Why the exact match keyword type in PPC is still relevant today

How often have you heard, “Use broad match along with smart bidding to get the best results?”

Broad match can learn based on previous conversion activity. It can also use previous user search data, other keywords in your ad group and your landing page’s content to show your ads on relevant searches. Broad match has more learning capabilities than phrase or exact match. 

If broad match can do all these things, is there even a need for exact match?

Let’s walk through one advertiser’s journey to discover what keyword match types worked best for them and the reasoning behind their decisions.

Impression share

Impression share is a useful metric that looks at how often your ads were shown compared to how often they were eligible to be displayed. 

It’s your best research into your share of voice for any keyword and it can inform you how much more volume is attainable. You can see this metric at the campaign, ad group or keyword level.

This particular advertiser is in the home financing sector. When they looked at their keyword level impression shares for their top keywords, here are their impression shares:

As these were their top keywords in terms of total conversions, they wanted to increase their impression shares for these terms. They were using max conversion bidding with a CPA target. Their only options for increasing impression shares were to raise the CPA or increase their Quality Scores. 

Their Quality Scores were mostly 7s, so they decided to raise their target CPA for these ad groups.

Over the course of the next two months, they slowly raised their target CPAs. Their conversions did increase. Their CPA increased more than their bids, but they were OK with that. However, their impression shares barely increased even with fairly significant bid increases.

They were using mostly broad match keywords in their account. After some discussions, they decided to add exact match keywords to these ad groups and do an in-depth search term analysis.

After adding the exact match terms, they could now see the impression share for their top keywords. 

Since impression share is calculated every time a keyword is eligible for the auction, having the exact match keywords gives you the most accurate picture of how often you can show for your top search terms. They were showing much more for their top terms than they realized and needed to explore other keyword possibilities to get more volume. 

When they examined their search term data, they found many search terms showing from multiple ad groups and that their ad serving was subpar. 

Dig deeper: Google Ads broad match: What the data reveals for PPC marketers

Duplicate search terms

Duplicate search terms happen when a search term matches multiple ad groups. In these cases, your stats for the search term are split across multiple ad groups and your preferred ad and landing page may not be used.

For instance, the search term “30 year fixed mortgage” had been displayed from these ad groups in their account:

  • 30-year mortgage.
  • Mortgage rates.
  • Home loan.
  • Fixed mortgages.
  • Mortgage loan rates.
  • And several others.

If we look at the stats for the same search term for a selection of the ad groups, we see very different stats across the ad groups:

While the search term has been displayed from multiple ad groups, there is a clear choice as to which one performs best for this search term and their idea ad group for the search term to display ads. 

Google does have a priority order to ensure the correct ad group is displayed for a search term. Below is an excerpt from Google’s PDF, “Unlock the Power of Search.” 

This means that we need to have the identical keyword to a search term (which is spell-corrected) to control where any search term will be displayed. 

Technically, it does not have to be an exact match, but it does show the need for a process to add the top search terms as keywords in your account.

As you add these variations, you will trigger a recommendation in Google: 

By taking control of your ad serving, Google will make recommendations to remove some of these keywords, which, in turn, can cause your top-performing search terms to show from the incorrect ad group. 

If you want to control how your ads and landing pages serve for your search terms, ignore this recommendation.

This advertiser was bulk-adding its top search terms as keywords in the appropriate ad groups and discovered their Quality Scores were not as good as they believed. 

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Quality Score

The Quality Score displayed in your account is only calculated when the search term is the exact same as your keyword, regardless of match type.

For instance, the advertiser has a 7 Quality Score for the term “mortgage rates. Once they added their top search terms associated with the keyword “mortgage rates,” they had a different picture of their Quality Scores. 

Once again, you can add all the new search terms as broad or phrase match. The keywords do not have to be exact match to see your Quality Scores for a search term. 

However, if you continue to add all your top terms as phrase or broad match terms, then you will continuously expand what you are eligible to show for, which can cause budgeting issues. 

Regardless, having your top search terms as keywords regardless of the match type gives you a better understanding of your Quality Scores.


