HomePhrase Match: What Is Phrase Match in Google Ads?

Phrase Match: What Is Phrase Match in Google Ads?

Phrase match is a keyword match type option offered by Google Ads, formerly known as Google AdWords. In this tutorial, you’ll learn:

  • How phrase match works.
  • Why phrase match is important to you and to your PPC campaign.
  • And how best to utilize the phrase matching option.

What is Phrase Match?

Phrase match is a keyword matching option whereby Google matches your ad only against keywords that include a phrase you designate. Google defines the phrase matching option as:

Phrase Match – If you enter your keyword in quotation marks, as in “tennis shoes,” your ad would be eligible to appear when a user searches on the phrase tennis shoes, in this order, and possibly with other terms before or after the phrase. For example, your ad could appear for the query red tennis shoes but not for shoes for tennis, tennis shoe, or tennis sneakers. Phrase match is more targeted than broad match, but more flexible than exact match.

So, working off of the above tennis shoes analogy, creating a phrase match for “tennis shoes” would result in the following potential matches:

Queries My Ad Shows Against:

  • tennis shoes
  • best tennis shoes
  • tennis shoes for sale

Queries My Ad Won’t Show Against:

  • shoes tennis
  • tennis shoe
  • tennis sneakers

Important Update to the Phrase Match Type

Note: In 2014, Google introduced “close variants.” This change allows your ads to match to keyword search strings that don’t exactly match your defined phrase. For example, Google may change the order of the words in the phrase or include a plural or synonym if it deems the search in question to be close enough to your phrase.

So why is all this important?

Because sometimes Google’s broad match and expanded broad match are too broad, and at the same time their exact matching option is somewhat limiting.

Broad match will show your ads against all kinds of queries. Let’s take a look at some of the queries Google’s keyword research tool considers “related” to this phrase:

Any of these keywords could be considered irrelevant for my landing page about tennis shoes.

I certainly don’t want to be sending people looking for dress shoes or specifically for “basketball shoes” to a page about my tennis shoes!

Looking to find the best keywords for your ads? Use our Free Keyword Tool!

Why Use Phrase Match Instead of Exact Match?

The exact matching option will show your ad against only the phrase “tennis shoes”. But by matching only to tennis shoes, I’m missing out on a LOT of traffic. In fact, I’m cutting off what’s known as the “long tail of search“.

I won’t see phrases like:

  • buy tennis shoes
  • best tennis shoes
  • nike tennis shoes

These are great phrases! “Buy tennis shoes” might be one of my most conversion-friendly terms! And phrase match is certainly a more efficient means of targeting all of those different variations than trying to think of and type them all out by hand (there could thousands or even millions of useful variations).

So I Should Just Use Phrase Match then, Right?

Not exactly. With phrase match, you’re still a victim to the same short comings you experienced with broad and exact match:

  • Paying for bad clicks – My ad may still match against all kinds of bad keywords. If I sell high-end tennis shoes, my ad may be displayed against “cheap tennis shoes” or “tennis shoes that aren’t very good” or other keywords I don’t want my ad to show against.
  • Missing traffic opportunities – While phrase match is better than exact match, I’m still missing out on a lot of great traffic: I don’t have an ad showing for “tennis shoe”, or “buy shoes for tennis”, or any number of other queries that make sense for me and my business.

A Phrase Match Alternative: Keyword Discovery and Negative Keywords

So what’s the answer? How should I proceed?

Well, really, what I want to do is find all the different variations I should be bidding on, and at the same time make sure that I’m not bidding on things that don’t make sense for my offering.

The answer here is a suite of tools that allows me to:

  • Keep broad match on – This way I can discover new variations of the keywords I’m bidding on. In fact, it should really allow me to record all these variations with a Web analytics portion, so that I can bid on more specific keywords and be more relevant (raising my Quality Score and click-through rates).
  • Discover negative keyword opportunities – The negative keyword matching option allows me to keep my ad from showing against various queries. This is a powerful weapon against the sort of irrelevant traffic we discussed above.

This would mean that I could simultaneously:

  • Reach the audience I want my ad in front of
  • Avoid spending money on uninterested clicks

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