PPC Guide: Keyword research and match types

In this chapter of our PPC Guide, we cover the importance of keyword research and understanding the different keyword match types and how to use them.

We discussed the importance and function of keywords in the previous section. When you’re just getting started with paid search, it’s not usually necessary to do exhaustive keyword research. That’s because you can start collecting real-world data about how users search by using seed lists while keeping a check on spend with match types.

Keywords typically differ based on where users are in the customer journey, from broad informational to pain point-based to solution-based to product name and brand keywords.

Once you have an initial list of keywords, you’ll group them into themes, which will then become your ad groups as we covered in the last section.

Keyword research tools

Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising each have Keyword Planners for conducting keyword research. The tools provide search volume, cost per click and conversion estimates within your account. Microsoft Advertising Intelligence is also a powerful, free Excel-based tool.

There are many other free and paid keyword research tools on the market. Other places to get keyword ideas, include:

  • Autosuggest, “People also ask” and “Related searches” in Google and Bing search results
  • Amazon search results and auto-suggestions
  • Pinterest
  • Customer reviews
  • Google Search Console
  • Google Trends

Talk to people in other areas of your company, too. What words do sales reps hear from prospective customers? What words do account managers hear from customers? What problems are they looking to solve? What words are your competitors using?

Find keyword research more ideas in these articles:

Match types

One of the best ways to manage budget and qualify traffic in your search campaigns is through keyword match types. The search engines give advertisers even more control over when their ads will be triggered with keyword match types. There are four match types, in the order of most to least restrictive:

Exact match

Exact match keywords are formatted with brackets around them: [bicycle chain], [bike chain].

Despite the name, exact match isn’t exactly exact anymore. Google allows close variants, including misspellings, plural/singular, changes in word order and function words as well as same meaning words to match to an exact-match keyword.

The aim, says Google, is to match the meaning and intent of the query to the keyword. Google says it still prioritizes identical matching keywords, but that’s not a guarantee.

Google’s expansion of matching to “close variants” of a keyword is emblematic of its increasing reliance on machine learning to understand how queries align with keyword intent. Additionally, Google’s internal data shows that some 15 percent of daily searches are new, making it near impossible for advertisers to cover all their keyword bases, the thinking goes. Machine learning can help fill in these gaps.

Phrase match (2021)

Phrase-match keywords are formatted with quotes around them: “bicycle chain,” “bike chain.”

With phrase match, word order matters, but as a result of Google’s expansion of phrase match to include broad match modifier (BMM) traffic, Google will only respect word order “when it’s important to the meaning.”

How phrase match has changed to include BMM traffic.
How phrase match has changed to include BMM traffic. Image: Google.

The query can have other words before or after the phrase. For example, a search for “affordable moving services NYC to Boston” will trigger the phrase match keyword “moving services NYC to Boston,” but a search for “moving services Boston to NYC” will not.

Examples of how phrase match works now that it includes BMM traffic.
Examples of how phrase match works now that it includes BMM traffic. Image: Google.

Microsoft Advertising also updated the way it treats phrase match, so it works the same across both Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising.

Broad Match Modifier (BMM)

Broad match modifier refers to a deprecated variation of broad match (more on that below). Before its deprecation, BMM allowed advertisers to indicate which words in a keyword phrase were most important by adding a plus sign (+) in front of the most important words. For example: gourmet +blueberry +jam.

The keywords +blueberry and +jam could match to plurals, misspellings and same-meaning words, but the word gourmet could have been ignored entirely. If you removed the plus sign in front of blueberry, your ad could have triggered for any flavor of jam.

In Google Ads, the ability to create new BMM keywords was removed in July 2021, and Microsoft Advertising stopped supporting it in August 2021.

Broad match

With BMM, there are few reasons to use broad match keywords (and notice, this is the default when you add keywords). Broad match keywords can trigger ads on search queries that Google deems relevant, even if they aren’t keywords in the ad group. This can yield some good insights and lots of data on the ways users are searching for your products or services. It can also make for some pretty wacky matching and requires you to keep a close eye on your search term reports. However, in addition to keyword research, broad match can be useful if your keywords have low search volume because the product or service serves a small audience or you’re targeting a limited geography.

Negative keywords

Also consider the words you don’t want your ads to show for, and list them as negative keywords. Negative keywords can be set at the account, campaign or ad group level.

There will be words you never want your ads to trigger for, so you will also add a keyword as a negative in another campaign or ad group to keep a search query from triggering ads in multiple campaigns or ad groups.

How to use match types

You can use any and all of the four match types available for the same keyword, even within the same ad group.

Google will show the keyword with the highest Ad Rank, so you want to structure your bids accordingly, with exact set the highest, then phrase, followed by BMM, and finally, broad.

If your budget is tight, you’ll likely want to use exact match more heavily. BMM and broad match keywords are going to trigger for more search queries, and thus spend more. So take your budget into account when considering what match types to use.

Search query reports. The expansion of close variants means you have to keep a close eye on the keywords that are triggering your ads — add well-performing queries to your campaigns and add negative keywords as needed. Set a regular schedule for reviewing your search query reports.

Next up in our guide, dive into setting up paid search campaigns.

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