6 Ways To Optimally Use Keyword Match Types for AdWords Success

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There are a lot of different theories on how keyword match types are best implemented to give you the biggest bang for your buck. For a long time a strong combination of Phrase and Exact Match was the best way to go about it.

With the introduction of BMM a little over a year ago we’ve seen a shift in the way most AdWords managers use keyword match types. I’ve been lately asked a lot about how different match types should be used, so in this post I’m revealing some of my own ways for match type management in my AdWords campaigns.

The suggestions below are only suggestions and I advocate you to learn more about match types by yourself. In any given situation I might recommend the complete opposite due to several factors, but the outlines below are the approach I use in 90% of my campaigns.

1) Work Smart: Don’t Include All Variations of Your Keywords for BMM Keywords.

I’ve always been a big advocate of working smart, when it comes to AdWords. You can perform so many different changes and optimizations that if you don’t prioritize your time to work on those aspects that will produce the biggest return you’ll always be one step behind.

I recently consulted a big ecommerce Client in Europe who was dissatisfied with results after having activated a bid management system. He wondered whether he could do something to help the problem along or if it was altogether the system’s fault.

The primary reason for the system not working was that he had several variations for most of his keywords in three different match types. Furthermore many of his BMM keywords were set with variations of the ‘+’-sign used in BMM. A single keyword could therefore result in 10 different keywords when divided into match types.

The problem occurred when the bid management system (or for that matter any AdWords manager) reached the point of needing enough data in order to make decisions about bidding. Seeing that the clicks for some keywords were scattered on all the different keyword variations, very few keywords were eligible for optimization.

My tip for avoiding this is to let Google work for you, as simple as that. Make sure to have all your main keywords and variations in Exact Match (not all cases require this many variations):

  • [Keyword example]
  • [Keyword examples]
  • [Keywords example]
  • [Keywords examples]
  • [Example keyword]
  • [Examples keyword]
  • [Example keywords]
  • [Examples keywords]

Don’t use phrase match to begin with (unless you have explicit reasons), and use only BMM to first-time or rare long-tail searches including your keywords:

  • +keyword +example

To begin with I wouldn’t recommend adding plural and singular unless it’s an important keyword. The BMM type will make sure your ads are shown on almost all variations (even the tiny-bit crazy ones).

This makes for a super simple account structure that will allow your Automated Rules, AdWords Scripts or Third Party Software to do the bid management for you. It will also help you have a clean interface to work with and will keep you focused while you’re working.

2) Use BMM As The Catcher For New Searches And One-Time Searches

The Broad Match Modifier match type has long been a very good addition to your AdWords tool set. It has been underused for a very long time, but I can finally see it pop up in many of the new accounts we onboard in White Shark Media.

For me, BMM keywords have replaced both Phrase and Broad Match in many of my campaigns. They allow just enough flexibility not to have to include all variations of a given keyword. At the same time BMM is stricter than Broad Match and doesn’t allow your keywords to appear for all kind of insane searches.

You’ll still see the occasional hiccup, but all in all, the BMM match type is one of the best additions to AdWords in later years.

I always use BMM at the beginning of any new AdWords campaign. This allows me to focus on the campaign as a whole while still making sure that I have most of my bases covered when it comes down to keyword variations.

3) Put Your Exact Match In Their Own Ad Groups

I must admit that I’ve been trying out this approach quite a lot in the last 6 months, but very little prior to that. I’ve been dabbling more in automated systems for bid management, and one of the challenges I’ve been facing was always that the bid for BMM or Phrase Match keywords would sometimes exceed the Exact Match bid. This would therefore result in BMM keywords taking over all the impressions that the Exact Match keyword should be responsible for.

To avoid this I routinely put important high-volume keywords in two different ad groups:

  • [Ad Group Example]
  • +Ad Group Example

This enables me to control the impressions by separating BMM/Phrase and Exact Match, and using internal negative keywords. This kind of control allowed me to sleep better at night knowing that my Exact Match keywords would not be overruled by BMM keywords with a higher ad rank.

