Whether you’re inheriting an existing account or have been managing the same account for years, your keyword match types play an important role in the foundation of your paid search efforts.

To review, there are four keyword match types, exact, phrase, broad and broad match modified (BMM); the combination you use will be up to your overall strategy. Let’s take a look at the uses for each match type using the below chart:

Image source: WordStream

  • Broad: serves the widest potential pool of searches, including synonyms and session-based searches.
  • Broad Match Modified (BMM): operates like a more flexible phrase match where the query must match to the keywords but are not specific to word order.
  • Phrase: query must contain exact words, in order, and can include other words before or after the phrase.
  • Exact: query must match to keyword, in any order, and cannot include *additional words before or after.

*As of March 17, 2017, Google AdWords announced an update to exact match which now expands the way close variants are treated. This release allows “function words” such as ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘in’, ‘to’, ‘for’, ‘but’, and other words to be ignored to match with similar queries.

Although exact match is going to be the better performing match type in terms of CTR and CPA/ROAS, using this alone will greatly limit the amount of impressions you receive, even with AdWords’ update to exact match variations. So, while this update can allow for additional queries to be captured via the exact match type, using this match on its own will make it challenging to guess all the different keyword variations initially. BMM and phrase match keywords will help you find and capture variations beyond that. At the same time, the click-through rate (CTR) for phrase and BMM will likely be lower than exact, as the quality of the ads (as it relates to the keywords) are not directly tied with the exact intent of the user. However, if the majority of your volume comes from exact match keywords, you can match your ad copy to what a user types in, allowing for lifts in CTR, keyword and ad Quality Score and finally lower CPCs. If your Conversion Rate remains the same, you’ve successfully been able to reduce your CPA!

What does your account look like over the last 30 days? Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are your exact-match queries mapping to your broad match modified or phrase match keywords? If so, you may be paying more than necessary in these auctions.
  • Are you truly allocating your budget towards keyword sets that best meet your goals?

First things first, find out if your account is in need of some match type recalibration by auditing your account match type performance as it pertains to CPC and CVR. The below was pulled from a keyword-level report using data from the last 30 days and inserted into a pivot table in excel to organize by match type. This audit shows us that BMM is receiving the greatest amount of conversions, yet CTR, CVR and CPA are all the least efficient compared to Exact and Phrase match keywords.

Now that we have assessed that our account is too reliant on BMM match keywords, what can we do to optimize? To reduce reliance on your costlier match types without sacrificing your conversion volume, a tiered bidding strategy is a great way to gain control. This style of bidding allows you to consistently have your exact match keywords in average positions above other match types, while letting your BMM and phrase match keywords be used as mining tools for new discoveries.

Some match type shaping tactics to keep in mind:

  • Exact match ad groups:
    • Tiered bidding, ensure exact match keywords have the highest bids with your more general keywords receiving lower bids (phrase and BMM).
    • Due to the recent update to the way AdWords treats exact match variations, review your exact match queries to assess if a reordering of the words or the absence of these function words changes the meaning – if so, add those variations as negatives to your ad groups or campaigns.
  • Phrase and BMM ad groups:
    • Mine engine SQRs on these match types often to collect new keywords for your exact match ad groups.
    • Make sure to add all current exact match keywords as exact negatives to your BMM and phrase match ad groups to ensure no query cannibalization.
  • “Max. CPC” vs “Avg CPC”:
    • Max CPC (aka Bid) is the highest amount you’re willing to pay for a click on your ad.
    • Your keyword Max CPC and Quality Score, plus your competitors’ Max CPC are all important factors in determining your ad rank.
    • Avg. CPC is the average cost-per-click you actually pay and is oftentimes much lower than your Max CPC.

Overall keywords and their assigned match types are still the foundation of search campaigns and, for many advertisers, can often get lost among the ever-expanding targeting options available to us. At the end of the day, the best method is to test out these match types by leveraging your own data.