Mastering Exact Match Keywords for Superior SEO and PPC Results

Are you wondering how exact match keywords can sharpen your SEO and PPC strategies?

Exact match keywords allow advertisers to target ads to users whose search queries closely align with the specified keyword. This high level of targeting can lead to improved relevancy between query and ad content, potentially increasing conversion rates and reducing costs-per-click.

However, the nuances can be tricky and the strategy requires precise execution.

In this guide, we’ll dive into the mechanics behind exact match keywords, the strategic times to use them, and how to integrate them effectively in your advertising campaigns for maximum impact.

Yaniv Masjedi
CMO, Nextiva

Their expertise has helped Nextiva grow its brand and overall business

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Unlocking the Potential of Exact Match Keywords

Exact match keywords in Google Ads are the MVPs (“Most Valuable Player”) of precision targeting. Of the three keyword match types, these are designed to display ads in response to search queries that are very closely aligned or identical in meaning or intent to the keyword:


Imagine that you’re a footwear retailer and you want to advertise red shoes. To implement an exact match keyword, you would simply enclose your target phrase within square brackets, e.g., [red shoe]. Simple, right?

However, it’s not just about identical matches. Google Ads has its own magic wand that transforms these exact match keywords into a broader spectrum. This magic wand includes variations such as:

  • misspellings
  • singular/plural forms
  • stemmings
  • abbreviations
  • accents

…that are related to the targeted keyword.

The result? A higher level of control to reach users with ads that are supremely relevant to their specific search queries, even though this approach may reach fewer searches than phrase and broad keyword match types. By avoiding irrelevant search queries, the ad campaign becomes more efficient and targeted.

Crafting Your Strategy: When to Opt for Exact Match

Choosing an exact match keyword is like choosing the right tool for a job. They are optimally used when targeting a niche audience with a very specific keyword. Consider them as your secret weapon in branded campaigns or when targeting searches for specific brand names, products or services that your company is known for:


On the other hand, the precision of targeting provided by exact match can result in a “Low search volume” warning for keywords that have less frequent searches. This requires a careful consideration in your keyword strategy planning.

The Power of Precision: Benefits of Exact Match

The precision of exact match keywords is like a sharpshooter hitting the bullseye.


This keyword match type can:

  • Improve your ad’s quality score in Google Ads by ensuring relevancy between the search query and the ad content
  • Attract more targeted traffic that is closer to making a purchase decision
  • Result in higher conversion rates

What’s more, exact match keywords give you the reins of control, leading to:

  • more relevant impressions
  • higher click-through rates
  • precision targeting
  • lower cost-per-click (CPC) due to increased relevance and improved ad ranking

So when you have high-converting, specific keywords, using exact match minimizes irrelevant clicks and enhances your ad campaign’s quality score.

Considerations Before Choosing Exact Match

While the benefits of exact match keywords are compelling, it’s always a good idea to consider some potential challenges, too.

Exact match keywords with low search volume can result in fewer impressions and potentially fewer conversions. This means you should always assess search volume before implementing them. Also, long-tail keywords, relevant in exact match scenarios, often come with lower search volumes but can provide valuable and occasional conversions, serving as a complementary strategy.

Understanding your target audience’s search behavior is critical for using exact match keywords effectively. This match type can miss capturing high-intent search queries with longer, more complex phrases.

Plus, highly competitive exact match keywords can lead to increased cost-per-click, requiring careful consideration and monitoring of competition. Lastly, using exact match keywords restricts ad visibility to specific search queries, potentially limiting audience reach if not balanced with other match types.

Navigating Keyword Match Types: Broad, Phrase and Exact

Stepping into the world of keyword match types is like exploring a tri-fold terrain: broad match, phrase match and exact match.

Broad Match Keyword

Broad match keywords are like wide nets, providing the widest reach by triggering ads for searches that include misspellings, synonyms, related searches and other relevant variations. Think of them as the explorers, venturing into the vastness of possible search queries.