4) Don’t Use Phrase Match And BMM For One-Worded Keywords

Having a keyword consisting of only one word can sometimes produce great volume in your campaign. However, if you put that keyword in both Phrase Match and BMM you’ll have the two keywords fighting over the same search queries.

This can result in random search queries being triggered by either keyword which is generally just a big mess. When it comes down to choosing between BMM and Phrase I usually end up putting one-worded keywords in Phrase Match. This allows me to control better which search queries my ads will be showing up for.

Using Phrase Match requires me to think about the different major variations that the keyword might be searched for, but seeing that most one-worded keywords have a big amount of searches, I know that this effort will be rewarded in the future.


5) Don’t Use Phrase Match Keywords For Low Volume Keywords

When I start optimizing new campaigns I usually try to avoid using Phrase Match for keywords that don’t have a lot of searches. If you start using Phrase Match AND Exact Match AND then BMM for low volume keywords, you’ll start scattering out the clicks for most keywords, meaning that you’ll have to wait longer before you can get enough conversions that will allow you to make solid decisions about your bidding.

Using Phrase Match means that you’ll have to add several new keywords for plural, singular, and different word order, etc.

Save yourself the work and optimize other parts of your campaign. Unless the keyword is producing a high amount of clicks, then you’re not missing anything by only having a single variation of the keyword in BMM.

6) Bid Higher For Exact Match Keywords

Now that you have the basic rules for using keyword match types in AdWords, it’s important to know about Ad Rank. Ad Rank is not just the measure that Google uses to find out which advertiser is being shown the highest in their search results.

Ad Rank is also used to determine what keyword in your AdWords account will internally trigger certain searches. If you have two keywords

  • +keyword +example
  • [keyword example]

and the search is for [keyword example], then you’d naturally expect that the keyword responsible for showing your ad would be [keyword example].

However, what if I tell you that the bids and the Quality Score were completely different for the two keywords:

  • +keyword +example: QS 10 and $5 Bid
  • [keyword example]: QS 7 and $3 Bid

Roughly calculated the ad rank for the BMM keyword would be 50 and the Ad Rank for the Exact Match keyword would be 21. In this case the BMM keyword would actually start being responsible for the searches the Exact Match keyword should attract.

The negative part about this is that it might be hiding what’s really happening with a keyword. If your BMM keyword is producing solid ROI, but your Exact Match keyword is really poor, you’re likely to increase the bid for BMM and decrease the bid for Exact Match.

By doing this, the exact match search will start showing up under BMM. The exact match search will still have a bad ROI and the ROI for your BMM keyword will now start falling. Once you see this you’ll start reducing the bid for your BMM keywords even though your BMM keyword might still be producing by itself quite solid results. The ROI has decreased because the exact match searches are now being counted inside the BMM keyword.

The usual way to handle this challenge is by putting Exact Match and BMM keywords in separate ad groups, or by bidding higher for Exact Match. This of course requires being very careful with subsequent bid management not to accidentally set the wrong bids.

How Do You Manage Keyword Match Types?

I would love to hear from other AdWords managers about their experiences with match types. My approach might not be the same as many others are using, so I hope to hear from other advertisers about both their positive and negative experiences.

Andrew Lolk

Andrew Lolk

CMO, Co-founder White Shark Media® at White Shark Media®
Andrew Lolk is the author of the 189-page free AdWords ebook The Proven AdWords Strategy. He's worked in AdWords since 2009 and have co-founded White Shark Media®; A leading Search Marketing agency and Google AdWords Premier SMB Partner: We help small businesses succeed through innovative search engine marketing strategies.
Andrew Lolk
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  • http://advent.es Steve Cameron

    Solid overview – agree with the entire article. I, too, am using BMM almost as a replacement for phrase match… it just seems to cover more of the bases.
    What I am starting to try and implement is running my exact match keywords as negatives in my broader match ad groups. It just takes up an inordinate amount of time.
    One question… how much attention do you pay to the “long tail” – seems to me that the rewards for most small yo medium sized businesses just don’t justify the time spent managing them – and, not only that but my long tail keyword probably contains someone else’s BMM, broad or phrase match – so I’m still competing – and if they are Amazon I’m probably still going to lose the auction and be more or less where I was with my less long tail BMM keyword. Would welcome your thoughts on this….

