Google AdWords gives pay per click advertisers a wealth of tools to create, test and optimise highly-targeted pay per click (PPC) campaigns. One of the methods of doing so is through match type: exact, phrase and broad. While exact and phrase match keywords are generally more controllable than broad match keywords, broad match can open up your business to a significant number of additional customers – those who might otherwise have been missed if only exact and phrase match keywords were used.

As we consider the pros and cons of each match type, we find that a balance is therefore required between the extra visitors broad match can deliver, and the quality of those extra visitors. In trying to find that balance, we consider a technique called the Broad Match Generator, which uses broad match search queries to generate new exact, phrase, and negative keywords. We see how the methodical process of regularly analysing  search query data, to continually expand keyword lists and ad text relevancy (Broad Match Generation), can help take advantage of the opportunities of broad match while still delivering a strong ROI.

Exact & Phrase Match

Exact and phrase match keywords are typically the most favourable for search marketers, as they allow a high degree of control over the words a searcher has to make in order for their ads to be shown. If your campaign contained the exact match keyword ‘flights to Melbourne’, for example, you can be 100% sure your ad would only appear when someone searches for ‘flights to Melbourne’ exactly.

Phrase match also gives you a high degree of control, and ensures that the words ‘flights to Melbourne’ must be included somewhere in the user’s search phrase. You can therefore be 100% sure you will only receive traffic from searches which include the phrase ‘flights to Melbourne’, such as ‘cheap flights to Melbourne’, ‘flights to Melbourne from Hong Kong’ or ‘low cost flights to Melbourne from China’.

So with exact and phrase match, you have a high degree of control over the search words which will trigger your ads. You can ensure your ads will only be shown on Google for highly-relevant potential customers.

Broad Match

Broad match, however, is not so controllable. Bid for the broad match keyword ‘flights to Melbourne’, for example, and you ads could be shown when someone searches for ‘flights from London to Melbourne’, ‘Melbourne flying club’ or ‘Australian travel deals’. Basically any search term Google believes is somewhat relevant to the keyword ‘flights to Melbourne’.

Not very controllable, you might think, and you’d be right. Why would you risk receiving visitors from people looking for ‘Melbourne flying lessons’, when you can be 100% sure what you’re getting by using exact and phrase matching?

Traffic, stupid!

Broad match isn’t all bad. In fact, it can be incredibly useful. According to Udi Manber, Google’s VP of engineering, 20-25% of search queries each day have never been made before, making it almost impossible to target every potential customer using just exact and phrase match keywords.

No amount of keyword research can predict that someone might search for phrases such as ‘flight prices March 2011 Tokyo to Melbourne’, ‘airlines Melbourne business class from NZ’ or ‘flights around the world via Melbourne’. Broad match can help deliver thousands of additional highly-targeted potential customers, who would otherwise have been missed if only exact and phrase match keywords were used.

So broad match allows you to receive high-quality visitors from search terms you may have missed during your initial keyword research.

But the problem of broad match still remains. Broad match can still send you visitors from hundreds of irrelevant terms such as ‘Melbourne flying lessons’. What a waste of money.

A balance is therefore needed between the benefit of extra visitors from broad match keywords, and the relevancy of those extra visitors. Introducing the Broad Match Generator…

The Broad Match Generator

Since exact and phrase match keywords provide the highest level of control, and allow advertisers to display highly-targeted ads, exact and phrase match searches should account for the bulk of clicks in a paid search campaign. Broad match should only be used as a catch all, to pick up those specific, seasonal and somewhat abstract long-tail searches which were not added as exact or phrase match keywords during your initial keyword research, and as a tool to generate new exact, phrase and negative match keywords.

To see how this Broad Match Generator would work, let’s first look at an example of an excellent user journey.

Example 1 – Exact Match Keyword in Account

Suppose someone searched for ‘flights to Italy from Melbourne’. Also suppose ‘flights to Italy from Melbourne’ exists as an exact match keyword in your Google AdWords account. So when a search is made, your exact match keyword ‘flights to Italy from Melbourne’ is triggered. Not only that, but since the keyword has its own ad group with its own tailored ads, your ad which appears will be highly-relevant and mention the words ‘flights’, ‘Melbourne’ and ‘Italy’, as well as current pricings for the trip. The visitor is then taken through to a landing page which shows details of flights to Italy from Melbourne.

Highly relevant, highly engaging, and likely to result in high click through rate (CTR), high Quality Score, low cost per click prices (CPCs), low bounce rate, high conversion rate and higher return on investment. Fantastic!