With a broad match keyword, you can maximize your campaign’s exposure and reach a wider audience.

For instance, if your keyword is “red shoes,” your ad might show for searches like “burgundy footwear,” “buy sneakers,” or even “red sandals.”


Phrase Match Keyword

Phrase match keywords, which are enclosed in quotation marks, are like tour guides. They activate ads on searches that include the meaning of your keyword and may include additional words before or after. They prioritize the correct order of words when it changes the meaning.

Phrase match offers a balance between reach and relevance.

Your ads can show on searches that include the meaning of your keyword. The search query must include the exact phrase or close variations of that exact phrase with additional words before or after.

For example, if your keyword is “red shoes,” your ad could appear for searches like “buy red shoes,” “red shoes for sale,” or “cheap red shoes,” but not for “shoes for red dress.” This match type filters out irrelevant traffic while still capturing a broader audience than exact match:


Exact Match Keyword

The exact match keyword, the sharpshooter, is meant to show ads on searches that match the exact term or are close variations of that term, resulting in fewer new search queries than phrase match.

By using the exact keyword strategy, you can target specific search queries more effectively.

Exact match targets search queries that are the same as the keyword or very closely related variations. This is the most specific and restrictive type of match.

For example, if your keyword is [red shoes], only searches for “red shoes” or very close variations (like “shoes red”) would trigger your ad. This type can lead to more relevant traffic and higher conversion rates but might limit the volume of traffic.


The Evolution of Exact Match Keywords

The journey of exact match in Google Ads is like an evolutionary tale. Initially, it required search queries to match the specified keywords exactly, but has evolved to include close variants, such as misspellings and plurals.

The definition of exact match has expanded since its introduction, including significant evolutions such as close variants in 2012 and further in 2019 with Automated Broad Match.

These changes aim to allow advertisers to target more potential leads while still maintaining relevance, even though some control over the precision of exact match has been reduced.

As the saying goes, “the only constant is change.” Anticipating future changes in keyword match types, including potential broader matching based on the same meaning, is essential for advertisers to continue to adapt their campaigns effectively.

Integrating Negative Keywords with Exact Match

Imagine that you’re a chef preparing a gourmet dish. Just as you would carefully choose the ingredients, incorporating negative keywords into exact match campaigns is critical for safeguarding against unqualified traffic that can reduce the effectiveness of targeted advertising.

Creating negative keyword lists and continuously updating them are like seasoning your dish to perfection, ensuring that exact match keyword targeting remains precise and relevant over time.

Negative keywords can be strategically added at various account levels, including account, campaign, and ad group, to prevent ads from triggering on searches that are not aligned with the advertiser’s intent.


In fact, adding negative keywords in the form of negative exact match keyword provides an advanced level of control by allowing advertisers to exclude specific search queries, including close variant searches, which ensures a higher level of targeting refinement.

Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs) and Exact Match

Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs) were once the poster boys of precision targeting, composed of ad groups that contain only one keyword each, set as exact matches:


However, just as superheroes face challenges, SKAGs have become less effective at isolating search queries due to Google Ads’ updates that expanded exact match to include close variants, reordering of words, and the addition or removal of function words:


These updates have led to difficulties in tracking which ads show up for specific search queries, as SKAGs may trigger ads for each other’s closely related searches. Plus, the increased number of impressions and clicks from evolving keyword match types has made it more difficult for SKAGs to maintain precise ad and search query matching.

Managing numerous SKAGs is time-consuming and challenging due to the necessity of monitoring search terms reports and requires managing negative keywords at the ad group level to prevent impression share dilution.

