Google Ads has been the go-to digital advertising platform for businesses looking to promote their products or services to interested customers using targeted ads.

We say this every year, but digital advertising is getting increasingly competitive. It’s more important than ever in the world of search to get the most out of ad budgets by selecting the right keywords to target. 

This is where keyword match types come into play.

Keyword match types determine how closely a user’s search query matches the keywords in your Google Ads campaign to trigger your ad showing for the results. There are three main keyword match types; Broad Match, Phrase Match, and Exact Match, with the addition of Negative Keywords and Close Match Variants. These play a significant role in refining targeting and ensuring your ads reach the right audience. 

We’ve seen huge shifts in the effectiveness of each keyword match type in recent years. In this article, we will dive deep into each match type in detail, explaining what they are, how they work, and best practices for using them in 2023. With how quickly things change in this platform, we’ll probably have to rewrite this in 2024! 😂 

We’ll also discuss all the factors you should consider when selecting suitable keyword match types based on your campaign goals and budget constraints.

The Different Types of Keyword Match Types

Whether you’re creating a new campaign from scratch or you want to boost performance for an existing campaign, understanding the different match types is a crucial component of any successful Google Ads campaign. With each match type offering varying flexibility, you get to decide how broad or strict your keywords are when matching search queries and showing ads. 

We will start with close-match variants, as these types of keywords now play a massive role within each keyword match type. Understanding what they are and how to ensure you’re keeping on top of traffic quality due to close-match variants is crucial for controlling traffic quality and conversion rate. 

Close Match Variants

Close match variants are a feature associated with all match types that can significantly impact your account’s performance. They can be equally excellent at helping scale accounts and terrible at affecting performance if they are not monitored closely. 

While close match variants can widen the reach of your ads, they will essentially expand all of your keyword match types to include similar searches such as misspellings, singular/plurals of keywords, abbreviations, implied terms, and any searches with the same intent as your keyword. 

Back in the day, you used to be able to turn this setting off and only target the exact keywords within your keyword lists, but as Google continues to push for more automation in the platform, we’ve lost this control. Our previous strategy of single keyword AdGroups (SKAGs) to improve ad relevancy and CTR also went out the door with this change. 💀

By expanding the potential reach of your ads, close match variants will typically increase the volume of impressions and clicks your ads receive, which can often result in irrelevant traffic as the searches may not be as high-quality as your exact keyword. This added low-quality traffic could cause a negative impact on performance through wasted ad spend and drops in conversion rates.

To effectively work with the addition of close match variants in Google Ads, it’s vital to strike a balance between allowing the keywords to expand your reach without compromising the quality of searches. Removing unwanted traffic from close match variants is as easy as reviewing your search term report and adding negative keywords to prevent your ads from appearing for these searches. 

What Are Broad Match Keywords

Broad Match has the most expansive reach of the three-match types in Google Ads, allowing your ads to appear for searches that include any word in your keyword phrase, synonyms, and related searches. 

Broad-Match Keyword Pros:

  • Increased Reach – Broad match keywords allow your ads to show to a wider range of search queries, which can help you reach a larger audience. 
  • New Keywords – Running broad match keywords can help you discover new keyword opportunities and ideas through matched search terms you may have yet to consider. We typically deploy this strategy once we reach KPIs and seek ways to scale. 
  • Quicker Setup – Since you’re spending less time researching and selecting specific keywords, setting up campaigns can be more manageable for those looking to save time. But easier doesn’t always mean better! 

Broad-Match Keyword Cons:

  • Lower Relevance – Because broad-match keywords can match variations and alternative user intent, your ads may appear for searches not directly relevant to your business or products, resulting in lower click-through rates.
  • Limited Control – While broad match keywords may help increase reach, it can also lead to ads appearing for a large amount of irrelevant, low-quality traffic, making it more difficult to optimise campaigns and achieve desired results. We recommend ensuring you have a substantial list of negative keywords before deploying a broad match keyword strategy. 
  • Wasted Ad Spend – Since broad match keywords are less restrictive and will show for a more comprehensive range of searches. It can be easy to exhaust your budgets quickly; again, this is where you need negative keywords to hedge your bets. 

