AdWords Match Types – Keyword Match Types

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When most people add keywords to their first AdWords account they think that Google will show their ads when someone searches on those exact keywords. Wrong.

By default, Google will show your ad on ‘similar’ search queries. Google expands from the keywords you add to your account. If you added the keyword, formal shoes, your ad could also show to people searching for  formal footwear, evening shoes and even cheap shoes or formal dress. The default AdWords keyword match type is known as broad match. Sticking to this default is likely to show your ad on irrelevant terms and waste your precious marketing budget. See below for a run down of the alternative keyword match types and recommendations.

adwords keyword match typesAdWords Keyword Match Types:


+Modified +Broad



 AdWords Broad Match Keywords

This is the default option and offers least control. AdWords expands from the keywords you’ve added to your account to show your ads on ‘relevant search queries’. For example, you could Tennis Shoes as a broad match keyword and your ad would also be shown to those searching for tennis, shoes, tennis rules, tennis racquets, running shoes etc. See other example below.

formal shoes       -> formal footwear, evening shoes, cheap shoes or formal dress

AdWords Tip: Avoid using broad match keywords unless your budget is massive and you want your ad to appear on all search queries at all related.


Modified Broad Match Keywords

This is a huge improvement on broad match, though a lesser known option. Adding a + sign immediately before a word within your keyword means that it has to be in the user’s search query, words that don’t have  a + sign before them are treated as broad match. See examples below.

+formal +shoes      -> formal shoes, formal evening shoes, frmal shoes, formal shoe sale

formal +shoes         -> evening shoes, dress shoes, evening shoe sale, black dress shoes

Note that close variants of the words within your keyword preceded by the + sign are allowed. Close variants include common misspellings, plural/singular forms, abbreviations and acronyms and stemmings (e.g. ‘dance’ and ‘dancing’).  Synonyms (e.g. ‘quick’ and ‘fast’) or related searches (e.g. chairs and sofas) are not expanded to.

AdWords Tip: Modified Broad Match is the new improved Broad Match. Generally recommended to have + signs before all words within your keyword.


AdWords Phrase Match Keywords

Let’s get straight to the example…

“formal shoes”     -> buy formal shoes, formal shoes sale, black formal shoes, formal shoes for sale

Phrase match restricts your ad to only show when a user’s search query includes your keyword words in that order. Other words can be included in the search query before and after, but your keyword phrase has to be included in the search query with the words in the same order. Thus in the example above, your ad would not show on searches for formal shoe, formal dress shoes or shoes for formal. No words can break up the phrase and the words have to be in that order spelt in that way.

AdWords Tip: Be aware of the difference of word order, e.g. ‘horse race’ and ‘race horse’ have different meanings. If using phrase match, try the words in different orders that are relevant to you.


AdWords Exact Match Keywords

Your ad will only appear when the user’s search query is exactly the same as your keyword, no exceptions. This is the most restricted and specific keyword match type.

[formal shoes]    =   formal shoes

AdWords Tip: Exact match keywords are very restrictive. Try using exact match, phrase match and broad match modifier keywords together. Don’t forget to add negative keywords (see below).


AdWords Negative Keywords

You can also block your ads from appearing from certain search terms using Negative Keywords.

For example, you want to prevent your ads from appearing on any search queries that include the words: free, jobs, hire or used.

To do so, scroll down below your keywords (on the Keywords Tab) and click the ‘Negative Keywords’ + box. Then add your negative keywords. You can do so at the campaign level or the ad group level, depending on whether you want to block advertising on that term across your whole campaign or just one ad group.

When adding negative keywords, also be aware that you can use negative broad match, negative phrase match or exact match negative keywords.

-Negative    Use negative broad match keywords if you want your ads blocked from appearing on any search queries that include your negative keyword.

-“Phrase Match Negative”    Use phrase match negative keywords to block your ads from appearing when a certain phrase is searched for.

-[Exact Match Negative]    Use exact match negative keywords to block your ads from appearing when someone searches for exactly that term.


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11 Responses to AdWords Match Types – Keyword Match Types

  1. louisemccartan February 27, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    All AdWords keyword match types in the one place. Questions and comments below. Also, thanks to Google for the image used above 🙂

  2. John Fountain February 28, 2012 at 1:58 am #

    Didn’t realise there were so many match types. Must try the +broad match one. I’ll maybe pause all the broad match keywords now.

  3. tedmellow February 28, 2012 at 8:01 am #

    Handy to have all the match types together. Thanks

  4. Saskia3 April 8, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    Where are you based? Do you manage AdWords accounts in America?

  5. louisemccartan April 9, 2012 at 12:08 am #

    Hi Saskia3. Search Scientist is based in Belfast, Northern Ireland though we provide AdWords and Search Engine Optimisation consultancy to businesses worldwide. To follow up, please contact me directly on Thanks.

  6. intro123 April 9, 2012 at 1:53 am #

    This is really useful too!

  7. Saskia3 April 9, 2012 at 2:08 am #


  8. louisemccartan April 9, 2012 at 2:11 am #

    Glad to be of help intro123. Glad you like both articles and thanks for now following Search Scientist. Louise

  9. John Looley April 20, 2015 at 6:35 pm #

    Thanks for finally talking about AdWords Match Types – all I needed in one page. I’ve heard this could save me money by tightening my keywords. I can see why now.


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