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Best Practices for Keyword Matching Options

Choosing the right keyword match type is like choosing the right gear in a car:

  • Use broad match when you need a turbo boost, as it provides access to a wide audience. But it’s essential to use negative keywords to avoid irrelevant clicks and maintain ad quality.
  • Use exact match when you want to target highly specific search queries that are directly relevant to your product or service. This is ideal when you know exactly what search terms your audience is using and when you’re aiming for high conversion rates over volume.
  • Use phrase match as a balance between the targeting precision of exact match and the broader reach of broad match, allowing for added flexibility in search queries.

A mix of match types in Google Ads can protect against over-reliance on any single approach, combining precision with the potential for increased relevant traffic. The goal of integrating multiple keyword match types is to create a balance of reach, relevance and engagement with ads.

Some benefits of using different match types include:

  • Exact match keywords contribute to more effective budget allocation by reducing spend on irrelevant or broad search terms that do not convert.
  • Broad match keywords can help capture a wider audience and increase visibility.
  • Phrase match keywords provide a middle ground between exact match and broad match, allowing for some flexibility while still maintaining relevance.

By using a combination of match types, you can optimize your Google Ads campaigns and achieve better results.

Analyzing Performance: Measuring Success with Exact Match

Measuring the success of exact match campaigns is like analyzing the vital signs of a patient. As with any type of marketing campaign, determining your key metrics will help you gauge the health of your campaigns, such as:

  • click-through rate (CTR)
  • conversion rate
  • impression share (IS)
  • cost-per-conversion (CPA)
  • return on ad spend (ROAS)
  • quality score

These are all critical for assessing campaign profitability, revenue and the relevance of ads and keywords.

Keep in mind a few things:

  • A well-managed negative keyword list significantly reduces ad spend on irrelevant clicks and focuses the budget on users more likely to convert.
  • Implementing negative keywords improves CTR and conversion rates by reducing irrelevant ad impressions and avoiding non-converting terms.
  • Data segmentation by campaign, ad group or keyword pinpoints areas for detailed evaluation and potential performance improvements.

Remember, exact match type’s impact on campaign performance is notable as it influences ad quality score, cost-per-click, and ad reach.

Advanced Techniques: Leveraging Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are the unsung heroes of SEO and PPC campaigns. These lengthy, specific queries reflect a searcher’s intent more precisely than shorter, generic keywords, potentially missing from exact match strategies.


High-quality content that integrates long-tail keywords can improve website visibility, engage users and is more likely to lead to higher traffic and conversions due to alignment with user intent.

Keyword research tools like Ubersuggest, AnswerThePublic, and Google’s autocomplete can aid in identifying long-tail keywords that are relevant to SEO. (By the way, if you want to get better at understanding Google autocomplete, play their Google Feud game!)


Understanding the target audience through creating buyer personas and recognizing long-tail keywords as indicative of a higher likelihood of purchase, allows for better targeting and may lead to cost-effective campaigns.


The Role of Search Intent in Keyword Matching

Think of search intent as the compass guiding your SEO and PPC campaigns. Search inten classification can range from informational, navigational, commercial and transactional, and is crucial for selecting the appropriate exact match keywords to enhance campaign performance:


Analyzing the language and context of search queries helps to identify the correct search intent, thereby guiding the selection of exact match keywords for ad campaigns.

Aligning keywords with user intent in PPC advertising is essential, as it leads to increased clicks, more relevant ad placements, and enhanced user experiences on landing pages. Neglecting user intent in keyword selection can result in overly broad ads that fail to engage users effectively, which in turn may hurt ROI.

Continuous monitoring and analysis of the search term report can improve the alignment of keywords with relevant searches, ensuring that exact match campaigns resonate with the correct user intent.

Adjusting to Algorithm Updates: Staying Ahead in PPC

One last word about PPC: Adapting to algorithm updates is crucial.

Intent-Based Ad Groups (IBAGS) have evolved to align better with Google’s algorithm changes, presenting a more robust alternative to SKAGs by focusing on user intent, which can lead to competitive click-through rates, quality scores and cost-per-click:


Regularly analyzing campaign performance using tools such as Google Ads Performance Grader can unveil insights into campaign success and indicate necessary strategy modifications to remain effective despite changes in exact match keyword criteria.

