someone searches for something rated R, or vice versa. It would also very much help in our Thunderdome example. If you find your Mad Max ad keeps appearing for people looking for information about clouds, you could use a negative match keyword to make sure you never, ever show up in a results page where “cloud” is mentioned. For more info about how to use Negative Keywords, read our article.

There used to be a fifth match type called Broad Modified Match, but it was recently merged into the Phrase Match and is no longer relevant if you’re making a new campaign. If you have used BMM in the past, here’s what Google has to say about the transition.

When Should You Use Each Keyword Match Type in Google Ads?

Now that you have the basics down, here’s when to use each Keyword Match Type.

Use Broad Match when you want a lot of eyes to see your ad. The ad should link to a broad landing page, and you probably don’t want to be bidding a ton per click on a broad match keyword because your return on investment (ROI) isn’t going to be huge.

Use Phrase Match when you want a decent amount of eyes focused on your ad. Phrase Match will probably be your primary go-to because it allows you to target specific groups of people based on their search history. It’s worth spending a little more on these keywords; after all, you’re spending money trying to court your target audience.

Use Exact Match for individual product pages and other very specific results. Your Exact Match ads will probably not have a lot of competition, so it can be worth it to increase your ad spend on them. They’re highly tailored, which means you’re trying to capture very targeted customers or individuals and bring them to your page. Use with caution, and keep an eye on the results in your Analytics page to see how these are performing.

Use Negative Match to keep your page from showing up where you don’t want it, or if you are constantly showing up in searches that are not meant for you. The algorithm is much smarter than it was in the early days, but it’s not perfect, and sometimes search results will show your ad to someone who was never going to buy your product or service. This wastes your ad spend, and if it’s happening frequently, you probably want to use some negative keywords.

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