Brad Geddes / PPC Geek
Official Google Ads Seminar Leader.
Author of Advanced Google AdWords.
Co-Founder, Adalysis.
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Brad Geddes's Theories on Marketing The Complete AdWords Audit Part 8: Keywords and Match Types

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 8: Keywords and Match Types

This is a continuation of the AdWords Audit Series. You can see previous parts here: Introduction, Goal setting, Measurement, Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments, Ad Extensions, Impression Share & Auction Insights, Quality Score and Account Structure.


Thinking about which keywords to add or exclude and which match types to use is something every paid search advertiser has to do at least once when setting up new campaigns.

But as always in online marketing, there’s no such thing as ‘set it and forget it’, and this includes your keywords and match types.

In this post I won’t go into how to do keyword research (and grouping) for new accounts and campaigns, as we’re auditing existing accounts. But you’ll find many great posts when searching for ‘ppc keyword research’. And of course, the tools mentioned at the bottom of this post can also be used to do keyword research for new campaigns.

When auditing your account at the keyword level, these questions come to mind:

  • Are you using the right match types?
  • Do you regularly add well-performing search queries as keywords?
  • Do you have the right negatives where you need them?
  • Do you regularly perform additional keyword research to find and test new keywords?

In this post I hope to provide you some guidelines and useful tools for optimal keyword management and expansion.

Match Types

I assume you already know how the different match types work in AdWords, but in many accounts, there’s still a lot to improve when it comes to the use of match types. Let’s look at some best practices for each match type:

Broad match
I can be short about this one: you should almost never use regular broad match. You’re giving Google more freedom than you’d imagine to match your keywords on synonyms and ‘relevant variations’. To give you an idea, this were some queries the broad match keyword ‘sneakers’ was matched on (in the UK):

Do you see what happens when all these queries share the same ads and landing pages? Indeed, you’re entering a world of pain.

However, there are some exceptions when using broad match can be worth trying out:

  • When you use ‘target and bid’ as targeting setting in a Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) campaign. As you’re only advertising for users that have visited your site, it’s much less risky to show for synonyms and broad match could actually be an interesting way to quickly gather insights in the search behavior of your visitors. I’ll dive deeper into Remarketing in a future post in this series.
  • When you have a hard time generating enough volume for niche or long tail keywords or in small geographies. By adding these keywords as broad match you might just get that additional (and still relevant) volume you’re looking for.
  • When you’re (temporarily) using broad match as a research method to find new keywords to add and exclude.

But even in these cases: watch the search terms report closely and regularly add irrelevant matches as negative keywords.

How to quickly convert your broad match to modified broad match keywords?

Let’s say you find out an account has many broad match keywords and you quickly want to convert them into modified broad match. By using AdWords Editor you can do this in less than a minute:

  • Go to the keywords tab to see all the keywords of your account.
  • Click the Advanced search link in the top right.
  • Set up these filters:
  • Now you’ll only see your broad match keywords that don’t contain a + sign.
  • Select all these keywords (or all keywords you want to convert).
  • Right click on these keywords and select ‘Append text to selected items’ (shortcut: Ctrl+Shift+H) and set up the fields as following:

  • Now select all the same keywords again, right-click and select ‘Replace text in selected items’ (shortcut: Ctrl+H) and set up the fields as following to replace a space by ‘ +’ (a space and the + sign):
  • Congratulations! You’ve just changed all your broad keywords to modified broad match keywords.

Broad match modifier
One of the best things Google ever did with AdWords was to release the broad match modifier in 2010. No more matching on synonyms like broad match and no need to add every word order as with phrase match. 

You’ll want to use the broad match modifier for most of your keywords. Of course, you’ll still need to add negatives regularly and don’t forget to use exact match (as discussed below).

Phrase match
Before the broad match modifier, phrase match was the way to go to prevent showing up for unwanted synonyms and still have a greater reach than exact match. But since the broad match modifier, there’s not much use for phrase match anymore (I almost feel sorry for the match type).

Especially if the word order doesn’t significantly impact performance, there’s no need to use phrase match if you already have the broad match modifier. However, if your search terms report shows you that different word orders perform differently, you’ll want to bid differently and you would need to add these queries as phrase or exact match to be able to do that.

Exact match
Once you know a query is important to you (because it’s high volume, it performs great or you consider it mission critical for other reasons), you’ll want to add it as exact match, preferably in its own ad group. A so called SKAG as discussed in the previous part of this series. 

That way you’ll know exactly how that query performs and you can spend your time on optimizing your ads and bids in that ad group.

Also make sure any phrase or (modified) broad match variants in your account of that same keyword don’t trigger the exact search query. You can achieve this by adding the concerning query as a negative exact match in the non-exact ad groups or campaigns (embedded match).

