If search engine marketing (SEM) were a game of schoolyard kickball, Google AdWords would get picked first every time. Not only is it the most popular tool for SEM, it’s one of the most effective.

But being best (by most accounts, anyway) doesn’t necessarily mean it’s simple. A lot goes into choosing the right keywords to represent your business, adjusting the settings for your campaigns, and making sure you’re bidding on the ad parameters that will best serve your business.

One of those tricky settings you have control over is the AdWords match types, of which there are a few options. The differences between varying match types really can impact your campaign’s performance.

AdWords Match Types: Your Options

Match types modify and regulate the exact search queries you’re bidding on. Knowing which to select for your ads is crucial in driving the right amount of traffic and the right type of searchers through to your business.

When setting a match type for your pay-per-click ads, here are your options:

  • Broad match
  • Modified broad match
  • Phrase match
  • Exact match
Broad Match

The default functionality with Google AdWords is “broad match.” By setting this type of keyword functionality as default, Google’s flexing its muscles a bit, saying “Do you even SEM, bro?” It’s showing the power of its algorithms and its capability to estimate relevant results for similar, but not exact, searches.

With broad match, you can choose one keyword or keyword phrase and allow Google to show your ads in response to searches that are similar to your keyword of choice. On Google’s website, they show an example of the broad match functionality for the keyword “low-carb diet plan.” With this example, they explain that ads might show for any number of other searches Google deems relevant or related, including “carb-free foods,” “low-carb diets” and even “low calorie recipes.”

A quick word to the wise: Don’t get greedy with broad match functionality. If your ad pops up for someone searching something slightly different from what you offer, these clicks could be less qualified and less successful for your business. So while you’re likely to increase clicks through your ads, you’re also likely to rack up quite the bill with Google. Keep an eye on costs, and ensure you’re not bringing in too much irrelevant traffic. Otherwise, it’ll sound a lot less like “Yay, leads!” and a lot more like “Check, please!”

Modified Broad Match

You may be thinking broad match sounds a little too risky for your precious ad budget. Google’s heard that before. So they offer a bit of relief with modified broad match functionality.

To make your leads a little more qualified than they’re likely to be with broad match, you can add a plus sign (+) in front of any word or term in your keyword phrase. This little, but mighty, plus sign tells Google that this term must be included in someone’s search for your ad to appear as a result. Google will still recommend your ads to related search queries, but you can be darn sure the words you deem most critical to your business will remain locked down.

Phrase Match

Just as modified broad match delivers a tad more control than broad match functionality, phrase match introduces an additional level of control to your ad specifications. Basically, once you choose your keyword phrase, your ad will only appear when someone searches for your keywords in the exact order you want.

The only caveat here is that your ad can also appear for longer searches that include your keywords in the beginning, middle or end. So though your keyword phrase will stay completely intact, there may be additional search terms modifying it before or after it.

Let’s say you choose “chocolate chip cookie recipe” as your keyword phrase. (Note: We wouldn’t recommend doing so unless your granny’s won 50 gold medals in baking championships for her cookies – it’s an incredibly competitive search term!) But if granny’s in-fact totally well-decorated, and you do choose that search term, your ads would show up for that exact phrase, as well as for queries like “chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe” and “chocolate chip cookie recipe with nuts.”

Exact Match

Exact match is the most straightforward of your options, with its name being just as you’d expect. Whatever keyword or keyword phrase you choose, your ad will compete to appear for that search and that search only. No extra guessing on Google’s part, and no additional details on the searcher’s part.

For example, if you choose the term “physical training studio,” your ad will not be eligible to appear when someone searches “physical training,” “training studio” or even “advanced physical training studio.”

See how I underlined “not” up there? If you’re too specific, you may be limiting your ads from those individuals searching for more open-ended options. So you’re likely to receive a pretty big decrease in traffic and clicks compared to the other match types. However, the clicks you do receive are more likely to be well worth your money, since these individuals are looking for exactly what you say you offer.

What Else?

Match type is just one aspect of building a successful SEM campaign. To avoid every type of pay-per-click pitfall, check out a recent blog on what not to do in SEM.