Example 2 – Exact Match Keyword not in Account (and search is relevant)

Now let’s see what would happen if a search is matched to one of your broad keywords.

Suppose the search is ‘flights Christmas 2010 to Melbourne’, and ‘flights Christmas 2010 to Melbourne’ is not is your Google AdWords account as an exact match keyword (ignore phrase match for the moment). The search is then matched to your broad keyword ‘Melbourne flights’, and the generic ad for ‘Melbourne flights’ is triggered. The visitor is then taken through to a generic landing page.

Somewhat relevant, you might think, but far from perfect. The searcher explicitly stated they were looking for flights at Christmas 2010, so why not show ads which better answers their question?

This is where the Generator comes in.

For any broad-matched search query, first decide if it is relevant. If it is relevant, then add the search as a new exact and phrase match keyword and give the keywords its own highly-targeted ads in its own ad group.

So the next time someone searches for ‘flights Christmas 2010 to Melbourne’, your ad which will appear will mention the words ‘flights’, ‘Christmas’, ‘2010’ and ‘Melbourne’, and take visitors directly through to a Christmas 2010 Melbourne flight page.

Higher click through rate (CTR), higher Quality Score, lower cost per click prices (CPCs), lower bounce rate, higher conversion rate and higher return on investment.


Example 3 – Exact Match Keyword not in Account (and search is not relevant)

But what if the search query is not relevant, such as ‘Melbourne flying lessons’?

Again, this is easy. When you find a search query which is not relevant to your business, add it (and similar irrelevant searches such as ‘instructor’, ‘jobs’ and ‘careers’) as a negative keyword, to prevent it (and similar irrelevant searches) from triggering your ads again in the future.

The result will be reduced wastage, lower bounce rate, higher conversion rate and higher return on investment.


Two Simple Steps to Ultimate Broad Match Generation

The Broad Match Generation process is very simple. On a regular basis, simply look at each of the search queries that have matched to your broad-match keywords, and make one of two improvements:

  1. If the broad-match search query is relevant, add the search query as exact and phrase match keywords in their own ad group, with their own tailored ads.
  2. If the broad-match search query is not relevant, add the search query as a negative keyword.


Remember, even as you add new exact, phrase and negative keywords, your broad match keywords will continue to match to more and more search terms, so Broad Match Generation is an ongoing process. However, as you increase your number of exact and phrase match keywords, you should see broad match accounting for fewer and fewer of your visitors. A higher proportion of visitors coming through exact and phrase match keywords means you’re more in control of the types of visitors coming to your site and the ads they are shown, and is a sign that your Broad Match Generation is working.

If the Broad Match Generator is carried out regularly, broad match can be extremely effective in helping to target your ads to an increasing number of highly-qualified searchers, while at the same time reducing wastage from irrelevant and wasteful searches.

Broad match should never be used as a long-term ‘set and forget’ keyword targeting strategy; instead, it should only be used to generate new exact, phrase and negative match keywords, and improve the relevancy of your ads. It should only be used as a means to an end – that end being more exact, phrase and negative keywords and better relevancy.

Broad match keywords, left alone, should never be a long-term solution.


As we have seen, ongoing Broad Match Generation is a great way to make use of the extra traffic available through broad match, while at the same time providing a simple and practical means to continually improve the quality of your Google AdWords campaigns. It can help you uncover new seasonal trends and long-tail opportunities (such as ‘Christmas flights to Melbourne’ and ‘flight and hotel packages Melbourne Cup 2011’), and provide you with a great opportunity to provide highly-relevant ads, tailored to these new search terms.

What’s more, since there will also be some difference between your phrase match keywords and the search queries being matched to them, phrase match also presents another great opportunity for similar ongoing refinement. Looking at the searches being matched to your phrase match keywords, and adding new exact, phrase and negative keywords, as well as new tailored ads, can help take your Google AdWords campaigns even further.

And although Google’s recently-announced broad match modifier will help to give you more control over the types of searches being matched to your broad match keywords, ongoing Broad Match Generation will still be an incredibly powerful strategy – not only to help expand your list of long-tail keywords, but also to identify seasonal keywords trends and improve the relevancy of your ads.

Broad Match Generation provides a practical means to continually provide ever more specific and relevant ads to help better cater for the growing demands of searchers and better connect with your target audience. Use it to your advantage and watch how your return on investment from Google AdWords improves.

Alan Mitchell

Alan Mitchell is a Google AdWords PPC specialist, based in Melbourne, Australia, with a proven track record at improving return on investment (ROI) from Google AdWords. Find out how Alan can help your business.

