Brad Geddes / PPC Geek
Official Google Ads Seminar Leader.
Author of Advanced Google AdWords.
Co-Founder, Adalysis.
(703) 828-5811‬
Brad Geddes's Theories on Marketing Is Phrase Match Dead?

Is Phrase Match Dead?

As modified broad match continues its march to take over being the absolute best match type available; many accounts have ceased to use phrase match. While we still hear people spout the benefits of exact match, the match type that is in the largest decline is phrase match.

In many ways, this match type isn’t bad – it’s misunderstood. Let’s compare modified broad to phrase match.

Can show for: Phrase Modified Broad
Misspellings Yes Yes
Stemmings, word variations Yes Yes
Keywords can be in any order in the query No Yes
Keywords must be in the same order as the query Yes No

The biggest difference between these match types is the word order requirements to show.

With phrase match, the keyword must be in the same order in the query as they appear in your account; but the words can show for misspellings, plurals, singulars, and so forth.

With modified broad match, the keywords can be in any order in the query and can show for plurals, misspellings, and so forth.

So what does word order really mean to search queries?

Let’s take a look at the match type data from two accounts.

Account 1

Match Type Conv. Rate CPA
Exact 3.1% $56
Phrase 2.9% $61
Modified Broad 2.9% $61


Account 2

Match Type Conv. Rate CPA
Exact 4.5% $27
Phrase 4.4% $29
Modified Broad 1.2% $74


There is a huge difference in the CPA variance and conversion rates from phrase to modified broad in these two accounts. In account 1, there’s no change from modified broad to phrase match. In account 2, there’s a huge difference in the data between these two match types.

What Does Word Order Really Mean?

The first account is a financial lead generation company, so these queries are useful to them:

  • Chicago mortgage
  • Mortgages in Chicago
  • Chicago home financing
  • Home financing Chicago

As you can see, switching the word order around doesn’t change the user intent. The searcher is looking to get financing in Chicago for a home.

Here’s the two most popular modified broad match queries for account 2:

  • Contractor license
  • Licensed contractor

Google doesn’t make a distinction between ‘license’ and ‘licensed’ with the changes that occurred to variation match; so these are essentially the same words. However, their order means a lot.

A Contractor License is license that a person needs to acquire to be considered a licensed contractor. This search is conducted by someone who is looking to obtain a license.

A Licensed Contractor is someone who has already obtained their license; and this search is conducted by someone who is looking to hire a contractor with a license.

The word order is so important to this account (it helps a person to obtain their license) that modified broad rarely does well. They can use lots of negative phrase matched keywords; but in the end – the simple word order change is the difference between wasting money and obtaining a good lead.

What if Word Order Doesn’t Matter – Should I Use It?

Let’s consider these stats for one account:

Match Type Conv Rate ROAS Profit/Sale
Exact 2.9% 463% $57
Phrase 2.4% 405% $51
Modified Broad 2.3% 395% $49

In this case, modified broad and phrase match are fairly close in profit/sale, ROAS, and conversion rate.

There is one number missing – total sales.

If this company had 100 sales/month from phrase match vs modified broad match – it would make an addition $200 per month. If the company had 10,000 sales a month, it could make $20,000 more per month by splitting out the match types (this is back-of-the envelope match without splitting up all the sales by match type).

Managing all 3 match types, assuming phrase and modified broad are close in their metrics, is more work; but it is often more money. The question is: how much more money?

At 10,000 sales/month – it is worth it to pay someone or use a 3rd party bid system to manage the additional profit.

At 100 sales/month – it is usually not worth it to do all the extra work of managing the additional match type (and all the additional keywords and ads that might go along with the additional match type).

Phrase Match Isn’t Dead – It’s Just Misunderstood

Phrase match has a lot of uses. It’s very useful when you are managing a lot of sales and the sheer number of your sales means you can eek out more profit if you manage the bids by match types correctly.

Do most small local business accounts need to use phrase match – no.

Do some of them – absolutely.

Phrase match is incredibly useful when the word order matters. Word ordering doesn’t always matter; but when it does – phrase match is an indispensable match type to employ to make sure you are reaching the correct searchers.


  1. Paqui
    February 19, 2016 at 3:59 am · Reply

    Great article Brad, thanks for sharing your insights and results with the different match types.
    Phrase match is still my favourite,building keyphrases with kewyords in different order when it makes sense.
    I am using modified broad more and more, as you say it gives a lot of volume and more variations.
    It’s a very good point that sales matter a lot, so combining different match types is definitedly a must.

  2. Corey Zeimen
    April 10, 2016 at 12:24 pm · Reply

    I use phrase match a lot in local markets as it’s an easy way to tack on locations to keywords without risking all of the non-local phrases to get through.

    Whereas I wish modified broad match was a little bit more controlled and not so “broad” in that it adds in too many other words to the eligible search query list, you can run a much tighter campaign faster using phrase match if you don’t have the budget to build that negative keyword list right away.

  3. Andrew
    April 13, 2016 at 6:23 am · Reply

    Really interesting article. For the first account I can see why you would include phrase match in the case you provided with 10,000 sales per month where there was a slight increase in profit per sale, but is this pattern of higher profit per sale with phrase match common across a number of accounts? Is it just a case of customising it based on the data for each account so it may be that it is of no advantage to include phrase match?

    With the second account would you only use exact match and phrase match? If so you would potentially be missing out on terms such as “become a licensed contractor” which have the same intent as “contractor license”. I think I would just you just add “become a licensed contractor” as a phrase match as well rather than having to add lots of negative keywords by covering that keyword with broad match modifier.

    • brad
      April 17, 2016 at 6:45 am · Reply


      For the first one – these are exceptions and not the norm – so you do need to do the math yourself to see if you even have this pattern. Not all companies will see this pattern at all.

      For the second one; you’re correct in that there are some longer phrases that do match the intent of getting your license and are worth including; but they are the exceptions that exist within any account and not the norm. So it’d be best to focus on your core terms first and then do some additional research to find these exceptions in order to cover more overall user intents.

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