Keyword match types help brands build ads that closely relate to a user’s search query to gain more clicks. Learn how to use them to boost conversions.

Here you’ll find:

  1. TL;DR: 3 keyword match types
  2. Broad match keywords for PPC
  3. Phrase match keywords for Pay-Per-Click advertising
  4. Exact match keywords for PPC Google Ads
  5. What is a Negative Keyword Match?
  6. Keyword match types explained: What are they and how do they work?
  7. Optimize campaigns and landing pages to improve success
  8. When to choose different keyword match types
  9. The best PPC strategies combine keyword match type
  10. How to modify keyword match types in Google Ads
  11. What’s the difference between keyword match types for SEO and Google Ads?

1. TL;DR: 3 keyword match types

  1. Broad match: Will appear for searches related to your keywords; wide audience; less targeted; high waste if not properly managed; syntax has no punctuation or symbols, for example winter holiday vacation; may result in your ads appearing when someone searches ski family vacation.
  2. Phrase Match: Will appear for searches that include your keyword; narrow and more targeted audience; syntax uses quotation marks to specify the phrase, for example “holiday vacation”; may result in your ads appearing when someone searches “tropical holiday vacation”.
  3. Exact match: Will only appear for searches that exactly match your keywords verbatim; hyper narrow and most targeted audience; syntax uses brackets to enclose keywords, for example [holiday vacation in Aruba], will result in your ads only appearing when someone searches [holiday vacation in Aruba]…in theory, more on that later :)

Let’s look at how to use each keyword match type to improve your paid ads performance.

2. Broad match keywords for PPC

A broad keyword match will display your ad in search results related to your keywords.

Search engine result pages (SERPs) will assume common themes in a user’s search query, close variants, synonyms, and related searches , leading to your ad being served to a larger search volume, who may not be seeking your products or services.

For example, a broad match keyword type would be all inclusive resorts — without any punctuation. Your ad would display for variations of this theme, like all inclusive vacations or resorts all inclusive.


(Image: Google search bar)

Broad match keywords are Google’s default match type and a great jumping off point to learn the ropes of Google ads keyword match types for pay-per-click (PPC) ads.

Be aware, you risk spending budget on irrelevant search results, and the broader keyword match makes it more difficult to pinpoint customers’ motivations (what worked) to apply to your overall campaign strategy.

3. Phrase match keywords for Pay-Per-Click advertising

Phrase match keywords will display your ad when your keyword phrase is input into search, but offers wiggle room for words added to the front and back of that phrase. Google is matching the meaning of your keyword phrase.

For example, if your phrase match keyword is “all inclusive resorts,” your ad may display for “family all inclusive resorts” and “all inclusive resorts in the U.S.”

family all inclusive resorts

(Image: Google paid search results for “all inclusive resorts”.)

Google understands resorts come in many shapes and sizes, and a searcher will refine their search as they get closer to knowing what they want.

Phrase match type serves your ad to a smaller audience, but they’re looking for something more closely aligned with your keyword selection. The traffic is more relevant, with higher intent, than a broad keyword match.

Phrase match is one of our favorites, particularly when launching a newer campaign without a ton of legacy data to inform a more refined strategy.

“We tend to lean towards exact and phrase match types for most campaigns to keep the campaign strategy as tight and targeted as possible, especially at the start,” explains Sam Yadegar, HawkSEM CEO. “Once we gather enough statistical significance and have developed an extensive and strategic list of negative keywords, we may turn on broad match types. We’re always monitoring performance closely and keeping an eye out for every optimization opportunity.”

4. Exact match keywords for PPC Google Ads

What you see is what you get with exact match keyword types.

Your ad displays to searchers typing the same keyword phrase (without additional words before or after the phrase).

In theory, exact match keywords are intended to match keywords verbatim, however they do allow wiggle room for the slightest variations for singular or plural forms, misspellings, or abbreviations.

exact match keyword types

(Image: Google spelling correction example.)

For example, if we misspell “caribbean vacation”, omitting the second B, the Google corrects the spelling.

Targeting exact-match keywords serves your ad to a much smaller audience, and therefore drives less traffic to your website, but those visitors will be the closest to your perfect target audience for the ad.

