Keyword Match Types

What are keyword match types?

There are four keyword match types that can be applied to a keyword:

  • Exact match
  • Phrase match
  • Modified broad match
  • Broad match

Exact Match

Exact match has square brackets, for example, [buy a football shirt]. This means that your exact match keyword will be triggered when someone searches on exactly the term – buy a football shirt. It’s a little early in the blog to be confusing you with exceptions but here goes and you can blame Google for this. That definition of exact match was exactly correct until about 16 months ago when Google woke up on the wrong side of the bed and decided they would change the rules.  They forced the concept of the “close keyword variations” on us.  Why this change seemed to be unfair was because closed keyword variations was already in place BUT you could opt out and use exact match as it was intended.

So if exact match is not really exact match, what is it? It’s now based on a close keyword variation. “Close variations include misspellings, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemmings (such as floor and flooring), abbreviations, and accents.”.

So using our example above, the various search terms “buy a football shirt”, “buy football shirts” and “buy a footballing shirt” could all be considered an exact match for the keyword - buy a football shirt.

We recommend that if you decide that the three search terms “buy a football shirt”, “buy football shirts” and “buy a footballing shirt” are all relevant for your business, then add them all as exact matches. Take control of your account and don’t rely on Google to do the work. Don’t just add “buy a football shirt” and wait for Google to apply their close variation matching.

Phrase Match

Phrase match is denoted by speech marks, for example “buy a football shirt”. For your phrase match keyword to be triggered, the search term must include the words in your phrase keyword and they need to be in the same order. So if someone searches on – buy a football shirt for next day delivery, your phrase match keyword will be triggered. But your phrase keyword would not be triggered if someone searches on - where can I buy a Chelsea football shirt. That’s because the phrase keyword is not in the correct order (Chelsea is in between your keywords).

The close keyword variation policy also applies to phrase match.

Modified Broad

Modified broad match is denoted by the plus sign, for example, +buy +a +football +shirt.  For your modified broad match keyword to be triggered, the search term must include the words that have been prefixed by a plus sign. This is regardless of the order of the words. So if someone searches on – where can I buy a Liverpool football scarf and shirt, your modified broad match keyword will be triggered. This is because each of the four words that were denoted by a plus sign (+buy +a +football +shirt) were included in their search term - where can I buy a Liverpool football scarf and shirt.


Broad match essentially means that Google will broadly match a search term with your keyword. For example, if your keyword is floor tiles, Google may match the search term floor carpet because they are broadly similar – both floor coverings right? In Google’s defence, they are broadly similar. However, if you just sell flooring tiles, your AdWords account is potentially going to waste money. Our recommendation is to NEVER use broad match. But we will give the last word on the use of broad match to Google who continue to extol its virtues.

What happens when you use the different match types?

The following notes describe what should happen.

Exact match

Generally the click through rate will be the highest for exact match. Google will recognise that your exact match keyword exactly matches the search term so they’ll see that as good fit and trigger that keyword.  In addition, you have more control over exact match keywords but we’ll leave that for another day.

Phrase match

Phrase match has two uses: growing your account and budget management.

By growing your account we mean that you can capture real-time searches that are relevant to your business and then add them to your account. For example, let’s say that the phrase match keyword “buy a football shirt” is triggered by the search term - buy a football shirt for next day delivery. If your business offers next day delivery you can now add that search term to your account as a new keyword. Over time, if there was sufficient volume of the “next day delivery” search terms, you could create a new ad group with ads that specifically focus on selling your business’ ability to arrange next day delivery for the sale of football shirts. Alternatively, if your minimum delivery schedule is more than a few days, you could consider adding “next day” as a negative.

Modified Broad

Modified broad match is also used for growing your account. In fact, modified broad will trigger the same search terms that phrase match does, which are those where the words are in the same order. But unlike phrase match, modified broad match will also trigger search terms even when the keywords are not in the same order. Therefore modified broad has a greater reach and will trigger more keywords than phrase match.

Note that unlike phrase match, modified broad match is not used for budget management.

When could you use the various match types?

There are different keyword match type strategies that can be used. For us exact keywords will generally form the backbone of an account. As noted above, they will generate the most clicks. However, apart from Google’s close matching, you are unlikely to grow your account by using exact match.

We recommend using phrase match if you need to grow your account and manage to a budget. Phrase match will help you identify new keywords. And because it has less reach than modified broad it is ideal for helping you stick to a budget.

Modified broad match is primarily used for growing your account. It has the greater reach of the three match types and will generate the most new keywords for you.

To illustrate, exact match might attract 100 clicks, phrase match could get 200 clicks and modified broad might generate 400 clicks. If your budget could manage 500 clicks, then run exact and modified broad matches. If you can afford 300 clicks, then exact and phrase match would be a suggested match type combination.

How to implement or add the match types to your account?

There are a number of ways that you can add new keywords to your account including:

Through the Google AdWords Interface.



Or through the Google AdWords Editor.


The trick with both these options is to add the correct characters ([], “”, +). If you don’t add any characters to your keyword, Google will think you want to use the (not recommended) vanilla broad option. Note, that you can add exact and phrase match types to the editor without the correct characters by including the match type next to the keyword. But you will need the +s for modified broad.

Adding the characters for each keyword is time consuming and carries the risk of errors. We suggest using a spreadsheet. To help you, we’ve illustrated below the functions and formulas that you can use to get the right characters added, error free.


And you could now copy those keywords with match types (from column E above) directly into your account.

Via the interface.


Or via the Editor.


If you need some assistance or if any of this information needs clarification, please don’t hesitate to contact us.