The Current State Of PPC Keyword Match Types

I’ll start with a big thank you!

It’s been a busy few months with advertisers and Google forcefully exchanging opinions back and forth on topics such as ad rotation, features needed/wanted in AdWords, and changes to keyword match types.

In my column on the Google ad rotation change last month, I expressed my strong concerns about the latest changes to ad rotation (as did many other paid search advertisers and bloggers) and was very pleased that Google’s VP of Product Management, Nick Fox, announced that Google had reconsidered their actions on ad rotation behavior.

First, they expanded the even rotation period from 30 to 90 days, which seems like a more reasonable time period even for low data ad groups.

Second, they made the auto-optimize ad rotation an optional setting – but only if you specifically request it. If you haven’t already done it, take a minute now to keep  your ad rotation options open. We have done this for all of our client accounts and encourage you to do the same thing.

So, before I move on to today’s topic, I want to acknowledge the engineers at Google, who responded swiftly and diplomatically to its advertiser concerns.

Thank you, Google AdWords Engineers!

Match Types & Normalization – Where Are We Now?

Both Google and Microsoft have made significant recent changes to keyword matching options and the underlying normalization logic, so I thought it would be a good idea to take a step back and summarize where I think we are now, as of June, 2012.

The most significant change from Google was the addition of what I call ‘fuzzy’ matching for phrase and exact match types, which enables matching to singular or plural queries, close-stemmings and misspellings. Sort of like broad match modifier, but without having to add + signs, I suppose.

We don’t know precisely how Google decides what qualifies as a close variant though I’d be willing to bet that it gets fuzzier over time.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has made a virtual boatload of keyword-related upgrades to the adCenter on its steady march towards full functional parity with AdWords.  These changes include completely revamped negative keywords, addition of broad match modifier, and fuzzy phrase and exact match.

adCenter Negative Match

Microsoft abandoned the much pilloried cascading negatives implementation back in November, 2011. Now, negatives pretty much work the same way on adCenter as they do on AdWords, except that there is no broad match negative on adCenter.

One of the best parts of Microsoft’s newer implementation is the negative conflicts report. Not only does it show where you are inadvertently blocking traffic on adCenter, but if you have just imported your campaigns from AdWords, it will also show you what negatives are blocking AdWords traffic, too.

adCenter Broad Match Modifier

This implementation is pretty much a functional equivalent of the AdWords broad match modifier implementation.

adCenter Fuzzy Phrase & Exact Match

Microsoft actually beat Google to the punch on the rollout of ‘fuzzy’ phrase and exact match. However, adCenter’s phrase and exact match is less fuzzy than AdWords, because it only matches to singular or plural versions of your keywords, not ‘close variants.’ I sure hope they keep it that way.

One of the good parts of the fuzzy match implementations from both Google and Microsoft is that they still honor negative match logic, so you can still use advanced techniques for silo-ing keyword traffic with negative match logic.

This is important for managing head terms which have significant performance differences between singular and plural keywords, and also helps to ensure proper display of DKI ads. We’ll talk more about DKI ads across both platforms in this column next month.

For example, if you have already segmented your singular and plural keyword exact match ad groups, you can prevent the fuzzy match from poaching from either of the groups by setting your negative match types like this:

Using Match Types to silo traffic on phrase or exact match

Using negatives to silo phrase and exact match query matches.


This technique will work automatically on adCenter, but to keep it working in AdWords, you’ll need to explicitly modify your campaigns settings to opt out of the fuzzy phrase and exact match as shown here:

Selecting out of fuzzy exact and phrase match on Google Search

Select out of 'fuzzy' phrase / exact matches if you used match-type exclusion logic.

Match Type Cheat Sheet

I am a big fan of cheat sheets and summary charts, and since so much has changed with keyword matching on Google and Bing in the last few months, I figured I’d make one that captures the essentials of what’s different between the two networks.

I am sure I’ll have to update it again soon, but here is my Match Type Cheat Sheet, June 2012 Edition:

Summary of AdWords/AdCenter Match Types (June 2012)

Summary of AdWords/AdCenter Match Types (June 2012)

As you can see, Microsoft has come a long way towards achieving functional parity in keywords. One area where differences remain is in keyword normalization for phrase and exact match.