The three keyword phrase match types — broad match, phrase match, and exact match — help you better match ads to your target audience. But, how can you refine further?

One option is to use negative keyword match.

5. What is a Negative Keyword Match?

Negative keywords let you filter keyword targeting for queries where you do not want to display your ad. For instance, when the search doesn’t relate to your business or the audience is unlikely to convert.

This approach refines your audience and excludes unrelated searches that won’t generate traffic or revenue for your business. This leads to more qualified traffic to your site and higher return-on-ad-spend (ROAS).

There are three common keyword match types for negative words:

Broad match negative keywords

Excludes displaying your ad for any search query that includes any of the words in your negative keyword phrase. For example, if your Caribbean Resort is adults-only, you’d add family-friendly as a negative broad match keyword.

This approach prevents your ads from showing up for any family-oriented search query, so you don’t spend ad budget on visitors looking to vacation with children.

Phrase match negative keywords

Excludes your ad from search queries with the keywords (in the exact order) as your negative phrase match (specified in Google Ads by adding quotation marks around the phrase).

For example, phrase match negative keyword “family-friendly” (in quotations) limits your ad displaying for audiences’ searching “family-friendly caribbean resorts.”

It could show your PPC ad for the search query “caribbean resorts for a family vacation,” since the negative keyword “family-friendly” is not in the search query.

Exact match negative keywords

Excludes your PPC campaign from search queries that match the exact negative keyword phrase (without additional words before or after the phrase). Indicate an exact match negative keyword by placing the phrase in brackets.

For example, if you add [cruises] as an exact match negative keyword for “Caribbean vacation,” your ad won’t be displayed in a search result for “Caribbean vacation cruises,” but it’ll still display for “Caribbean vacation deals.”

Negative keywords empower marketers to better refine their audience to those more likely to convert and save money on wasted clicks from the wrong audience.

Finetune your negative keyword lists regularly to optimize audience targeting and improve the effectiveness of your Google Ads campaign. Use this information to improve your overall SEO, content, and campaign strategy.

Are your ads showing up for a mismatched audience? Refine your negative keyword list and review the content and keyword strategy to better align with your desired audiences’ needs and search intent. This can get tricky — reach out for expert guidance from our paid ads and optimization experts.

A successful paid advertising strategy requires two things:

  1. Bidding on the most targeted keywords
  2. Choosing the right keyword match types to balance audience reach, relevance, and ad spend.

PPC experts refine keyword bidding strategies to combine a mix of keyword match types to reach as many relevant people as possible for your budget. This, in turn, lowers customer acquisition costs and advances your business goals.

Let’s review how keyword match types work, different keyword match types for Google Ads targeting, and how to choose the right combination of reach and precision to improve your PPC success.

6. Keyword match types explained: What are they and how do they work?

Advertisers use keyword research tools and platforms like Google Ads to choose keywords and Google ads keyword match types to control where their paid ad campaigns show up.

Then, they refine ad targeting to reach their ideal audience (e.g., adjusting location targeting settings to only target people in their business’ city). These approaches match their ads to the most relevant search queries to increase conversions and optimize their ad budget.

Like Goldilocks sampling porridge — a broad match type may get your ad served to the most people, but if they’re not the right people, you’re wasting spend on an audience that’s too cold.

An exact match, on the other hand, displays your ad to a smaller, but highly relevant audience — the Goldilocks standard of “just right.”

Keyword match types are defined through symbols or syntax — the rules or structure specified in your search query or ad campaign to help Google understand search intent.

An Example:

For example, putting a keyword in brackets to specify an exact match. The syntax of your match type tells Google how close you want a searcher’s query to be to the keywords defined in your ad targeting.

Ultimately, keyword match types allow you to either target more of a particular audience by better matching their search intent or exclude an audience or search query altogether.

Getting this right directly impacts advertisers’ bottom line. For example, Rachel’s Challenge, a nonprofit organization focused on preventing school violence, bullying, prejudice, and self-harm, wanted to drive leads and book more school assembly events. We were able to cut the cost per conversion nearly in half and increased donation clicks by 225% by implementing a proper keyword match type strategy and tying in our human expertise.

