With the release of Google’s broad match modifier, search engine marketers have questions. What is it? How is the modified broad match type different than phrase match? How I do make the most of it in my digital marketing strategy? In today’s post, we’ll look how each match type is defined, how you’re probably misusing them in your keyword strategies, and how to make the most of Google’s broad match modifier for paid ad results and beyond.

If you’ve done much search engine marketing, you’ve probably stumbled across this search term organizational structure:

Ad Group 1: Running Shoes – Broad
Term: running shoes
Ad Group 2: Running Shoes – Modified Broad
Term: +running +shoes
Ad Group 3: Running Shoes – Phrase
Term: “running shoes”
Ad Group 4: Running Shoes – Exact
Term: [running shoes]

Before we dive into why it’s time to kick this outdated habit, let’s revisit match types and what each of them accomplish.

Keyword Match Types 101

  • Broad Match: A search that includes any word in your search term, in any order, can potentially trigger your ads, including close variants like misspellings. For example, the broad term running shoes could allow your ads to show for “women’s training shoe,” “tennis shoes for kids,” or “men’s running gear.”
  • Modified Broad Match: A search query must include any word preceded by a “+” in your search term to trigger an ad, including close variants like misspellings. For example, the term +running +shoes could allow your ads to show for “women’s runing shoes,” “kids running shoes” or “comfortable shoes that are good for running.”
  • Phrase Match: When using phrase match terms, a search must include the words in quotations in the exact order you enter them. They can include other words or phrases before or after your phrase. For example, “running shoes” might show your ads for “really weird running shoes,” “running shoes that glow in the dark,” or “is it okay to wear running shoes to a wedding.” (The answer to the last one? A resounding no.)
  • Exact Match: Exact match offers the most narrow reach of the match types. Your ad will be shown only when a search query exactly matches the term contained within brackets, unless you opt for close variants. For example, [running shoes] will only serve your ad when that specific search is performed.

Why Not to Use all Four Match Types for One Term

In theory, it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea to use all four match types for a specific term. It should quadruple the chances that your ad will show, right?

Not exactly. Think of it this way:

Broad Match Modifier Illustration

When you start to visualize what’s really happening, it becomes clear: in theory, you are competing with your own terms multiple times per search auction. Your exact match terms will compete with all of their broader variations, phrase match will compete with your modified broad and broad match types, and so on.

It’s time to retire this Darwinian “survival of the fittest” keyword strategy. No single term is right for every match type. Let’s challenge ourselves to think a bit more strategically than a “spray and pray” account structure in 2019. Keep reading and you’ll be ready to do it in less than ten minutes.

A Real, Nonfiction Example

Let’s revisit the running shoes ad campaign. If I’m advertising for Cool Runnings Shoes (featuring John Candy in my Display ads, obviously), then I should take into account the rhythm and the rhyme of the products I’m advertising when choosing match types. (No more Cool Runnings puns, I promise.)

Let’s say that one ad group is focused on a spectacular pair of Jamaican flag-patterned running shoes for women. (Purely coincidental, you guys.) Which of the match types will help me get this fancy footwear in front of users who are most likely to purchase it?

Though I am offering a niche product, if I cast too wide a net through the broad use of the term “running shoes,” the ad for my shoes could potentially run for “orthopedic walking shoes.” (I’m not implying that there aren’t people out there who would absolutely rock Jamaican flag orthopedics, I’m just not sure there are enough of them to keep my new shoe venture profitable.) Probably not the best fit in this case.

Now, let’s consider phrase match. If I cast a more narrow net with “womens running shoes,” my ad would run if someone were to search “jamaican flag womens running shoes.” Perfect! Unfortunately for me once again, the odds of that being searched enough to generate the sales I need are relatively low, and I would also be allowing my ad to run when “plain black womens running shoes” is searched. The odds of the person performing that search purchasing my clearly superior design are relatively low.

What about exact match? I know exactly who my buyer is, and I’m going after them: [jamaican print running shoes for women]. At the end of the month, I’ll probably be reporting a total of roughly 2 ad impressions with a lot of unused marketing budget and some pretty unhappy company leaders. (To quote an unrelated movie, “Sanka, you dead mon.”)

If you’re asking yourself, “What about modified broad match?” then you’re one bobsled push ahead. Though no one keyword universe will be the same for every organization, there is always a place in your strategy for modified broad match type. There’s even a place for it in my niche nonfictional, real-life campaign.

