4 Google Ads Match Types: What They Are and How to Choose

Most people are familiar with Google Ads (or AdWords, as it’s still commonly referred to). This marketing channel is one of the best ways to attract more people to your business in the shortest period of time.

However, many business owners don’t fully understand the four Google Ads match types and how to choose between them.

The four Google Ads match types are:

  • Broad Match
  • Phrase Match
  • Exact Match
  • Negative Match

The AdWords match type you choose can make or break your PPC campaign. It can mean the difference between getting a healthy ROI on your ad spend versus pouring money down the drain.

You want to get your ads in front of the right target audience, offering them exactly what they are looking for!

Why Use Google Ads?

Google is the largest search engine in the world. With a market share of over 90%, Google processes more than 3.5 billion search queries every day. That’s more than 40,000 search queries every second.

Not using Google Ads to promote your products or services is a missed opportunity to grow your business.

Ads are featured prominently at the top of search queries and again at the bottom of search queries, after the organic results.

For example, this is what Google displays on their first page for the search query online courses:

The first couple of results are all ads.


This is followed by organic results.


After the organic results, there are more ads at the bottom of the page.


Ranking organically on the first page of Google, especially for a competitive keyword, can be very difficult and take a long time to achieve. Google Ads is the best alternative to appear on the first page of Google and attract new business straight away.

Let’s take a closer look at the four Google Ads match types you need to be aware of.



Broad Match

Broad match is the default match type used by Google Ads. It can help you reach a very broad audience, but it also has the most drawbacks. The #1 problem with broad matches is that your ads can be shown to people who have no interest in what you’re offering.

Here’s an example of someone searching for work online:

The second and fourth ads both look suspicious. However, even if we assume they’re legitimate, most people looking to work from home aren’t thinking about getting paid in gift cards or becoming a CDL driver.

If someone clicks on the above ads out of curiosity, it will cost the advertiser money and it’s doubtful they’ll see a return on their ad spend.

Broad match ads are often not targeted enough. Your ad may be triggered when someone’s search query includes any word in your keyword phrase, in any order. It can also include searches that don’t contain your keyword(s) but are still relevant according to Google.

You can have some winners, but it’s more of a shotgun approach where you fire in all directions and hope you hit something.

Important: Up until February 2021, there was a Google Ads match type called Broad Match with Modifiers. It allowed advertisers to specify certain keywords (with a plus sign) that had to be included in the search query. However, this match type was retired on the 18th of February 2021.

Phrase Match

Phrase match is more targeted than the default broad match option. A phrase match has quotes around the keyword, as in: “keyword”.

Let’s look at “tennis shoes” as an example of a phrase match keyword. According to Google, “tennis shoes” may also show up for the following search queries:

  • shoes for tennis
  • buy tennis shoes on sale
  • red tennis shoes

Other search queries it may show up for include:

  • tennis shoes online
  • tennis shoes for kids
  • nike tennis shoes
  • tennis shoes for men

Phrase match keywords are typically narrower than broad match keywords. However, they can often still be too broad.

Exact Match

Exact match gives you the most control over who sees your ad. The downside is that your audience will be smaller and you may lose out on relevant keywords or keyword variations you haven’t thought of.

Exact match keywords have brackets around them, such as [keyword]. In the past, an exact match keyword would only show up for that specific keyword and nothing else. For example, your exact match ad for [shoes for men] would only show up if someone searched for that exact keyword. If they searched for men shoes instead, they wouldn’t see your ad.

Google has made some changes to their exact match option. Presently, your ads may show up for searches containing plurals, synonyms, and slight variations.

Coming back to our example of [shoes for men], according to Google your ad may show up for related searches, such as:

  • shoes men
  • men shoes
  • men shoe
  • shoes for a man

This does give you an opportunity to reach a wider, yet highly relevant audience.

Negative Match

Negative match isn’t strictly speaking one of the Google Ads match types, as it’s not a standalone match type. However, it can be applied to broad match, phrase match, and exact match campaigns.

Negative keywords are keywords you don’t want your ad to show up for. So, if you’re a shoe company that doesn’t sell tennis shoes, you could add a negative keyword for tennis shoes. This way, you can put your ad in front of a more targeted audience, which will give you a better ROI.

It’s important to remember that negative keywords won’t match close variations.

According to Google’s definition of negative keywords: “Negative keywords won’t match to close variants or other expansions. For example, if you exclude the negative broad match keyword flowers, ads won’t be eligible to serve when a user searches red flowers, but can serve if a user searches for red flower.”

