by Jacob Baadsgaard January 19, 2018

When to Use Phrase Match in Paid Search Advertising

Anyone who regularly does paid search advertising can tell you that while short-tail keywords can be great to help you reach your target audience, sometimes there’s nothing more effective than honing in on the exact right phrase.

Paid search works best when you’re able to show your ads to the right customers at the right time. Sometimes, that means showing your ads to users who have used specific, exact phrases. If this sounds like the right fit for your campaigns, then choosing the “phrase match” match type may benefit you.

In this post, you’ll learn what the phrase match option is, when you should use it and more.

What is Phrase Match?

Both AdWords and Bing Ads use broad match as their default match type. With broad match, your ads show to people who enter search terms that Google or Bing deem to be similar to your chosen keywords. So, if your campaign is targeting the keyword ‘blazer’, they might show your ad to users who searched for the term ‘sports coat’.

Phrase match gives you more control than broad match. With this keyword match type, your ads will show to users who include the exact phrases you’ve chosen as keywords in their searches.

If you include quotation marks around your keyword, Google will take that as an indication to utilize phrase matching. Instead of using the keyword ‘women’s blazer’, you’d enter the keyword “women’s blazer”.

While high keyword volume is great (if sometimes unreliable), sometimes you really want to only have your ads shown in searches you know will help you get conversions directly.

What Qualifies as a “Phrase Match”?

Keyword match types can get technical and each has their own quirks, so it’s important to understand exactly what each option will translate into for ad placements.

With the keyword phrase match option, your ads will only show to users whose searches include the phrase you’ve specified in the order you’ve written it. The words need to be in the correct order for your ads to be displayed. That being said, the search doesn’t have to exclusively contain the phrase—other words can be included in the search before or after the phrase.

So what exactly does that look like? Let’s look at an example. Let’s say the keyword you chose was “leather protector”.

Your ad would show up in search queries like:

  • apple leather protector
  • high-end leather protector
  • leather protector reviews
  • vacchetta leather protector

Your ad would not to be shown up to users who searched for:

  • apple’s protector for leather
  • leather cleaner and protector
  • vacchetta leather cleaner
  • leather conditioner

After 2014, Google did modify the phrase match type so that it allows for more “close variance.” So now, maybe your ad would still be shown even if the phrase is really close, but not a 100% exact match.

So now, your ad may show for ‘leather protectors’ instead of just ‘leather protector’. It may even show up for close synonyms like ‘leather protectant’, though likely not for ‘leather cleaner’.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Phrase Match?

Phrase match—even with the 2014 update—helps you make sure that your ad is being shown only to people that you most want to see it. This can help increase both CTR and conversions significantly while decreasing wasted ad spend by increasing the relevance of your ads.

Phrase match keywords are much more precise than broad match keywords—which sometimes show your ad in almost completely irrelevant search queries—but it’s also more expansive than exact match, which can be severely limiting in some cases. This puts it right in the match-type sweet spot for highly targeted niche-specific or funnel-specific ad campaigns.

Phrase match is a lot less limiting itself since the 2014 update rolled around. That being said, some campaigns may be limited by phrase match. There is no room for big interpretations that may be beneficial to help reach users who use unconventional search terms while looking for a product like yours, which can mean lost conversions.

When Should I Use Phrase Match?

When you’re running really targeted campaigns that are hyper-focused on small audiences and select keyword groups, phrase match can be a great option. It lets you write copy and create offers that you believe will appear to users searching for those specific phrases, which may be able to help you separate potential customers by use case, value proposition and even the stage of the buyer’s journey they’re in. All of this can mean more effective campaigns.

If, however, you’re just starting out with paid search and/or want to reach a large number of people with a general-appeal campaign—or if you want to run some tests to find the right keywords—broad match may be a better option.

After The Update, How Can I Improve Phrase Match Accuracy Again?

After the 2014 update, phrase match got a little bit less accurate and little more expansive. That’s both good and bad. It’s good since it reduces the need to hit every single exact keyword phrase you want to target, but it also made this keyword match type just a bit less precise.

To regain some control of that precision, you can utilize negative keywords to help keep you out of irrelevant searches.

Let’s go back to our leather protectant example. Maybe your leather protector is a conditioner or cream that’s rubbed onto the leather and you don’t offer leather protecting sprays.

You could create the negative keyword “leather protector spray” so that you wouldn’t show up in searches for customers looking that type of product. This prevents someone from clicking on your ad, realizing it’s not for them and clicking away without converting—an irrelevant click you still have to pay for.

You can add and create negative keywords lists in Google AdWords and Bing at any time and apply them to any campaign—even if it’s already running. To do this in AdWords, go to Ad Groups and click to enter a new keyword. Click to the “negative keywords” tab and then enter the keywords you won’t want to appear in searches for.

phrase match keywords Google Adwords

You can add multiple negative keywords in order to increase the accuracy of connecting with the exact target audience that you want to reach.


Phrase match keywords may be one of the best options—if not the best option—for many advertisers running specific campaigns. Broad match targeting can be too broad and exact match can be just a little bit too exact. Phrase match, on the other hand, gives you more control, but the 2014 update changing to close variants still helps your ad be shown to more users and reduces your keyword complexity a bit.

Are you still stumped on what type keyword match type you want to use on your next campaigns? Leave us a comment below or shoot us a message here—we’d be happy to help.

What do you think? Which keyword match types do you use for your campaigns? Have you run phrase match campaigns? What was your experience? Share your thoughts, knowledge, and questions in the comments below! 

  • AdWords

  • PPC

Jacob Baadsgaard

Jacob Baadsgaard

Jake is the founder and CEO of Disruptive Advertising. An entrepreneur at heart, Jake is a relationship-first kinda guy that loves learning from other people's life experiences. He actively works to create an environment where people feel seen, heard, and challenged to take that next big step on their life journey. When he's not juggling his many roles within Disruptive, you'll find him putting in a lot of miles on the bike or running and spending time with his wife Teresa, and their four children.

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