In fact, this is where modified broad match types shine the brightest. You see, by using +womens +running +shoes, or +rasta +apparel, my ads will run for “trendy womens running shoes,” “apparel with rasta print,” and “cool shoes great for women who like running.”

It’s true my ad could also show for “womens orthopedic running shoes” and “jamaican apparel that doesn’t look rasta,” but it offers more control than broad match, with more flexibility than phrase. All of these match types will require regular negative term mining- so be ready for regular account maintenance – but of the three, I’m confident that modified broad is the most adaptable to today’s search trends.

Why Modified Broad Match Adapts Best to Today’s Search Users

Did you see this statistic from Ahrefs.com?

Keyword Length Distribution - Source Ahrefs

In case you’ve been hiding in a Jamaican igloo for a few years, long tail search terms have taken over. Additionally, the searches being performed today are as unique as the users performing them.

Let’s think about how we might search for shoes today:

  • “Best running shoes for wide feet”
  • “Gray women’s running shoes that don’t cause blisters”
  • “Kids running shoes that don’t have wheels on the bottom”
  • “The running shoes Kim Kardashian wore in the last episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians”

This list continues infinitely, so it is highly unlikely that no matter how intuitive and detail-oriented we are as marketers, that we would ever identify every variation of every search that is relevant to our ads. It’s also not likely anymore that searches will use the terms that matter to us in the order we present them, which is why I would recommend using phrase match types sparingly. While I might ask Siri to run a search for “black running shoes that are easy to clean,” a more experienced runner might search “best shoes for runners with low arches.”

If you’re using phrase match, even if you’d like your product ad to appear for both searches, you can’t- they aren’t performed using the same order as “running shoes,” and there are words between those terms. The rigid structure of phrase match types is no longer realistic or highly relevant for the nature of the vast majority of searches being performed today. Though there are places for phrase match types in keyword strategies, you shouldn’t be bidding for a phrase match on all the terms you deem relevant for your campaigns.

Any why not broad match? Simply put, you start to lose control of your keyword universe (and your budget) very quickly. You could certainly accomplish the same results with broad match and modified broad match types- after all, one encompasses the other. Unfortunately, to do it with broad match, you’re going to waste more money and spend a lot more time weeding through your Search Terms report looking for negative terms.

So I ask if you can appear for the long-tail search terms that users are performing today without a crystal ball, and if you can do that without accumulating more than 500 irrelevant searches in a month, what are you waiting for?

The Board Match Modified and Your Content Marketing Strategy

Let’s have a quick review of broad match modifier in PPC usage. With modified broad, so far we have established that we can:

  • Capture more long tail searches
  • Control budget more effectively than broad match
  • Spend less time mining for negative terms than with broad match
  • Cast a wide enough net to capture searches for niche products and services

There’s one last added benefit to increasing your use of this match type, and if you’re using a holistic approach to your marketing strategy, it’s going to be a game changer. If you aren’t yet and you’re ready to do it strategically, keep reading.

We’ve covered that the modified broad match type allows your ads to show for longer and more relevant user searches. Can you think of any other reason why seeing the long tail search terms that Google finds your ads relevant for would be useful in your digital marketing strategy?

You guessed it: SEO.

Imagine the results you might generate once you start building a list of long tail searches that are yielding ad conversions into your content strategy for SEO! Not only would you be getting real-time insights into user search behavior for your products and using it to refine your strategy, but you’d be able to build your SEO keyword universe with terms that convert to sales.

And the accounting department rejoices.

Time to Put Your Auditing Hat On

If you’ve been relying solely on exact match terms, or if you’re bidding on every match type for the same list of terms, do yourself a favor and settle in for a good, old-fashioned audit.

In our ever-evolving industry, there’s never a wrong time to start adapting to new search trends, and as organic search starts to compete with knowledge graphs and carousels, your paid performance can mean a world of difference while you vigorously implement structured data into your content strategy. And if your Search Terms reports can double as insight to help you speed up that SEO process – even better.

Think strategically about the match type that makes sense for each term, rather than just using them all. Most importantly, be committed to paying close attention to your negative terms. I will ensure that, especially for my counterparts ready to produce real ROIs for niche products and services, your KPIs will thank you.

After all, PPC means “peace be the journey.”

Cool Runnings means Peace by the journey

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