Understanding PPC Match Types and When to Use Them

AdwordsMatch_BlogSo, you’ve decided to try your hand at a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaign for your business. Congratulations! PPC advertising is a great marketing channel to help increase brand awareness and generate sales online. However, as you begin to build your campaign, you may notice that curating keyword lists can be a bit daunting and leaves you with plenty of unanswered questions, such as:

How should I start? What keywords should I use? How much should I bid on these keywords? What is the difference between all these match types?

While we can’t give you all the answers, a huge part of creating a successful PPC campaign is understanding match types for the keywords you’ve selected. Below you’ll see that we’ve taken the guesswork out of keyword match types, helping you to understand the differences between them and why they’re essential in making your campaigns as profitable as possible.

What are keyword match types?

Match types are small indicators surrounding or added to individual keywords. These indicators tell popular PPC platforms, such as Google AdWords and BingAds, how they should allow keywords to trigger for each search result.

Choosing the right match types for your keywords has a significant impact on campaign performance, affecting budget, conversions and ad copy relevance. There are four keyword match types, but it’s important to remember that a mix of each can lead to great results.

Broad match

The broad match keyword type is the default match type. Broad match keywords are the most vague match type and include variations, misspellings and plural or singular versions of search terms. They can also trigger search queries with your target keywords in any order. There are no special characters or indicators added to broad match keywords. Simply add the keyword to your keyword list and it will automatically default to broad.

Example: You are a florist offering a $10 discount on all red roses. When creating your PPC campaign, you try to target all relevant searches for red roses in your targeted location.

Keyword                     Match Type                  Search Queries

red roses                      Broad                          thornless red roses

red roses                      Broad                          red rosses

red roses                      Broad                          red long rose

red roses                      Broad                          tulips for Valentine’s Day red

Generally, broad match keywords are used when you’re unsure of what type of search queries your audience is using to find products and/or services related to your business. When honing your PPC skills, broad match keywords can help ads trigger to help you gather relevant data.  Over time, you can review keyword data and important reports, like the search terms report, to analyze which searches actually triggered your ads. This information is essential in helping you make decisions, such as whether to pause or remove keywords, change the match type or add to your negative keyword list.

* PPC Expert Tip: Broad match keywords can potentially increase the frequency of your ad appearing in searches. They can also eat through your daily budget because they cast a larger net of searches. Be careful when using broad match keywords and expect a few irrelevant searches to trigger your ad.

Broad match modified

Broad match modified keywords allow more control and make potential customers’ searches more relevant. With broad match modified keywords, you can specify which words are essential to your keywords and need to appear, regardless of order, within a user’s search query.  By using the ‘+’ symbol, you’re excluding some irrelevant searches from your campaign, but may still encounter a few unrelated search terms as broad match modified keywords include variations and misspellings.

Example:  After running your first campaign with broad match keywords and reviewing your search term reports, you see that you’re getting a lot of unrelated keywords for white and pink roses and even completely different types of flowers. This time, you’ve decided to add broad match modified keywords to really target your customers.

Keyword                                                     Match Type                    Search Queries

+red +roses                                              Broad                               red rose for wedding

+red +roses +discounts                      Broad                                discounts on red roses

+local +red +roses +sale                     Broad                               sale on locale red roses

+red +roses +thornless                       Broad                                thornless long red roses

Overall, broad match modified keywords let you experiment a bit more with your target keywords. They also allow you to control when your ads appear while giving users the ability to see your ad with more variation to their search terms. Experimentation is always great for PPC campaigns, especially at the beginning of a campaign, as you may be uncertain of the specific keywords your customers are using to find your business online.

*PPC Expert Tip: Be sure to include a ‘+’ in front of the crucial parts of your keywords with no spaces in between the letters and the plus sign, as seen above. If you’re new to PPC, broad match modified keywords are a better match type to have your ads show in related searches, while still ensuring the essential key terms will be present within those searches.

Phrase match

Phrase match keywords utilize specific phrases you would like to target within a user’s search query. They give PPC marketers even more control over which search terms trigger their ads. Unlike the previous broad and broad modified match types, the ordering of words is taken into account with phrase match. This means you’ll need to have a good idea of what search terms your audience is using and how relevant each search is to your business. Phrase match keywords still take into account common misspellings, plural or singular versions of words and terms appended before or after a keyword phrase. To indicate the match type for phrase match keywords, wrap your keyword with quotation marks (“).

Example: Your red roses are starting to sell, but now you want to focus specifically on selling thornless roses. The best way to narrow your target to potential customers only searching for thornless roses is with phrase match type keywords.

Keyword                                     Match Type                 Search Queries

“thornless roses”                    Phrase                         long-stemmed thornless roses

“thornless roses”                     Phrase                         thornless rose

“thornless roses”                     Phrase                         thornless roses red

“thornless roses”                     Phrase                         red thornless roses for date

Not only do phrase match keywords give more control to PPC marketers, they also tend to have more relevant searches and may even result in better click-through-rates and/or conversion rates. This is usually due to eliminating irrelevant searches and, since the available searches are more limited, you generally have a lower bid for these keywords.

