Match Types Explained: Broad Match, Phrase Match, Exact Match

Understanding match types is essential to both SEO in general and more specifically keyword research. I’ve received various questions about the significance of match types and I’ve seen some rather confusing and conflicting information on this topic, while searching through forums and blogs.

In this post, you’ll find a simple, straight-forward explanation of what the three match types are all about and exactly how this is significant to you.

Google Searches

I will be using “blue vintage car” as a randomly picked example search term. Please feel free to follow along with some Google searches of your own, with any kind of keyword. To illustrate the difference in match types, I recommend you use a search term with at least three words.

Broad Match

A broad match search is the “normal” and most common way of searching in Google. A broad match search for my example keyword looks like this:

Broad match search example

With this kind of search, we are asking Google to return pages that contain the words contained in the search phrase, as well as synonyms for those words in any order and any distribution.

This means that along with pages that contain the exact keyword I typed (blue vintage car), the pages with the following phrases could also be included in the results:

  • Blue classic car
  • Vintage car: blue
  • Vintage car with blue leather interior
  • Blue skies, vintage comics and car models

In general, a page containing the exact words you searched for, in the correct order, is likely to show up further up in the results than one with synonyms and a different order of words. The further down you go in the search results, the more “exotic” the listed results will become.

Here’s an example from page 50 of the results for the example search term:

Example search result
As you can see, “vintage” is not featured as a word on the page, but the synonym “old” does. In addition, the three words are quite far apart on the page and aren’t even in the same sentence. The point of this is simply to illustrate: with a broad search, Google will return absolutely any page with even a hint of similarity to your search term.

Phrase Match

A phrase match search is performed by entering the search term in keywords. In the case of our example, it looks like this:

Phrase match search example

You’ll see that the number of results found is now significantly lower. This is because for a phrase match search, Google will only return pages that contain the keyword exactly as you typed it in. In this case, the three words “blue vintage car“, in exactly that order. Also, synonyms are no longer used, when you do a phrase match search.

We can confirm this by looking at the last page of results. Even the very last page listed contains the exact search phrase:

Search result example 2

Keyword Research

If you are using Google as a search engine, there is no such thing as exact match and this is perhaps where some of the confusion about match types stems from. Exact match only exists as a search type from the perspective of keyword research (either for SEO or for PPC advertising).

keyword tool matchtype selectorIf you access the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, you can activate the three different match types in a small box in the left sidebar (see image).

Now, whenever you get keyword suggestions, you’ll always get three versions: the plain broad match keyword, the “phrase match keyword” in quotes and the [exact match keyword] in square brackets.

Here’s what the results look like for our example keyword:

keyword tool results

The significant difference between the three match types comes into play when we look at the search volume numbers. As you can see, it’s estimated that our example keyword gets over 12,000 broad match searches per month, but only a dozen exact searches. What does this mean?

In this case, broad match indicates searches that include the words in the keyword phrase, as well as synonyms of those words, in any order with or without the addition of more words in the search. Examples of broad match searches for “blue vintage car” include:

  • blue vintage car
  • classic automobile blue
  • pictures of a blue vintage car
  • classic blue jeans jacket with car emblem

The phrase match search volume number only includes searches containing all of the words in the keyword phrase in that exact order, but can contain searches with extra words in them. Phrase match searches could include:

  • blue vintage car
  • pictures of a blue vintage car

Finally, the exact match search volume number only includes searches for the exact keyword phrase and nothing else. In other words, the number indicates the estimated amount of people who typed in the following phrase and then hit the enter key:

  • blue vintage car

Search Volume and SEO

The search volume of a keyword is one of the important factors to take into account, when doing keyword research. In order to answer the question “how many people are searching for this keyword”, you have to always look at the exact match search numbers. Only the exact match numbers are an estimate of how many people are searching for that specific keyword.

An SEO campaign should always focus on one keyword at a time, since trying to get a top position for a dozen keywords all at once, for one and the same page is a surefire way of spreading yourself too thin and not getting any results at all. And when you are focusing on and optimizing for one keyword, all of the possible variations of that keyword that show up as broad match searches really have no relevance.

In other words: when you’re working to get the top spot for “blue vintage car”, it doesn’t matter how many people search for “classic blue car photo album”, “vintage blue jeans jacket with car emblem” and countless other broad-match variations, because you aren’t going to rank for those phrases.

Match Types Video

Here’s a video, illustrating the same concepts as discussed above:


If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

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About the Author Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better marketer and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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