Web Marketing Today

PPC Basics: Part 4. Keyword Match Types

PPC keywords are at the core of a successful campaign. Not only is it important to choose the right keywords, it’s also imperative to understand keyword match types. This article will teach you about the different match types in Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter, and show you how to use them to get great results.

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Keyword Matching Concepts

Keyword matching can be one of the more difficult aspects of PPC to understand initially, but once you know how to use the different match types, they can be very powerful. Keyword matching basically indicates how broadly or narrowly your keyphrase will be matched to an individual search query.

At this point, you’ll need to understand the difference between a “keyword” and a “search query.” A keyword is the word or phrase you choose to bid on in PPC. A search query is a word or phrase that a searcher types into the search box in Google, Bing, or any other search engine. While the two may be exactly the same, more often than not they’re quite different.

In theory, you could try to figure out every possible search query that a person might use to find your product or service, and bid on all of them. However, that would be an impossible task! In any given day, over 1 billion searches are performed on Google alone. Of those 1 billion searches, 15% are queries Google has never seen before. That’s 150 million completely new search queries every day! Even the best PPC expert could never come up with that many unique query ideas.

That’s why we use match types.

Google AdWords has five different match types available: exact, phrase, broad, modified broad, and negative. Let’s look at each type.

Exact Match

Exact match is the easiest match type to understand. With exact match, the search query must exactly match your bidded keyword in order to trigger your ad. Let’s say you’re a retailer selling designer jeans. If you bid on “designer jeans” as exact match, your ads will only show when someone types “designer jeans” (without the quotes) into the search box.

Exact match works well in situations where you want to tightly control the type of traffic your ads generate. To use exact match in AdWords, enter your keyword with brackets, like this:

[designer jeans]

Phrase Match

Phrase match enables your ad to appear on searches that include the words in your keyword phrase, in that order. This could include multi-word searches that include your keyphrase. In the “designer jeans” example, if you’re using phrase match, your ad will show on searches such as these:

  • black designer jeans
  • designer jeans size 10
  • women’s designer jeans
  • where can I buy designer jeans cheap

And so on. As long as “designer jeans” is part of the query, your ad will be triggered. To use phrase match, put quotes around your phrase, like this:

“designer jeans”

Broad Match

Broad match is the default match type in AdWords, and it’s also the most — well — broad. Broad match allows your ad to be shown on “similar phrases and relevant variations” of the keyword. Although this is the default match type, be very careful when using broad match — you may find your ads displaying on barely-relevant search queries, like this:

  • designer shoes
  • levis jeans
  • jean jackets
  • what designer makes lucky brand jeans
  • cheap jeans
  • true religions
  • joes jeans

Believe it or not, these are actual query suggestions from the Google AdWords Keyword Tool! While some of these may be relevant, others are probably not. Broad match works very well for casting a wide net and capturing some of those 150 million brand new queries, but it can also cost you a lot of money in low-quality traffic.

To add keywords in broad match, just type them into the keyword box, without additional punctuation.

Modified Broad Match

Modified broad match allows the PPC advertiser to indicate certain words within a keyword phrase to match exactly. To activate modified broad match, just put a plus sign (“+”) in front of the word you want to include in your query.

In our “designer jeans” example, let’s say you don’t want your ad to show for queries like “cheap jeans,” but searches for “lucky brand designer jean” are ok, because you sell that brand of jeans. In this case, you’d want the word “designer” to be included in the query so you don’t show up for “cheap jeans” or other queries unrelated to high-end designer jeans. So you’d use the modifier on the word “designer,” like this:

+designer jeans

Negative Match

Negative match keywords are probably the most overlooked match type, yet in many ways they are the most important of all. Negative match ensures that your ad does not show for any query that includes the term you specify. If you’re selling something online, for instance, it’s a good idea to add the word “free” as a negative keyword, so you won’t get clicks from people looking for free products or services.

In the “designer jeans” example, adding “cheap” as a negative keyword would be a good idea. To do this, put a minus sign (“-“) in front of the word, like this:


In AdWords, negative keywords can be used at the ad group level, or at the campaign level. Ad group negatives only apply to that ad group, while other ad groups in the campaign can still show for queries including that term. Campaign negative keywords affect the whole campaign — no ads in any ad group will trigger on queries including the negative.

It’s important to put your negatives at the right level, so you don’t accidentally exclude yourself from relevant queries. In the “designer jeans” example, “free” would be a good campaign negative, since chances are the retailer isn’t giving any of their jeans away. But let’s say the same retailer also sells used designer jeans at a cheap price, and that they’ve set up another ad group within the same campaign for the used designer jeans. In this case, they wouldn’t want “cheap” as a campaign negative — it would limit or eliminate traffic on those queries. In this case, using “cheap” as a negative in the “designer jeans” ad group would make sense.

Match types on Microsoft adCenter

Microsoft adCenter uses all the same match types as Google except for Modified Broad Match, so I won’t re-explain them here. However, there are some important differences that must be noted.

First of all, adCenter considers match types to be sort of a subset of the root keyword. In the “designer jeans” example, “designer jeans” is the root keyword, and then match types are applied to it. While you can set different bids for each match type, you can’t pause one match type and keep the rest — it’ll pause the keyword entirely. This is a crucial (and somewhat irritating) factor to be aware of, because if you only want to use exact and phrase match, you’ll need to set a very low bid for broad match.

Microsoft adCenter also uses negative keywords, and they’re actually more flexible than in AdWords. Negatives can be applied to a campaign, an ad group, or a keyword. So if you wanted “cheap” to be a negative on just the phrase “designer jeans,” you can do that in adCenter.

Now that you understand keyword match types, you can use them to make your campaigns more effective.

Melissa Mackey
Melissa Mackey
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