Keyword Match Types Explained - Vine Street Digital

Google Ads Keyword Match Types Explained

Google Ads Keyword Match Types Explained

2021 Update: Google announced the retirement of Broad Match Modified in favour of an updated Phrase Match. We’ve written an article about the merger of BMM & Phrase Match – check it out and let us know if you have any questions!

When you’re building your campaigns for Google Ads, you’ll obviously need to add some keywords for targeting. There are a few ways that you can tell Google what you’d like to show up for by specifying the match types of the keywords. Your keyword match types could make or break your campaign, so it’s important to understand what those match types are so that you can use them effectively in your targeting.

There are four keyword match types in Google Ads;

  • Broad
  • Modified Broad
  • Phrase
  • Exact

Each of these match types come with pros and cons, and what you choose to use will depend on your campaign strategy. Below I’ll explain how each one works and how it can be used for targeting.

Broad Match

Broad match keywords are the default in Google Ads and will target the widest possible audience when it comes to search queries. They look like this;

wine glasses

Google will trigger your ad for searches that contain any of the words, in any order. This means you might trigger searches such as;

Keyword Match Types - Broad Examples

Google will also use synonyms or alternatives of your keyword as well. This means that it will look at the word “wine” and think “alcohol”, “scotch”, “gin” etc. It may also look at the word “glasses” and think “spectacles” or “goggles”. As you can imagine, broad keywords can trigger for a large number of things and not all of them will be completely relevant. It’s an excellent keyword match type to use if you’re targeting a really wide audience and trying to show as much as possible. However, for the majority of advertisers, this isn’t the goal. The goal is to get the right people, looking for the right things, in the right places, and at the right time. Generally I do not recommend using this match type, but like all things in life and marketing, there are exceptions to every rule.


Modified Broad Match

This keyword match type is similar to Broad, but with the opportunity to narrow your targeting to ensure you’re appearing for the right search queries. Modified broad keywords look like this;



+wine glasses


+wine +glasses

The modifier is the plus (+) symbol that is put directly before words. The modifier tells Google that this word is mandatory in the search query, that is, the user must use this word at some point in their search in order for the ad to appear. You have the option of modifying all of the words, some of the words, or just one of the words. For example, if the keyword were +wine +glasses then your ad would show for searches like these;

Keyword Match Types - Modified Broad Examples

As you can see, this is far more specific because they must use the word wine and the word glasses in order for the ad to trigger. Even though it’s much more specific, it’s by no means bulletproof. Modified broad match can still trigger some irrelevant search queries, so make sure you add some negative keywords to try to rule them out.

The modified broad match is one of my preferred match types at the beginning of a campaign as it allows you to be specific in your targeting, while still enabling you to discover possible converting keywords that you may not have considered in your research. As long as you keep an eye on those negative keywords, this can be a great match type to use!


Phrase Match

Phrase match keywords are more specific again. This is where you can tell Google what order you’d like your words to appear in as well. Phrase match keywords look like this;

“wine glasses”

This match type does what it says on the tin, in that it will trigger if someone uses that specific phrase at some point in the search. For example, if the keyword were “wine glasses” it would show for searches like these;

Keyword Match Types - Phrase Match Example

This is more specific again and it’s particularly important when you might be trying to target words that have multiple meanings and are only meaningful when used together. In the previous examples, I mentioned that people might mean the glasses you wear as opposed to the glasses you drink from. When paired together with wine in a phrase, you get much more specific with the meaning. Phrase match keywords are definitely more specific and therefore can be more relevant, but be careful, because this isn’t going to guarantee that every click would be relevant. Someone might be searching for pictures of wine glasses and that really doesn’t help your business if you’re trying to sell wine glasses.


Exact Match

This is the most specific type of targeting when it comes to keywords. Exact match keywords look like this;

[wine glasses]

Exact match does precisely that; it shows to people who are typing that string of words, in that order, and only that string of words. So here’s what kind of searches would trigger this;

Keyword Match Types - Exact Match Example

The benefit of using exact match is that you know exactly what you’re getting into. I would highly recommend using exact match when you can see that people are typing a certain keyword and consistently converting. For example, if you look at your search terms report and find that you get a good number of sales from people who are typing “buy wine glasses online”, then adding the exact match type of that word into your campaign allows you to bid accordingly for it. When you’re first starting in your campaign, and you’re stilling learning what converts, it’s sometimes not a great idea to only use exact match keywords as it doesn’t allow for much discovery. That being said, if you’re trialling a mix of modified broad, phrase, and exact, then it can be a great way to bid differently for those searches.

Update as of early 2020: Google has changed the rules on exact match keywords. They have now allowed variations including the use of plurals, synonyms, and related phrases to trigger for exact match keywords. The related phrases could include searches such as “plumbers close to me” triggering your [plumber near me] exact match keyword.

Misspellings, Plurals and Variants

You might be wondering what will happen if someone accidentally misspells something or uses a plural of a keyword. Regardless of the keyword match type, Google will show for close variants. These might include misspellings, singular/plural forms, abbreviations, acronyms, and stemmings. For example, if you have the keyword [plumber in Brisbane] then you might also show up for searches like this;

variants examples

These variants might not always be what you want, but Google is pretty intuitive when it comes to searches, after all, being a relevant search engine, it is what they do. You can read Google’s information on the topic here. Sometimes you’ll find this irritating (think about the search query “plumbing in Brisbane” – not exactly the same meaning) but overall it will ensure that you’re triggered when it matters, even if someone misspells something.

In conclusion

Overall, make sure you consider your keyword match types just as much as you consider your keywords. Your match types could drastically change your meaning, affect the relevancy of your traffic, and also your bottom line.

Still confused? Feel free to get in contact!

Written by Gemma Renton