A Simple Guide to Keyword Match Types

December 06, 2018

A simple guide to Keyword match-types

Keywords in your campaigns help you determine what variation of search queries you want your ads to appear. When someone enters a search on Google, they are shown ads based on the similarity between their query and the keywords associated with that particular ad. The degree of similarity is determined by the keyword match types in your campaign.

You can exclude your ads from showing by adding negative keywords which also involve match types whose definitions differ slightly from their positive counterparts.  If you sell sports cars, you want to serve ads to users looking for “cars” but not for “vans” so you include the keyword “car” in your campaign and add “van” as a negative keyword to that campaign.

Serving the right ads to the right customers improves the customer’s buying experience.

Google, in turn, rewards our efforts by increasing quality score, lowering costs, and serving ads at higher positions on the search engine results page (SERP). Proper keyword match types lie at the heart a comprehensive positive and negative keyword list. By reviewing your search query report, you can see which queries triggered certain keywords and decide for yourself if that connection makes sense. If it doesn’t you can add the search query as a negative and continue optimizing.


Positive Keyword Match Types:

There are 4 main types of positive keyword match types known as broad match, +modified broad match, “phrase” match, and [exact] match. Google defines them as the following:

  • Broad match is the default match type and ads can appear for search queries with misspellings, synonyms, related searches, and other relevant variations of your keywords.
    • Keyword: mens shoes
    • Potential Query Matches: womens sneakers, shoes, mens boots


  • Modified broad match indicated by a plus sign appended to the front of a keyword term, can trigger ads only if it includes the modified term or a close variation. In addition, this match-type requires that all of the terms marked with the + (or close synonyms to those words) are present.  
    • Keyword: +mens +shoes
    • Potential Query Matches: cheap mens shoes, guys boots, shoes for men
    • Should Not Match: shoes, mens clothing, childrens shoes, boots


  • Phrase match indicated by quotes, can show ads that contain your quoted term and can include words before and after or close variations. 
    • Keyword: “mens shoes”
    • Potential Query Matches: stylish mens shoes, cheap mens shoes
    • Should Not Match: shoes for men


  • Exact match indicated by brackets, is perhaps the most confusing of them all since it shows ads that match the exact term or close variations of that exact term. 
    • Keyword: [mens shoes]
    • Potential Query Matches: mens shoes
    • Should Not Match: guys shoes, mens boots, shoes for men


We’ve found Google’s definition of “close/relative variation” for Exact match to be a complete understatement and it’s apparent when analyzing your Search Query Report that queries don’t always align with your exact match keywords. Google admits to this in a recent update saying that they are changing the definition of exact match to serve ads to users with intent and users searching various iterations of the exact match term.


Negative Keyword Match-Types:

The 3 negative keyword match types share some of the same names like broad, exact, or phrase match but differ from positive match types in that you need to include synonyms, singular or plurals, misspellings, and other close variations if you want to completely exclude them. For additional examples of what match types may show ads you can review Google’s documentation here: Positive Keywords and Negative Keywords

For negative keywords, match types like broad, phrase, and exact match dictate how your negative term is filtered out. With negative broad match keywords, ads won’t show if the search query contains all the negative keyword terms, even if the terms are arranged differently and ads may show if the query contains only some of the negative keyword term. With negative phrase match keywords, your ad won’t show if the query contains the exact negative keyword terms in the same order. The search may include additional words, but the ad won’t show as long as all the negative keyword terms are included in the search in the same order. For negative exact match keywords, your ad won’t show if the search contains the exact negative keyword terms, in the same order, without extra words. Your ad may still show if the search contains the negative keyword terms with additional words.


As you’ll come to learn these match type categories become more obscure as Google changes their definitions alongside their evolving machine learning algorithm. We must be vigilant as Google changes the definitions of match types and insists on referring to them by their original names. According to Googles search blog, roughly 15% of searches a day are new and in order to capture those new searches they’ve adjusted the definition of exact match close variants to include close variations that share the same intent as your keyword.

At Four15, our positive keyword lists mainly consist of modified broad and phrase match keywords. As we grow each account and gain insight into what works and what doesn’t, we also utilize the other match types when needed because Google will still match to exact match keywords when available. On the other hand, negative keywords lists mainly consist negative phrase match for single terms like “cheap” and negative exact match for terms related to specific businesses or locations. We recommend scheduling regular reviews of the search query report to see make sure ads are appearing for the right searches. Frequently reviewing your campaigns to curb wasteful spend helps you get a feel for what Google is actually processing rather than being left at the mercy of their secret machine learning algorithm.