Keyword Normalization

You have probably noticed the normalization when you’ve ported AdWords keyword lists into adCenter, when you see keywords not imported because they are duplicates. That’s where the normalization comes in, and much of it happens on phrase and exact match.

AdCenter removes extraneous words such as “a,about, an,and, at, by, for, from, how, in, is, of, on, the, to, what, with” from keywords. This is a pretty significant difference, since it means that there are vernacular phrases that work well on AdWords but will not work on AdCenter, given current normalization protocols.


Summary of AdWords/AdCenter Match Types (June 2012)

Summary of AdWords/AdCenter Match Types (June 2012)

For more on how adCenter currently normalizes keywords, take a look at this informative blog post  from Microsoft’s Tina Kelleher.


Hope you’ve gotten some good information from this month’s column. Please do feel free to leave comments or ask questions, below. Next month, we’ll take a deep dive into dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) ad implementations between Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter.


Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Microsoft: Bing Ads | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is President and founder of Find Me Faster a search engine marketing firm based in Nashua, NH. He is a member of SEMNE (Search Engine Marketing New England), and SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization as a member and contributing courseware developer for the SEMPO Institute. Matt writes occasionally on internet, search engines and technology topics for IMedia, The NH Business Review and other publications.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Kenny Red Leader Schmied

    Hi Matt - excellent way to bring some of us up to speed on these changes. One change I’m curious about that I can’t seem to find any more information on is adcenters implicit bidding. I know it’s been known as best practice for a while now to set broad match at .85 * exact match bid and phrase match as .75 * exact match bid (or some other similar formula depending on who you listen to). Adcenter used to work off of implicit bidding, meaning if you had a broad match bid of $4, it would assume a phrase and exact match of $4 as well for that keyword, making it more expensive for the search marketer since it becomes less likely for the exact match to actually capture the impression. I seem to remember reading something recently about how adcenter did away with their implicit bidding, but I can’t seem to dig it up. Do you happen to know anything about this topic? Thanks in advance!

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Hi Kenny, thanks for your comments.   
    This is a great question. Once you understand how implicit bidding works, the best practices come into better view, too.   I’d suggest the best resource ‘getting it’ on implcit bidding is here:

    The Effects of Not Bidding on a Match Type 

    Once you read that carefully, I think you’ll have an ‘aha’ moment on why the best practices for setting bids are what they are.  The best practices, btw, recommend a starting point, not your final bidding tactics.  Your performance, by keyword, will dictate that. 
    Hope that helps.  

  • ArchanaP

    Does adcenter’s broad match modifier shows ads for misspellings like adwords?

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Hi ArchanaP

    Another very good question.  adCenter broad match modified keywords will match against misspellings, but not exactly like AdWords.

    Since adCenter normalizes search queries for common misspellings before it applies match type, any match type can match against a common misspelling.  I am going to double check that, and if it is still true, I’ll post an update to the cheat sheet  - a July 2012 edition.  

    Thank you for a very insightful question.  I’ll repost as soon as I verify this. 

  • Chris Oliver

    A great article many thanks. Many of our clients have resisted running ads on Bing and Yahoo in the past due to time management issues. Now with everything running via adCenter there’s no excuse. The reference tables are very useful.

    One question what about negative broad match modifier ? 

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Hi Chris,
    Thank you – I agree with you.  Moving to parity with AdWords makes things so much easier.

    I am not aware of a negative broad match modifier on either engine, though I haven’t checked in the last 30 mins :)

    adCenter does not have broad match negatives – they start at phrase match for negatives. 

    On Google, the negative broad match is very literal.  As far as I have observed, it is even stricter than broad match modifier, in that it does not pick up plurals, misspellings, or close variants.   I think that is a good approach, but it does require you to add plurals and other variations to your negative lists to block unwanted traffic.  

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Further to my earlier reply….I confirmed with folks at Microsoft that adCenter normalizes queries and then applies match types 

    If adCenter has a high degree of confidence that a misspelled query, say ‘automble’, really means ‘automobile’ and it will therefore match that query to your adCenter keyword “automobile’ for any match type.

    This query normalization works for misspellings only, not for close synonyms. 
    So, for example, on the search query, “cars” adCenter would not match 
    to your keyword “automobiles” on exact, phrase or modified broad match types.  It could make a match, however, on broad match.  Hope that answers  your question…

  • ArchanaP

    Thanks Matt that was very helpful.


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide