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 Should You Use Exact Match Keywords?

Should You Use Exact Match Keywords?

I recently saw a discussion on how match types are dead and how you should only use modified broad match. As exact match shows for variants, you don’t really control your search queries; therefore, only use modified broad match. At least that was the argument.

Initially I dismissed this discussion until I saw one of the comments state that managing match types is old school and that it is not the new reality – the new reality is that only modified broad match matters. Having been in this industry for 17 years, I thought maybe I was living in my old school ways and I just needed to check into some data.

Account 1: Goes Beyond Match Type Control – Singular & Plural Control

So I started by analyzing an account that I knew was an extreme outlier; but I thought would prove out my thoughts on match types and why they matter as well as their underlying search queries.

I don’t want to reveal the identity of this advertiser, so I’m going to ‘widgetize’ the data. However, to give you some ideas about the company – they like to sell in bulk. If you need 500 uniforms or 1000 clogs, they can help you out. While they will sell you one pair – that’s not their goal. Early on, we saw some data really showing how plurals and singulars have different behavior for them and not only manage the match types by campaigns, the singulars and plurals are managed by ad group.

For instance, their exact match ad groups are set up like:

Ad Group Keywords – Exact Negative Keywords
Blue widgets (p) Blue widgets one
Blue widgets two
Blue widgets three
Blue Widget (s) Blue widget one
Blue widget two
Blue widget three

As you can see, ad group (p) only shows for the plural versions and ad group (s) only shows for the singular versions.

Now, when we look at the conversion rates and average order values; we see why it’s organized into singulars and plurals:

Ad Group Conv Rate Average Order Value
Blue widgets (p) 2.3% $673
Blue Widget (s) 2.9% $81


They are willing to bid six times higher for the plural versions than the singular versions due to the huge difference in average order value.

If they just put all these keywords into the same ad group and used keyword level bids; the organization would not work since the singular and plural queries could show for each keyword due to variation or near match (a search query can be a singular, plural, or misspelling even for your exact match terms).

In their case, they have more than 500 products where the average order value changes by singular and plural terms (meaning there are 500 singulars and 500 plural ad groups). In fact, this singular and plural version is something we often see with sports teams. Do you buy a Seattle Seahawks uniform or a Seattle Seahawk uniform – what does that little ‘s’ tell you about the searcher? Are they a fan or someone buying a gift who knows nothing about sports teams?

At this point in time – we haven’t actually addressed the issue if they should manage the exact match separately from the broad match. We just know that there is an average order value difference.

If this company spends $100/month on PPC. Managing these independently probably won’t matter as the extra money and time spent on management fees would outstrip the complexity gains. If this company spends $50,000/month on PPC and has PPC revenues over $250,000/month; then it is worth the extra fees to manage these queries independently.

If they were limited by budget, they want 100% impression share on the plurals and the rest over budget can be spent on the singulars.

Account 2: Throw It All Together and See What Comes Out

There are times when managing exact match and the query data doesn’t matter as much. This account spends about $10,000/month; and outside of broad match – the data is pretty similar by match types:

Match Type Conv Rate Average Order Value
Exact 9.3% $423
Phrase 9.1% $412
Modified Broad 9.2% $419
Broad 6.23% $441


If you start segmenting the account by singulars and plurals; there is no difference in the data. The only way to really see any type of a difference in queries is if start segmenting the data by individual query by product sold (please note it is a mature account and is setup incredibly well). If this account managed all the queries perfectly, it would take another 15-20 hours/month and it would make another $2,000/month.

That does seem like a huge time difference for just managing some queries; and if you wonder why, it’s due to the current structure. This account has four main search campaigns.

  • One campaign uses CPA bidding where the bids are set by ad group based upon the sales by ad group and includes exact and modified broad matches.
    • The geo area is their ‘top performing regions’
  • The second and third campaigns are identical to the first campaign, except the ads (through testing) are slightly different, and the ads are shown in regions that don’t do as well (but still perform well) as their main regions.
  • The last campaign has a much lower budget, utilizes broad match, some DSAs, and is considered a backfill campaign.

Because the account uses CPA bidding (and it works very well for this account once the account was geographically segmented) if this account moved more towards perfecting its query serving and match type usage; it would have to move to a different bid system (which is more time or money depending on how it’s done).

If this account was spending $100,000 or more per month so that managing the queries becomes an additional $20,000 in revenue – then suddenly managing the queries and match types makes a lot of sense and is something this account would do.

So – Should You Use Multiple Match Types & Control Their Usage?

It’s not about match types – it is about return on time and return on management dollars when you get into complex organizations.

In the first case, the company makes a lot more money by paying someone to manage a very complex structure that manages not just match types, but singular and plural versions due to how their account functions.

In the second case, the company makes more money by not spending all their time managing their account, and by spending that time perfecting their customer service.

In the end – ALL absolute statements about match types being dead — are wrong.

Match types live on.

The management fees and time to manage the match types is where the discussion should be and if it is worth the time and money to get that granular in your accounts.


  1. Barb Young
    January 21, 2016 at 8:51 am · Reply

    Brad, I couldn’t agree more. As paid professionals, we are taking the lazy way out relying solely on modified broad match. The AdWords Report editor makes it so easy to review and monitor performance by match type, with the ability to filter on specific campaigns, campaign type, device, etc. It’s a real eye opener to see the difference in conversion value/cost by match type, for instance.

  2. Liam
    February 14, 2016 at 9:14 am · Reply

    I think exact matches are still relevant (even though phrase match is dead).
    I like to start with modified broad match only. Then create exact match versions of the search terms that get the most traffic (say top 20%). When I add these exact matches – they often get a better quality score than the same keyword which is MBM.

    Not sure why this. (Perhaps because the exact match gets a higher CTR-Assuming the keyword list is pretty comprehensive, or the keyword matches the keyword “exactly” I also use the exact matches for bidding purposes.

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