*PPC Expert Tip: If you’re new to PPC or not quite comfortable with search engine advertising platforms, limit the amount of phrase match keywords in your campaign. It’s always great to experiment with your keywords and match types, but consider starting broad and then honing in on your target keywords to yield the best results.

Exact match/close variant

The exact match type refers to targeting the exact keywords or phrases that match your customers’ search queries. Unlike the aforementioned match types, exact match does not include any added terms before and/or after your keyword. In addition, exact match keywords take into account the ordering of your terms within the keyword. So you’re targeting keywords which exactly match your audience’s search query. Exact match keywords work best when you’re certain of your customers’ search behavior.

Last year Google did away with the pure exact match keywords and reconfigured the format to include ‘close variants’, which includes close variations on words within your keyword phrase. While this makes the exact match type less precise, it expands your potential search queries, allowing ads to be seen more often.

Nevertheless, exact match/close variant match types provide the most precise data and should be used when you’re confident in user behavior. When inputting exact match keywords into your PPC campaign, be sure to include the target keywords or phrase within brackets ([ ]), this indicates an exact match keyword.

Example: Your red roses are performing well and, after you’ve run your campaign for some time, you notice some keywords that many users have searched to find and order your red roses. These target keywords include: red, roses, thornless, delivery and anniversary, so you want to be sure to include these exact search terms in your PPC campaign.

Keyword                                               Match Type                 Search Queries

[red roses]                                             Exact                           red roses

[thornless red roses]                        Exact                           thornless red roses

[red roses for anniversary]             Exact                           red roses for anniversary

[red roses delivery]                            Exact                           red roses

*PPC Expert Tip: Experiment with a mix of match types to see which match type performs best, and which match type converts more in line with your goals. Always keep budget and cost in mind when optimizing match types. You may find that increasing a bid on an exact match keyword yields better results while bidding up for a phrase match keyword may provide similar results.

Negative keywords are your friends, get to know them

Negative keywords are specific words or phrases used to prevent your ads from triggering. Adding negative keywords can help trigger the most relevant searches while eliminating irrelevant search terms and reducing overall advertising spend. To add a negative keyword at the campaign or ad group level, put a minus sign (-) before each keyword.

Once your target negative keyword is in the keyword list, choose the specific match type for your negative keywords. These match types are the same for general keywords. This allows for more precise negative targeting, resulting in more qualified traffic. Before expanding your negative keyword lists, allow your campaign to run for a short period. Once the search engines have had an opportunity to test the campaign with your audience, you can review the data to add, negate or modify keywords as necessary.

Remember match types are about relevance

The key to understanding keyword match types is to target the most relevant search terms used by your audience. The more targeted you are with keyword match types, the more cost-effective, higher clickhigher click-through-rate and likely more conversions you’ll see. Remember to test often to determine which keywords perform best with each match type. Now you’re ready to start building your first PPC campaign!



Taryn Gamboa is a PPC Specialist at Volusion. She enjoys learning and developing her skills in paid search to lead successful digital marketing campaigns for her clients. On her off-time, you can see Taryn riding her bike, in the crowd of a concert, at the yoga studio and playing her French Bulldog, Goober.

2 Responses to “Understanding PPC Match Types and When to Use Them”

  1. Karen Hackett

    Informative article. Can you give an example of using the “+” in front of crucial key words? And an example of wrapping key words with “…”? Thank you – I am new to this…

    • Anjuli Desai

      Hi Karen,

      Great question! I spoke with our paid search team and they provided the following additional tips to help you with broad match modified keywords:

      Say you’re a new online pet store, primarily selling dog food. Since, you’re a brand new company you aren’t too sure what types of keywords customers use to find your store, for this campaign it would be better to use broad match modified keywords because they give you more control by signaling important words while still targeting a broad array of search queries.

      For example: You want to create a campaign to sell your dog food. You would enter your targeted keyword by adding a plus sign (+) to the important words within your keyword. Here’s a list of possible broad match modified keywords that could be effective for this campaign.

      Broad Match Modified Keywords
      +dog +food
      +dog +food +online
      +dog +food +puppy

      The first keyword would target any search queries that contain the words ‘dog’ and ‘food.’ The second gets narrower, as it will only target search queries that contain the words ‘dog,’ ‘food,’ and ‘online.’ These signaled words could also appear in any order and with some variations. The same rule would respectively follow for the third broad match modified keyword.

      If you have a good idea of the type of searches your customers make to find your online store or website, you could use some phrase match keywords to target specific and relevant search queries that would likely come from a person interested in buying from your store.

      For example: For the same dog food campaign, you could add some phrase match keywords after running the campaign for some time and noticing some search term trends within your PPC campaign. You would create a phrase match keyword by adding quotation marks (“) around your target phrase.

      Phrase Match Keywords
      “dog food online”
      “dog wet food”
      “dog dry food”

      In this list, the first phrase match keyword would only trigger when search queries contain the phrase ‘dog food online’ and in that specific order with some variation allowed before and after the phrase. The second phrase match keyword would only trigger when search queries contain the phrase ‘dog wet food’ in that order with limited variation before and after the target phrase. The same rule would follow for the third phrase match keyword. It’s most effective to use phrase match keywords when you are very certain of the types of words and phrases your customers use to find your business online.


Leave a Reply