Has Modified Broad Match Effectively Killed Phrase Match?

By , Senior Account Manager at Hanapin Marketing


I’ve been creating a lot of campaigns lately between getting new clients, standard keywords research for existing clients, and existing clients getting new products or running sales on seasonal products. With a tight deadline on these campaign builds, I’ve found myself wondering why I should even bother with phrase match keywords.

See, I build my campaigns by match type. I like to have my proven winners as exact matches with as unlimited a budget as I can get them. That way I know the keywords that work for my account aren’t being limited by budget. Then, I separate other match types into their own campaigns. Depending on the client and the campaign, that could be phrase, modified broad, and/or broad match.

For example: I’m building campaigns for one client that are in related fields, but aren’t exactly what my client’s site provides. That’s dicey territory. So, I really didn’t fancy broad match on these keywords. I knew I wanted exact matches of keywords I found that were sure to work, as they’d been converting in the account already. I also wanted a campaign to do some keyword research for me and impress for versions of my targeted keywords I hadn’t thought of, or just hadn’t converted in the account in the past. To do this, I decided on modified broad match. I set my bids and budgets lower on my modified broad match keywords, since I didn’t want them to get too competitive for search terms that aren’t exactly what my client’s site is about.

Now that I had my exact match winners and a nice modified broad campaign to perform keyword research and impress for keywords not exactly matching my exact matches, I figured I was all set. But then I thought, what about phrase match?!

I thought about this for a long time. I really wanted to be finished with each campaign build-out as soon as possible; was phrase match even worth building out?

As part of this consideration, I thought about how the match types work. Let’s say, for example, I’m selling bicycle horns. I’d, of course, want to bid on [bicycle horns]. But people might search for cheap bicycle horns, horns that fit on bikes, etc. A phrase match “bicycle horn” makes sense to capture cheap bicycle horns, but what about horns that fit on bikes? A modified broad match version of +bicycle +horns would capture that. For that matter, it would also capture cheap bicycle horns. So, why do we need the phrase match middleman?

An argument could be made that broad match captures everything, so why bother with any other match type, but we all know that broad match captures a lot of crazy search queries. I was once bidding on industrial steel table as a broad match term, and it triggered an ad for the search term patio furniture. facepalm Thanks, Google!

Since I’m a data-driven PPC nerd, I had to set out and analyze data to see how phrase match really compares to modified broad match. So, I picked a couple of client campaigns and ran some pivot tables.


You can see in this account, modified broad brings in more conversions than phrase match and brings in more clicks and impressions. However, phrase match has a better cost/conv., CTR, conv. rate, and conv./100,000 impressions.

I decided to pull out one keyword, exactly the same, in phrase and modified broad match to compare stats.


I can’t show you the exact keyword, but trust me when I say they were the exact same keyword with different match types. It’s also of note that it was a one-word keyword. As an example, consider the keywords +puppies vs. “puppies”. I would think these should function almost exactly the same, right? Looking over the stats, we can see the modified broad match version vastly out-performed the phrase match version.

Looking deeper, I found these two keywords were housed in the same campaign (read: competing for the same budget), but they were in different ad groups. However, the phrase match was not added as a phrase match negative to the broad ad group, so they were still at equal chances for impressing ads for the same search terms.


I started thinking about how these keywords are triggering search terms, too. How does Google decide to impress a search term against a modified broad match or a phrase match keyword if it matches both? So, I ran another pivot table!


The match type column in a search term report refers to how the search terms were matched to the keyword. So, an exact match of a modified broad match keyword means that it matched the keyword exactly. Then, this is where it gets super fun: close variants! That means a search term doesn’t even have to exactly fit your phrase match keyword, and it can still match, which even further blurs the line between phrase and modified broad match keywords. You can, of course, change this setting to NOT include close variants, but it looks like most of the account managers here at Hanapin use them.

Another issue is that this account isn’t clean in terms of data. We’re looking at keywords that aren’t present in all match types, no embedded negatives to prevent cross-pollution; it’s kind of a mess in there.

