Google Ads Keyword Match Types: Strengths and Weaknesses of Google Ads Match Types

Google Ads is a fantastic tool for advertising for your business, but getting set up for success is key. One of the major items to pay attention to is what keyword match types you’re using in your account. Understanding the four match types, what they do, and when to use them is critical to an efficient and effective Google Ads account.


Below, we review the four keyword match types and how they effect when your ads show. We also share the keyword match type that we’ve found is the biggest source of waste in Google Ads accounts. 


Exact Match

Indicated by: Brackets around your keyword. Ex: [nike shoe]

What you’re telling Google: “I want to show only to people who type exactly ‘nike shoe’, with no other words, and it has to be in that order.”

*NOTE: Historically, this is what exact match has meant. But, recently Google has made changes to exact match and the control over exact match is no longer as tight as it was. Please review below to see the changes.

More about exact match: This keyword match type allows your ads only to show when someone searches for your keyword or a close variant of it. Close variants include:

  • Misspellings
  • Singular or plural forms
  • Stemmings
  • Abbreviations
  • Accents
  • Reordered words with the same meaning
  • Addition or removal of function words
  • Implied words
  • Synonyms and paraphrases
  • Same search intent

For specific examples for some of the above, visit Google’s help section for exact match keywords.


  • Can confidently bid higher on these keywords.
  • Can write tailored ads to specific keywords. 


  • It limits what you’re going to bring in in terms of queries and clicks.
  • With Google’s new terms for exact match, you can’t be sure that you’re going to get the traffic you want. The new use of synonyms and paraphrases may be a challenge.


  • Bid higher on these keywords!
  • Tailor ads to include the keywords you’re bidding on. When you do this, your CTR will increase therefore your quality score will increase and then you’ll pay less for your keyword at the auctions.
  • If you’re just starting out, start using exact match for keywords you know you’re going to do well with such as industry terms, brand name, etc.


Phrase Match

Indicated by: Quotes around your keyword. Ex: “nike shoe”

What you’re telling Google: “I want my ads to show to people who enter queries containing ‘nike shoe’. Additional words can be in there, but the order matters.

More about phrase match: This keyword match type allows your ad to show when someone’s search includes the exact phrase of your keyword phrase or a close variation of it. Close variations include your phrase with words before or after it, misspellings, singular or plural forms, acronyms, stemmings, abbreviations, and accents. 

Example: “porch swing” may also show for the following searches:

  • buy a porch swing
  • porch swings for sale
  • proch swing
  • used porch swing for sale


  • Great for discovering new terms. 
  • You can bid higher since it’s a more specific query.


  • The order of your phrase matters! If you don’t have all the variations you might miss a query.


  • If you have a good handle on what you’re trying to sell, but don’t have a good idea of commercial/industry phrases phrase match is a good way to figure out all the terms.
  • If you’re new to Google Ads, we recommend only using phrase match once you have a good understanding of what keywords you’re doing well with. 
  • Make sure you use all variations of your phrase so that you don’t miss any queries.


Broad Match Modifier

Indicated by: plus signs before the keyword you want to modify. Ex: +nike +shoe

What you’re telling Google: “I want my ads to show to people who enter queries containing ‘nike’ and ‘shoe’ – but they can be in any order, and other words are okay.

More about broad match modifier: This keyword match type helps you control when your ad can appear for closely related keyword searches. 

Example: +green +leather +bag may show for:

  • “green leather bag”
  • “bag green leather
  • “leather green bag”
  • “leather green bag for sale”


  • Can help you achieve a higher CTR and more conversions
  • Can help you reach a more targeted audience
  • Can help you discover new, interesting terms in a safe and controlled way.


  • There are not many weaknesses to this match type! We highly recommend using it.


  • Use many variations such as “buy”, “purchase”, “shop” because Google will only match you with the exact words you use. If you leave out a relevant term/popular synonym, you won’t show for it.
  • You can also use partially “expanded broad” keywords. An example of this might be “nike +shoe” so the match MUST have shoe, but the word Nike will take on the characteristics of a broad match keyword.
  • If you’re new to Google Ads, use this match for the terms you’re uncertain of how you’ll do with. It’s a safe way to explore queries.


Broad Match

Indicated by: nothing! Just your keyword as is. Ex: nike shoe

What you’re telling Google: “I want my ads to show to people who enter queries that are related, in Google’s view, to my keyword.”

More about broad match: This keyword match type allows your ad to show when someone searches for that keyword or a variation of it.  Variations may include similar phrases, singular or plural forms, misspellings, synonyms, stemmings, related searches, and other relevant variations.


Note that broad match is the default setting for keywords.


Example: Ads with broad match keyword “porch swing” may show for searches like:

  • “porch swings for sale”
  • “porch swings”
  • “swing reviews for porches”
  • “porhc swing”
  • “porch furniture”


  • Helps you reach the widest audience


  • Broad match can be a major source of waste in an Google Ads account because “related” is in the eye of the beholder. Download our free white paper to learn how to eliminate wasted spend your Google Ads account.


  • We recommend not using broad match as it is one of the top reasons for wasted spend that we’ve seen over the years.



Overall, we recommend using all match types except broad match. If you’re new, start out with using exact match for terms you’re certain of and broad match modifier for terms you’re uncertain of. Then, when you’re ready, launch phrase match terms to discover new terms and expand your ads reach.


Learn how to eliminate wasted spend due to broad match keywords and seven other common causes by downloading our free white paper.


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