Best Practices For Broad Match Keywords

  • Take advantage of the smart bidding strategies Google Ads offers. When used together, broad-match keywords will help expand your reach while automated bidding works to refine targeting and maintain search relevancy. 
  • Use broad match keywords in combination with other match types, such as; phrase and exact match keywords. We use phrase & exact match first and save broad match for when we look to scale.
  • Create a comprehensive negative keyword list to avoid wasted ad spend and ensure your ads appear for the most relevant searches. Continue to monitor the search term report to exclude search terms and add in additional negative keywords.

Here is an example of how broad match keywords work in action for the keyword digital agency:

An example of broad match keyword and the respective close-match variants that appear

An example of broad match keyword and the respective close-match variants that appear

As you can see, while there are terms in there that we are happy to appear for, such as advertising agency, ad agencies brisbane there are also irrelevant terms. Like bullfrog agency and design box digital. 

What Are Phrase Match Keywords

“Phrase match” keywords are slightly more restrictive than broad match and will only show ads for searches that include the exact phrase or sequence of words in your keyword, with the flexibility to allow for additional words before or after the keyword phrase.

Here is an example of the keyword “saas agency” and the respective search terms it appeared for: 

An example of Phrase Match keywords and close match variants that have also been triggered

An example of Phrase Match keywords and close match variants that have also been triggered

As you can see by the first two keywords highlighted in green, phrase match is working as intended – that being, “saas agency” is together in a search query, but other terms can be placed before and after the keyword. 

However, due to close-match variants highlighted in yellow, other terms related to “saas agency” appear. This is where it’s super important to review these search terms every week to find negative keyword opportunities. For example, “australia saas” does not show any intent that they’re looking for an agency; therefore, we would add this as a negative keyword. 

Phrase Match Keyword Pros:

  • More Targeted – Using phrase-match keywords allows ads to target more specific searches, as they only trigger ads when the user’s search query includes the exact phrase within the quotation marks.
  • Balanced Reach – The flexibility offered by phrase match can increase the reach of your ads by matching for a broader range of searches that have the same intent as the keyword but may be worded slightly differently.
  • Improved Ad Relevance – Using phrase match, advertisers can create more relevant ad copy and landing pages that match the user’s search query, resulting in higher click-through rates and quality scores.

Phrase Match Keyword Cons:

  • Missed Traffic – Depending on the target audience and competition, using only phrase match keywords may result in missed opportunities to reach potential customers who may use slightly different variations of the keyword or phrase. This is only a con if you aren’t hitting your budget. 
  • Continuous Monitoring – Managing many phrase match keywords can be time-consuming and may require constant monitoring and optimisation to ensure the keywords are still relevant and effectively reach the target audience. 

Best Practices For Phrase Match Keywords:

Regularly monitor your search term report to see what phrases trigger your ads, and add relevant variations to your keywords or negative keyword list. This will allow you to expand your reach while ensuring your ads remain relevant and effective.

Pair your phrase match keywords with other match types, like exact match in the same adgroup to increase your reach and improve your targeting and control over intent.

What Are Exact Match Keywords?

[Exact match] keywords are the strictest match type in Google Ads and allow your ads to be triggered only by search queries that exactly match your specific keyword or close match variants thereof. 

Here is an example of the term [ecommerce marketing agency] and its associated search terms:

Exact match keywords also trigger close-match variants - be warned!

Exact match keywords also trigger close-match variants – be warned!

Again, close match variants will make up most searches, but they are typically more relevant to the original keyword than phrase match. 

Exact Match Keyword Pros:

  • Precise Targeting – Exact match keywords offer the highest level of relevancy and targeting, ensuring that your ads are shown only to the most relevant searches. 
  • Better Control – Exact match provides the most control over which searches trigger your ads, allowing for more effective ad spend management.
  • Highest Relevance – Since exact match keywords are highly relevant to the user’s search query, they often lead to higher click-through rates, more conversions and improved quality scores.

Exact Match Keyword Cons:

Limited Reach – Since exact match keywords are the most restrictive of the three-match types, they typically have the lowest search volume, which can limit your reach and potential audience and be more competitive. 

No longer “Exact” – Using exact match keywords also causes ads to trigger search queries where Google Ads decides it has the same meaning/intent as the keyword.

