Andrew Raso July 12, 2022

Keywords are the backbone of any Google Ads campaign.

Every Google search has some sort of intent behind it — whether it’s commercial, navigational, transactional or informational. When you target the right keywords with the right ad creative, that’s when the magic happens.

But before you begin developing your creative, you need to define WHAT keywords you’re targeting and with which ads. In this guide, we cover the different keyword match strategies you can use, how to conduct better keyword research, and tips to ensure you’re spending your budget effectively on the right search terms.

Breaking down the difference between keyword match types

Your keyword match strategy is one of the most important considerations when it comes to setting up your campaign. In a nutshell, these can affect which search terms trigger your ads to appear, and can prevent your ads from showing up for unnecessary searches.

There are five different keyword match types you should be across:

  • Broad Match: Google will show your ads for misspellings, synonyms, and other related variations of your target keyword.
  • Broad Match Modifier (BMM): Your ad will appear for modified versions of your specified search term, such as the words put in a different order.
  • Phrase Match: Your ads will show up for phrases that include your keyword.
  • Exact Match: Google will only show your ads for searches that match your target keyword exactly, or that are extremely close.
  • Negative Match: These are keywords that you want to exclude from your ad campaign. This means that if someone runs a search for them, your ad won’t appear.

Here’s how it might look for an eCommerce store that sells women’s hats:

Guru tip: Changes to Phrase Match and BMM

There’s a new update to Google Ads that should make it easier to match your ads to the right keywords in Google Search. From February 18 2021, Google’s phrase match and BMM feature is getting an upgrade. Here are the details:

Previously, Google’s broad match modifier–which let you target more relevant searches–wasn’t great at respecting the order of words in a search. For example, it would treat “Boston to NYC moving services” the same as “NYC to Boston moving searches.”

With the new update, BMM and phrase match keywords will begin to match the same user searchers. Your ads will now only show on searchers that have the same (or similar) meaning of your keywords.

What does this mean? Essentially, Google’s algorithm understands that “Boston to NYC” and “NYC to Boston” mean very different things. Now, it’s applying that knowledge to help display only the most relevant ads to users. It also contextualizes different kinds of searches, eliminating ones that aren’t relevant to your targeted queries.

The full details get pretty technical (you can read more about it in our blog post on semantic search). But, the bottom line means that Google is phasing out its older “broad match modifier” feature, and expanding phrase match to make it better at understanding the intent behind searches. This feature fully replaced BMM keywords from July 2021.

Defining your Keyword Match Strategy

If you haven’t gathered already, your keyword match types matter because they play a big role in the success of your campaigns. It allows you to ensure your ads appear for the keywords you want to, while eliminating irrelevant matches that burn your ad spend.

This brings us to the next step: choosing your keyword match strategy. We’ve broken down the benefits and drawbacks of each match type below, in order to help you weigh up which one to use in your campaigns.

Broad match

This is the default setting and will give you the widest reach for your searches. However, this is also the fastest way to drain your PPC budget, as your ads will be displayed on irrelevant variations of your keyword.

Going back to the women’s hats example, your ad might appear for a search about “ugly hats on women” — the last thing you want if you’re trying to get people to buy your product.

We generally don’t recommend using broad matches for campaigns, as these ads typically have a lower conversion rate. With that being said, it might be a suitable short-term option if you’re under the pump and don’t have time to conduct in-depth keyword research.

Broad Match Modifiers (BMM)

Broad Match Modifiers are a more effective way to keep your impression count high, while eliminating some of the irrelevance you get from broad match types. If you’re going for brand awareness or reach at the top of the funnel, this is a more effective and efficient approach.

Phrase Match

Phrase Matches are perfect if you already have an idea of the specific term, or terms, that you want to target. This strategy allows you to get more granular with your ads and utilize your ad traffic for more relevant traffic. However, this option does require you to do some heavy lifting in terms of keyword research and set-up.

Exact Match

If you know exactly what your customers are searching for, exact match will get your ads in front of these search terms only, to the exclusion of (almost) all others. An exact match strategy will give you the highest relevance for your campaigns and typically results in the highest click-through rates.

The trade-off comes when it comes to reach. Because you’re targeting a narrow group of keywords, you’ll have fewer impressions than you would if you were using a broad or phrase match strategy.

Broad, exact, phrase…which one is best?

How you structure campaigns is up to strategy, budget, competition and ultimately your objective. The easiest way to break it down is in terms of the customer funnel: you try to reach as many people as possible with broader keywords, then narrow down your list as they move through to the consideration and conversion phase.

Image source: KlientBoost

Regardless of which approach you take, you should be structuring your campaigns and ad groups in line with your different match types. You might have one campaign for the top-of-funnel that uses Broad Match and BMM, another for the middle-of-funnel using phrase matches, and a final one targeting bottom-of-funnel users with exact match keywords.

