Adwords Match Options - The Basic KeyWord Match Types

Selecting targeted keywords is the first step to setting up a PPC campaign in Google AdWords, but the keyword matching options that you use can also have a large impact on your success. There are five AdWords match types: Broad Match, Modified Broad Match, Phrase Match, Exact Match, and Negative Match. All keyword match types have advantages and drawbacks, so we'll discuss each in detail to help you choose the most advantageous options for your goals.

For our discussion of the different AdWords matching options, we'll use "Gel Batteries" as the example keyword to illustrate how different options affect when your advertisements will be displayed.

Broad Match

Broad match is the default matching option for keywords used in your AdWords campaigns. A broad match keyword will be entered as Gel Batteries into your keyword list, without quotes, brackets, or other symbols.

Broad Match

When using the broad match option, your advertisement may display whenever someone enters your keywords into the search box, regardless of what order they appear in or what additional words are added. For example, the search queries "do gel batteries leak" or "do car batteries contain gel" could trigger your ad. This match option will also allow your ad to show for terms that Google interprets to be relevant to your keyword phrase, even if the search query does not include the exact keyword. So in this case your ad could also be displayed for a closely related term such as "car battery" or miss the mark completely with a term such as "AA batteries" or "hair gel."

Broad match phrases are best used when your goal is to bring in the maximum amount of visitors possible. Since the advertisements will display for a broad variety of search terms, your ad will be visible to a large number of people in a short amount of time. This can be very desirable with a sufficient advertising budget and can quickly increase your exposure. In addition, you'll be able to discover long-tail phrases that you never could have anticipated. (A healthy portion of search queries are completely unique and have never been searched on before.)

The immediate drawback of using broad match phrases is that while you will get a larger volume of traffic to your site, this traffic will likely not be as targeted and therefore has a lower chance of converting. You have limited control over what search terms your ads are displayed against, and you may not agree with what Google interprets as being relevant to your ad and your business.

This can easily lead to high advertising costs with low or no return on investment (ROI) in the short term. If you do make use of broad match in your AdWords campaign, be sure to read the section below on negative keywords, as these are essential to filtering out unwanted traffic and reining in costs.

Modified Broad Match

Modified broad match is a newer matching option that provides a little more control than standard broad match. To use modified broad match, append a plus sign to one or more terms in your keyword phrase to force Google to only match your ad against search queries that include that term.

For example, if your keyword is +Gel Batteries, Google will only match your ad against queries that include the word "gel" (or a very close variant), but they query needn't contain the word "batteries." So your ad might match against a search for "gel cells" but not "cell batteries." If your modified broad match keyword is Gel +Batteries, on the other hand, your ad will only display in response to queries that contain the word "battery" or "batteries." If you add a plus sign before both words, both must appear in the search query, but they could appear in any order and with additional terms.

The benefit of using the modified broad match option is that you have more control over how frequently your ad is displayed, so your traffic will be more targeted. However, narrower targeting will also reduce the overall traffic you bring in from those keywords.

Phrase Match

The phrase match keyword option offers a much more targeted approach than broad match, but still allows flexibility for Google to match your ads to more queries than your exact keyword phrase. When using the phrase match option, your advertisement will appear for searches that include your keyword phrase in the correct order, but can still display for queries including additional words.

To use the phrase match option in AdWords, enter your keyword phrase in quotation marks. Entering your phrase as “Gel Batteries” indicates to Google that your advertisements should only appear when someone has entered a search term that includes this exact phrase, but additional terms in the query are OK. For example your ad might match against queries such as "gel batteries for motorcycles" or "used gel batteries."

Phrase match allows you to be more targeted with your search terms but still capture additional traffic from keyword phrases that you did not think of when building your list. It's one of the best ways to expand your keyword lists and find more targeted phrases to use in your campaigns. This match type will not usually bring in quite the volume of traffic that the broad option does, but it is more targeted to your niche. It can also be handy when bidding on keywords that change in meaning depending on the order of the terms (such as "book store" and "store books").

Exact Match

exact match

When using the exact match option, you enter your keyword phrase with brackets around the words: [Gel Batteries]. The exact match option is the most targeted option available and will only let your ad display when people search for the exact phrase in the exact order in which the phrase is entered. For example, if you bid on [Automotive Gel Batteries] your ad would not appear for "auto gel batteries" or "gel batteries."

Using this technique imposes strict limits on your ads and will drastically reduce the frequency that your ad is displayed. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though; by only showing your ad to people who are searching for exactly what you are offering, you can dramatically increase your chances of a conversion. You can also reduce your overall costs, since you'll be paying for fewer clicks.

The drawback to using this match type is that you will not be able to capture long-tail data to expand your keyword list. In addition you may miss a lot of traffic that is relevant to your keyword.

Negative Match

Negative keywords are not a stand-alone match type; rather they are used in conjunction with the broad and phrase match options. As mentioned above, when using broad and phrase match keywords, there is a risk of generating a large amount of traffic that is not truly relevant to your offering and unlikely to convert. These clicks can quickly become costly and deplete your budget. So it's crucial to use negative keywords to keep ROI high while employing the broad and phrase match options.

Designating a negative keyword prevents Google from ever displaying your ad in response to that keyword. To create a negative keyword, place a minus sign in front of the term. For example, if you only sell new gel batteries, setting "used" as a negative keyword (-used) will prevent your Gel Batteries ad from displaying when someone searches for "used gel batteries." Setting "disposal" as a negative keyword will prevent you from paying for clicks from people looking for "gel battery disposal services."

Businesses frequently add words like "free" to their negative keyword lists, since they indicate non-commercial traffic that won't convert. However, it's impossible to think up all the possible terms that are irrelevant or useless to your goals (just as it's impossible to create a complete keyword list by brainstorming). To find negative keywords, try using a negative keyword tool as well as regularly consulting your search query reports in AdWords to see what your ads are matching against.


Each keyword matching option in AdWords has its purpose. We recommend using all the available options, depending on your goals and budget for each keyword. Always monitor your campaign performance carefully and make adjustments to match type as necessary to maximize your returns.