Mastering Keyword Matching Type: The Definitive Guide for 2023

In this chapter, I will share knowledge accumulated from past multinational startup experiences, insights from managing my current company, and feedback from three years of teaching. The main focus is on keyword match strategies, features of different types, and my personal strategy.

Please note that I’ll start with the basic concepts. You might already be familiar with the initial content, but as we delve deeper, you will gain a better understanding. First, let’s clarify the basic concept of a keyword.

Difference Between Keywords and Search Ters (Keyword Vs Search Term)

Many people mistakenly think that what they type into a search engine is a “Keyword”. In reality, from an advertising perspective, we call it a “Search Term”, while the “Keyword” is the target word we set on the advertising platform. If this sounds abstract, let me give an example.

Suppose you search for “video production”, you would probably see several ads, right?

Search Term

Now try searching “video production123”. You should still see related ads, right? However, be mindful that if you search for similar terms multiple times in a short span on the same device, Google might not display ads again. If you don’t see any ads this time, consider switching devices or computers and try again.

search term

Then let’s try one more: “video production training”. Ads appear for this as well.

search term

If you’re an advertiser and you want your ad to appear for all three search scenarios: “video production”, “video production123”, and “video production training”, you might wonder if you need to input these three keywords separately on the ad platform. Even more, to increase the ad’s coverage, should you also add potential keywords like “video production456”, “video production789”, and “video production084”? In reality, you don’t need to. Next, I’ll briefly explain the basic principle of how keyword ads appear. We won’t consider quality scores or cost-per-click for now.

Keyword Matching Logic

Keyword Matching Flow

  1. You bought the keyword “video production”.
  2. Someone searches “video production” or “video production456”.
  3. Google matches the keyword with the search term.
  4. Google then displays your ad.

So, how does Google determine these matching criteria? In fact, Google defaults to a more relaxed matching strategy, allowing for a broader range of matches.

While it’s not as exaggerated as “Terrence” (search term) being matched to “Eddie Peng” (keyword), sometimes Google’s matching strategy can be too broad. It might seem funny to say, but the logic behind it is simple: a more relaxed matching strategy can result in more ad impressions, thereby increasing click opportunities and revenue for Google.

This doesn’t mean advertisers should just accept this strategy. Google provides more or less flexibility to adjust the matching strategy, allowing us to optimise according to our needs and goals. Properly controlling keyword match precision is one of the key strategies to enhance Ad Performance on SEM.

3 types of keyword matching

3 keyword matching type

When discussing Google ad keyword strategies, even if the core “word” is the same, due to different punctuation marks, they represent three different keyword matching methods (Matching Type):

Broad Match

Example: Basketball shoes

Description: This is Google’s default matching strategy. This type of match considers misspellings, synonyms, related search terms, and other relevant variations.

How it works: If your ad keyword is Basketball Shoes, when someone searches for Basketball Shoe, Basketball Sneaker, Basketball wear, basketball equipment, basket Shoes, Basket Sneaker, or Basketball, your ad might be displayed.

Phrase Match

Example: “Terrence Beats Frankie”

Description: This type of match displays ads based on the meaning and order of the search phrase.

How it works: Suppose your ad keyword is “Terrence Beats Frankie”. When someone searches for Strong Terrence Beats Frankie Really Hard, Terrence Chung Beats Frankie Chan, or Terrence beats weak Frankie every day, your ad might be displayed. But if the search is Frankie Beats Terrence, the ad won’t be displayed due to a mismatch in order and meaning.

Exact Match

Example: [Basketball Shoes]

Description: This match type requires the searcher’s query to exactly match the advertiser’s keyword for the ad to display.

How it works: If your ad keyword is [Basketball Shoes], and someone searches for Basketball Shoes, Basketball Shoe, Basketball sneaker, or Baskeball (misspelled), your ad might still appear.

Note: Starting from 2019, the matching strategy of Exact Match has been slightly relaxed. Now it also considers certain synonyms. Whether this change by Google is for more accurate matching or to increase its revenue is something worth pondering.

Pros and Cons of the Three Keyword Match Types

 3 types of keyword matching

Reference from: AdWords Keyword Match Types: Explained by Ex-Googlers


Here’s a simplified breakdown of the pros and cons of the three keyword match types:

Broad Match

Advantages: Largest source of traffic.

