The Evolution of Google Ads Match Types

In the realm of online advertising, Google Ads has long been a cornerstone for businesses seeking to connect with their target audience through Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns. Over time, Google has continually refined its advertising platform, including the evolution of match types. While match types initially provided advertisers with greater control and precision, there has been a noticeable shift towards automation, leading to concerns over diminishing advertiser control. In this article, we will explore the journey of Google Ads match types, examine the impact on advertisers, discuss the challenges they face, and review the opportunity this has created for advertisers to grow.

1. Broad, Phrase, and Exact Match

The introduction of broad match marked the beginning of a journey for Google Ads advertisers. Advertisers were excited about the prospect of reaching a wider audience and gaining visibility. However, as broad match keywords cast a wide net, advertisers soon realized that this came at the cost of control and relevance. Ads were displayed for a plethora of unrelated searches, leading to wasted ad spend and diluted campaign performance. 

This is where phrase and exact match keywords came in, with the goal of restoring control and precision for advertisers. Phrase match allowed advertisers to target keyword phrases in a specific order by using quotation marks, while exact match ensured ads only appeared for exact keyword matches. Advertisers created many variations of their keywords to ensure they would show up for all relevant searches, including singular and plural variants, as well as common misspellings.

With phrase match and exact match, advertisers could fine-tune their campaigns, reaching a more relevant audience and optimizing their budget for maximum impact. Advertisers gained a sense of control over their PPC campaigns, resulting in improved click-through rates and higher conversion rates.

2. Broad Match Modifiers

Recognizing the need for a middle ground between reach and relevance, Google introduced modified broad match. This match type offered advertisers the ability to include specific keywords within broad match by adding a plus sign (+) before them. While broad match modified expanded reach, it still provided a certain level of control over ad targeting. Advertisers could cast a wider net while maintaining some relevance, striking a delicate balance. However, it was the last significant update that retained a semblance of control before Google’s subsequent emphasis on automation.

3. Close Variants

With the introduction of close variants, Google expanded the boundaries of match types. While this expansion seemed advantageous at first glance, it signified a shift towards automation. Close variants allowed ads to appear for searches that included variations of target keywords, such as misspellings or singular/plural forms. If the keyword the user searched had a similar meaning to the keyword you were bidding on, then your ad would appear. This applied to all three match types, which was significant as that meant exact match keywords were no longer an “exact” match. This decreased advertiser control as searches that may seem like close variants were matching out to keywords that were designed to only match out to an exact variation. This caused a significant increase in the importance of well-managed negative keyword sets.

4. User Intent

With the integration of user intent into the matching process, advertisers now rely on Google’s algorithms to decipher the context and intent behind search queries, matching them to relevant keyword bids. This shift towards automation means that advertisers must trust Google to accurately interpret user intent and deliver their ads to the right audience. While this automated approach brings efficiency and scalability, it also requires advertisers to have faith in Google’s algorithms and data-driven decision-making. Advertisers are encouraged by Google to embrace the role of strategic overseers, focusing on ad copy, targeting strategies, and understanding their audience, while entrusting Google to optimize the matching process based on user intent.

As Google increasingly focuses on automation and machine learning, advertisers have pivoted to taking on a more strategic role in account management. Google’s algorithms take the reins, making decisions on when and where ads appear. This automation brings efficiency and ease of management for advertisers as this allows them to focus on deeper analysis of campaign performance. The evolving landscape of Google Ads match types, coupled with automation, has led to several implications for advertisers:

  1. Reduced Precision: Advertisers have less control over which specific keywords trigger their ads. As a result, there is a risk of displaying ads to less relevant or unqualified audiences, potentially leading to lower conversion rates.
  2. Limited Budget Control: With automation playing a more significant role, advertisers may find it challenging to allocate their budget effectively. Automated bidding strategies can quickly deplete budgets without clear visibility into the decision-making process.
  3. Dependency on Machine Learning: Advertisers must adapt to Google’s increasing reliance on machine learning algorithms. This entails learning to optimize campaigns within the constraints of automated systems, embracing performance insights, and making data-driven adjustments.
  4. Emphasis on Copy and Strategy: As control over match types diminishes, advertisers need to focus on developing compelling ad copy and refining their targeting strategies to maximize the impact of their campaigns
  5. Importance of Negative Keywords: With a broader range of search terms being matched    out to, effective negative keyword management is critical to success. This ensures that ads are displayed to the most relevant audience, which increases the likelihood of attracting qualified leads and potential customers. 

The evolution of Google Ads match types has brought both benefits and challenges for advertisers. While the initial match types provided control and precision, Google’s emphasis on automation and the introduction of close variants have allowed advertisers to save time by not having to build out extremely granular keyword sets that constantly need to be refined. While there is less control by advertisers, there are still ways to ensure they are reaching their target audience through well thought out match type strategies and negative keyword management. Relying on Google to accurately identify user intent has given advertisers more time to focus on strategic initiatives, ad copy development, landing page optimization, and more. Advertisers must adapt to the changing landscape, navigating the complexities of automated systems while finding new ways to optimize their campaigns. Balancing the benefits of automation with the need for customized targeting and precision remains a key challenge in the world of PPC advertising.

Want to learn more about how to navigate the increasingly complex world of PPC advertising? Reach out to the team at to learn more about our comprehensive services.