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Exact Match vs Phrase Match in Google Ads

Exact Match offers high precision and control but at the cost of limited reach.

Phrase Match provides a balance between precision and reach, making it a versatile choice for many advertising scenarios.

By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each match type, advertisers can better align their strategies with their desired outcomes​.

Let’s see what each match type is first and then go into the comparison of the exact match vs phrase match types in Google Ads.

Let’s get right into it!

What is Exact Match Type?

Exact Match is the most precise keyword match type available in Google Ads. When using Exact Match, an advertiser’s ad will only appear when the search query exactly matches the specified keyword or is a close variant.

Close variants can include reordered words or the addition or removal of function words, such as prepositions and conjunctions, provided that the query retains the same meaning as the keyword​​.

Examples of Exact Match Keywords

To illustrate, consider an advertiser using the Exact Match keyword mens dress shirt. The ad could be triggered by search queries like “men dress shirt” or “dress shirt men’s”​​.

These examples show how Exact Match can still match queries that slightly differ from the keyword but share the same intent.

Advantages of Exact Match

High Precision

Exact Match offers a high degree of precision, ensuring that ads are displayed only for queries closely related to the keyword. This precision helps prevent ads from being shown for irrelevant queries, thus optimizing ad spend and improving conversion rates​.

Better Control

With Exact Match, advertisers have greater control over when their ads are triggered. This control is beneficial for campaigns where specific targeting is crucial, such as niche markets or highly specialized products​​.

Higher Quality Traffic

Exact Match tends to attract higher-quality traffic since the keywords are closely aligned with the user’s search intent, leading to better engagement and conversion rates​.

Reduced Competition

Exact Match typically faces less competition from other advertisers, which can result in lower cost per click (CPC) and higher ad positions​​.

Disadvantages of Exact Match

Limited Reach

A key limitation of Exact Match is its restricted reach. By focusing on highly specific queries, advertisers may miss out on valuable variations of their keyword, thereby losing potential traffic. For example, if the keyword is 𝑡𝑒𝑛𝑛𝑖𝑠 𝑠ℎ𝑜𝑒𝑠, the ad will not appear for searches like “men’s tennis shoes” or “buy tennis shoes”​​.

Missing Out on High-Intent Queries

Exact Match also excludes longer, more specific queries that may indicate high purchase intent. This omission is problematic, especially for advertisers targeting the long-tail of search, where longer queries often have higher conversion potential​​.

By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of Exact Match, advertisers can better align their keyword strategies with their campaign goals. The next section will discuss Phrase Match, providing a comprehensive overview of its characteristics, advantages, and limitations.

Time-Consuming Keyword Management

Managing Exact Match keywords can be time-consuming, as advertisers need to create multiple variations to capture all relevant search queries, which can be inefficient for campaigns with many keywords​​.

Limited Flexibility

Exact Match provides little flexibility for variations, which can prevent ads from showing for relevant queries that use different phrasing or synonyms​.

What is Phrase Match Type?

Phrase Match is a versatile keyword match type in Google Ads that allows an advertiser’s ad to be triggered when the search query includes the meaning of the keyword, with or without additional words before or after.

To indicate a Phrase Match keyword, it should be enclosed in quotation marks, such as “tennis skirt.”​​ This match type offers a balance between Exact Match and Broad Match, as it allows for more flexibility than Exact Match but is more controlled than Broad Match.

Examples of Phrase Match Keywords

For example, with the Phrase Match keyword “tennis skirt,” the ad would be eligible to show for search queries like “buy tennis skirt,” “best tennis skirts,” or “tenis skrt,” which is a close variant due to misspelling.

However, the ad would not show for queries like “tennis stylish skirt” or “skirt for tennis,” where the intent differs or the phrase is disrupted​​.

This demonstrates how Phrase Match offers a certain degree of flexibility while still maintaining a specific focus.

Advantages of Phrase Match

Improved Ad Relevance

One significant advantage of using Phrase Match is the improved relevance of ads to user searches. Since the ad is triggered by searches containing the specified phrase or its close variants, the resulting ads are more likely to align with the user’s intent. This increases the chances that the ad will attract users interested in the advertiser’s offering.

Better Targeting

Phrase Match provides advertisers with a balanced level of control over ad placements, offering more precision than Broad Match but allowing for a broader audience than Exact Match. This targeting precision enables advertisers to capture more specific searches while avoiding overly general or irrelevant queries​.

Increased Click-Through Rate (CTR)

The enhanced relevance and targeted approach of Phrase Match often result in a higher CTR compared to broader match types. Since the audience is more narrowly defined, those who see the ad are more likely to click on it, potentially leading to lower costs per click and improved advertising performance​.

Greater Flexibility

Phrase Match offers greater flexibility compared to Exact Match, allowing for variations and close synonyms of the keyword while still maintaining relevance. This flexibility can increase traffic and improve the overall performance of an advertising campaign​.

Disadvantages of Phrase Match

Potential for Irrelevant Clicks

Despite its improved relevance, Phrase Match can still result in irrelevant clicks, particularly if the search query includes additional words that change the context or meaning. For example, if an advertiser sells high-end tennis shoes and uses the Phrase Match keyword “tennis shoes,” the ad might show for queries like “cheap tennis shoes,” which could attract users who are not interested in premium products​​.

