Back in July, after 2 months of successful beta testing, Google rolled out a much awaited improvement to their often notorious AdWords broad match. Modified Broad Match – or the Broad Match Modifier – allows Google AdWords advertisers to place plus signs in front of their keywords to better control the types of searches which trigger their ads. Since every word in the keyword which contains a preceding plus sign must be included somewhere in the user’s search query, modified broad match provides advertisers with an extra level of control over the search queries which trigger their ads.

While this extra degree of control was largely welcomed by PPC advertisers, modified broad match no doubt adds an extra degree of complication to Google AdWords management. However, as we will see from four seperate modified broad match experiments, if modified broad match is used correctly, it can be extremely effective in significantly increasing click through rates (CTR) and lowering cost per click (CPC) prices of Google AdWords campaigns.

Infinite Matching Possibilities

Modified broad match isn’t just the fourth match type. Modified broad match is the infinite match type. Whereas previously it was only possible to match a keyword in three possible ways, with modified broad match it is now possible to potentially match a keyword an infinite number of ways. The only limit to the number of matching possibilities using modified broad match is the length of the keyword itself.

Say you wanted to bid on the keyword ‘cheap hotels melbourne’. Previously there were only three possible ways you could match this keyword – exact, phrase, and broad:

  1. [cheap hotels melbourne] – exact match
  2. “cheap hotels melbourne” – phrase match
  3. cheap hotels melbourne – broad match

Now, with modified broad match, adding plus signs in front of certain words in your keyword forces those words to be included in the search query. As any word with a preceding plus sign must be included somewhere within the user’s search query, it is now possible to better control the relevancy of PPC traffic. However, this extra control means more possible customisation – there are now a 10 possible matching combinations for the keyword ‘cheap hotels melbourne’:

  1. [cheap hotels melbourne] – exact match
  2. “cheap hotels melbourne” – phrase match
  3. cheap hotels melbourne – broad match
  4. +cheap +hotels +melbourne – modified broad match
  5. +cheap +hotels melbourne – modified broad match
  6. +cheap hotels +melbourne – modified broad match
  7. cheap +hotels +melbourne – modified broad match
  8. +cheap hotels melbourne – modified broad match
  9. cheap +hotels melbourne – modified broad match
  10. cheap hotels +melbourne – modified broad match

That’s 10 possible matching combinations if the keyword has 3 words, 18 possible matching combinations if the keyword has 4 words, and 34 possible matching combinations if the keyword has 5 words. It doesn’t take long to realise that modified broad match creates a huge number of possible matching combinations – each which triggers its own unique range of search queries.

While these numerous matching possibilities no doubt add extra complication to Google AdWords management, if modified broad match is approached strategically it can be hugely effective in improving Google AdWords campaign performance. Over the course of 4 AdWords campaign experiments on modified broad match, we will see how modified broad match can lead to significant increases in click through rate, while at the same time significantly reducing cost per click prices.

Experiment 1 – Four Keywords

Firstly, let’s look at a small-scale test which was carried out on an AdWords account over the last 2 months. Below are results for a hotel name keyword (broad match), along with 3 modified broad match variations. Each of the 4 keyword combinations were given their own ad group, the same ads, and the same keyword bids. Over the 2 month test period, each keyword combination received over 200 clicks.

While quality score, average position and average cost per click prices were very similar for each of the combinations, click through rate and conversion rate were significantly higher for longer keywords and those with a greater degree of broad match modification. Click through rate rose from 1.36% to 2.99% to 3.81% to 4.65% as the keyword increased in broad match modification, while conversion rate similarly rose from 3.03% to 3.17% to 4.13% to 4.23%.

google adwords modified broad match

Although the experiment was on a small scale using only a handful of keywords, and there could potentially be multiple causes of uncontrolled bias which could have influenced the results, the findings strongly suggest that longer keywords with a higher degree of broad match modification achieve better results than shorter keywords with little or no broad match modification. Considering that longer, modified keywords are more specific in their nature, this is hardly surprising.