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  • SEMantiks

    Hi Alan,

    Thanks for an insightful and original post.

    Their are many in the industry who beat their chests chanting the never use broad match mantra. No doubt from previously having their fingers burned. This post illustrates greatly broad match’s resourcefulness and long term profitability if used correctly.

    The broad match generator is a great way to take often cluttered broad match search query report data and help to turn it into a coherent path to better more relevant ads and ultimately a better ROI. This PPCer, for one, looks forward to using it.


  • Andy @ FirstFound

    Interesting post. I’ve seen lots of arguments from the other side, quoting the lower conversion rates inherent with broad match ads, but this has given me food for thought.

  • Alan Mitchell

    Thanks SEMantiks and Andy for your comments.

    You’re both right – broad match often gets a bad name due to the sometimes poor quality of traffic it can deliver. And I’m sure there are many successful paid search specialists who choose to stick with exact and phrase match keywords only.

    But if anything, this lack of competition for broad match variations surely makes broad match all the more profitable for those who choose to take the plunge.

    Broad match should never be left alone, but if used alongside a regular expansion and optimisation strategy (such as the broad match generator), it can no doubt prove to be extremely effective in helping to uncover long-tail niches and deliver highly relevant and personalised ads.


  • Aidan

    Great article already tweeted, personally I can’t wait for the new modified broad match so I can get back the control I used to have though I agree broad match as it stands can be a useful keyword discovery tool!

  • Alan Mitchell

    Hi Aidan,

    Glad you found the article useful. I too can’t wait for the new modified broad match – it should help give advertisers more flexibility over search traffic and make new keyword discovery using the Broad Match Generator all the more controllable.


  • Eric Paquet

    Hi Alan,

    Interesting post! Very well explained too.

    I totally agree with your broad match “short term strategy”.

    I was wondering how you manage broad match keywords. I found it easier to manage if I create an ad group especifically for broad match terms, so I can set a lower CPC at group level.

    I also found that having them in a seperate campaign is a good idea, as I can set a specific daily budget for broad match keywords. This way I make sure that I’m not spending too much money on those low converting keywords.

    Your thoughts about that would be appreciated!

    Eric Paquet

  • Alan Mitchell

    Hi Eric,

    I only tend to give high-volume broad match keywords their own ad groups (or campaigns) – and unless there is a good reason otherwise, I usually start with exact, phrase and broad match variations of the same keyword together in the same ad group. The goal is to find a balance between granularity and efficiency (which are often opposing factors), so it’s often unwise to give every match type or every keyword it’s own ad group.

    Although a good campaign and ad group structure is essential for a sucessful PPC campaign, no matter how you choose to build your campaigns and ad groups, the key is always to regularly analyse the search queries which are broad-matched (and phrase-matched) to your keywords.

    When you notice a difference between the search query and the keyword it is being matched to, alarm bells should start ringing, and you should consider how splitting out keywords into new ad groups with new ads and new long-tail keywords, could help to improve CTR, Quality Score, conversion rate and ROI.


  • Paul Watson

    Hi Alan,

    What are your thoughts on where to place these broad match keywords in your account? Do you put them in the same ad group as the exact and phrase match terms?

    For certain search queries, sometimes the broad match keyword, the exact and phrase will all be eligible to appear. I know Google says that the keyword that most closely relates to the search query and has the lowest CPC should be triggered:

    However, in my experience, you can sometimes have a broad match keyword triggered for certain queries for which you have the exact match in your account. This is a point that I have put to the Google AdWords staff to which they could not really give an answer other than, “the rules you’re referencing are usually applied, but there are exceptions.”

    When this happens you have, to some degree, lost a bit of control over your keywords and ad display, which I think you will agree is not ideal.

    To me, the only way around this would be to have the match type keywords separated into different ad groups and have the exact/phrase negative matched against the ad group that contains the broad match keyword.

    What are your thought’s on that?

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  • Alan Mitchell

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your comment.

    You’re right – sometimes a broad match keyword can get triggered for a search query instead of the exact match keyword, even though Google says this shouldn’t happen.

    Although I’ve yet to do some analysis on search queries vs. triggered keywords for Google’s session-based matching, this could potentially be a reason why broad-matched keywords are being triggered when you have an exact match of the search query in your account.

    That said, from my experience, anomalous keyword matching doesn’t appear to happen in large enough a volume to warrant a seperate PPC strategy, so I would tend ignore these exceptions, and continue to focus on the 99% of keyword matching which does work as specified by Google.

