PPC Basics #3 - Match Types

If you asked 100 people in the street about Match Types, they’d probably guess you were gathering data about matches, or internet dating. Alas, in this case… we’re talking about PPC advertising again. So, close your tinder screen and reach for your pen. And pay attention.

In a Search campaign, you use keywords related to your product or service. The match type you choose for your keywords determines which searches will cause your ads to show. Here is an explanation of the types available.


The most specific match type, ads are triggered when the search matches the keyword, or is a close variation (including reordered words where the meaning does not change).

Denoted by square brackets

  • Example [flight to New York] – ad can show for New York flight, flight to New York, flights New York


Ads will be triggered when the search matches the phrase, with words before or after it. Reordered words or other words in the middle of the phrase will not trigger an ad. This match type is less specific than Exact, but more specific than both types of Broad match.

Denoted by quotation marks

  • Example “flight to New York” – ad can show for flight to New York in may, flight to New York, cheap flight to New York


The default match type when you add keywords to an account. As the name suggests, this is the least specific match type and ads are triggered by synonyms of a keyword and “related searches”.

No special symbols are used to denote Broad match keywords

  • Example flight to New York – ad can show for London to New York, flight to New York, flights to JFK, tickets to New York

Broad Match Modifier

A more specific version of Broad match, where a plus sign is used before a word in a keyword to signify that it, or a close variant, must be in the search.

Denoted by plus signs before important words

  • Example +flight to New York – ad can show for flights to NYC,flight to New York, flights to JFK

Negative Keywords

Negative keywords can be used to stop search terms from triggering an ad. Aside from Broad Match Modifier, which cannot be negative, the same match types apply.

  • The negative keyword “London” and the keyword +flight to New York – ad can show for flight to New York, flights to JFK, but not London to New York

Relative Traffic Volume

The more specific a keyword match type is, the lower its traffic volume will be because it will match to less search queries.

However, more specific keywords tend to be easier to control – and perform better – because there are less irrelevant queries to deal with, and so search queries will be more relevant to the ad they triggered.

A good PPC account will have its keyword match types tailored to the business aims, balancing volume and performance. A combination of multiple match types can of course be used, alongside appropriate negative keywords, to achieve this.

Changes to match types

In 2014, Google started to automatically include misspellings, plurals and close variants of Exact and Phrase match keywords.
Changes made in 2017 allow exact match keywords to show when words are reordered, for functions (“the”, “in”, “and”, etc) to be added or ignored.

This was done to allow smaller advertisers to easily get more traffic. Ad advantage of the change is less keywords are needed to cover the same number of searches. However, it also gives less control and has seen some advertisers’ ads show when they don’t want them to. For example, the keyword [race horse] could trigger an ad for a search horse race – two different things!