Keyword Match Types

Melissa Ros | 09 Jan 2017

Most people would assume that by choosing keywords, you’re choosing when your ads appear in the search results, but this is not the case at all. This post looks at the difference between keywords and search terms, the types of search terms that can trigger ads depending on your choice of match types and which match types could work best for you.

Keywords vs Search Terms

Keywords are the phrases you choose to show your ads on while search terms are the words people actually search with.

Any novice would think that these are the same and maybe they should be, but the reality is very different.

In reality Google, Bing and Yahoo want to give you more 'opportunities' to show your ads, so a keyword to them is actually only an indication of the type of search term you want to trigger your ads. So, the search terms that trigger your keywords (that will then show your ads) completely depend on your “match types”.

Match Types

Match Types are settings for each keyword that help control how closely the keyword needs to match a person's search term in order to trigger your ad.

Every keyword has a match type. They are broad match (and the option to add a broad match “modifier”), phrase match and exact match.

#1 Broad Match

This is the default keyword type so if you haven't chosen a match type for your keywords, the search engines have chosen for you and this is it. It's the most used match type by amateurs and it's the least used match type by professional PPC campaign managers.

Broad match simply means that Google will show your ads on search terms that their algorithm decides are relevant to the keyword in question. In some cases, the algorithm gets it right and keywords will be triggered by reasonably relevant search terms but in other cases, the search terms are not really relevant at all.

The theory behind using broad matched keywords is that your ads show on many more relevant search terms than you could think of (therefore expanding your reach) but in reality, there are much better match types that you can use to achieve this without losing out on relevancy.

Here are some real world examples of the search terms that can trigger broad matched keywords:

Example broad match keyword: autism symptoms
Example search terms: autistic, autism definition, what is autism

With broad match keywords, it’s quite possible that a relatively small percentage of search terms that trigger your ads are completely relevant, so let’s look at some other match types.

#2 Modified Broad Match

Modified broad match or broad match modifiers are what PPC experts use instead of normal broad match keywords. Broad match modifiers allow you to reach more people than phrase match (because word order is not important as it is with phrase match) but it also gives you much more control than broad match.

Modified broad match means putting a plus symbol (+) directly in front of one or more words in a broad match keyword. Each word preceded by a + has to appear in your potential customer's search exactly or as a close variant. Close variants include misspellings, singular/plural forms, abbreviations and acronyms, and stemmings.

Example keyword: +dog +food
Example searches: best food for older dogs, tesco dog food, diet dog food

Modified broad match (used along with some negative keywords) is our choice for a good keyword match type which is the right mix between being broad enough to get a good click volume and specific enough to be relevant.

#3 Phrase match

The only differences between phrase and modified broad match keywords is that with phrase match, the keyword phrase has to be present in a search query and it has to be present in the same word order. For example, if the phrase match keyword was "apple store", a search for "how do I store apples" would not trigger the keyword because "apple store" in the same word order is not present.

More precisely, phrase match keywords are triggered when someone searches for your exact keyword phrase, or close variations of your exact keyword phrase, with potentially other words before or after that phrase. Close variations include misspellings, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemmings (such as floor and flooring), abbreviations and accents.

Since the introduction of modified broad match in 2010, phrase match keywords are not often used simply because the importance of word order in search is relatively rare and it usually only ends up restricting relevant search terms from triggering ads.

Phrase match keywords are surrounded by quotation marks. Here’s an example:

Example keyword: "kitchen doors"
Example search: replacement kitchen doorsz, white kitchen doors, kitchen door fronts, etc.

#4 Exact match

Exact match is what most people would imagine a keyword is because they are only triggered when people type in the exact keyword or close variants of it. Close variants include misspellings, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemmings (such as floor and flooring), abbreviations and accents.

Exact match is a match type that we'd recommend because of the excellent control over search terms but other match types are also important.

Example keyword: [apple store]
Example search: apple store, apple stores.

So, as you can see, your ads could be triggered by search terms that are quite different from your keywords, so it’s important to use the match types most appropriate for achieving your goals.


We hope you found these tips helpful. Get in touch if you have any questions or take a look at our other articles.