Proof that keyword match types empower marketers to balance reach, relevance, and ad spend, for more profitable campaigns.

7. Optimize campaigns and landing pages to improve success

Google Ads cost money, and when they fail to resonate with your audience (aka you reach the wrong audience, get few clicks, or get low conversions), it can feel like a huge waste of budget and resources. There are a lot of moving parts to get this right.

Keywords, keyword match types, campaign copy and creative, and landing page optimization are all ways Google matches your ads to search results.

Luckily, Google gets increasingly more sophisticated every day, better-assuming search intent and serving up the most relevant and personalized ads and content.

The algorithm weighs the searchers’ recent online activity to try to understand their needs and uses your landing page content and other keywords in your ad group to offer greater context on how to best match content and ads to searchers’ inquiries.

At HawkSEM, we take this strategy to the next level using tools like ConversionIQ to get AI-driven recommendations for ways to optimize your landing page, campaigns, and keyword strategy to better understand opportunities and improve your performance.

8. When to choose different keyword match types

Understanding keyword match types is one way to protect your ad spend, while reaching the largest and most relevant audience for every campaign.

Different keyword match types help you increase audience relevance and learn more about searchers’ intent to:

  1. Improve your campaign strategy
  2. Protect your ad spend
  3. Drive revenue and conversions.

There’s no one-size-fits-all. An agency partner, like HawkSEM, applies wide expertise across campaign strategies, customer insights, algorithm updates, and PPC analytics to pinpoint the best combination of keyword match types to reach your goals.

Choose an agency that’s obsessed with performance data, attribution, and continuous optimization across campaigns and content.

“Along with identifying which match types to use, it is essential that these campaigns are tracked in a granular fashion to ensure proper ROAS attribution,” shares Yadegar. “In other words, you want to clearly understand which match types are creating business for you and which ones aren’t. With ConversionIQ, our proprietary software that provides AI insights for optimizing ads, landing pages, and websites, we’re able to do this for our clients.”

Here are a few ways to finetune your keyword match strategy.

Use broad match keyword type to reach a wider audience (beware of budget)

Broad match keyword type enables you to reach a broad and diverse audience. You aren’t refining the audience to narrow, pre-defined specifications.

This approach opens up your ad to a greater audience – you’ll find alternative keywords and search queries in the SERPs to include or exclude in your campaign keyword targeting.

BUT, broad match keyword type risks wasted ad spend on an audience that isn’t truly interested in your business or products and is unlikely to convert.

To safeguard against wasted ad budget, combine broad match and negative keywords, to reach a larger audience, while excluding unwanted traffic.

Ultimately, broad match keyword type gives you less control over the search queries that display your ad, leading you to potentially spend your ad budget on irrelevant visitors who immediately bounce.

Use phrase match keyword type to balance reach and targeting

Targeting phrase match keywords in Google Ads offers marketers more control over the relevancy of the search results where their ads appear.

Ads will only show up when someone searches for those same keywords in a specific order.

By targeting the right set of phrase match keywords, marketers can deliver ads to a larger and more qualified audience, increasing click-through rates (CTR) and conversion rates.

Phrase match keywords are a safe bet to balance both reach and relevance, but will miss variations of search queries that may still be relevant (e.g., the searcher inputs the words in a slightly different order or added words before or after the keyword phrase).

Use exact match keyword type for precise ad targeting

Wield ultimate control using exact match keywords to target a clearly defined audience and control which queries display your ads.

Exact match keywords offer the most precision — your ad only shows in search queries matching the exact keywords specified. This ensures a more relevant audience and limits wasted spend on uninterested visitors, but your ad is going to be displayed to a smaller search audience.

Think carefully through search intent (e.g., transactional versus navigational) when choosing your exact match keywords to make the most out of the limited reach.

For example, a transactional exact match keyword [book Sandals resort], is targeting searchers with high intent to purchase. Though the audience size is much smaller than broader informational search queries, the high-intent, transactional nature leads to better conversion rates and return on ad spend(ROAS).

Use negative match keywords to control ad spend and improve relevance

Negative keyword match types empower marketers to better refine where their ads display by excluding irrelevant keywords and phrases.