Adjusting keyword strategies in response to seasonal trends and staying adaptable through continuous strategy evaluation are key to maintaining the success of exact match keywords in the dynamic landscape of PPC algorithms. Conducting regular reconciliation of planned versus actual spend for PPC campaigns is also key for optimal budget allocation, especially in the wake of adjustments required by Google Ads algorithm updates.

Last Word on the Exact Match Keyword

Mastering exact match keywords is not merely about implementing precision targeting but, rather, involves a strategic blend of various techniques, understanding user intent, and staying agile in the face of algorithm updates.

We’ve journeyed through the terrain of exact match keywords, understanding their potential, the strategy behind their use, their evolution, and the role of negative keywords and SKAGs. We’ve also explored the benefits of leveraging long-tail keywords and the importance of aligning keywords with user intent.

Remember: With the right blend of strategies, tools and perseverance, you can unlock the potential of exact match keywords, driving superior SEO and PPC results!

Key Takeaways:

  • Exact match keywords in Google Ads are used for precision targeting, including variations like misspellings and singular/plural forms, enhancing ad relevancy and control over audience targeting.
  • Exact match keywords should be used with consideration; they’re ideal for niche targeting but can lead to ‘Low search volume’ warnings. Their precision leads to improved quality scores and conversion rates but requires assessment of search volume and audience behavior.
  • The use of exact match keywords involves a balance with other match types and requires continual adjustments, such as integrating negative keywords and adapting to algorithm updates to maintain campaign effectiveness.

If you’re ready to level up your ads campaigns, Single Grain’s paid ads experts can help!👇

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Exact Match Keyword FAQs

  • How to do an exact match search in google?

    To perform an exact match search in Google, simply put your desired words in quotation marks. This will ensure that the search results contain the exact same words in the exact same order as what you put in quotes.

  • What are phrase match keywords examples?

    Phrase match keywords include putting quotes around your keyword, such as “tennis shoes,” to show your ad for searches containing that specific phrase or its close variants. This allows for more targeted reach than broad match and broader reach than exact match.

  • Should you use exact match keywords?

    Yes, use exact match keywords to maximize relevancy and avoid wasting clicks and money. However, keep in mind that it reaches fewer searches compared to other matching options.

  • When to use exact match keywords?

    Exact match keywords should be used when targeting a niche audience with a very specific keyword, such as in branded campaigns or when targeting searches for specific brand names, products or services. This specificity can help improve relevance and drive higher quality traffic to your website.

  • How do exact match keywords differ from broad and phrase match keywords?

    Exact match keywords differ from broad and phrase match keywords by specifically targeting searches that match the exact term or its close variations. Broad match keywords provide a wide reach, while phrase match keywords activate ads on searches that include the meaning of the keyword.

  • What are exact match keywords?

    Keyword match types like exact matches are a type of keyword targeting in search advertising that allows advertisers to show their ads only when the search query exactly matches or closely matches the advertiser’s specified keyword phrase, without any significant variation.

    This targeting option is the most specific and restrictive, and makes sure that the ads are shown only to users who are searching for precisely what the advertiser is offering. This keyword match type is identified by being enclosed in square brackets in most search advertising platforms, like Google Ads.

  • What is an example of an exact match search?

    An example of an exact match search would be if an advertiser sets up an ad with the exact match keyword [red shoes]. In this case, the ad would potentially appear only when someone searches for “red shoes” or very close variations of this term that do not change the meaning, such as “shoes red” or misspellings like “red shose”.

    However, the ad would not show for searches like “red leather shoes” or “buy red shoes online” because these searches include additional words or differ in intent from the exact keyword phrase specified.

If you were unable to find the answer you’ve been looking for, do not hesitate to get in touch and ask us directly.
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