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It Still Pays to Have Multiple Match Types for the Same AdWords Keyword

Since the launch of mandatory close variant matching in AdWords, we’ve been hearing more from the PPC punditry that the age of having multiple match types for a keyword is over. The argument goes that: the difference in value of the different match types has become insignificant as a result of close variant matching (CVM), thus making any possible gains that might be had from launching multiple match types to apply different bids to each minimal. Since the potential gains are minimal, adding more match types really only adds to a paid search manager’s workload.

While CVM has certainly not been good for the value of phrase and exact match keywords, the notion that Google has so diluted the meaning of the individual match types that they no longer matter is, in short, just not true. The difference in traffic value between different match types of the same keyword is still significant, and worth launching multiple versions of the same keyword to account for.

Exact and Phrase Match Value Remains Higher than Broad Match

To be clear, the argument that’s being made by others is that the match type that is being assigned to the keyword no longer impacts the measured performance of the keyword. This is not to be confused with which queries are being matched to a keyword regardless of the match type assigned, which RKG’s Mark Ballard analyzed long ago in showing that queries which exactly match the keyword being bid on carry a greater value than any other query which that keyword could be matched to.

To explore the relative value of phrase and exact match keywords, we took a look at performance across a sample of high traffic clients from October 1st of last year through the present. The start date of October 1st was chosen in order to include the mandatory inclusion of close variants for phrase and exact match, which Google rolled out towards the end of September last year.

Looking only at non-brand keywords that had a significant amount of traffic on all three of phrase, exact, and broad match types, we found that the conversion rate on Google.com was 8% higher for phrase match and 18% higher for exact match than the broad match version for the median keyword.

Note: Keywords with Broad Match Modifiers were not included in the broad match conversion rate.


46% of the keywords studied saw an exact match conversion rate at least 25% greater than the broad match conversion rate while 36% saw phrase match conversion rate at least 25% greater than broad match.

One thing to note is that at least some of the queries driving traffic to the broad match keywords would have met the phrase and exact match criteria but simply triggered the broad match version, inflating the value of that match type. While Google’s literature states that their system prefers exact match terms in instances when broad or phrase match keywords from the same account may also qualify for the auction, experience at RKG has proven that this isn't always how it plays out.

Thus, the difference in value remains great enough for many keywords to warrant using meaningfully different bids for each match type in achieving ad-spend-to-sales efficiency goals. By using one bid for all of the different queries that might apply to a broad match version of a keyword, advertisers would fail to pay the appropriate amount given the value of the different types of queries.

The amount of traffic coming in on a broad match keyword and what types of queries are driving that traffic should be taken into account in deciding whether or not to launch additional match types, as well as which additional types make sense. While only keywords with significant clicks on all three match types were considered for this analysis in order to make the numbers meaningful, there are certainly keywords which may warrant launching perhaps just exact and broad match versions or some other combination in order to bid more appropriately.

But What About the Headache of Having So Many Keywords?

Another piece of the argument for only launching keywords on one match type is that having multiples of each keyword can lead to an unwieldy account structure that can be difficult to manage.

This may be the case for paid search managers who are forced to calculate bids in Excel and apply changes through the UI. However, any program using an advanced bid management platform that makes use of the AdWords API for bid changes and managed by someone who understands how to make use of automation tools will require little to no extra work as a result of simply increasing the number of keywords in the account by adding additional match types of existing terms.

While it’s obviously best to keep the keyword list of an account as tight and relevant to a site’s offering as possible, the sheer volume of keywords to manage should not keep managers from launching match types which stand to help achieve better performance.

Query Control is Still Important

As mentioned earlier, analysis of the queries which trigger a keyword shows significant differences in click value depending on how closely the query matches the actual keyword being bid on. Thus, as long as there are match types available which help advertisers to control the variety of queries which a keyword can trigger an ad for, it makes sense for advertisers to take advantage of these controls.

Of course, not every paid search program is going to have hundreds of keywords which garner enough traffic to launch three or more different match types for. If a keyword on broad match is getting five clicks a month, there’s not much to be gained by launching phrase and exact match versions.

However, in cases where a keyword does garner enough traffic from both queries that exactly match the keyword as well as queries that match the keyword to other degrees, advertisers should be looking to bid the traffic as effectively as possible by segmenting that traffic. To this end, match types are, and always have been, an incredibly important piece of campaign management.