The way negative keywords work will depend on which one of the Google Ads match types you are using. The following example shows how the impact of negative keywords will differ between broad match, phrase match, and exact match campaigns.


Negative Broad Match

Negative broad match keyword: tennis shoes


Keyword searched for Could your ad show up?
red running shoes
tennis shoe
red tennis shoes
shoes tennis
tennis shoes


Negative Phrase Match

Negative phrase match keyword: “tennis shoes”


Keyword searched for Could your ad show up?
red running shoes
tennis shoe
red tennis shoes
shoes tennis
tennis shoes

Negative Exact Match

Negative exact match keyword: [tennis shoes]


Keyword searched for Could your ad show up?
red running shoes
tennis shoe
red tennis shoes
shoes tennis
tennis shoes


Which Google Ads Match Types Are Best for Maximum ROI?

The best Google Ads match type for your ad campaign(s) will depend on which match type gives you the best ROI. There isn’t a single match type that consistently gives the best results across all keywords or campaigns.

Finding the best match type for YOUR business will involve testing different match types, and comparing your ad spend to the number of conversions per keyword.

As our PPC team at Common Ground can tell you, Google Ads isn’t a set and forget strategy. Ad performance must be continuously monitored, and poor performing keywords should be dropped.

Here are some additional factors that should be taken into consideration.

Number of Keyword Searches Per Month

Using broad match keywords that have a high search volume can lead to your ad being displayed to many people outside of your target audience. Likewise, using exact match keywords with a low search volume can result in your ad not showing up often enough.

Tip: Focus on exact match keywords + negative keywords where you’ve done extensive keyword research and where that keyword is searched for many times every month. This approach can give you the most targeted results.

What Keywords Are Your Competitors Targeting?

Knowing what’s working for your competitors can save you a lot of time and money. And there are tools that can help you to legally spy on your competitors.

Sticking with our earlier example of tennis shoes, here is an ad for it.

Using a tool such as SpyFu.com we can learn a lot from the ads they’re running.

We can see they have 4,107 paid keywords and their estimated Google Ads budget is £4.73k per month. We can also access their ad history spanning over 8 years and 2 months.

According to SpyFu.com, they spend about £438 per month on the keyword tennis shoes at a cost of £0.88 per click. It’s unlikely they would spend that amount of money if they’re not getting a good ROI.

Match Types for SEO vs Google Ads

There’s a strong correlation between SEO campaigns (organic search traffic) and Google Ads. Both rely heavily on keyword research to identify suitable keywords. But not only that, both need to adhere to certain quality standards.

Google wants to give their users the best user experience they can. They want their users to find information that’s relevant to what they’re searching for. This applies to both Google Ads and SEO.

SEO isn’t about optimising a page for one exact match keyword. Google expects to see exact match keywords, related keywords, synonyms, variations, and plurals. They want high quality information that covers the topic and that’s not just written around a keyword.

Many people think Google doesn’t care about the quality of their content when they pay for ads. However, Google does care – a lot! – and so do the people who click on the ad. With this in mind, Google developed a Quality Score to help advertisers.

According to Google:

“Quality Score is a diagnostic tool meant to give you a sense of how well your ad quality compares to other advertisers.
This score is measured on a scale from 1-10 and available at the keyword level. A higher Quality Score means that your ad and landing page are more relevant and useful to someone searching for your keyword, compared to other advertisers.

You can use the Quality Score diagnostic tool to identify where it might be beneficial to improve your ads, landing pages, or keyword selection.”

In principle, the higher your Quality Score, the lower your cost per conversion will be.

The big difference between match types for SEO vs Google Ads is that you see faster results with Google Ads. Your page will take much longer to rank naturally on the first page of Google.

It’s worthwhile to optimise your page for SEO, as you can save a lot of money on ads once it appears in Google’s organic search results. And, as explained above, it can benefit your ad campaign as well!

Google Ads Match Types Wrap-up

The Google Ads match types covered in this article can all help you to grow your business, and give you a good ROI. However, we’ve only scratched the surface so far.

For example, poorly written ad copy, non-optimised landing pages, or a bad selection of keywords can all hurt your Google Ads campaign and cost you a lot of money. This is regardless of whether you use broad match, phrase match, exact match, or negative keywords.

Google Ads may be quick to implement, and it can give you fast results, but it must be done right!

Here at Common Ground, we understand that as a business owner, your focus is on managing your business, not on trying to do everything yourself. Fortunately, our PPC agency has the skills, knowledge, and expertise to help your business with Google Ads campaigns.

Contact us for a free strategy session and let’s explore how we can help you to grow your business!


You may also like

See all posts