Use negative keywords to improve your ROAS by ensuring your ad isn’t displayed for low-quality queries to preserve your budget for the most relevant audience.

Remember, negative keyword lists must be constantly reviewed and optimized. Audience needs and search behavior changes all of the time, so be careful to not exclude keywords that become relevant and profitable for your business.

9. The best PPC strategies combine keyword match type

Your advertising strategy must be flexible and data-informed to drive continuous success for different business goals.

Don’t put all your eggs in any one basket — combine different match types to achieve different goals — like reaching a wider audience to increase traffic, but a narrow and more refined audience to mitigate wasted spend.

Remember, the broader you go, the more people you reach, but they may not be all the right people.

The more narrow you go, the more refined and relevant your audience, but that audience may be small, limiting overall success.

Improve reach, relevance, and ad spend by continuously reviewing data and tweaking your campaigns to improve performance.

It’s one of the most rewarding parts of running ads — instant insights into what’s working and what isn’t. And offers flexibility to tailor your campaign in real-time to control ad costs and drive more conversions.

10. How to modify keyword match types in Google Ads

The Google Ads interface is user-friendly, walking you through the steps to set up and refine your ads.

How to add keyword match types in Google Ads:

  1. Log in to your Google Ads account, find “Campaigns” or “Ad Groups.” Choose the campaign or ad group you’re updating.
  2. Navigate to the “keywords” section inside the campaign or ad group
  3. Input the keywords you’re adding
  4. Define the match type by using the right syntax:
    • Broad match: no punctuation – e.g., vacation packages in Mexico
    • Phrase match: use quotation marks – e.g., “vacation packages in Mexico”
    • Exact match: enclose in brackets – e.g., [vacation packages in Mexico]
  5. Hit save or submit to add your new keywords

Note: if you need to modify existing keyword match types, follow the same steps above. Instead of “adding” new keywords, you’ll find and click on the keyword you’re revising to make edits. Modify the match type by adding the appropriate syntax and save your changes.

The setup and editing process is simple and straightforward. The hard part? Continuously monitoring campaign performance after making changes to ensure your ad budget is spent wisely, targeting the right audience and types of keyword variations to drive conversions.

11. What’s the difference between keyword match types for SEO and Google Ads?

Keyword match types inform both PPC and SEO strategies, in different ways.

Marketers use keyword match types in Google Ads to bid on the right set of keywords and search queries to serve their ads to the right audience and drive conversions.

Marketers control ad spend, by refining the queries where their ads are displayed, optimizing for conversions along the way.

Cost-per-click (CPC) varies based on keyword match type. For example, an exact keyword match is more expensive than a broad keyword match.

At the same time, ad performance, keyword research, and keyword match types inform better content and SEO strategies.

By analyzing ad campaigns that are getting a lot of clicks and reviewing the relevance of that audience, marketers can get ideas for different keyword variations to optimize on-page elements of their content.

They can update content to better answer questions, add additional search terms, or approach a topic from a different point-of-view, based on audience search behavior. This information can inform overall digital marketing strategies, like words and creatives used in social media.

“To effectively align keyword match types across both PPC and SEO, consider focusing on your core keywords in AdWords campaigns, using precise match types to reach high-intent audiences,” explains David Godlewski, CEO of global cloud communications company Intelliverse. “Simultaneously, in SEO, create high-quality content that naturally incorporates a variety of keyword variations.”

It works both ways — analyzing your web pages and getting the most organic traffic can inform keyword bidding strategies, campaign ad copy, and creatives for paid campaigns.

At HawkSEM, our mix of senior industry experts take a data-informed, holistic approach to every marketing strategy. We analyze performance across paid and organic channels and apply our findings to boost traffic, conversions, and revenue.

The takeaway

There are many different Google keyword match types. Marketers use keyword research tools to understand their audience’s needs to determine the most profitable combinations.

The key to a successful PPC strategy is simple. Mix and match keyword bidding and targeting types will give you the greatest reach, relevance, and budget.

It’s easier said than done. At HawkSEM, we have a team of experts eager to help you craft the most effective campaign strategy to reach your goals. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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