Experiment 2 – Multiple Keywords

To provide a more comprehensive analysis of the performance of modified broad match, modified broad match was rolled out across two separate test accounts. Again, the testing time period was just over 2 months, and each test account received over 2,000 clicks. While different keywords had different bids, largely due to their differing levels of competition, care was taken to ensure each match type variation of the same keyword had the same bid.

In test account 1, exact match performed significantly better than the other match types in terms of click through rate (CTR). Phrase, broad and modified broad match had similar click through rates, although average cost per click prices were much lower for phrase match keywords. Although there was little difference in CTR between broad and modified broad match, modified broad match had a 10% lower average cost per click, and a Quality Score comparable to exact match.

modified broad match comparison

In test account 2, however, the story was much more conclusive. Exact match was this time the worst performing match type in terms of click through rate, while Quality Score of exact match was considerably lower than the other match types. Modified broad match had a higher click through rate than standard broad math, although average cost per click prices were slightly higher. However, once again, modified broad match boasted the highest Quality Score, suggesting that modified broad match keywords were perceived as highly relevant for the searches they triggered.

match types broad match modifier

While both test accounts provided results which were largely promising for advocates of modified broad match, the differences in match type performance between the two accounts suggest a more investigative analysis is needed.

Experiment 3 – Amount of Modification in Keyword

In experiment 1 we found that although the sample size was small, keywords with more broad match modification tended to perform better than keywords with less broad match modification. To test the accuracy of this finding, keywords across the two test accounts were grouped according to the number of plus signs they contained. A keyword which contained 4 plus signs for example, meant that those 4 words must be included somewhere within the user’s search query.

Once again, account 1 provided little evidence that more broad match modification resulted in higher click through rates. Although click through rates increased for keywords with 4 or 5 modified words, click volume was significantly lower for these longer words, making it hard to provide a conclusive result. Cost per click (CPC) prices, however, were more conclusive, with CPC prices falling steadily as the amount of broad match modification increases.

broad match modifier word length analysis

In test account 2, not only did cost per click prices fall for keywords with more broad match modification, but click through rate showed a more convincing trend. Quality Scores remained relatively similar across all keyword groups.

modified broad match plus sign

Although the results reflect favourably on the use of modified broad match, with keywords having more plus signs generally performing better than those with less plus signs, the results do not take into account the number of words in the keywords which were not broad math modified.

Experiment 4 – Amount of Modification vs. Non-Modification in Keyword

To assess the performance of keywords with differing number of modified and non-modified words, keywords were grouped according to the number of words they contained vs. the number of which were modified. A keyword such as +cheap +hotels melbourne +4 +star, for example, contains 5 words, of which 4 words were broad match modified.

The results show that keywords with a high percentage of their words broad match modified had click through rates considerably higher than keywords where only a few (or none) of their words were broad match modified. While longer keywords also performed better than shorter keywords in terms of click through rate, as expected from long-tail theory, keywords with a higher number of broad match modified words tended to have a higher click through rate.

broad match modifier click through rate (CTR)

Similarly, keywords with a greater amount of broad match modification tended to have lower cost per click prices. Keywords with 0 or 1 plus sign were generally expensive while keywords with 3 or 4 plus signs were considerably cheaper.

modified broad match adwords

Although Quality Score was higher for keywords containing a greater number of words, Quality Score remained relatively constant for keywords of varying broad match modification. Quality Score, however, was relatively high across all keywords, suggesting a strong degree of relevancy across the campaigns.

modifed broad match adwords quality score


Although exact match was found to perform very well, modified broad match outperformed phrase match and standard broad match in both test accounts. Looking at keywords with different amounts of broad match modification, the results suggest that broad match modification can be incredibly useful in increasingly click through rates and reducing average cost per click prices for Google AdWords campaigns. While keywords containing a greater number of words will naturally tend to achieve higher click through rates and lower cost per click prices, as expected from long-tail theory, the findings suggest that incorporating modified broad match into your long-tail strategy can provide superior results on keywords of all word lengths.