Have a clear Broad Match Keyword Strategy

Most advertisers will use some form of Broad Match keywords in their campaign. These keywords are useful for a number of reasons:

  1. Customer Match: Broad Match Keywords can be useful to get your ads back in front of customers that have previously engaged with your brand.
  2. Remarketing Lists: If you’re targeting people who have already been on your website, chances are they’re already interested in your products or services. Broad match keywords can help you get your ad in front of them, even if you don’t know the exact search terms they’re looking for.
  3. Increase awareness: Broad Match Keywords can increase your brand reach within your market. This is particularly helpful if you’re a big brand with plenty of budget to test, or if your ads are consistently exceeding performance goals.
  4. Targeting niche or new markets: In some cases, you might not get enough impressions from phrase or exact match lists. In this instance, Broad Match allows you to target a specific niche with many keywords that have low search volume.

To control your spending, we recommend you start with manual bidding and increase as required. You’ll also need to adjust your negative keyword match types so your Broad Match campaigns aren’t restricted. Finally, as always, monitor your performance closely.

Creating negative search term lists

Negative keywords are technically another keyword match type, but these can be used in conjunction with any other keyword match type. These search terms help you achieve profitable campaigns by improving your clickthrough and conversion rate, increasing relevancy, and reducing wasted ad spend.

Remember that “ugly hats on women” example we mentioned earlier? The last thing you want is to be receiving clicks based on search terms/queries like this, which aren’t relevant to your product/service.

See, Google has no trouble spending your money. It’s up to you to tell it when to spend your ad spend, and on which keywords. Negative keywords are a valuable way to take that control back and stop spending on useless keywords that aren’t delivering on your bottom line.

Before you run campaigns, you should create a negative keywords list and upload them to each campaign. Then over time as your campaign runs, you can continually add to this list to prevent your ads from appearing for non-relevant or less desirable keywords.

A final word: when you’re running broad match or BMM campaigns, you’ll inevitably get clicks based on non-relevant searches. The key here is to actively monitor your campaigns and act fast to nip it in the bud BEFORE you sink tons of budget into these types of keywords.

Split your keyword groupings by campaign

We’ll be frank here: messy and disorganized campaigns are every PPC agency’s biggest nightmare, but they’re something we come across on an almost daily basis. It’s easy to create one campaign and throw all your keywords in there, but this is a surefire way to burn more money than you need to and lose track of what’s happening with your PPC ads.

An effective keyword grouping strategy can help you optimise your campaigns over time, and remove a lot of the headache associated with managing multiple ads and keywords.

Here are four things to do to get better keyword groupings;

  • Do your keyword research. If you’re a footwear retailer, you might start out with a keyword like “buy shoes online”.
  • Create high-level keyword groups based on clusters. For example, you might have one keyword group for “women’s shoes online Los Angeles”, one for “free shipping women’s shoes Sydney” and one for “best sneakers for women”
  • Create subgroups of more specific keyword groupings. In the example above, your Free Shipping group might contain sub-groups for search terms like “Free shipping Nike sneakers Sydney” or “free shipping sandals Sydney”.
  • Tweak these sub-groups until you narrow down the keywords that bring in the desired results.

If you’re setting up a new campaign, you can start doing this from the outset. On the other hand, if you already have ads running, it’s time to roll up your sleeves. Revisit your keyword grouping strategy based on your keywords, and see how you can improve your structure.

Don’t rule out one keyword ad groups

If you want to get two PPC marketers into an argument, ask them about their opinion on Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs).

Everyone in the PPC world has different opinions on this but, depending on your industry, you might find great success with SKAGs. For instance, we’ve worked with companies in the B2B space where a focused SKAGs approach has worked wonders. While eventually, you may have some challenges when scaling your account, it can work effectively to get you results.

SKAGS are good for a few reasons:

  • Improved CTR’s
  • Budget control
  • Improved average positions
  • Better analytics on traffic
  • Lower CPCs (which then ultimately leads to more conversions and improved conversion rates)

SKAGs might be right for your business if you’ve got a limited budget, a focused location, and the audience volume is high. If you have more ambitious KPIs, need to scale up your business quickly, or you’re seeing low search volume for a particular keyword, it’s best to adopt a different approach.

Eliminate keyword conflicts

Keyword conflicts simply mean your ads are blocked for a certain keyword you want to rank for due to a negative keyword.

Let’s say you’re running an ad for the keyword “Leather blue sofas”, but your ads aren’t delivering any results at all — despite the fact that the search volume is there. In this case, it might simply be that your ad isn’t showing because you’ve got “-blue” in your negative keyword match list.

If you have an ad that isn’t performing as expected, there are a few things you can do to check if you’ve got a keyword conflict:

  • Check your opportunities tab to see if you have any conflicts
  • Manually find ad groups that should have a lot more impressions than they are getting and do some diagnosis work
  • Use a conflict reporting tool

Once you’ve resolved these, you should find much more success with your ads.

Check for any duplicated keywords or keyword overlaps

It’s hard to run accounts that have no duplicate keywords, mainly when you’re talking about larger accounts with lots of keywords, bigger budgets and various managers. In some cases, it’s okay to have duplicates, such as breaking out campaigns/ad groups specific by location. However, having multiple duplicates can take away from the performance of your campaigns.

Thankfully, Google Ads is pretty good at finding and removing these overlaps. You can either diagnose and remove duplicates through the Google Ads editor, or search for potential duplicates through the web interface.

About the Author

Andrew Raso

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