Google Ads Match Types Explained, A Complete Timeline

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Google Ads stands as a cornerstone for marketers seeking to reach their target audiences effectively. Within this expansive platform, match types play a pivotal role in determining when and how your ads are displayed to potential customers. Over the years, match types have undergone significant transformations, reflecting the dynamic nature of online advertising and the need for greater precision in targeting. In this article, we will guide you through the timeline of match types within Google Ads to understand their evolution and implications for advertisers.


2002 – 2010: The Early Days of Broad Match

In the early stages of Google Ads (formerly named Adwords), simplicity was the name of the game. Broad match was the sole option available to advertisers, casting a wide net by displaying ads for search queries containing any variation of the specified keywords. While this approach offered a broad reach, it often led to irrelevant clicks and wasted ad spend, as ads appeared for queries loosely related to the advertiser’s offerings. Not only was there an issue with wasted ad spend but it was extremely limiting for advertisers who were in a niche industry and therefore offered specific products or services that did not appeal to the masses. Unfortunately, at this point, there were not many options available for smaller businesses that sold these specific types of products or services. However, Google and other digital advertising platforms began to realize that the need for a more targeted approach to advertising was undeniable and they began to shift their focus.


2010: Phrase Match and Exact Match Introduced

When Google started to realize that there was a need for more targeted advertising, they introduced two new match types on their platform, phrase match and exact match. 


What is Phrase Match?

Phrase match is a match type in Google Ads that allows advertisers to target more specific queries by displaying ads when the search query includes the exact keyword phrase or close variations of it. However, the word order must remain intact for the ad to be triggered.

For instance, if an advertiser sets the keyword “running shoes” as a phrase match, their ads may appear for search queries such as “buy running shoes”, “running shoes for women”, or “best running shoes”. In this example, the keyword phrase “running shoes” is included in the search query along with other words, demonstrating the flexibility of phrase match.


What is Exact Match? 

Exact match is a match type in Google Ads that restricts ads to show only for the exact keyword or close variations of it, ensuring maximum relevance between the search query and the ad. This match type offers the highest level of precision and control.

For example, an advertiser using exact match might specify the keyword [running shoes]. With this match type, their ads would trigger exclusively for search queries that match the exact phrase “running shoes” or very close variations like “running shoe”. This ensures that the ad is displayed only when the search query precisely matches the specified keyword, minimizing irrelevant clicks and maximizing ad relevance.

Although this was a pivotal moment for Google ads, there still remained the challenge of striking a balance between broad reach and precision targeting. Advertisers expressed frustration with traditional broad match, which often resulted in their ads being displayed for irrelevant searches, leading to wasted ad spend. At the same time, advertisers recognized the limitations of more restrictive match types like phrase match and exact match, which could potentially miss out on valuable traffic. 


2014: Modified Broad Match Is Introduced

In response to feedback from advertisers seeking a balance between broad reach and precision targeting, Google introduced modified broad match. Modified broad match represented a significant advancement in the evolution of match types within Google Ads. It provided advertisers with a valuable tool for achieving a balance between broad reach and precision targeting allowing advertisers to specify certain keywords as mandatory by appending a plus sign (+) to them.

For example, if an advertiser used the modified broad match keyword +running +shoes, their ads may appear for search queries such as “buy running shoes”, “running shoes for women”, or “best running shoes for men”. In this example, both “running” and “shoes” are specified as mandatory terms, ensuring that the ads are triggered for search queries containing these terms or close variations of them.


2021: Google Phases Out Broad Match Modifier

On February 4th, 2021, Google announced that it will be phasing out broad match modifiers. This change happened in mid-February of 2021 and Google explained that both phrase match and BMM will merge, leaving phrase match types to use the same behavior as BMM. With this change, Google expanded phrase match to cover additional BMM traffic, while maintaining adherence to word order when it holds significance to the meaning. In other words, the order of the words within a user’s search will no longer need to match the order of words within your phrase match keyword, unless it’s important to the keyword’s meaning. To learn more about this change and the effect it had on Google’s match types, check out our blog post “Google Ads is Phasing Out Broad Match Modifier (BMM)


Present: The Current State of Google Ads Match Types

With Smart Bidding, Google has put a great emphasis on marketers and businesses to utilize their Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered ads. The combination of smart bidding, broad match keywords, and responsive search ads allows marketers and businesses to completely automate their Google ads with its AI capabilities. Although this is not yet the standard practice of marketers and businesses, Google’s AI capabilities continue to evolve and will most likely be the standard practice within Google Ads in the future. 

The evolution of match types within Google Ads reflects a broader trend toward greater precision, automation, and optimization in digital advertising. From the simplicity of broad match to the sophistication of AI and machine learning-driven Smart Bidding, advertisers have witnessed a transformative journey aimed at delivering more relevant ads to the right audience at the right time. Google Ads will continue to evolve, driven by advancements in technology, changes in consumer behavior, and shifting advertiser needs.

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