What You Need to Know About Google Paid Ads Keyword Match Types

Google Ads has been changing the definition of keyword match types for many years. At this point, the only things that remain constant when it comes to Google Ads keyword matches are change and confusion. 

In the past, the names of the different keyword match types were a pretty accurate representation of what they did. Exact match meant an exact keyword match. Phrase match referred to phrases. Broad match keywords meant you would get broad matches. You get the idea. 

But no more. Google wants to open its systems to show you more and more searches, and this means that you need to understand how Google keyword match types actually work. This can be the difference between making money and pouring it down the drain. 

I’m the founder of Snowball Creations, a paid ads agency that tries to find some method in the madness of Google Ads. I’ve run countless ads for many businesses, and spent a lot of money while doing so! This means that I’m in a unique position where I have a lot of experience and data when it comes to Google Ads, and more specifically, the keyword match types you should be using for these ads. 

I know what Google says these keyword match types will do, but I also know what they actually do. I’ve decided to share all of this with you through this post. I’ll be decoding the cryptic language of Google Ads keyword match types so that you can make your keywords do the work for you. You can thank my mother for raising such a generous son. I’m going to walk you through three specific Google Ads keyword match types, namely:

  • Exact match
  • Phrase match
  • Broad match

Also, if the idea of reading this bores you out of your mind, you can click here to watch a video where I chat about the exact same topic. Now, enough waffling from my side, and let’s dive into the good stuff! 

Exact match: the mythical beast of Google Ads

As I said, Google used to be pretty clear with its keyword match types. So, if you selected “exact match”, you would get . . . well, an exact match. But hold onto your hats, because those days are long gone. 

Exact match simply isn’t exact anymore. It’s like trying to herd wild cats – unpredictable and frustrating. Even if someone doesn’t search the same keyword as is in your ad, your ad may still show up for their search terms, despite being set to exact match type. 

According to Google, exact match still does what it claims. So it shows your ads to users who have the same intent as your keyword. It gives you a lot of control because your ads will reach a smaller audience, which means you can tailor your campaigns to ensure that your ads are shown to people who are only searching your exact keywords, although it does account for some small variations and typos. 

Let’s take a real-life example. Whether a customer is searching for “running shoes” or “shoes for running”, their intent is the same, hence it’s an exact match. It sounds pretty simple, which is how you know it’s too good to be true. 

If you’re thinking that there has to be a catch, you’d be right. 

Nowadays, exact match keywords can bring in a bunch of surprises that you never expected. Exact match does not equal exact anymore. In present times, exact matches can bring in searches that don’t align with your keywords at all.  

But why?!

You might be wondering why exact match keywords don’t do the job as well as they used to, and it’s a simple answer: money. Isn’t that what it always boils down to? Because exact keywords are such tight keywords, you likely won’t spend a lot of money on them, so Google earns less from you. 

This doesn’t just harm Google; it can hurt your business as well, because you will have such a limited volume of searches. That being said, exact match keywords are a great option for those with smaller budgets or who run campaigns that rack up a super high cost per click. Of course, you could also just get a Google PPC agency to help you with that (nudge nudge, wink wink).

And if you have certain keywords that have proven themselves to be successful time and time again, you should use exact match for them as well, so that you have more control over your hero keywords. 

Phrase match: where meaning takes a joyride

Let’s break down what Google says about phrase match keywords, and then pull back the curtain to reveal what a phrase match keyword actually is. According to Google, a phrase match keyword allows your ads to show up for searches that include the meaning of your keywords. 

To break it down even further, Google claims that phrase match keywords can be applied to more specific forms of your keyword’s meaning, so that you can reach more people than with exact match, but fewer people than with broad match. 

In reality, though, phrase matches are rebels without a cause. Just as with exact matches, phrase matches are much broader than they used to be. In theory, this is good, because it brings in more traffic. The issue is that a lot of this traffic may be unwanted. 

Again, I’m not saying that phrase match keywords are the devil and you should avoid them at all costs. In fact, they can do really well because they offer a nice balanced medium. I’m just saying you need to be aware that they are much broader than they seem, so making sure to manage your negative keywords is essential for this type of keyword match.

Broad match: the Wild West

Brace yourself, because we’re about to discuss broad match keywords, and it’s a chaotic topic. Theoretically, this keyword match type will ensure that your ads show up for relevant searches related to your keyword’s meanings, even if they don’t contain the actual term. 

As we all know by now, Google’s definition of what its keyword match types should do doesn’t always align with what they actually do. Yes, broad match keywords should be broad – just look at the name. But as with the other two keyword match types, broad match keywords often end up being too broad, and you may feel like you’re trying to catch a tornado with a butterfly net.

To give you another practical scenario, my agency, which specialises in paid ads, may show up for things like SEO, film production, email marketing, and more. Sure, those things are technically related to my agency, but they aren’t going to bring in more customers.  

Google’s idea of related searches isn’t always accurate, so you may end up with a wide variety of searches that aren’t relevant at all. My advice would be to steer clear unless you’re doing an explore campaign. 

Final words

There you go! Those are, at the time of writing this, the three keyword match types that Google offers. Just to give you a bit of an idea of how we as professionals use these three match types for our clients, I’ll share our usual breakdown:

  • Around 50% phrase match keywords
  • Around 48% exact match keywords
  • Around 2% broad match keywords

Understanding keyword match types is the key (pun intended) to learning how to balance your ads so that you are getting not only as much traffic as possible, but as much valuable traffic as possible. 

There’s a lot more that can be said about Google Ads, and specifically about how to select the right keyword match type for your Google Ads. If you’re interested, I would highly recommend getting more knowledge about things like negative keywords, search queries, and more.

I get that this might feel like a lot to take in, and your brain might be in overdrive right now! If you need some help with doing proper keywords for your paid ads, get in touch with my agency via the form down below to learn how we can help you.  

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