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The Definitive Guide to Adwords Keyword Match Types

The Definitive Guide to Adwords Keyword Match Types

by Philip Armstrong11th June 2015

Need clarification on when you should be using Exact, Phrase, Broad, and Modified Broad match keywords? This guide’s for you!

Keywords form the basis of any Adwords search campaign. Everything stems from your keyword selection – the ad group structure, the ad text, and the bidding.

Despite the keywords being the most influential ingredient of a campaign, many advertisers remain unsure of exactly how the match types work, and how they define exactly which keywords we end up bidding on when we use them.

Let’s start by looking at each of the match types and what effect they have on the keywords we ultimately target with our ads.

Match TypeFormatKWs TargetedExample Searches
Exact[best seo company]Only the exact keyword
  • best seo company
Phrase”best seo company”Must include the phrase as it appears
  • best seo company uk
  • who is the best seo company
  • the best seo company in the world
Broadbest seo companyA wide range of synonyms,and loosely related words in any order
  • which seo companies are scammers?
  • highest rated internet marketers
  • top seo
Modified Broad+best +seo +companyEach keyword given a “+” must be included.Targets only close variants of each word
  • seo provider greatest
  • online marketing agency
  • top seo firm


Break-down of Match Types



Looking at the table it is easy to see that the Exact match type gives you the most control. This enables you to ensure that you only bid on the keyword/s that you want to target. The downside is that you will likely miss out keywords that you do not have within your account.



Phrase match keywords add more flexibility, while allowing you retain a large amount of control over the keywords that you are bidding on. The Phrase match means that all search terms targeted will contain the keyword in its exact order. This is useful when using a short tail keyword which could be used to make up long-tail search terms:

For example we may want to target search terms which involve the term “Kingdom of Toys”, Phrase match accomplishes our goal perfectly, because our ads will show for:

kingdom of toys london
discount code for kingdom of toys?
where is the closest kingdom of toys store?

while ensuring that our ads do not show for search terms like:

toys in kingdom
toys of kingdom
toy castles

It is important to note that some search terms which end up being targeted may not be consistent with your marketing objectives. If you do not want to serve ads to people searching for “discount codes” for example, then you will need to add what are known as Negative keywords to block these unwanted search terms. Negative keywords work in a similar way to normal keywords – adding the negative keyword “discount” will block any search term that involves that word.



The Broad match gives you the least amount control, and thus an extensive list of negative keywords is highly recommended. If you are bidding on the Broad match keyword: Kingdom of Toys, you will end up serving ads for a variety of keywords which are loosely related, and in any combination like:

leggo castles
toy buildings
barbie’s golden palace

essentially any search term which is related in some way… With Broad match you’ll end up serving ads to keywords you could never have even dreamt of.


Modified Broad

Broad Match Modifier keywords bring control to the Broad match. By adding the “+” sign, you signify that you want that word included within the search terms you target, and also that you do not want synonyms to be targeted by that keyword.

Example modified Broad match keyword:  cheap +white +jacket

Because the word “cheap” does not have a +, synonyms of this keyword can be used and this keyword can be missed out:

inexpensive white jackets
white jacket low-cost
jacket white

When selecting which words to add the + symbol in-front of, it is important to identify which words are integral to the search term that you want to target. If you sell only jackets, that would not be considered as coats, then it is important to add the + symbol to ensure that synonyms like “coats” or “parka” or even “tunic” are used.

Again, as mentioned before, you must use negatives to block unwanted words like “tunic” from activating your ads.



The different keyword match types offer varying degrees of control and reach. The key is to understand how each of the match types work and which search terms that your ads will be targeting as a result of your choices, and to use Negative keywords in order to help ensure that your ads are not targeting non-relevant search terms.

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About The Author
Philip Armstrong
Philip Armstrong is a content writer for the Just SEO newsroom. Having served as an Adword's manager for a number of paid search campaigns, he is an expert in spending money to make money, and regularly contributes in-depth articles on the latest news and updates on pay-per-click (PPC) matters.

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