  • http://www.seobounty.com Richard A. Lewis

    The sophistication of match types over the years has proved to make it more difficult for clients to manage their own accounts which has led to more clients utilizing Search Marketing Companies to run these campaigns. Overall I believe your analysis is strong and can hopefully be understood by smaller businesses that might not be able to afford a manager but none the less need to be on Google Adwords. Would you say that the book that is mentioned in your profile would be a good place for novices to begin?

    • http://www.whitesharkmedia.com/ Andrew Lolk

      Thanks, Richard. I share your opinion completely.

      Yes, I think my book is an excellent place to start for novices. Especially for the advertisers who have some experience with AdWords, but are missing key pieces of the puzzle and how they go together.

  • http://www.whitesharkmedia.com/ Andrew Lolk

    Thanks, Steve. I’m glad you liked the post.

    The amount of time I spend on long tail is differs a lot. If I feel that I will gain an edge from adding the different long tail keywords and thereby decide the individual bidding for these keywords, then I go for it.

    Often in bigger accounts (especially ecommerce) you’ll see so infrequent long tail searches that it doesn’t make sense to add them. I usually add the bigger long tail searches or other searches that proves to have a decent amount of searches. But in general I try to be more “relaxed” when it comes to adding every single long tail keyword than I’ve been in the past. It just doesn’t seem worth it anymore.

  • http://www.safeharbor.com Dmitry Minyaylov

    Great read, thanks Andrew!

    I recently started trying the same approach, putting best performing keywords into Exact Match adgroups and keeping everything else in BMM adgroups.

    I am having trouble deciding when a keyword should be added into the Exact Match adgroup. You recommend avoiding low traffic keywords which makes sense. Is it then fair to say that this decision depends entirely on the CTR of a keyword?


  • http://www.whitesharkmedia.com/ Andrew Lolk

    Hi Dmitry,

    I normally make the decision based on the number of clicks or impressions. If we have a lot of impressions, but low clicks, I will in most cases still set the keyword in Exact Match. The impressions are there, so it’s just about controlling the search better and perhaps writing a better ad for that specific keyword.

    On the other hand you might also have a keyword with 100 impressions and 50 clicks over time. In this case I’d also add the keyword in exact match.

    Remember that the decision is not made on whether a _keyword_ has many clicks or impressions. It’s made on whether the _search query_ has a lot of clicks or impressions. That’s the key to my method above.

    A keyword in BMM can be shown for 50 different variations that each get 1 click. In this case even though we have a “high” amount of clicks for the keyword, then adding any individual search query in exact match would only result in 1 click for that specific exact match keyword.

    I hope this made sense? Otherwise please ask again and I’ll try to elaborate further 🙂

  • steven

    Hi, great article! I have a related question: I have two BMM kw phrases, one of which is a longer tail version of the other, but in my reporting I see that search queries that should match to the longer tail version are instead triggering the shorter tail version e.g.
    the query “sf catering company” triggers:
    +catering +company
    instead of:
    +catering +company +sf
    How do I get this kw phrase to trigger the longer tail version since I have corresponding ads and landing pages set up?

  • http://www.whitesharkmedia.com/ Andrew Lolk

    Hi Steven,

    Just to make sure I’m correct. The problem is that the keyword +catering +company triggers ads for the search ‘sf catering company’?

    It’s basically an Ad Rank issue. The Ad Rank (Quality Score * CPC Bid) for +catering +company is higher than the one for +catering +company +sf.

    You can fix it by making sure that you’re bidding higher for +catering +company +sf than for +catering +company. However, that’s not always possible. I recommend that you read this article by one of my colleagues in White Shark Media who wrote a good post on the subject:


    I hope this helped!

  • Adi Jayne

    Hi Andrew,

    Very useful article. I was thinking if we should use the same keywords in different match types in an account. Does that help? It’s like using the keyword car insurance in broad, phrase and exact match types in different ad groups. Would they not compete with each other? Opinions? Thanks