Near phrase & exact match
By default, your phrase and exact match keywords will also show for close variations. In Google’s words, these are “misspellings, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemmings (such as floor and flooring), abbreviations, and accents”. You probably don’t want that if you already have the same keywords in (modified) broad match. But in other cases, these close variations can actually deliver interesting additional volume. It really depends per campaign.
To find out if you should disable this for your campaigns, read the ‘Keyword matching options’ paragraph in the Campaign Settings & Bid Adjustments part of this series.

Negative match
Any account that has (modified) broad or phrase match keywords needs negative keywords. The way I see it, there are 3 types of negative keywords:

  • Universal negatives: these are the words you never want to show up for whenever they’re part of a search query. Known examples are: free, game, definition, youtube, and many more. You’ll add these words as a negative broad match.
    This list depends on the industry you’re in and should be added as much as possible before you start advertising. Luckily you can find a great pre-made list with almost 1,500 negatives (segmented per industry) over here. And over 200 suggestions for B2B advertisers over here.
  • Regular negatives: if a search query doesn’t contain any of your (potential) universal negative keywords but you still want to exclude it, you can add the query as negative exact or phrase match.
  • Embedded match: in this case you’ll add the keyword as an exact match negative in an ad group that has the same keyword as (modified) broad and/or phrase match. There are 2 possible reasons to do this:
    • You also have the exact match keyword somewhere else in your account and want to prevent the broad or phrase match to show up for exact matches.
    • You want to show up for related queries, but not for the query itself. An often used example is an advertiser selling Toy Story merchandise. He could have an ad group with “toy story” as phrase or broad match and –[toy story] as negative exact match. That way, he won’t show up when people are searching for the movie, but he will when people use queries like “toy story costumes” and “toy story dolls”.

Some things to consider when adding negatives:

  • Negative broad isn’t broad. So you won’t block queries that contain a misspelling, singulars or plurals of your negative broad match. So be sure to add these as well to your universal negatives.
  • Work with shared negatives lists as much as possible. Many of your universal and regular negatives apply to multiple (if not all) campaigns. Instead of adding them manually to each of your campaigns or ad groups, create a negative keyword list and apply that list to multiple campaigns. This is a much more efficient and effective way to manage your negatives in one place.
    If you still only use a bunch of campaign and ad group negatives and don’t use any negative keyword lists, now is the time to do some cleaning up and consolidate your negatives in shared lists. Any negative that applies to multiple campaigns should be in a list and deleted from the campaigns. It may be some work to set this up, but you’ll save quite some time and money once you have your lists in place.
  • Watch out for keyword conflicts. It happens to the best of us. Sometimes adding a negative keyword means blocking some of your positive keywords. Fortunately, by clicking on the top right bell icon, you’ll see if you have such conflicts:
    Be sure to regularly check for these and solve any unwanted conflicts.

Query Mining

Done well, query mining leads to an ever improving account: excluding unwanted queries, more visibility for wanted queries and having full control over which ad shows for which query. Done poorly (or not often enough), your account will deteriorate and get messy.


Within your AdWords account:

  • Search terms report: this is where you do your query mining. In any campaign and ad group with phrase or broad match keywords, you should regularly analyze this report and take action when needed. Start with your high volume ad groups and certainly don’t forget to mine the queries in your Product Listing Ads and Dynamic Search Ads campaigns (if you have any).
  • Keyword Planner: this is the go-to tool for most keyword research. Especially if you’re planning a new campaign, but also for the expansion of existing campaigns. For those of us that still aren’t completely used to the keyword planner (and miss the keyword tool), make sure you know what the columns and estimates mean and know the differences between the keyword planner and the keyword tool.
  • Opportunities tab: since November 2013, this tab is actually worthwhile checking out. It used give laughable suggestions that were mostly in Google’s interest (or had no real impact) and that’s why most advertisers still ignore it. But I’d suggest to give it a second chance and maybe even make it into a habit.

Free external tools:

  • If you have it: your internal site search terms. It’s always interesting to see what people are searching for once they’re on your website. Often, these queries would also make for good keywords in your PPC campaigns.
    If you’ve set this up in Google Analytics, here’s where to look.
  • Google Trends: a great research tool that can be used in more ways than you’re probably doing right now. It’s worthwhile to learn all about the possibilities and data in Trends by exploring the Help Center. To give you some ideas on how to use Google Trends:
    • Competitive research: trending query volume for Amazon, Ebay, Walmart and Target in the US (2004 to today, within the shopping category). You can even compare the interest in time to the category and see a forecast.
    • Compare locations: interest in Rob Ford in the US and Canada in the past 12 months. You can add News headlines that may explain the trends.
    • Monitor categories: trends for the Apparel category for the past 90 days in the US.
    • Seasonality: yearly trends in the Apparel category for 2011, 2012 and 2013. This can help you to plan your budgets.
    • One of my favorite places to look at within trends is the Rising queries: click on the ‘Rising’ button in the bottom right or download as csv to see more than just the top 10. Monitor these closely for keywords and categories that are important to you.
  • Übersuggest: just enter any root keyword(s) and Übersuggest will provide you with tons of alphabetized suggestions (based on the Google autocomplete suggestions).
  • Soovle: enter a keyword and Soovle instantly shows you suggestions from multiple sources like Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Bing, Amazon and eBay. Great way to get a quick feel for possible themes.
  • WordStream Keyword Tool: based on their own keyword database, WordStream lets you do 30 searches for free, giving you up to 100 suggestions for each search.

