When and Where to Use Each PPC Match Type

When setting up paid search campaigns, marketers have many options to get the best return on investment for their clients. And with Google’s four match types — broad match, phrase match, exact match, and broad match modifier — paid search professionals can effectively test search capabilities and stretch clients’ budgets. 

As director of paid search at Avalaunch Media, my team and I have nailed down the proper uses of Google’s match types. In this article, you’ll learn the results of my team’s experience using them, how they work, and how you can leverage match types to get the best results for your clients. 

What Is Broad Match?

As defined by Google, broad match allows your ad to show when someone searches for your keyword or a variation of it. But what they don’t tell you is their system could peg competitors as a term that is a variation of a keyword. Take law firms, for example. If you bid on the term “lawyer” using broad match, your results could show “attorney” or even a competitor’s law firm. This muddies your data and takes away your control. 

When to Use Broad Match

Broad match should be used sparingly and in a controlled environment, as it’s difficult to control your traffic when you give Google so much power. But there are some instances where it makes sense to use broad match strategically: 

  • When remarketing to site visitors and warm audiences. We like to bid on broad terms that are seasonal/occasional (think “Christmas gift ideas” and “Mother’s Day gift ideas”), but only when “targeting” users who have been to your site or interacted with you in some way. This allows you to target a warm audience when they are looking to buy. It also keeps your quality scores and ads relevant to their searches while reminding them about your product or service. 
  • When paired with responsive search ads (RSAs). RSAs are geared to use machine learning and match headlines and descriptions that will appeal to the searcher. By throwing a wide net, you can attract the right person with an RSA on a broad match term. It is recommended to use this in a separate campaign where you can control budget and spend.
  • For research and exploratory keyword expansion. By targeting broad match terms, you can find gold in the search term’s report and add it to your keyword set. Bear in mind, it’s best to build a separate campaign for these practices to control budget and not “overspend” on research. 

Pros and Cons of Broad Match

The disadvantages outweigh the advantages when it comes to broad match. By controlling the match types and ad copy you have in each ad group, you can create a great user experience on the SERP and the specific webpage users are sent to. However, broad match does not allow for the amount of human touch and control advertisers want when performance is key. With that said, we follow Sergey Brin’s “formula for innovation,” or the 70/20/10 rule. This rule recommends allocating 10% of a client’s money and resources for “wild bets,” or new strategies that are worth trying. Broad match fits that role perfectly.  

What Is Phrase Match?

Phrase match allows for keywords to trigger the exact phrase or close variant of a searcher’s query, with additional words positioned before or after the phrase. For example, if your keyword was “ice cream parlor” and someone searched “ice cream parlor near me,” the search could trigger an ad for your business. If the searcher typed “parlor that sells ice cream,” a phrase match keyword would NOT trigger an ad. 

When to Use Phrase Match

Phrase match is crucial to any paid search ad account. We typically leverage tiered bidding, meaning we include all keyword matches in the same ad group, bidding aggressively on exact match and next phrase, and lowest on broad match modifier. This allows us to control the “intent” of the user. However, once the data starts flowing, we opt for highest-converting match types and performers, ultimately working toward Google’s automated bidding strategies. 

Pros and Cons of Phrase Match 

Phrase match is a great match type for starting an account when you don’t want to launch directly into tiered bidding. You can run ads, get insight into terms users are searching and converting on, and build out new match types with what you learn from phrase match. Phrase match is not as limiting as exact match — but you don’t run the risk of overspending on broad terms if you haven’t done extensive negative keyword research. 

The largest disadvantage of phrase match is reach. You are not able to target phrases that have the same intent as your phrase, but are not exact matches. For example, “online business degree” would not trigger the query “business degree that is 100% online” even though the intent is very similar.

What Is Exact Match?

Exact match is Google’s strictest match type. It only triggers ads for queries that are exactly the same as the keyword, or are close variants — such as “floor” and “flooring.”  

When to Use Exact Match

Exact match has a place in all search campaigns and strategies. It allows you to bid most aggressively and take advantage of users who type in your exact keywords. Exact match typically has the highest conversion rates and highest cost-per-click rates. Be wary of the added costs, as they are proportional to increases in conversion rate. Otherwise, you may pay a premium that’s too high certain clicks. 

Pros and Cons of Exact Match

The advantages and disadvantages of exact match are clear. You have total control over when your ads show up, but you also miss out on a majority of unique search queries. Leverage exact match for your best-performing keywords and up-and-coming terms to get higher-quality intent and traffic. 

What Is Broad Match Modifier (BMM)? 

Broad match modifier is a combination of broad match and phrase match — but BMM gives you more control than broad match, and more flexibility than phrase match. Keywords do not have to be in the exact order of a query to trigger an ad, but words with a + in front of them HAVE to be present in the query. Think super-long queries of over five words, such as “my furnace is broken and I need it fixed ASAP.” In this case, +broken +furnace could trigger an ad.

When to Use Broad Match Modifier

BMM keywords are best practice with large and medium-sized accounts that spend $5,000 or more each month, or when exact match terms do not use the full monthly budget. We trust using BMM on all accounts we work with because they offer great performance and research all in one. This way, our accounts drive leads, sales, and new business for our clients — all while we learn which terms work well and which should be added as exact or phrase match terms. 

Pros and Cons of Broad Match Modifier

BMM is a very advantageous match type. It helps cover your bases and finds searchers looking for your product or service while letting you control key elements that have to be in the query. The largest disadvantage is unforeseen searches that don’t fit with your business and need to be negated. The best strategy here is to include negative keyword research in your campaign buildout process to ensure cutting out large amounts of wasted spend from the get-go. 

Is there a place for all keyword match types?

All keyword match types have a place in a search campaign, as long as the campaign is structured properly. Don’t mix broad match keywords into a high-budget campaign unless you have the proper safeguards in place. When building campaigns with high budgets and goals, keep a loose leash on exact match-only keywords or you might underspend and underdeliver results. 

With the right mixture of match types, proper campaign structure, and a strategic building process, you can find the right mix for each account that drives successful KPIs. And don’t forget to leave 10% of budget to test out “wild bets.” You never know what will stick and become part of the 70% of revenue-driving terms. 

What does the future of keyword match types look like?

As Google’s machine learning continues to progress, keyword match type could become obsolete. As a marketer, I hope there are always match types and safeguards in place for the human touch. But the recent changes to exact match lead me to believe Google isn’t done working more AI into their advertising mix. 

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