A Beginner's Guide To Match Types In Pay-Per-Click Advertising

beginner guide match types pay-per-click advertising google ads adwords advertising

Last year, a journalist asked about the financial mistakes I made with my company TOAD Diaries. The first thing that came to mind was Google Ads (aka AdWords and sometimes SEM), a form of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising available through Google. 

PPC advertising, if not done right, can kill your marketing budget. Paying through the nose for irrelevant clicks is a painful experience. However, PPC advertising can be a powerful way to grow your business. And often, it’s one of the most effective ways to do so. There are no major overheads outside of building your webpage and paying for the click. 

I would argue that match types are the most important thing to understand about PPC advertising through Google AdWords. In this post we will look at what they are, why they are important, and the pros and cons of each type. 

But First Thing’s First - Triggering The Ad 

This is what it’s all about; having your advert pop up on Google for a relevant search query. But this begs the question, ‘How does Google AdWords know what’s relevant to my business?’ 

Well the truth is... they don’t. If your keywords are left with the default setting (called broad match) then Google essentially assumes relevance. The problem is you stand to lose money through highly irrelevant clicks as a result. Take a look at the example below:

☐ nail design peterborough prices      Broad match      None 


This is from a web developers account who are based in Peterborough. Their advert was being triggered for ‘Nail Design Peterborough prices’. Clearly not relevant at all! This is where utilizing your match types effectively can really help. So let’s get into it. 

My Personal Favorite - Exact Match 

If you simply add box brackets around your keywords you’ll place it into in exact match mode. e.g [Web developers Peterborough] 

When using this setting your ad will be triggered if a user has typed in that exact query (or something very similar) into Google. The slight variations can include; the same words in a different order, the use of plurals, misspellings, or any of the above. 

Keyword Example: [Web Developers Peterborough] 

Search Query That Could Trigger The Text Ad: 

-  ‘Web developers Peterboro’ 
-  ‘Peterborough Web Developers’ 
-  ‘Web-Developers Peterborough’ 

Pros: 

- Almost complete control over when your ad will be triggered. 
- The simplest way to avoid irrelevant clicks. 
- Higher conversion rates. 
- No need to use negative keywords (see below). 

Cons: 

- Limits your exposure for other relevant queries. 
- Slower business growth potential. 

Playing Defence - Negative Keywords 

Before we move on to the other match types, we need to understand negative keywords. Don’t be scared by the jargon. It’s a really simple concept. 

Negative keywords are simply additional keywords that prevent your ad being triggered if they are present in the search query. For example, when you add the word ‘nail’ as a negative keyword you tell Google not to show your advert when the word ‘nail’ is used. 

This would help our web developers in the above example. Their ad will no longer be triggering for ‘nail design Peterborough prices’ (which we can safely assume it not relevant). So negatives can save money on irrelevant clicks, and, by extension, make your ads more relevant over all. 

Note: Negative keywords should always be used when using the other match types cover below 

Trickier To Nail, But Powerful In The Right Hands - Phrase Match 

Phrase match allows your advert to be triggered for a wider range to search queries. It works by adding quotation marks around your chosen keywords. e.g) “web developers uk” 

It differs from exact match in that the ad can be triggered with other words outside of the quotation marks. 

Keyword Example: “Web Developers Peterborough” 

Search Query That Could Trigger The Text Ad: 

-  ‘Where to find web developers uk jobs’ 
-  ‘web developers uk work experience’ 
-  ‘web developers uk with portfolio’ 
-  ‘web developers uk specialising in ecommerce’ 

When using phase-match we need to use negative keywords in parallel, to avoid irrelevant clicks. The web developers were not looking for new employees so some of the above examples are not relevant. By adding negative keywords such as ‘jobs’,’careers' and ‘work experience', I was able to reduce the prevalence of these costly types of clicks. 

Pros: 

- Helps capture a greater amount relevant searches than exact match only. 
- Safest way to move into broader opportunities while building up the negative keyword list. 

Cons: 

- Requires a strong & extensive negative keyword list to avoid wasted spend. 
- Nearly impossible to completely avoid irrelevant clicks. 

Let The Flood-Gates Open - Broad Match & Broad Match Modified 

Broad match is the default match type. With it you can reach the widest audience. However, you’re also at the greatest risk of receiving irrelevant clicks. 

In broad match, your ad may appear for any word in your keyword phrase. It can be in any order, and also applies to synonymous terms too. 

For example, the keyword ‘Mid Year Diary’ may be triggered by the search queries ‘mid year’ ‘personal diary’ academic timetable’. In a competitive landscape, these are poorly aligned with the likely intent of the searcher. 

Keyword Example: Mid Year Diary

Search Query That Could Trigger The Text Ad: 

-  ‘Mid year’ 
-  ‘Personal Diary’ 
-  ‘Academic Timetable’ 

In a competitive landscape, these queries poorly aligned with the likely intent of the user. 

A variation on broad match (which used alongside an extensive negative keyword list can be very powerful) is broad match modified. This allows Google some freedom to ‘interpret’ your original keyword, but makes it more focused by ensuring that each word (or synonym) appears in the search query. 

We implement broad match modified by placing a plus sign in front of each word. e.g) ‘+Mid +Year +Diary’. This would tell Google only to trigger the ad if all of these words, or similar meaning words are in the search query. For example in ‘academic year diary’, ‘mid year planner’. 

Keyword Example: +Mid +Year +Diary 

Search Query That Could Trigger The Text Ad: 

-  ‘Academic Year Diary’ 
-  ‘Mid Year Planner’ 
-  ‘Mid Year 2019-20 Diary’ 

Pros: 

- Captures the widest possible search queries. 
- The modified option can ‘reign in’ broad match. 
- Can be useful in specific business growth strategies. 

Cons: 

- Can cause a wealth of relevant clicks. 
- Least control of all the match types. 
- Tends to push down conversion rate. 

So Where Does That Leave Us? 

In my opinion, it is shameful that Google AdWords continues to leave broad-match as the default match type. Without an extensive negative keywords list this causes a plethora of irrelevant clicks. As such, this SEM setting should be the last match type a new account holder should use, not the first. 

All the match types have their pros and cons. As you build confidence on the Google Ads PPC SEM platform you can start to explore the wider opportunities by utilizing phase and broad match into your growth plan. But always remember... negative keywords should be in place, playing defence.

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