Missing Traffic Opportunities

While Phrase Match offers more reach than Exact Match, it can still miss valuable traffic from queries that are relevant but do not fit the specific phrase. For example, an advertiser using the Phrase Match keyword “buy tennis shoes” might miss queries like “purchase shoes for tennis” or “tennis footwear,” which could be valuable high-intent searches for their business​​.

Less Control Over Variations

Phrase Match offers less control over variations compared to Exact Match, which can lead to ads being triggered for unexpected or irrelevant queries. This lack of control can result in wasted ad spend and lower ROI​​.

Competition from Similar Keywords

Since Phrase Match allows for variations and close synonyms, ads may face competition from similar keywords, potentially increasing CPC and reducing ad visibility​.

Exact Match vs Phrase Match: A Comparative Analysis

In Google Ads, both Exact Match and Phrase Match are important keyword match types that serve distinct purposes.

Analyzing their differences helps advertisers choose the most appropriate match type for their specific campaign goals.

Precision

Exact Match

Exact Match is the most precise match type available, showing ads only when the search query closely resembles the keyword or is a close variant with the same intent. This precision ensures that ads are triggered only by highly relevant searches, making Exact Match ideal for targeting specific or niche search queries​.

Phrase Match

Phrase Match offers a balance between precision and flexibility. While it allows for variations of the keyword, it requires that the search query includes the specified phrase or a close variant. Phrase Match provides more room for variations than Exact Match, but it still maintains a certain level of precision​​.

Control

Exact Match

With Exact Match, advertisers have substantial control over which search queries trigger their ads. This level of control helps to minimize wasted ad spend and improve conversion rates, especially for highly targeted campaigns​​.

Phrase Match

Phrase Match offers a moderate degree of control, allowing for variations but still retaining the core phrase. While Phrase Match provides less control than Exact Match, it gives advertisers the ability to capture relevant variations of their keywords, which can be beneficial for campaigns that require a broader reach​.

Reach

Exact Match

The reach of Exact Match is limited to highly specific queries that closely align with the keyword. While this focus improves relevance, it can result in missed opportunities for capturing related high-intent searches​.

Phrase Match

Phrase Match has a broader reach, accommodating variations and close synonyms of the keyword. This flexibility allows advertisers to capture more search queries, which can increase traffic and potentially lead to more conversions​.

Best Use Cases

Exact Match

Exact Match is best suited for campaigns that require precise targeting, such as niche markets or highly specialized products. It’s also ideal for protecting brand keywords, where advertisers want to ensure that their ads appear only for specific queries​.

Phrase Match

Phrase Match is a good choice for campaigns that need a balance between reach and specificity. It works well for targeting specific phrases and capturing relevant variations, making it suitable for broader advertising goals while maintaining some level of relevance.

Choosing the Right Match Type for Your Campaign

Determining Your Goals

When selecting a match type for a Google Ads campaign, it’s crucial to align the choice with the campaign’s specific objectives.

For example, if the goal is to attract highly targeted traffic or protect a brand keyword, then Exact Match is a logical choice due to its high precision.

Conversely, if the goal is to reach a broader audience while maintaining some control over relevancy, then Phrase Match would be more suitable​​.

A marketer should consider whether the campaign aims to maximize conversions, increase brand awareness, or drive sales of niche products when deciding which match type to use.

Balancing Precision and Reach

Balancing the need for precision with the desire for reach is another critical factor in choosing the right match type.

Exact Match provides the highest precision, ensuring that ads are shown only to highly relevant searchers. However, this can limit the potential reach of the campaign​.

On the other hand, Phrase Match offers a broader reach, capturing variations of the keyword while still maintaining some degree of specificity​​.

Marketers need to assess whether reaching a broader audience or focusing on highly relevant searches aligns better with their campaign objectives.

Using Both Match Types in Harmony

In many cases, using both Exact Match and Phrase Match together can create a balanced strategy.

For instance, advertisers might use Exact Match for highly specific and important keywords, while using Phrase Match for capturing broader variations​​.

This approach allows advertisers to cover both highly targeted and broader searches, ensuring maximum coverage without sacrificing relevance.

Adjusting and Testing

Continual testing and adjusting of match types is essential for optimal performance. Campaigns should be monitored regularly to assess which match types are performing best and make adjustments accordingly.

By analyzing metrics like click-through rate (CTR), conversion rate, and cost per click (CPC), advertisers can refine their match type strategies to improve results​​. Testing different combinations and refining based on performance data is key to achieving successful outcomes.

Conclusion

Both Exact Match and Phrase Match are valuable keyword match types in Google Ads, each with its own set of strengths and weaknesses.

Exact Match offers high precision and control, making it ideal for targeting specific or niche queries, while Phrase Match provides a balance between reach and specificity, suitable for capturing relevant variations of a keyword​.

By understanding the characteristics of each match type and aligning them with campaign objectives, advertisers can create effective strategies that balance precision, control, and reach.

If you liked this post, be sure to check out our comparison of Audience Targeting vs Content Targeting.

Michael Schroder

Michael Schroder

Michael Schroder is a Google Ads and SaaS marketing consultant. He has been managing $200k-$300k monthly ad spend and has worked with 200+ SaaS companies. The thing that makes him unique is his data-led approach and his focus on SaaS businesses.