'What Do Those Plus Signs Mean?' Modified Broad Match for Beginners


Almost every week a client asks me, “What do those plus signs mean?” and I am constantly reminded that even though this keyword match type is fairly common, there are still a lot of people who have no idea it exists.

If you haven’t caught on yet, this match type is known in AdWords as the Broad Match Modifier, but it is more commonly and widely known as simply Modified Broad. People tend to shy away from using this match type because they don’t understand what it means or how it works. It can also be a time-consuming task to add the plus signs to each of those keywords you want to switch, but in the long run, this match type can be a big help to your account.

Essentially the idea is that whatever keyword you put the plus sign in front of is a “modifier” to the broad match keyword. You can add a plus sign to only one or two words in the keyword or to all words in the keyword. So, whichever word(s) you end up putting a plus sign in front of, Google will recognize as a “modifier” and will make sure that those words are always in the search query no matter what.

As an example, if you sell furniture and you are bidding on the keyword “red leather couch” on a phrase match type (meaning, those words in that exact order must be in the search query), you could be missing out on relevant traffic – queries that have similar intent but different phrasing. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are bidding on the same keyword on a broad match type, you may be bringing in too much irrelevant traffic or too much traffic in general.

This is where modified broad comes in handy. If you put the plus sign in front of red, leather and couch, like so:

+red +leather +couch

you are telling Google, I want to make sure that my ad DOES NOT show up for any search queries unless all three words are in it, and it doesn’t matter what order those keywords show up in. So someone searching for just “leather couch” you would not see your ad, because “red” was not in that search query, but if someone searches for “Leather couch in red” or “looking for a leather couch in red” you would show up, because all three words with a plus sign in front of them were in the search query.

You also have the ability to put the plus sign in front of certain words instead of all words in the keyword. This is typically good for those branded terms you want to make sure always show up or for certain items that you sell. So, using the example from above, if you are bidding on the keyword “red leather couch” and you want to make sure that you always show up with search queries containing the words leather and couch, but you don’t care if the word red is there, you can add a plus sign in front of leather and couch and leave red alone. Bidding on this keyword (red +leather +couch) will ensure that you show up for those searching for leather couches, but you can also show up for keywords associated with the word “red”; someone searching for “leather couch in burgundy” or “in need of a crimson leather couch” has the potential for your ad to show.
Broad Match Modifier Explained

When to Use Modified Broad Match

So now you are probably thinking, this is all great information but when and why would I use this match type? There is no definitive answer to this question but there are several factors you can use to make that decision. I typically tell people, and those of you who have talked to me before have probably heard this, that if something needs to be in a certain order you want to stick with a phrase match type; modified broad match type may not be the best option for you. This is typical for those branded terms or certain phrasings that only make sense to keep in that order.

For example: If you were to advertise for the Boston Police Department because they wanted to bring awareness to the upcoming civil service exam, you would most likely want to bid on the keyword “Civil Service Exam” on a phrase match type. This is because it would not make sense to show your ad for any other phrasing of those words. Examples like this are some reasons you would want to stay away from modified broad match types. If you don’t care what order they show up in, as long as all the words in the keyword are there in the search query, then modified broad match type will be a great in-between for you going from a broad match type to something a little more restrictive. To me, phrase match is almost telling that searcher what they need to type in for you to show up, but especially with Google, you never know what people are going to search for, so modified broad will help you get that traffic but not restrict it so much that no one will see your ad.

I may be a little biased because I typically think broad can be a bit more work in the upkeep department, which doesn’t make it a bad match type to use but you need to be consistent about adding negatives and monitoring the performance of those keywords. Broad keywords are usually going to have high impressions and not always the most clicks, which will lead to low click-through rates. This would be another great example of why you may want to switch your match types. Going along with the theory of phrase vs. modified broad that I just talked about, this would be a situation where you may not want to restrict your keywords to phrase, so by switching to modified broad, you can cut out a lot of that irrelevant and unqualified traffic but still keep those keywords to a fairly broad match type. One thing to keep in mind, if you are used to the high amount of traffic broad match keywords bring in, you may be surprised with a drop in impressions, but this is not something to immediately worry about, those keywords will still bring in a good amount of traffic over time.