Best Practices for Exact Match Keywords:

Conduct thorough keyword research to identify which highly relevant keywords are most likely to be searched by your target audience. If you’ve run Google Ads campaigns before, use historical data to find keywords that have previously generated conversions and high-quality traffic.

Exact match is best used for keywords with a proven history of generating high-quality traffic and conversions to ensure the highest level of relevancy and targeting.

Review your search term report regularly to identify any close match variants irrelevant to your keyword. Ensure to exclude them or add them to a negative keyword list if they have decent search traffic volumes. 

What Are Negative Keywords

Negative keywords are essential to all successful Google Ads campaigns we run. 

They allow advertisers to prevent their ads from showing for unrelated or low-quality search queries, improving ad relevance and reducing wasted ad spend. Once added to a list or at the campaign/ad group level, they work by preventing ads from showing for search queries that contain those negative keywords.

Negative Keyword Pros:

  • Improved Traffic Quality – Using negative keywords will enhance the quality of searches your ads receive due to excluding irrelevant terms and limiting low-quality traffic.
  • Reduced Spend – Negative keywords can help save ad spend by eliminating clicks and traffic from irrelevant searches. 
  • = Better ROI – By reducing ad spend and targeting high-quality traffic, you can get more bang for your buck!

Negative Keyword Cons:

The only one we can think of is accidental exclusion – If not implemented carefully, negative keywords can potentially exclude relevant searches that may have converted in the past and future. 

Best Practices For Negative Keywords:

  • Regularly check your search term report to identify any new irrelevant terms and ensure they’re added to your negative keyword list. This will help you with ongoing optimisation and improve the performance of your campaigns.
  • Experiment with different negative match types, such as broad, phrase, and exact match, to find the most effective negative keywords that help to refine targeting and limit irrelevant traffic without excluding relevant searches.
  • Create multiple negative keyword lists based on the campaigns in your account. This can be very handy when you have many active campaigns with different goals and offerings.

How to Choose the Right Match Type for Your Campaigns in 2023

Now that we’ve covered the different keyword match types available in Google Ads let’s discuss how to choose the right match type for your campaign’s goals and budget.

Consider Your Campaign Goals

Firstly, consider your goals and what you want your campaign to achieve. For example, broad match may be the way to go if your goal is to increase reach and build brand awareness. Alternatively, phrase and exact match keywords will likely be more effective if you want to generate higher-quality leads or sales for a specific product or service.

We typically build out our campaigns with phrase and exact-match keywords in the same AdGroup. Broad match is considered when we want to look for additional opportunities to scale the ad spend further. 

Evaluate Your Target Audience

Consider who you are attempting to reach. What terms are they likely to use when searching for your products or services? If you know your audience and want to target them precisely, exact match is your best bet! However, if you want to reach a broader audience while staying relevant, phrase match may provide the best results.

Review Your Budget

One of the most important factors to consider is the available budget, which can cause limitations when not thoroughly considered. Using broad match keywords can boost reach and traffic volume but may lead to wasted ad spend if not done correctly. Exact match keywords can provide more precise targeting but limit the reach of your campaign. Phrase match tends to be a happy middle-ground, with a balance of reach and relevance, though still important to maintain negative keyword exclusions to avoid overspending the budget.

Test! – Once you’ve selected your keywords and their best match types, monitoring performance and testing alternative match types and combinations is still very important to determine which work best for your campaign, goals, and budget.

Match Type Wrap Up

Understanding the different keyword match types and optimising them is critical to meeting your business KPIs. 

Remember, there is no right or wrong when it comes to match types. Every business objective and budget is unique and must be considered when strategising on the best approach. 

If you want advice on your keyword match-type strategy, please book a call and speak to our experts today! 


Jaimie Beavis

If Jaimie’s not talking about her wedding (that happened months ago), cats, or wine she’s probably not even talking. She could also be telling jokes that fall flatter and harder than a ream of paper from a skyscraper. You’ll likely find her brushing her hair, sifting through search term reports, eating a croissant, brushing her hair, or listening to Taylor swift. But when her hair is brushed she truly has a talent for taking ad accounts to a whole new level. Her kind and caring personality is reserved purely for her cats though.