While modified broad match presents a great opportunity for PPC advertisers to improve the performance of their campaigns, it also allows advertisers to increase their control over the types of search queries which match each of their keywords. If modified broad match is rolled out strategically and methodically, with highly-tailored ads closely matching the keywords in each ad group, there is no reason why modified broad match can’t be a stepping stone towards even greater results.

How have you found modified broad match? Did you see similar results in CTR and CPCs? Did modified broad match affect your conversion rates? Share your thoughts and experiences on modified broad match below.

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.

  • IWM – Marketing Internet

    Thanks for bringing that up Alan, that kind of data is incredibly valuable.

    The study seems to show that the more lenghty the keyword is, the more it seems profitable to use a modified broad match.

    Will give it a try one day!

  • gary e

    Modified control should work nice for campaigns I am running. Implemented first instances of “+” today so we shall see.

  • Amie

    Thank you for this post! Found it really easy understand, unlike other blogs on the subject.

  • Dan Perach – PPCPROZ

    I’ve been thrilled with modified broad match, from day one. Thanks Alan for this superb post. I’ll be sure to experiment without some plus signs in the mix.

  • Gary Shouldis

    Great post, I have one question from a relatively new PPC user. What is the difference between Broad match and a Modified Broad match w/ all + in front of each word? I’m trying to understand it a little better, thanks

  • Alan Mitchell

    Thanks Amie, IWM and Dan for your comments. Great to see you’re also getting some good results from modified broad match.

    @ Gary

    The only difference is that words with a preceding + sign must be included somewhere within the user’s search query, whereas standard broad match (without any + signs) can match you to anything Google deems relevanct. Modified broad match therefore provides you with a much greater level of control over the types of searches which trigger your ads. And greater control usually means less wastage from irrelevant searches and better profitability from your campaigns.

    Good luck!


  • Nima

    Interesting post Alan. Agreed. Modified broad match surely offers more control over the types of search queries that trigger your ads which in turn will help you improve your return on investment.

  • Oliver Gibson

    Great post, I wasn’t aware of this change up until now, and reading your post has explained it perfectly for me, I’m off to go and tweak some accounts 🙂

  • Jason Howlin

    In your charts you show Quality Score calculated to a decimal point (ex: 7.6). Where did you get that detailed information?



  • Chad Summerhill

    Just wanted to let you and your readers know that I’ve updated my free Broad Match Modifier Tool:

    Hope you like it.

  • Frederik Trovatten

    Very Interesting test!

    I’m still sad that the modified broad match isn’t active in Denmark – looking forward to it!

  • Alan Mitchell

    Thanks for your comments.

    @ Frederik

    As far as I’m aware, modified broad match should be available in every country. You won’t see a new match type in Google AdWords (you will still have only exact, phrase and broad match to choose from). You simply select broad match then add plus signs in front of the words in your keywords you want to modify.

    @ Jason

    You’re right, Quality Scores are always whole numbers, but the Quality Scores in my charts contain decimal points because they are weighted averages (by impressions).

    @ Chad

    Thanks for the tool, very useful!

  • Nick Craig

    Great article as always Alan, so thanks very much for sharing your findings and for giving us a brilliant example of a tactic we can work into a campaign we’re working on right now!

  • Richard Thomas

    Nice article and I have had similar experience over the last few months – but expect the costs to rise as more discover this matching option – just wish you could have phrase match and modified broad match combined.

  • Alan Mitchell

    Thanks Richard,

    I guess we’ll have to wait and see what effect modified broad match has on competition and CPC prices. I imagine the greater control PPC advertisers now have (due to modified broad match) will see more advertisers going back to those slightly less relevant keywords (now this modifications), so we may see an increase in PPC expenditure on these mid tail keywords along with improvements in conversion rate.

    Combining modified broad and phrase match would be a great addition, especially when the meaning of a search query depends closely on the word ordering. Although for the meantime, there is still a massive opportunity for most PPC advertisers to exploit modified broad match without the need for broad / phrase combination matching.


  • Matthew Mierzejewski

    Hi Alan,

    Great post. One thing I’d like to note is that matchtype shouldn’t have any impact on QS. So, for readers, if all you are doing is refining matchtypes, do not expect QS improvements.

