Death to the Broad Match Modifier: The Changing Landscape of Paid Search Advertising

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Google Ads is an ever-changing landscape with the goal of becoming more accessible and beneficial for advertisers and users alike. Recently, keyword match types have become the focus of these changes. Match types are important because they help determine who can see your ads when they search on Google. 

It started with the loosening of what the phrase “exact match keywords” really meant. “Exact match” doesn’t quite mean exact anymore, allowing some variations to be pulled into the search results.

Now, Google has its sights set on the broad match modifiers and phrase match types. Keyword match types have been a hot topic of discussion for advertisers seemingly since Google has offered ads. Choosing the right keywords and match types gets your ads in front of the right audience and can make or break your search campaigns. In order to make those decisions, we first need to know what the match types are and what each of those means. 

The Old Google Ads Keyword Match Types

There were four Google Ads keyword match types:

  • broad
  • modified broad
  • phrase
  • exact match

Broad match is the loosest match type, meaning it can bring in any searches related to your keywords, in any order, even if your keywords aren’t specifically mentioned in the searches. For example, your keyword might be “red shoes,” but it can bring in searches for “red boots,” “colorful footwear,” and similar terms. There is potential to bring in traffic that isn’t the most relevant to your business, but you also can discover new searches that you hadn’t considered before. 

The broad match modifier takes broad match one step further by requiring your keywords, at the very least, be present in the searches. There is still room for discoverability and variation, but this helps limit some unrelated searches. 

Phrase match keywords are the next step up in terms of specifics and are considered moderate matching. Using phrase match, your keywords need to appear in the searches being made, generally in the order they are listed in your campaign. For example, if your keyword is “red shoes for sale” you can show up for searches like “red shoes for sale near me,””best red women’s shoes for sale,” and more. So, phrase match does get more specific, but leaves some room for variation before and after your keywords. 

The last match type and most specific is the exact match type. Previously, searching for an exact match meant your keywords or phrases would appear in search results the exact same way you typed it into the search bar. Although Google’s changes have loosened what this match type is, exact match is still the most specific out of all the options.

So, What Is Changing Now?

The broad match modifier match type as we know it today is going away, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to panic. As of February 2021, phrase match now incorporates broad match modifier behaviors, in an effort to make it easier to find relevant customers. This change made the phrase match type a bit more open and gave advertisers the opportunity to utilize some of the features of what broad match modifiers brought to the table.

a chart showing an example of the three primary match types in google ads with the example search phrase "lawn mowing service"

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In July 2021, broad match modifiers will no longer be available for use in campaigns. Campaigns that still have broad match modifier keywords will continue to serve, just with the new behavior. The changes seem to be a way of streamlining the keyword match types to have specific roles. 

Broad match will be used for discoverability and reach, exact match for precision, and phrase match for a balance of both. 

Google’s ultimate goal is to give the user the best ad experience. That includes making sure that you are getting the most relevant search results and ads. To achieve this, the focus is starting to shift to more intent-driven searches rather than relying solely on keywords. That’s one reason why we are seeing these recent changes. Google wants to use your online presence as the basis of what search results you see to make sure you are getting the best experience.

But what if you have campaigns that used those two match types, and you liked how things were? 

A New Paid Search Strategy

The paid search team at iFocus Marketing, a digital agency in Overland Park, Kansas, was partial to the broad match modifier match type because it lent us a lot of flexibility for keyword variation while keeping ads targeted and fairly inexpensive. 

These changes meant that we had to figure out how Google’s new keyword types worked, so our clients could continue getting the same great lead generation and engagement they had before.

Our paid search team spent hours trying out options, testing automations, and finding the best way to navigate these changes to produce the best results for all clients, regardless of whether they used broad match modifiers. 

  • Our first exploration had us updating keywords to fully broad match and maintaining a strict negative keyword list. This approach continued to provide the reach of modified broad keywords, and our negative list kept the traffic relevant. One downside to this strategy is Google has recently made a change that doesn’t allow advertisers to see all of the search terms. That makes a full broad match strategy less desirable, due to the potential of not seeing a click come though that we would want to add as a negative keyword. That is where maintaining a strict negative keyword list would come in to help mitigate some of that concern.
  • We then took a mix of phrase and broad match, creating one to three keyword phrase matches and long-tail keyword broad matches. The increased word count of these phrases brought in relevant traffic, but were left open to variation to capture audiences who ask questions or word their search inquiries a little differently.
  • Finally, we found that changing everything over to phrase match keywords allowed our campaigns to be even more specific than they were with the old broad match modifier, while maintaining reach.


Every business is different and has different needs, so applying a one-size-fits-all solution to every campaign isn’t realistic. Finding the right settings and targeting for your business can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with the ins-and-outs of successful Google Ads campaigns.

Find Paid Search Experts at iFocus Marketing

That’s where iFocus Marketing comes in. We take the time to get to know your business and formulate a custom Google Ads strategy to fit your business’s needs and goals. 

The nationwide businesses we serve benefit from our knowledge and expertise in the digital marketing landscape. Get the most out of Google Ads. Contact us today to learn how.

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