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The Role Of Exact Match Keywords In Your
PPC Campaigns

Sean Martin
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Exact Match is one of the most commonly used keyword match types available to Google Advertisers in their PPC campaigns. As opposed to its other keyword match type counterparts, Exact Match gets the absolute closest to a 1:1 keyword:search term ratio.

(Hence the name "exact" match).

This means that paid advertising campaigns targeting exact match keywords will only show ads for the specific keyword (or close variant) you're bidding on. And the more control you have over when and where your ads are shown, the better you'll be able to monitor and optimize your budget.

In this blog post we'll walk you through everything you need to know about Exact Match keywords and targeting so you can use them to improve the ROAS of your strongest PPC campaigns.

Different Keyword Match Types

To understand what keyword match types are we first have to understand the difference between a keyword and a search term (or search query as they’re sometimes called).

While you bid on keywords, the advertising platform you're using only uses this as a general guideline for relevant SERPs on which to show your ads. What determines the actual results page that populates in front of the user is the actual search term they typed into the search bar.

And believe me, there can be a big discrepancy between keywords and search terms.

google ads exact match image example - search term discrepancy
Often times you can find yourself quite turned around - image source

In the image above, we can see that the keyword is suffering from what we call the Iceberg Effect. This is when a keyword has too high of a keyword:search term ratio (in this case a whopping 132 search terms that all trigger ads for the 1 keyword: “bankruptcy attorney”).

As you can see in the example, there are tons of irrelevant search terms that are associated with the original keyword.

This means that your ad can be showing for very irrelevant SERPs (and very uninterested searchers).

You can see now why your keyword:search term ratio is so important. The closer you get it to 1:1 the better chances you have of directly engaging your ideal search audience and generating the highest CTR and conversion rate possible.

And it all starts with using keyword match types to pare down which search terms your ads show for.

How To Leverage Keyword Match Types In PPC

By leveraging all the different keyword match types at your disposal as parameters for your ad campaigns you can refine when your ads are triggered. This can help you eliminate wasteful budget burn and help maximize the efficacy of your campaigns. And in the end should help boost the overall ROAS of your PPC efforts across the board (when done correctly).

But for starters, let's take a look at the different keyword match types. If you think back to the Iceberg metaphor, the ice that you see above water is your keyword, while the heaping mass of danger below is your massive array of search terms. Your keyword match types work to break down that massive iceberg into smaller, more manageable blocks:

  • Broad Match = Biggest iceberg and bigger than all other match types
  • +Broad +Match +Modifier = Bigger iceberg than phrase match
  • “Phrase Match” = Bigger iceberg than exact match
  • [Exact Match] = Smallest iceberg

And what comes at the end of the list?

That's right - exact match keywords generate the smallest Iceberg for your PPC keyword optimization.

This means that campaigns using Exact Match will only show their ads for search terms that exactly match (or at least be a close variation of) the keywords they're bidding on.

Let's take a deeper look at how powerful this level of keyword focus is and what it can do for you.

Exact Match Keywords: What Makes Them So Special?

If we're talking about keyword relevance and matching your keywords to the actual search terms users enter into Google, can you get a much better fit than "exact"?

Quick answer: No.

That's the super strength that Exact Match keywords offer you within Google Ads: supreme relevance.

google ads exact match image keyword, search terms, and why they match
Here, the differences between the ad and search term are pretty harmless - image source

Now that you know how Exact Match will help restrict when your ads are triggered to show you can better attune your campaigns to utilize multiple match types as well as the exact match option to create the ideal campaign for your audience.

To do so, however, it's important to understand the subtle nuances of even Exact Match. So we'll keep on going for now.

Changes To The Definition Of “Exact” Match

I should confess that Exact Match doesn't always mean "exact" match. And if we're going to take the time to understand the difference between certain keyword match types, we should take the time to know each one well.

google ads exact match joke about "know thyself"
Turn out those old philosophers knew something after all - image source

With the forms of new exact match, certain partial matches can also trigger your ads to show for the same "exact match" keyword campaigns.

Now, don't go running for the hills yet. This doesn't change anything about how specific Exact Match campaigns can be. It just means that Google's trying to account for the natural linguistic flow and semantic variation of human language.

This is where things like LSI keywords (latent semantic indexing) and the like become relevant. But that's a blog post for another day.

What's important to focus on for now is how semantic indexing and nearly-exact match keyword variation affect your PPC competition. While Google gets to increase the number of ads it shows due to the less-than-exact match keyword adjustment, it also broadens the field of advertisers.

How so? Well, small local businesses can rely on the automatic adjustments for semantic differences like "in" and "near" etc for their local searches.

Where an old local campaign might have to have multiple ads running for "Holiday Inn in Santa Ana," "Holiday Inn near Santa Ana," and "Holiday Inn Santa Ana," today they're all one.

How To Leverage Exact Match In Your PPC Campaigns

Some obvious instances for Exact Match to shine are instances where you're the most confident that your audience is going to convert (or at least click) on the ad. You may ask as a budding digital advertising, what/when exactly are these instances?

Well, you don't have to look much further than your own brand name for starters.

Branded campaigns are a great place to start testing out Exact Match keyword match types. I think we can all agree that it's pretty safe to assume that if someone is typing in your specific brand along with your product/service, they're at least remotely interested in converting. This is a great time to "double down" on the ante of your ordinary keyword targeting and make sure that your ads are triggering for your exact brand name search term.

Likewise, if you have any products, services, or branded terms that your company is famous for, these are the search terms you should be bidding heavy, Exact Match keywords on.

So long as you're certain that you've found the audience you're looking for with that search term, you can lock it in with Exact Match keywords.

The Importance Of Exact Match Negative Keywords

It should come as no surprise that, just like when you find the exact audience you want to engage with you should use Exact Match, when you find the exact audience you don't want to engage you should rely on Exact Match negative keywords.

Yes, they are a thing. And, yes, they are exactly what they sound like.

google ads exact match joke image about too many "exacts"
Relax, Jules, we're almost at the end of our journey - image source

When it comes to negative keywords, Exact Match negatives are for isolating the very, very specific keywords that you absolutely do not want to ever advertise for. Finding such strong instances can be difficult, but let's just say that these are reserved for really big budget burners.

In most cases, keyword level negatives are already focused enough in terms of avoiding your ads being triggered. But sometimes it's better to be safe than sorry.

When (And When Not) To Use Exact Match Keywords

As a general rule, you want to be using Exact Match keywords like a sniper scope - when you want to eliminate all the white noise and focus on a single target. Of course that means that Exact Match keywords are the enemy of campaign expansions, impressions, and reach.

Which is fine, that's why we have Broad Match after all.

But that doesn't mean you have to stop there. The best PPC managers don't simply rely on a single keyword match type and call it a day. They integrate multiple keyword match types into cohesive campaigns to maximize the matching process for better results.

It may take some time and sophisticated split-testing but the eventual goal of integrating multiple match types is to create the perfect recipe of reach, relevance, and engagement with your ads.

Not too broad, like papa bear, nor too narrow and exact, like mama bear. We want something in the middle, using all four types of keyword match types, that properly isolates a single keyword - the goldilocks "just right" keyword fit.

Exact Match - Exactly What You’re Looking For

And there you have it. Everything you need to know about exact match keywords (and nearly everything you need to know about match types), just as promised.

It feels nice to breathe a sense of relief and know that those exact match campaigns are a way to help improve the quality scores and CTRs of your campaign and not just lower your CTRs. Just remember, if you're relying solely on exact match campaigns you may be targeting the wrong type of keywords or the wrong point in the buying funnel within your campaigns.

You want to maximize the relevancy of your PPC ads but you don't want to have to eliminate 99.999% of all internet users in your search audience to do so.

Exact match keywords should be used to maximize the relevancy of easy wins to make sure that you aren't wasting clicks and money on irrelevant search queries. Think of exact match as the Google Ads equivalent of the "trifecta" gamble in horse racing – reserved for sure things (or one hell of a risky bet to take).