So, I decided to pick another account that looked way cleaner. Here’s the first pivot table ran again for this cleaner account:



This account actually ONLY has modified broad, exact, and phrase. We can see modified broad has more conversions and a better CTR. However, phrase match has a slightly better CPA, conv. rate, and CPC.

I dug deeper into this account, and we DO have embedded negatives. Oh, it’s so wonderful. Therefore, we know all the modified broad matches are NOT capturing the phrase match versions of the same keyword. So, let’s look at the search term pivot table for this account.


In this data, we can see the top three conversion rates belong to modified broad keywords being matched by exact, phrase, and phrase (close variant). Yup, close variants in this account, too! We also see the most conversion volume from modified broad, and the two lowest CPAs are from modified broad keywords, too, but at low conversion volumes.


At the end of all this analysis and thinking about these two match types, I’ve come to hold the opinion that phrase match can get a little bit cheaper leads for you when used correctly. So, if cost/conversion and/or budgets are SUPER important metrics for you, I would say for sure take the time to build-out nicely embedded negative phrase match campaigns. However, if you’re going for speed and you can spare a little on the CPA side of things without restricting budget, my opinion is to leave the phase and take the modified broad. As long as you get a good set of negative keywords and continuous search term reports to weed out new poor intent search terms, you’ll find you’re getting way more bang for your buck.

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21 thoughts on “Has Modified Broad Match Effectively Killed Phrase Match?

  1. Cooper Long

    Interesting article- it has certainly gotten very difficult to understand and control which keywords are firing for a given search and which ones are most valuable given all the additional, more lenient match types and match settings (I recently wrote about something similar) “Embedded negatives” as you called them, or “directional negatives” as I call them, are definitely the way to go.

    Worth pointing out those two kws in that one example had different QS- which is a bit unusual unless they weren’t active during the same time periods, etc. since QS is formulated based on exact matches queries. Since ad rank is QS*Max CPC, the modified broad was destined to be shown more frequently even though the phrase KW fit better since the modified broad term encompassed the phrase term. If you don’t explicitly bid on phrase but do bit on a modified broad, you’re still technically (implicitly) bidding on that same phrase term. Now, given that you know the QS and your max CPC, you could “encourage” Google to select one match type over another when relevant by employing some tiered bidding.

    Also, for some clients, there’s definitely value in knowing words will appear in a certain order in a phrase as they may have an entirely different meaning when switched around.

  2. Steve CameronSteve Cameron

    Very interesting piece.

    I have found two things recently…. firstly, like you, I am finding that BMM keywords are performing as well as phrase match on most of my benchmarks (CTR, CPC, CPA) but that the net is just that little bit wider which means I’m drawing in a little more traffic… and, secondly, I’m not seeing as much breadth to broad match terms… Google, as they are continually learning, seem to be much tighter on what they will include as broad matches. I wonder whether you would still get the same patio furniture match today that you got a few years ago…

    If my hunch about this is right then this also pushes BMM that little bit closer to phrase match….

    It is likely that most of my campaigns in the future will have only BMM and exact match ad groups….

    1. Amanda West-Bookwalter

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Steve! Let me know how it works for you if you end up excluding phrase matches in future build-outs!

    2. Jordan McClements

      It’s a really difficult one. I’m going to keep including phrase match for now as well. It’s not much extra effort and in some cases it may give significantly different results to modified broad. How about as an example in a brand campaign a brand has 2 words in it (thinks of example that isn’t actual client) (of course most big brands are one word). OK e.g. +Ralph +Lauren could give very different results from “Ralph Lauren”.

      PS – Google *please* include a modified broad match drop down selector in the keywords tab in AdWords Editor!

  3. James Svoboda

    Maybe not killed it per se, but at least put it on life support. I use it on a limited basis and usually only for 1 and 2 word terms. Almost never for 3 word terms and never for 4+ word terms. It can help with control and shifting impressions from one ad group and/or campaign to another though. And just like Steve, most of my ad groups contain only BMM and Exact.