Paid external tools:

  • Many of the competitive analysis tools at the bottom of the Impression Share & Auction Insights part of this series can also be used to do keyword research.
  • Queryminer: query mining for negatives can be tedious and time-consuming. However, if you don’t do it frequently, you may waste a lot of advertising dollars.
    That’s why QueryMiner is such a great tool: it will save you lots of time and money by analyzing your search terms for you and suggesting the most effective negatives to add to your campaigns. Or as they like to say “The queryminer algorithm finds negatives no human can”. Pricing starts at $19 a month.


Keywords and Match Types: Your Audit Checklist

checkboxDo you get most (if not all) of your broad match impressions from modified broad match keywords?
checkboxDo you regularly add search queries with significant volume and good performance as (exact match) keywords to you campaigns?
checkboxDo all your search campaigns have a regularly expanded list of negative keywords, preferably through shared lists and based on root words (instead of endless lists of exact match negatives)? Obviously this isn’t necessary for campaigns (or ad groups) that only contain exact match keywords.
checkboxDo you regularly perform keyword research (outside the search terms report) to find new relevant keywords to increase your coverage?
checkboxHave you made sure you have no keyword conflicts (negatives blocking your keywords)?

This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Quality & Learning Manager at iProspect Netherlands, an online media agency based in Amsterdam. He created his first AdWords campaigns in 2006 and is currently helping advertisers and coworkers alike to get their Paid Search to the next level.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily bgTheory. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.


  1. Josh K
    April 11, 2014 at 1:25 am · Reply

    Hey Wijnand, forgive my newbie question, I’m just starting out with paid acquisition and PPC and I’m trying to soak up as much info as possible.

    I’m wondering why you wouldn’t start out with making lists of exact match keywords as opposed to starting with lists of modified broad match keywords and converting the good ones to exact match later?

    Is it purely to be able to use these keywords to get info on synonym keywords and phrases are providing good volume to then add those to your lists and repeat the cycle?

    Appreciate any insight …

  2. Colleen
    April 11, 2014 at 10:44 am · Reply

    Keep em coming, Wijnand!

  3. Wijnand Meijer
    April 13, 2014 at 10:10 am · Reply

    Hi Josh,

    starting with exact match only is perfectly fine, especially if you’re just testing the waters with a limited budget.
    At one point though, you’ll want to add modified broad keywords (and negatives along with them) to capture new queries that you may not have found yourself by doing keyword research.
    Good luck with your PPC endevors!

    @Colleen: thanks! I certainly will 😉

  4. Shaun Scheepers
    June 4, 2014 at 8:07 am · Reply

    Hi Wijand Meijer,

    Thank you so much for the best series of articles I’ve ever seen around conducting an AdWords Audit. Just wanted to find out if you’re going to carry on with the series after part 8 because its been a while and I haven’t come across part 9 yet.

    Thanks again for everything!

  5. Wijnand Meijer
    June 6, 2014 at 2:40 am · Reply

    Hi Shaun,

    thanks so much for your comment! It’s been a while indeed, but I’ll get back to it very soon and intend to pick up my old pace again of every 2 to 3 weeks.
    The next part, part 9 will be about Ad Copy by the way.

    • Shaun Scheepers
      June 6, 2014 at 2:53 am · Reply

      Great, can’t wait!

  6. Paul
    August 21, 2014 at 10:32 am · Reply

    Compliments on the article from a fellow Dutchie! 🙂

    Question about this: “Also make sure any phrase or (modified) broad match variants in your account of that same keyword don’t trigger the exact search query. You can achieve this by adding the concerning query as a negative exact match in the non-exact ad groups or campaigns (embedded match).”

    Is it ok to keep modified broad and exact in the same ad group (apart from the structuring argument)? You don’t have to add as a negative exact match then, right?

  7. Mat
    December 11, 2014 at 10:32 am · Reply

    Does “Embedded Match” still work?
    I have created an adgroup Today with a phrase match keywords and then added same kw as exact negative in that same adgroup and the ads are not showing due to negative kw!

  8. Wijnand Meijer
    December 14, 2014 at 4:23 am · Reply

    Hi Mat,

    embedded match should still work. Google may say there’s a negative keyword blocking your phrase match keyword, but that’s an automated warning that you can ignore when purposefully using embedded match. Is your phrase match keyword getting impression by now? That should be the proof that it’s working.

    You may also want to try to add the keyword in modified broad match for more impressions.

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