    We’ve outlined that here:

    And Google created a help page that confirms:

    Thanks, Alan!

  • Alan Mitchell

    Thanks Matthew,

    You’re right – match type won’t have any impact over Quality Score, although there will naturally be variances in Quality Score when comparing one modified broad match keyword to another.

    As detailed in the analysis above, I’ve generally found that the more specific (and usually longer) your keyword, the more control you have over displaying highly-targeted and tailored ads, so the more confident you can be that you will achieve a high Quality Score.


  • searchengineman

    Excellent Article I’m Curious that they did not extend the Principle so we could include phrases..

    IE: Montreal +”Fresh Bagels”

    I don’t believe the above combination is allowed. Or am I incorrect?

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ searchengineman

    You’re right – it isn’t possible to mix phrase and broad match as in your example, as keywords can only be set to either exact, phrase, or broad match. But I think the keyword…

    +montreal +fresh +bagels

    …would achieve very similar results to your broad/phrase combination, and I imagine it would be hard to distinguish between the two in terms of purchase intention and conversion rate.

    Although that said, it would be nice to have an option to mix modified broad, exact, and phrase match, especially for highly-generic keywords of an ambiguous natuare where word ordering is important, such as ‘job management’ and ‘management job’.


  • Dana


    Great post. One thing I’d like to note is that matchtype shouldn’t have any impact on QS. So, for readers, if all you are doing is refining matchtypes, do not expect QS improvements.

    I agree with you that match type doesn’t directly affect QS, but, in general, match type will often have an effect on CTR which does affect QS. It’s not perfect science, but typically I go for exact match when there’s plenty of impressions out there and I’m trying to increase CTR and eventually QS. Exact Match should give you more direct relevance to the query. Thoughts?

    Great article and great comments!


  • Alan Mitchell

    Hi Dana,

    I agree – match type won’t directly affect Quality Score, but since different match types can have different CTRs, and CTR is an important component of Quality Score, then match type could indirectly affect Quality Score.

    I guess the benefit of modified broad match is to better target and focus your keywords, while at the same time eliminating wastage, which will no doubt help to improve CTR, Quality Score, and conversion rate.


  • Adam

    When using broad modifier match keywords, is it better to put them in an adgroup with similar exact match and phrase match keywords? Or better to separate them into their own group? Consider that the nagative keywords would be same for all matches anyways.

  • Alan Mitchell

    Hi Adam,

    Unless you have a valid reason for keeping match types separate (e.g. measurement or different ad messages), I would recommend keeping exact, phrase, and modified broad match types together. You’ll benefit from greater ad group data, and be able to make more informed decisions.


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  • Zorg Verzekeraars

    Thanks Alan for your thorough research. I believe modified broad will practically allways show improvement in account performance. We see that a lot of clicks are generated by words that aren’t even close to the original broad words. Modified broad takes away this disadvantage for most of our clients.

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Zorg Verzekeraars

    Modified broad match really does help advertisers better target only highly-relevant words which are most likely to deliver the desired results. You can bid higher on modified broad match keywords, and lower on broad match keywords which aren’t modified, therefore maximising the chance of relevancy for your clicks budget.

  • Trevor

    Great article but it leaves me wondering what difference the following keywords would have:
    +green +tea
    +green mint +tea

    Because technically +green +tea and +green mint +tea will match all the same queries. So why include a non broadmatch-modified keyword in there?



  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Trevor

    The keyword +green +tea will naturally match to more search queries than +green mint +tea, since the latter is more specific.

    Although you’re essentially right that both keywords could match to the same search queries, imagine the following scenario, where both keywords are standard broad match (i.e. no modified broad match):

    green tea
    green tea pots for sale australia

    While both keywords could potentially match to the same search queries due to Google’s broad-match mechanism, if you looked at the search queries matching to the longer keyword, you will find that Google tends to match longer and more specific searches to longer and more specific keywords. Even with standard broad match, if a keyword is a closer match to a search query, then all other things equal, Google is more likely to match the search query to the longer keyword.