Disadvantages: Due to its broad nature, it may attract irrelevant traffic. For instance, expecting Eddie Peng but getting someone else. This imprecision can lead to higher Cost Per Acquisition (CPA).

Example: If customers search for Eddie Peng, but Google suggests another similar name, it may not meet the customer’s needs. Although sometimes a customer might be attracted by other choices, this is very rare, haha!

Exact Match

Advantages: Highly precise with a lower CPA.

Disadvantages: Due to its strict nature, you might miss out on some traffic, limiting the opportunities for ad displays.

Example: You want Eddie Peng, you get Eddie Peng! What you see is what you get! Delivering exactly what the customer wants naturally results in a higher conversion rate. The downside is the relatively lower traffic, as the search term needs to be almost exactly the same as your keyword, limiting the chances of your ad appearing and potentially losing business opportunities.


Phrase Match

Advantages: More precise than broad match, but not as restrictive as exact match.

Disadvantages: It provides more traffic than exact match but less than broad match.

Example: It sits between broad and exact match, more or less combining features of both.

Search vol & CPA of 3 types of keyword matching

My Keyword Matching Strategy

When it comes to choosing the best keyword matching strategy, many face a dilemma. Each match type has its unique advantages and disadvantages. Given the high traffic and CPA of broad match, and the low CPA but restricted traffic of exact match, should one choose phrase match? Based on my experience and the guidance of my mentor in Europe (who is also my boss), I have the following suggestions:

Not Recommended: Broad Match

Keyword advertising is largely a control game. Controlling bids, budgets, and traffic direction is crucial. To optimize ROI, we aim to channel traffic to high-return keywords and restrict low-return traffic.

Broad match is hard to control. Its matching scope is too broad and can sometimes yield unexpected results. For instance, the keyword “pigmentation removal” might get matched to “grouper fish”, which doesn’t align with the ad’s intention at all.

Some believe that you should start with broad match to quickly gain traffic and then optimize based on this data. While this strategy makes sense, if you have a deep understanding of your business and website structure, do you really need to use broad match to gather search terms? In my view, the answer is uncertain.

Considerations for Exact Match Strategy

When aiming for the best ROI, exact match is often a powerful tool. As mentioned, the CPA of exact match tends to be lower, but this also means its traffic might be limited. Therefore, relying solely on exact match could result in underutilizing resources, termed “Below-Spending”.

Let me explain with an example: If you’re a merchant, would you prefer to spend $50 a month to acquire one potential customer, with a total of 100 potential customers, or spend $1 a month but only get one potential customer? To address this, besides using exact match, we usually combine another keyword match type to increase overall traffic.

Another challenge with exact match is that the search terms listed in your search term report are often your keywords, meaning you can’t expand your keyword list using this report. So, when you want to add more keywords, you need to rely on other methods rather than just analyzing the search report.

In conclusion, while exact match can be very effective in some cases, combining it with other match types is often a more holistic approach to maximize ad benefits

Combination of Phrase Match and Exact Match

Combining phrase and exact match is an effective strategy that can both broaden exposure and ensure quality.

Key principles:

When both match conditions are met, exact match takes priority.
The longer the tail of the keyword, the smaller the traffic, but the higher the ROI.


Suppose I run an online store selling contact lenses and currently have two keywords:
[contact lens]
“contact lens”

Search Scenario One:
When someone searches for contact lens, [contact lens] will be used for matching first. The customer will see an ad specifically for contact lens, click on it, and then shop on the website.

Search Scenario Two: If someone searches for colored contact lens, only “contact lens” can match. The ad theme the customer sees remains “contact lens”.

If it’s found in the search term report that “colored contact lens” has good returns, the following strategy is recommended:

Add two new keywords:

[colored contact lens]

“colored contact lens”

At the same time, Create a new ad group and create an ad specific to “colored contact lens”.

This way, when someone searches for colored contact lens, the match will be with [colored contact lens], combined with the dedicated ad, further enhancing ROI.

If a customer searches for “Bausch & Lomb colored contact lens”, what should be done? You definitely should have an idea what to do next!


As we continuously optimize the advertising account, we find that among the keywords leading to conversions, the proportion of Exact Match continues to rise. However, relying solely on Exact Match is not practical, as companies grow, product lines expand, market trends shift, and search habits evolve, introducing new search terms. Therefore, combining Exact Match with Phrase Match is the perfect pairing.