There are definitely pros and cons to all the different match types and it can be confusing, but the more you know about them, the better off you and your account(s) will be. Take caution when changing your match types and make sure to remember that when you switch your match types, Google does consider this a new keyword. You may not see the metrics you are looking for right off the bat but keep in mind, AdWords is not a set it and forget it type of process, so keep track of your changes. Don’t be afraid to revert anything or change any match type if you need to, because nothing in AdWords is permanent; most things are trial and error, so it’s ok to make mistakes.

If you would like to talk more about match types, please feel free to comment below or reach out to your Customer Success Rep, we are always happy to talk match types!

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May 23, 2013

This is good stuff Lisa. I met Larry in Boston and he touched on mods during our chat. I didn't quite get it then, but you've explained it perfectly. I can't wait to comb our keywords. Thanks again!

Lisa Wilkinson
Jun 02, 2013

Thanks for reading, it can be a tough match type to understand! Glad I could help!

Oct 11, 2015

I enjoy reading through an article that can make men and women think.
Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!

Zhenya Delate
Jul 03, 2013

Yes, this is a lovely 101 for MBM.  One thing I would recommend is when "switching" match types, maybe just try either a.) leaving both match types running in the ad group or b.) pausing the version you are switching from, rather than deleting.

Oct 05, 2013

Thanks. Extremely insightful. Will test the performance for modified broad match usng CTR.

Catalin Macovei
Nov 24, 2013

Good stuff Lisa! Now that the holidays are coming do you recommend using broad modified for "chrismas gifts " or phrase matching if you are an e-commerce and you are selling gifts?

Lisa Wilkinson
Nov 26, 2013

Hi Catalin,I would recommend using modified broad for the holidays if you are trying to reach a wide audience. If you are diligent about optimizing for that keyword and adding relevant negatives to ensure qualified traffic, it can be the best match type to use to grab a lot of traffic and not pay as much for broad. Keep in mind, it can be very broad, so if you are on a tighter budget, you may want to stick with phrase to really ensure the most relevant traffic. Phrase will help weed away most of the irrelevant traffic but not all, so be on the watch for negatives in your search query data. Or you could use both match types throughout the holiday season to see which one does the best. You can always pause the one that is underperfoming or costly but it will give you a better insight on which match type works best for you! Let us know if you have any additional questions!Thanks! -Lisa  

Conor Treacy
Apr 07, 2014

Was reading through this article today as I was trying to find a better way to explain it to a customer.  They pointed out that in the image, there might be a spelling error:Also matches*: frmal shoes, formal evening shoes...Basically, they got concerned as they didn't want to match for "frmal shoes" and only words with "formal shoes".  Looks like the "O" got letf off the word and created confusion for them.

Apr 25, 2014

Thanks for this article!

I'm confused about broad match and which of my keywords/bids is activated after a search. For example:

The user searches for : big red couch

In my list of keywords, I have the following:

+red +couch
+red +leather couch
+big red couch
+big +red +couch
+red big leather couch
+if +red +couch potato

5/6 of these keywords could trigger an ad! What happens now?

Jul 06, 2014

Do users search using +signs before the words? if they do is there any way I can find out how many per month or year do that???????? 

Feb 07, 2015

Great Great article. Thanks alot.
@ Adam- people do not search using + sign, its used in an adwords A/c.

Aug 23, 2015

Great article Lisa! That ring picture with a few examples in it is worth more than pages and pages of explanation from many other sources including Google help.

Thank you

amit tyagi
Oct 03, 2015

very good information & i used this method.

Oct 12, 2015

Thanks for your article Liza.

Have a question. Will my BMM keyword +bus +rental display ads for the user search query minibus rental?
Note: There is no space between mini and bus.

Pranav Revankar
Mar 01, 2016

Just a quick thought. Google would ideally want us to have keywords in Broad match which will lead to lot of impressions and hence the clicks. But, with more advertisers adding broad matches (for the sake of its simplicity) won't it lead to trust deficit for the people? (When the ads that appear are not much connected to the search term). What are your thoughts on this.

Sep 20, 2016

Nice post.

Thanks for this sharing this post!!

Mar 26, 2017

great article

saket raman
Nov 06, 2017

even i am new in ppc and now i got why + sign is used. Many thanks

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