    The same is true when combining standard broad match and modified broad match within a single keyword. By adding extra non-modified words, you are more likely to receive search queries which are more relevant to those extra words.


  • Andy McCoy

    Hi Alan,

    Hope you are well – great blog, sorry it has taken me this long to stumble across it but having done so, I naturally gravitated towards your BMM blog, a subject I find very interesting.

    Have you looked much into the actual search queries generated by different levels of modification? I can’t say I have looked into the subject with the same scientific and detailed approach that you have but what I did notice for one of our accounts, was that partially modified broad match terms gave Google the excuse to focus matching you to these specific words.

    For example, we tried bidding on ‘+(brand) travel insurance’ and also ‘(brand) +travel +insurance’. For the former, I had expected that Google would ensure the brand was in the query and that ‘travel’ and ‘insurance’ could be interchanged for synonyms, such as ‘holiday’ and ‘cover’. Not so, it matched us to exact variations of the brand (mainly misspells) and variations, dropping the ‘travel insurance’ part altogether in a lot of instances. So testing the latter, I had hoped that the brand would be included in some form with variations and it would always keep the product and slight misspells etc. Again, I was left frustrated, finding it dropping the brand altogether and matching to generic variations (not something we wanted given this was branded activity). This was also difficult to negative effectively against as it felt like we would fight a constant battle against searchers who continue to find new and interesting ways to misspell a search query and click on your ad.

    I therefore came to the conclusion that fully modifying broad match keywords is the best solution. It certainly brings us closer to the standard broad match of old and I now advise on completely avoiding standard broad match these days in favour of control – and as an advertiser, that’s what you want.

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Andy

    I’m doing great thanks, hope you are also!

    Some good insights. On further experimentation with modified broad match over the last few months, I have also found that the best strategy is to ensure each word in your keyword is modified. Having certain unmodified words in the keyword just leaves it open to Google to determine the types of searches which can match to your keyword.

    I would also agree that modified broad match should almost always be used in favour of the standard, unmodified broad match, unless your sole purpose of using standard broad match match is to generate new keywords:

  • Tolga

    That’s the best explanation about modified broad match. Thanks Alan.

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Tolga

    Glad you found it helpful.

  • Jake Belfry

    Modified broad match seems to improve quality scores compared with phrase match. Why do you think this is? Is it because one of the keywords in the broad modified of set to exact would have a high quality score. what are your thoughts?

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Jake,

    Quality Scores are calculated for the exact match of a keyword only, so a broad match, phrase match, and exact match variation of the same keyword will all have the same Quality Scores. However, since Quality Scores don’t really sell anything, what is generally more important is using modified broad match to enable you to increase your control over the types of searches being matched to your keywords. This will allow you to be able to write more targeted and tailored ad messages, which will help you improve your visitor relevancy, increase your CTR, and hopefully raise your conversion rates.

  • Reed Gusmus

    Alan-wonderful post, thanks for sharing your research and findings as they were very helpful to me. I do have a question about using BMM strategically with other match types.

    Whats the best way to better control proper keyword/ad matching for a search query through using negatives with a BMM keyword strategy?

    Let’s say your wanting to maximize your coverage by using 3 match types, having each match type in a separate adgroup (done to better control budget for each match type). Let’s use the search term: business loan online.

    Example 1:
    +business +loan +online -Adgroup 1
    “business loan online” -Adgroup 2
    [business loan online] -Adgroup 3

    Would you add the keyword negatives “business loan online” and [business loan online] to the BMM ad group (adgroup 1)?

    Lets say you throw a standard broad match in the mix. We now want to use 4 match types and 4 adgroups:

    Example 2:
    business loan online -Adgroup 1
    +business +loan +online -Adgroup 2
    “business loan online” -Adgroup 3
    [business loan online] -Adgroup 4

    In example 2, you’re using standard broad match in adgroup 1. So would it be best to add the adgroup level negatives of “business loan online” and [business loan online] to BOTH adgroup 1(standard broad match) and ad group 2(modified broad match)?

    What are your thoughts?