The advice to use Smart Bidding and broad match is often made with the assumption your budget is unlimited. Most advertisers do not have an unlimited budget. If you have a maximum amount you can spend in a given month, does the same advice to use broad match still apply?

This is where you need to examine the stats in your account. In this account, the advertiser adds their top converting search terms as keywords for every match type (exact, phrase and broad). 

That means phrase and broad match only receive impressions if the term has not consistently converted for a few months and has yet to be added as a keyword. 

As the impressions on any of their keywords significantly increase, it signals the company that Google has found new search terms for those keyword and match type combinations. 

Some of these new terms are good and others are poor. However, being able to watch for a change in impressions helps them identify when they need to go deeper into their query and n-gram analysis to determine if they have new keywords or negative keywords to add to their account. 

The stats below are typical of many accounts where exact match has the highest conversion rate and lowest CPA and broad match has the lowest conversion rate and highest CPA. 

This account is bidding by target ROAS and broad match has a better ROAS (conv. value/cost) than phrase match even with a higher CPA.

If your budget is limited, starting with mostly exact and phrase is usually a good idea. Then, if you are not hitting your budget, expanding to broad match is a nice way of receiving more conversions. 

Conversely, if you are hitting your budget, pausing your worst-performing keywords, regardless of match type, is always a good idea, so your better-performing keywords are spending your budget.

If you can afford to add broad match keywords, your bid strategy often governs their effectiveness. 

Bid strategies

The two most common bid strategies are target or max bidding. This could be target CPA, max CPA, target ROAS  or max revenue. 

Please note that target CPA or ROAS uses the maximize conversions or revenue strategy with the optional box checked to set a target for that campaign. 

Max bidding’s goal is to get the most conversions or revenue regardless of how much any one conversion will cost you. 

What we often see with max bidding (max revenue or max conversions) is that Google will find ways to spend your entire budget if you use broad match since they can match broad match to many different search terms.

This account bids by max conversions and has fairly typical metrics for how the CPA differences occur by match type, where broad match has a much more expensive conversion than phrase or exact match keywords. 

With max conversions or max revenue bidding, exact and phrase match generally outperform broad match.

Conversely, this next account is using target CPA bidding. While exact match still has the lowest CPA, the broad and phrase match metrics are very similar. 

Broad match has a higher conversion rate than phrase match, so Google can bid more (hence the higher CPC for broad match) on the broad match variations to obtain the same CPA as the phrase match words. 

There are a lot of nuances in how target versus max bidding performs. At the last SMX, I went through these differences in detail. You can watch the video from the session if you would like to learn more. 


Impression share is the only metric you truly miss out on if you do not use exact match. You can add all your top search terms as exact, phrase or broad match to see your Quality Scores and manage duplicate search terms to help control ad serving. 

If you are budget-constrained, using exact and phrase match generally gets you better results than broad match. 

If you use any bid method other than Target ROAS or Target CPA, then broad match is rarely a good idea since you will often spend your budget regardless of how many conversions you receive. 

There are exceptions to this rule, especially if you struggle with search volume, which is common in B2B accounts or accounts that target small geographic areas.

Suppose you’re using a target bid strategy (Target ROAS or Target CPA) and want to combine ad serving control with data insights while leveraging machine learning. In that case, a combination of exact and broad match offers much flexibility in management. This can easily be accomplished by adding the exact and broad match of the same keyword to the same ad group. 

If your budget decreases, you can pause your worst-performing broad match terms. If your budgets increase, you can use more broad match terms. As you see broad match serving incorrectly, using exact match and negative keywords can help steer the machine.

There is no need to rely on a single match type. Your keyword’s match types are just another tool to be used. 

Using a combination of exact and broad match (along with phrase, as necessary) provides you with control, insights and machine learning to maximize your PPC account’s performance. 

In an era of machine learning, exact match has not become obsolete. It still has a lot to offer for PPC professionals looking to optimize their accounts. 

Dig deeper: How each Google Ads bid strategy influences campaign success

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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