    In terms of keyword and ad group structure, I’ve tried seperating broad, phrase and exact keywords into their own ad groups, and also tried bundling match types together in the same ad group, and have yet to notice any significant differences in performance of either strategy.

    For high-volume broad-match keywords, it might be worth giving them their own ad groups or campaigns, and as you point out, perhaps using negative ad group keywords or embedded match, which could be useful for regaining control over broad-matching.

    But unless their is a good reason for doing so (such as a very high-volume keyword), I would tend to avoid giving different match types their own ad groups. Doing so could over-granularize and bloat your account (see One Keyword Per Ad Group: Pros and Cons), which could do more harm than it’s worth.


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  • Paul Watson

    Hi Alan,

    I think what’s necessary here is to do a precise test to measure how much traffic from exact and/or phrase match keywords is cannibalised by broad and or/phrase match keywords, when the same keyword is on all match types in an account. It’s very difficult to say in what sort of volume this problem occurs.

    Anecdotally, when taking over an account recently, I have seen a significant uplift in traffic to exact and phrase match terms by negative matching them against their broad match equivalents, which happened to be in a different campaign.

    That brings up another factor to investigate: which has the better CPC and conversion rate? It is all well and good me saying that I would prefer my exact match keywords to be triggered over their broad match but it really only applies if they are giving a better ROI. You would expect that they would but it would be interesting to investigate this concurrently.

    Perhaps I may be able to offer some empirically backed opinions on this in future. Likewise, keep us posted on any results you may have to offer.



  • Alan Mitchell

    Hi Paul,

    Negative exact match and negative phrase match keywords can be incredibly useful in ‘forcing’ only the right kinds of traffic to broad match keywords.

    For example, if you have exact and phrase match keywords for ‘fiji holidays’, you could put your broad match keyword ‘fiji holidays’ in a seperate ad group, then add in negative exact and negative phrase match keywords for ‘fiji holdiays’

    That way, you can (almost) be 100% sure that your broad match keyword ‘fiji holidays’ will never be triggered when your exact or phrase match ‘fiji holidays’ keywords are eligible to show.

    With this embedded match, you’re basically saying to Google, “show me anything you think is relevant to ‘fiji holidays’, except when someone types ‘fiji holidays’ exactly or in a phrase”.

    If scaled up to campaign or account level, this could be incredibly effective at generating new keywords, but for large accounts with many keywords and ad groups, I’m not sure this is practical.

    You would have to add every exact and phrase match keyword in your account to every other broad match ad group, to prevent broad match keywords from triggering your phrase and exact match keywords. For campaigns with 100’s of ad groups, this could result in tens of thousands of negative keywords.

    I guess it depends exactly how big a problem inaccurate keyword matching is causing. I personally tend to ignore irregular cases of keywords matching, but like you said, it would be interesting to have some empirical data showing exactly how often this happens.


  • Rahul

    Great discussion! I normally prefer to use all of broad, exact, phrase match on a single keyword but with reducing bid value… I give the max to exact match, around 50-60% to phrase match and lowest possible to broad match… this has worked for me… have you tried something on this sort?

  • Alan Mitchell

    Hi Rahul,

    I think what you’re talking about is called staggered match type bidding. Craig Danuloff from Click Equations wrote a great piece on using staggered bids for different match types, which you might find useful.

    While it makes logical sense to have lower bids for broad match keywords, I tend to avoid doing sofrom the onset, as broad match can be so useful in helping to uncover new keyword variations to expand your keyword list. Restricting broad match bids from the start can limit growth of an account, so is only something worth considering once an account matures.

    That said, if a methodical approach such as the Broad Match Generator is used frequently to mine search queries generated from broad match keywords, then either add them as new exact or phrase keywords or add them as new negative keywords, then there is really no need for broad match to have lower bids at all.


  • Chad Summerhill

    Hi Alan, great article! Thought I would share a graphic I made recently for Search Query Mining that seems relevant to the conversation:

    Will definitely be subscribing to your blog.

  • Alan Mitchell

    Hi Chad,

    You’ve hit the nail on the head there – search queries are mined and irrelevant search queries are added as negatives, while relevant search queries are added as new exact match keywords.

    Cheers for sharing your graphic!


  • Joe

    Hi Alan,

    great article thanks for the awesome share. though written 6 years back still valid till today.

    I have a question,

    In example 2 above you mentioned to add ‘flights Christmas 2010 to Melbourne’ as a new exact and phrase match keyword.

    Do you add it as modified broad match too to the new add group?