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Reed

    Yes, this can be a very useful strategy.

    You may find the Broad Match Generator technique useful.

    The Broad Match Generator keeps your exact and phrase match keywords separate (as you describe in your example), and uses your broad match keywords as a generator of new search queries for further campaign expansion and refinement.


  • Carol

    Hi! This is a great article! I do have one question – not sure what your thoughts are on this. Is it better practice (or redundant) to have something like this in my kw set: “+lakers” and “+lakers +tickets”? Anything that would be matched to the longer query seems like it would already be matched to the shorter query also, so I could actually keep my kw set fairly short. Is there a benefit to adding additional modified broad keywords like “+cheap +lakers +tickets” or “+lakers +season +tickets”? Is Google more likely to match a query like “lakers 2013 season tickets” to the “+lakers +season +tickets” vs “+lakers +tickets” kw, or is it determined more by the bid? Hope that makes sense!

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Carol

    Great question – what you describe is probably one of the most challenging parts of Google AdWords management. As in your example, even though you might have a closer matching keyword, this does not necessarily mean it will always be triggered for a given search query.

    You might find an article I wrote on The Google AdWords Trap useful.

    It discusses the dynamics and implications of how different searches match to different keywords, and suggests a few strategies to avoid over broad-matching in your Google AdWords campaigns.


  • Tara

    Thank you so much for all of this information – @#36 – please note that only one of your keyword bids will be triggered if you have redundant keywords. However, in my actual experience, I like having the redundant words broken out gives me better data (for example, you might make much more or have a much higher click through rate for “+lakers” vs “+lakers +tickets” and this is information that is good to know!

  • Web Pwnd

    Hi Alan,
    Awesome you took the time to share such interesting information. Q: Given the amount of control and success that BMM provides, should we even bother with using either phrase, exact or broad match in our campaigns? There are any benefits from running ads using different matches? If so, should they be grouped by match type or context? Should we do all the possible combinations?



  • Alan Mitchell

    @ WP

    Yes, there are benefits of having multiple match types. Exact match allows you to tailor your ads knowing exactly what the user has searched for, phrase match allows you to control the ordering of words with a search query (and optimise accordingly), while modified broad match allows you to capture searches which are more obscure and long-tail.

    You may find The 10% Clicks Rule and The Broad Match Generator useful to help balance each match type within your campaigns, and use match types to their full potential.

  • Anushi

    Hi Alan,

    Could you please tell me, in broad match modifier keywords Is it necessary the search query should have order with words & they consider mispelling or synonyms?

    For Example: we have keyword +cheap +hotels +melbourne

    so Ad will trigger for these search terms”melbourne hotels at cheap cost” or cheap melbourne hotel ?

    I will wait for your quick response!


  • alanmitchell

    Hi Anushi,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Unlike exact and phrase match, word order doesn’t matter for modified broad match. The keyword +cheap +hotels +melbourne is effectively the same as the keyword +melbourne +hotels +cheap.


  • Anushi

    Hi Alan, Thanks for quick reply…

    Please clear my following doubts:

    1st query – If we use keyword like cheap +hotels melbourne Then, our ads will trigger for all search queries that will include hotels?

    2nd query – As we use +cheap +hotels +melbourne, it means search queries that will contain all these keywords in addition to others, the our Ad will trigger

    3rd query – Should we keep the space between +words like “+cheap +hotels +melbourne” or can we use it as “+cheap +hotels+melbourne” without space?

    Your suggestions will be highly appreciated!

    Anushi 🙂

  • alanmitchell

    1 – correct, the other non-modified words ‘cheap’ and ‘melbourne’ will be become standard broad match, which could help to skew searches towards these words, but generally with standard broad match, anything goes, so it I would expect the keywords cheap +hotels melbourne and +hotels to match to similar searches

    2 – correct

    3 – yes, add spaces between keywords, otherwise the plus sign before melbourne will be seen as an ignored character, effectively making the keywords +cheap +hotels melbourne, with the final word becoming standard broad match.


  • Anushi

    Thanks Alan for clarification of my doubt.

    Have a cheerful day!