    1. Amanda West-Bookwalter

      Thanks for reading & commenting, James! That’s a really interesting point that the more words in a keyword, the more sense it makes to be BMM over phrase.

  4. Jordan

    Contrastingly, I’ve found that BMM has almost completely replaced any reliance on broad + a whole string of negative keywords. I think as long as you have a reasonable knowledge of the marketplace and look at what’s returned in the SERPs you can have excellent coverage to start with. Going down the route of deploying broad and adding negatives along the way (sometimes an expensive learning exercise) is something I try to avoid if it’s an option, choosing instead to experiment with broader keywords once I’m satisfied with the CPA performance of the account and looking to build lead/conversion volume.

    Ultimately my goal tends towards absolute specificity, and that often means transitioning keywords from broad to BMM, to phrase, and finally to exact over time with a little help from the search terms report. Not necessarily for quality score but controlling bids on the best key phrases. If a BMM phrase is performing well the search term reports will often show it’s down to one or two phrases which can then be deployed as phrase or exact and assigned an appropriate Max CPC when separated out.

    1. Amanda West-Bookwalter

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Jordan! I think using that strategy of moving from broad all the way down the line to exact can for sure be useful!

  5. Nick Maltsev

    Hi Amanda, interesting article. There are a few things I’d like to express my thoughts on, so correct me if I am wrong, or abide with me when I say something obvious, as I am a newbie in the world of PPC marketing.

    The difference in performance between the modified broad match and the same phrase keyword would be attributed more to the fact that the Max CPCs for the keywords are significantly different and to the difference in Quality Score, rather than the actual match type. The difference in the bid would explain why the modified broad keyword gets significantly more clicks and impressions, lower CTR – due to the fact that with a higher bid the keyword enters more auctions with, perhaps, less relevance. As these keywords are in different adgroups the difference in Quality Score could be because of different ads (relevance) or historical performance.

    Overall, I strongly believe that if tested in a vacuum (same single word keyword in modified broad and phrase, same bid, same ads, same geotarget) the keywords would perform equally.

    Would be also curious to look at the actual search terms in the account from the last screenshot – a big difference in performance between ‘broad match of a Mod Broad’ and ‘exact (close variant) match of a Mod Broad’ keywords. The close variants of the exact match, that have very poor performance and drag the overall performance of the keyword down, I would add as an exact match negative, improving the CTR of the keyword, which in turn should improve the Quality Score, thus reducing the CPC and CPA – just seems like a low hanging fruit.

    I’ve stopped creating phrase match campaigns, as it requires a lot of micro-management to get any real value from them versus just using modified broad and exact match. I find it much more effective to look at search terms of modified broad and put good performing keywords into the exact match campaign – a much better ROI.

    1. Amanda West-Bookwalter

      Hey Nick, thanks for reading and commenting! You’re definitely not wrong, and like I said: that account was a hot mess. And yes, I think I pretty much came to the same conclusion as your last paragraph for most of my accounts.

  6. HS

    Hi Amanda
    Great article – and a cute dog!
    I am in the throes of splitting up my Ad Groups via match type and have two questions I would appreciate your advice on:

    1. I have added Exact match negatives to Non-Exact ad groups but here you mention “nicely embedded negative phrase match campaigns.”
    Does this mean I should add Phrase match negatives to the Non-Phrase ad groups?

    2. If the bids are highest for Exact through to lowest for Broad match, wouldn’t this take care of the need to add negative keywords?

    Thanks for your advice.

    Kind regards
    Harley M Storey

    1. Amanda West-Bookwalter

      Hi Harley!

      If you are using broad match, phrase match, and exact match–you’ll use negative phrase match in the broad match campaigns.

      While implicit bidding, as you described, will help to funnel traffic; it’s not a fool-proof bet. Google can prefer keywords for ad triggering for a whole mess of reasons in addition to the times the CPC required to win the auction being randomly lower and triggering the broad bids anyway.

      1. HS

        Thanks for your advice Amanda!

        I am creating Exact, Phrase, Broad Match Modified and Broad Match campaigns.

        I’m assuming that match type negative keywords are deprecated, so are you suggesting that I set the campaigns up with these negatives:

        Exact: None
        Phrase: Exact
        Broad Match Modified: Phrase negatives
        Broad: BMM negatives

        If match type negatives are not deprecated, then best practice would be:

        Exact: None
        Phrase: Exact
        Broad Match Modified: Exact & Phrase negatives
        Broad: Exact, Phrase & BMM negatives

        I think I’ve managed to confuse myself so your clarification would be very much appreciated.

        Harley M Storey

        1. Amanda West-Bookwalter

          Hey, Harley! For the Phrase, Broad, and Exact match- the first model is correct! I’m honestly not sure that modified broad match functions the same way as a negative. I normally don’t have keywords in both a BMM and Broad match type. Contact the Google help line for a quick answer on that!

          1. HS

            Hi Amanda and everyone,
            This is how I have structured my Ad Groups:
            Exact: No negatives
            Phrase: Exact negatives
            Broad Match Modified: Phrase negatives
            Broad: BMM negatives

            I also checked with Google and they confirmed this was ok, however, the Adwords UI gives the message in the Broad match Ad Group “Negative keywords blocking targeted keywords”
            Negative keyword: +keys
            Type: Ad Group level
            Blocked keywords: keys
            Ad group: XYZ Broad Match
            Actions: Delete negative keyword

            I was told to ignore this and I understand that it is because the system has not yet caught up with having BMM negatives in a Broad match Ad Group.

            Hope this helps,
            Kind regards

        2. HS

          So Harley as you mentioned that
          you have added keyword “”life
          coaching” in a phrase match and [life coaching] exact as a negative keyword for the same ad
          group I suppose. So please know that as you have added [life coaching] as
          a negative keyword, your ads are not eligible to trigger for Search term Life
          Coaching, however they can
          trigger for search terms abc Life
          coaching or life coaching xyz (abc and
          xyz here represent any term like Life coaching classes or London Life
          coaching classes etc)

          I also ran the search terms report for the keyword “life
          Coaching” and saw that it never triggered the ad for Life coaching Search term, however
          it did trigger ads for search terms like Free Life Coaching, Life
          coaching semiars etc. (Reason will
          be the same as discussed above). i am
          also attaching screenshot for your ready

          2. I set up my Ad
          Groups using Exact negatives with Phrase keywords because I was told it
          was best practice – is this not the case?

          So Frankly speaking Harley, adding the same keyword in the
          positive (main keyword list) and negative does not much sense, because it means
          you wish to show the ads for any search term which is related (has any term
          either ahead or after the keyword – phrase match) but not for the exact
          keyword. Negative keywords are typically the keywords for which you don’t wish
          to show your ads and helps in stopping to
          show your ads to irrelevant traffic.

          For more information on Negative keywords, please refer to
          this handy article https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/105671?hl=en

  7. disqus_WByr9AiTJ0

    Hi Amanda – very informative! Just wondering – have you noticed whether all of the above applies to Bing Ads as well? How is BA different?

  8. Gnosis Media Group

    I don’t get it…. I don’t see how you can generalize from looking at one or two use cases. Also, I’ve never built campaigns based on Match Type. I’m not sure that is most useful. It seems more useful to build campaigns based on taxonomies that yield psychographic insights on visitors. I think sometimes we’re a bit too myopic in PPC management. Just my $0.02

  9. shopify


    I have set up my campaigns as below

    exact match = no negatives
    BBM with exact match negatives

    What I am wondering is, would you still set your BBM bids lower than your exact match campaign, or does this not apply anymore? because one is adding the exact match keyword as a negative, and therefore should only ever show the exact match version.

    I have used tiered bidding in the past such as:

    exact match = £1.00 bid
    bmm = £0.70 bid


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